International Women’S Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:19 pm on 2nd March 2017.

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Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough 1:19 pm, 2nd March 2017

I have spent much of my time in this place encouraging and celebrating women. At the turn of the century I made a study of how much difference the 101 Labour women who were elected in 1997 made, and it was clear that it was because of women in this place that, for example, our defence forces started focusing for the first time on the needs of the families of those who fight. It was because of women in this place that Budgets started resourcing women’s purses, rather than men’s pockets. Frankly, it is very sad that since 2010 the tradition, which started in 1999, has been reversed. I hope that when the Chancellor delivers his Budget on International Women’s Day he might go back to recognising that it is time for women to benefit at least as much as men, if not more. After all, we put our money into the pockets of children, and men use their money for their own pleasure—I generalise, but it is true.

My speech will concentrate on violence against women. We all have constituents who have been groomed by pimps, beaten up by violent partners or subjected to forced marriage or genital mutilation. It is important to think about how we help them. Rather than just supporting the expert organisations—in my case, East Berkshire Women’s Aid and Sewak Housing—we must ensure that organisations that are not so expert actually realise their own failures. One organisation in Slough is very good at promoting itself but, frankly, is not very good at protecting women. I have called out Jeena International on those things because it cannot offer people a service and then let them down.

We also need to try to increase resilience among women by helping them to be aware of and to resist the risks of grooming, and so on. I have tried to create a network, largely of south Asian women in my constituency, that aims to build their resilience and that of their sisters. It aims to raise women’s awareness of things such as how to help their sons deal with porn on the net.

I will finish by focusing on some of the most vulnerable women in the world. Yesterday I had the privilege of hosting a meeting organised by Khalsa Aid, a flexible, opportunist aid organisation led by the Sikh community in Slough. Khalsa Aid has been working with Yazidi women. When Daesh overran the Yazidi community, many women starved and expired of thirst after they were abandoned on a hill. What happened to the other Yazidi women afterwards was more degrading that most of us can imagine. They were bought and sold like radios or books. They were raped, beaten up and forced to watch their children being raped. Their sons were kidnapped so that Daesh could try to turn them into terrorist jihadi fighters.

Daesh developed a kind of bureaucracy with rules for using the people who are owned. One of the 15 rules states:

“The owner of two sisters is not allowed to have intercourse with both of them;
rather he may only have intercourse with just one. The other sister is to be had by him, if he were to relinquish ownership of the first sister by selling her, giving her away or releasing her.”

That is today. That is the reality of slavery. We call modern slavery “slavery” in the UK, but this is ancient slavery. It is horrifying to look at the price list. A woman of between 40 and 50 years old is worth £27—that is her price. Daesh publishes the prices because it wants the money to buy bombs with which to blow us up. Terrifying, a child under nine is worth four times as much—£109 is the price of a young girl.

Those women have participated in an exhibition called “I am Yazidi” that tells their stories and shows photographs of them. I hope to bring the exhibition to this House, but in the meantime I encourage everyone to see it.

Ravi Singh of Khalsa Aid told me about one woman who managed to fight off her rapists, who then turned on her daughter. After her daughter’s abuse, her daughter said, “Mum, it’s your fault.” The woman does not know where her daughter is now, and she is terrified that her daughter still believes it is her fault. That is the extremity of violence against women, and we should work in solidarity against it.