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It is a pleasure to follow Angela Crawley and her excellent speech—indeed there have been many excellent speeches so far. I am pleased that there are so many women who are being bold and who are bringing about change in this place, and I am proud to be one of them.
I am deeply proud of being Telford’s first ever Conservative MP, and of overcoming the odds and the obstacles to make that possible in what was once a safe Labour seat. However, I am prouder still of being Shropshire’s first female MP since 1929 and of overcoming the odds and obstacles to make that possible, because that was the greater challenge.
No one should underestimate the difficulties and roadblocks that, inevitably, are still there for women who want to come into Parliament and who want to get the voices of women heard. It may not be as difficult as it was in 1929 when Edith Picton-Turbevill was elected to be MP for The Wrekin, or in the days of my family member, Janie Allan, who was a militant socialist suffragette arrested for smashing windows in Downing Street. In 1912, she was imprisoned in Holloway where she was force fed.
I have no doubt Janie Allan would be proud, and probably also amazed, that I am here and can go to Downing Street to make my voice heard without the need to smash any windows and that when I do so, the Prime Minister is a woman. I pay tribute to Janie Allan for her daring; she was a bold woman. I also pay tribute to the women who came after her who enabled us to be in this place today.
Sometimes, we minimise the difficulties that women face in getting into Parliament and in staying here. Sometimes, we prefer just not to talk about it. However, if we pretend that there are no problems, we do no favours for the women who are still to come to this place.
The increase in women MPs since 2005, when there were only 17 female Conservative MPs, has created transformational change in the make-up of the House of Commons and it has transformed the things that we talk about and the debates that we hold, and that is to be welcomed. We must pay tribute to Baroness Jenkin, our Prime Minister and the organisation, Women2Win, which has helped so many women over those years. Today, seeing 70 women Conservative MPs in Parliament, is a proud day, but the work is not yet done. For more women to stay in Parliament and to follow on behind us, we need to speak out about some of the obstacles that we experience. That will make it easier for the women who come to this place after we have gone.
I am becoming increasingly concerned about a tendency to treat certain crimes, where women are predominantly the victims and men predominantly the perpetrators, as gender-neutral crimes. It is suggested that, as these crimes can happen to men too, they are not about gender relations, and that the male/female dynamic is irrelevant. I do not agree with that. I am sorry that my hon. Friend Philip Davies is not in his place to hear this part of my speech. An example of where that is happening is child sexual exploitation. The perpetrators are men and the victims are almost entirely women and yet, because there have been some male victims, we are told that it is a gender-neutral crime. If we fail to understand that some crimes are predominantly committed by men against women, we cannot tackle the causes and we cannot provide the support that women need to recover from these crimes.
Child sexual exploitation is about the exploitation of a power imbalance between men and women, and it is where men groom and trade young girls for sex with other men. If we do not see it in those terms and we say that child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse, that gender is irrelevant and that the perpetrator’s gender is irrelevant, it does not take us any further forward. This is a crime perpetrated by men against women, and let us not pretend otherwise.
I do not have much time left, so I shall cut to the chase. I began by talking about the difficulties that still exist for women to get into this place and stay here; I want to add that most women do not want any special treatment or favours. No one wants to be perceived as complaining. In fact, when I first came here, I did not want to be labelled as a woman who would speak up only for women’s issues, and I steered clear of the Women and Equalities Committee, but I am now extremely proud to be a member of it and to have had a complete change of heart. I want to be a voice for other women whose voices cannot be heard.