Violence against Women and Girls

Part of Contamination of Beef Products – in the House of Commons at 1:38 pm on 14th February 2013.

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Photo of Mary Macleod Mary Macleod Conservative, Brentford and Isleworth 1:38 pm, 14th February 2013

On 16 December last year, a 23-year-old medical student in Delhi was gang-raped, and 13 days later she died. If this debate today could be in her memory, showing the world that this sort of abuse cannot be tolerated, some good may come from it.

We have already heard plenty of examples today. A girl of nine has given birth in one of Mexico’s western states. She was just eight when she became pregnant. My hon. Friend Heather Wheeler has already spoken about forced marriage. Only 25 years ago in the UK, it was not considered an offence to rape within marriage, and 603 million women currently live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime.

One of my first cases at my weekly constituency surgery involved a girl who came to see me with her mother. She was absolutely convinced that her sister had died as a result of domestic violence but that it had not been recognised by the police. A second girl who came to see me had been raped twice by a man who was about to leave prison after serving a sentence for a separate offence. She was absolutely petrified, and the following weekend she ended up in hospital after having tried to take her own life. All this is happening right on our doorstep. We do not need to look at what is going on internationally; it is happening right in front of us.

I was pleased to hear Valerie Vaz mention Chiswick, where the world’s first women’s refuge was started. I am proud to represent Chiswick today, and I believe that it is part of my remit as a Member of Parliament to stand up for all victims of domestic violence and abuse, locally and elsewhere in the country. In London, especially, we have issues. Speaking at the Tackling Britain’s Gang Culture conference last month, Chief Superintendent John Sutherland of the Metropolitan police said:

“I regard domestic violence as the single greatest cause of harm in society.”

He said that it was having devastating effects, and he is so right. Thankfully, the issue is at the top of the agenda in my borough of Hounslow. London has an issue with teenage girl rape, and that is something that we have to resolve.

Now is the time to act, and I was glad to see Members from both sides of the House at the One Billion Rising rally today. Those from my side of the House included my hon. Friends the Members for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), for Battersea (Jane Ellison), for Devizes (Claire Perry), for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) and for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin). We were there in Parliament square to say that enough is enough, and that now is the time to act.

Globally, we should exert pressure through the United Nations, which is looking at the matter. UN Women was set up in 2010 to focus efforts on gender equality and the empowerment of women, and I will be going next month to the UN Commission on the Status of Women to talk about this issue.

Here in the UK, we have made progress in some areas, including the £40 million of stable, ring-fenced funding for specialist domestic and sexual violence support services. We have increased the number of rape centres in London to four, but we need more. Stalking has been mentioned already, as has female genital mutilation, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea has done a great deal of work. Still more needs to be done. Internationally, we also need to put the pressure on and work together on conflicts, and I am glad that there will be a further debate in the Chamber today to discuss sexual violence in conflicts, because that should not be tolerated either.

Locally, in my constituency and my borough, we have taken various kinds of action. We have the Hounslow one-stop shop, which is run by the Metropolitan police, the Hounslow community safety unit and the Hounslow domestic violence outreach service. In December last year, Operation Athena, a London-wide crackdown on domestic violence, led to 22 arrests in my borough. The JAN Trust is visiting schools in Hounslow to deliver its Mujboor—meaning “forced” in Urdu—workshops on forced marriages and to educate young girls on their rights.

There is still much to be done, however, with regard to global awareness as well as to what we are doing right here in our own constituencies. That is where we all have a part to play. Every Member of the House can play their part by going to each of their schools—especially their secondary schools, but perhaps schools with younger children as well—and spreading the word that we can all take action on this issue. If we can encourage our colleagues to talk to young girls and boys about the issue, we will have played a part in changing the environment of violence that we see around us. There should be a zero-tolerance approach to violence and abuse in relationships, and I would like the Minister to consider whether Ofsted could measure what schools are doing to educate children in this area.

Let us join together and say with one voice that enough is enough, that violence against women and girls will not be tolerated, and that we will make this country a much better place.