Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Violence against Women and Girls

Part of Contamination of Beef Products – in the House of Commons at 2:04 pm on 14th February 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Conservative, Mid Norfolk 2:04 pm, 14th February 2013

It is a pleasure to follow Dr Whiteford. This morning, I was not intending to speak—not because I was disinterested or uninterested, but because it seemed to me appropriate that this debate should be led by women. I have, however, been inspired by the clarity, compassion, cross-party consensus and expressions of support for the importance of this debate. My decision to speak was also provoked by my hon. Friend Philip Davies, who is not in his place. I share with him a great interest in horseracing and I have a great affection for him. I thought he made some good points, but I profoundly disagree with him on one or two central points.

I have rearranged the day in order to speak up for many of my hon. Friends whose absence should not be misconstrued as lack of interest in this important subject. I want to put on record my personal commitment to this issue; I also want to speak on behalf of women and girls in my constituency and elsewhere who perhaps fear that men are not listening, and to speak up for a modern, compassionate, progressive conservative strain of thinking, which takes this issue very seriously and applauds the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for their leadership on it.

It seemed to me that the central point made my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley was to insist on an equality of treatment and to deny the need for any gender-based policy approach. That denies something very fundamental: that men and women are different and, in respect of sexual and physical violence, are not equal.

Around the world—here, too, but especially in the developing world—we are witnessing a shaming prevalence of violence against women and girls, which we have a duty to tackle. I do not pretend to be an expert, but one does not need to be an expert to see the urgency of the problem. If we look around the world, we can see that the emancipation of women and the education of girls has been a profound force for good in our society and in human progress. On the subject of the education of girls, I know from my own area of science that we have a huge problem and a huge challenge in Britain to ensure that more of our girls are educated in a way that allows them to take part in the great opportunities of the modern economy.

Around the world, too, we have a huge problem of sexual violence, which has been a long-standing part of too many conflicts. We heard earlier from those more eloquent than me about the problems of genital mutilation, forced marriages, sexual slavery and the human trafficking of boys and girls. We are all mindful, too, of the appalling story of gang rape in India, which I think has triggered huge public interest and has fired people’s sense of moral outrage. In a world whose economic globalisation we celebrate day on day, we all face a challenge to take responsibility for other impacts of globalisation that are perhaps less visibly, immediately or directly seen as our responsibility. We need to take both those sides of globalisation together.

My main point, however, is that we have a serious problem here in the UK. In recent decades, we have seen an epidemic of sexual and violent crime, the casualisation of media attitudes to sex and violence, an explosion of pornography, and in recent years casual online sexualisation and prostitution and huge problems relating to stalking and even classroom abuse, as we heard in the eloquent speech of my hon. Friend Jane Ellison. It is the casualness of all this that is worth highlighting. Such things are not any more considered by our media or our commentariat to be serious crimes. That, I think, is the most serious crime of all.

We should all be shamed that London has become a global centre of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Far from this being, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley suggested, a distraction from the serious business of Government, I suggest that it is a vital and topical issue that affects more than half of our population.