My Lords, I hope your Lordships will bear with me one second as I move to my next job, which is a much nicer one.
What a privilege it is to open the International Women’s Day debate. On this important occasion, we come together to recognise and celebrate the achievements of women and girls across the world. This year, International Women’s Day is particularly significant for all of us in this country and in this Parliament. In 2018, we celebrate the centenary of the first British women getting the vote. There is much to celebrate: 100 years on, women are represented at every level of public life; almost a third of all government posts are filled by women; in my own department, the Home Office, over half the Ministers are women, including the Home Secretary; and of course, we have our second ever female Prime Minister.
Just last year, Cressida Dick was appointed the first woman Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, became the first woman President of the Supreme Court. To add to this, Sarah Clarke was chosen to be the first female Black Rod in 650 years and Dany Cotton became the first female commissioner of the London fire brigade. We also saw Jodie Whittaker regenerate to become the first female Doctor Who; are we soon to see the first female James Bond? But although this is a day to celebrate the achievements of women, we must also recognise the challenges and prejudice which women and girls face, both at home and across the world. In the spirit of this year’s International Women’s Day theme we must continue to “press for progress” to accelerate gender equality. We must not be complacent and believe that this struggle has been consigned to the past.
Just as the Suffragettes, Suffragists and their supporters stood side by side in solidarity to fight for the right for women to cast their ballot 100 years ago, we have witnessed in the past year a global movement of women once again coming together to call out injustice. Women from all walks of life have issued a rallying cry, calling time on sexual harassment, violence against women, unequal pay and discrimination. We must capitalise on the momentum of campaigns such as the #MeToo movement to accelerate the drive towards equality for all.
The Government have been making great strides to build on the work of countless Members on all sides of both Houses. The UK has a proud history of playing a central role in securing change for women and girls. We are well respected internationally for our world-leading policy and legislation on equalities. However, outside the UK many women and girls still do not have the opportunities and choices they deserve, whether due to cultural expectations, poverty, conflict, or a combination of all three.
We know that there is a crucial role for us to play to end injustice both at home and abroad, and this country already does great work internationally to ensure gender equality reaches all corners of the globe. The UK was instrumental in securing agreement for dedicated targets on gender equality and women’s empowerment within the sustainable development goals. Right now, as I speak, UK Aid is having a significant impact on the lives of millions of women and girls across the globe. To name but a few examples, UK Aid has supported over 6,000 communities across 16 countries to make public commitments to end female genital mutilation, representing 18 million people. UK Aid has also enabled 8.5 million women to access modern methods of family planning over five years.
Yesterday, the Department for International Development launched its new Strategic Vision for Gender Equality. This sets out the UK’s global leadership in securing, with our partners, the rights of all girls and women around the world, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected states and in humanitarian and protracted crises. These are all great achievements but there is still more to be done to achieve gender equality and improve the lives of women and girls around the world.
Globally, one in three women are beaten or sexually abused in their lifetime. We hear so many statistics in this Chamber every day, we risk becoming desensitised to the horrific facts; we must do everything in our power to ensure we do not. Imagine looking at a class of young girls, knowing that one-third of them will face physical or sexual violence over the course of their lives. That cannot go on. Protecting women and girls from violence and supporting victims is an absolute priority, whether they suffer violence in their communities, in relationships or online.
The UK is leading the way internationally but we know there is more to do. That is why we have today announced that we are consulting on our programme of work to tackle domestic abuse. This consultation will shape the response to domestic abuse at every stage, from prevention through to rehabilitation, and reinforces the Government’s aim to make domestic abuse everybody’s business. By consulting, we aim to harness the knowledge and expertise of victims and survivors, charities, specialist organisations and experts, and professionals across policing, criminal justice, health, welfare, education and local authorities—those who deal with these issues every day.
Part of what we are consulting on is a domestic abuse Bill that aims to better protect and support victims, recognise the lifelong impact domestic abuse has on children and make sure that agencies effectively respond to domestic abuse. The Bill will create a domestic abuse commissioner in law to stand up for victims and survivors and hold the system to account. It will also create a new domestic abuse protection order regime to create a clearer pathway of protection for victims; and it will make sure that if abusive behaviour involves a child, the court can hand down a sentence that reflects the devastating lifelong impact that abuse has. The Government have also announced today how additional funding for domestic abuse will be spent. This includes £8 million to support children who witness domestic abuse, £2 million to improve the health response to domestic abuse and £2 million to support female offenders, who are often victims of domestic abuse.
Internationally, we are generating world-leading evidence on what works to prevent violence before it starts through our £25 million What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls programme. We are also contributing £8 million to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women. In 2015 alone the fund reached over 1 million people.
Another threat facing many women around the world is unsafe pregnancy. Every two minutes a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth—that is five women during the time I have been speaking. The majority of these deaths are preventable. What is more, hundreds of millions of women in developing countries do not have access to modern contraception. In the summer of 2017 this Government hosted a family planning summit to accelerate global progress and reinforce the UK’s global commitments to give 120 million more women and girls access to contraception. Our ambition is that all women around the world can access quality care, and we will continue to provide bold and brave leadership by developing important strategic relationships and international summits, and generating world-class evidence and research.
To make progress on these important issues, we need to continue the fight for women’s voices to be heard. Equal political representation ensures that parliaments globally represent the needs and issues of their citizens. We support women’s political representation around the world through a number of programmes. For example, in Pakistan, our support to the 2013 election helped many more women to register as voters, with many going on to vote for the first time ever. It also brought national attention to the 8 million women missing from the electoral roll.
Education is crucial if we want to ensure that women and girls are engaged and active in political and public life. In this country, girls tend to perform well at school. In fact, they regularly outperform their male counterparts. However, around the world, 65 million girls aged between five and 15 are not in school—the equivalent of almost the entire UK population. Education is a critical tool to tackle injustice and build a more equal society. It provides girls with the space to develop their own thoughts and opinions, and most importantly their voices. This Government have championed girls’ education across the world. The Foreign Secretary has made girls’ education a foreign policy priority and appointed a special envoy on gender equality to lead this work. Moreover, our country programmes between 2015 and 2017 supported at least 3.3 million girls around the world to get a good education.
Education is important but we know it is not enough in itself to ensure gender equality in the workplace. For women to have equal opportunities to men at work, employers need to take action, and we all need to challenge harmful social norms that can hold women back. We want the UK to lead the way for gender equality in the workplace. Research has shown that companies with more diverse workforces perform better than their counterparts. The employment rate for women is at a joint record high of 70.8%, and we need to build on this to make the most of women’s skills, talents and potential. To tackle the gender pay gap we have introduced world-leading regulations requiring organisations with 250 or more employees to report their gap. These regulations will not only drive employers to calculate and report their gender pay gaps but shine a light on the factors driving the gaps, thereby encouraging and enabling employers to take action to close them.
Working with our international friends is essential in making progress. Over the past year we agreed a roadmap for gender equality with the other G7 countries. We have taken extra steps to strengthen our collaboration with Canada, following the Prime Minister’s visit in Ottawa last September. The Government Equalities Office signed a memorandum of understanding with the All-China Women’s Federation. Next month, women’s empowerment and girls’ education will be among the key issues to be discussed at the Commonwealth summit in London.
I conclude by thanking everyone who will speak in this debate and I look forward to hearing some of the contributions.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing this debate before us and for her opening remarks, which show that we have made progress in many fields but still have a way to go yet. We all look forward to the day when a woman who gets a top job does not make headlines because that has become the norm.
The theme for International Women’s Day is “Press for Progress”. Making progress on what has so far been achieved for women is something we should all be looking to accelerate in all walks of life. Be it women in politics, in the workplace or at home, or young girls at school, or young women in further education, we need to press for more and faster progress.
When one look at young women and girls starting out in life, what can they expect? The Women and Equalities Select Committee carried out an inquiry into sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, and published its report in September 2016. It showed that 29% of 16 to 18 year-old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school; and that in 2014—I am sure that nothing has changed since—59% of girls and young women aged between 13 and 21 said that they had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year. Young people told the committee that sexual harassment has become a normal part of school life—it is sad that sexual harassment at school has become normal. Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project has described sexual harassment and sexual violence in school as,
“A widespread, regular and common problem… something that the majority of girls are experiencing”.
The committee’s report found inconsistency in how schools deal with sexual harassment and violence, and a lack of guidance and support for teachers.
The UK Feminista and the National Education Union published a report in 2017 on sexism in school. It reported that sexism in school is endemic but not inevitable. Consistent and ongoing action is required from schools, government and education bodies to tackle it. Its findings and conclusions were similar to the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s report. These two reports show us that there are many problems in schools. What action are the Government taking on the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Select Committee? They responded positively and, hopefully, they have actioned the measures suggested in their response.
One recommendation was the setting up of an advisory group to look at how the issues and recommendations can be best reflected within the existing DfE guidance for schools, including KCSIE—Keeping Children Safe in Education—and behavioural and bullying guidance. Can the Minister say what progress has been made and whether the advisory group is working? A change of culture in our schools is required, and this can be achieved provided the resources are put into it. Only then will the next generation of girls be able to attend school without fear of sexual harassment in a place that should be one of safety.
On educational achievements, as the Minister said, girls are outperforming boys at school, but they are not going on to be higher earners than men or to be equally represented in leadership positions. There are a number of reasons for this, but school and the education system have their part to play. Young women experience gender norms and stereotypes which prevent them from reaching their full potential. Only one in three girls who take maths and science at GCSE level go on to take a STEM subject at A-level or its equivalent, compared to eight out of 10 boys. The Education Policy Institute has found that there is a large gender gap in entries to arts subjects, with girls far more likely to enter them than boys. This has been the case throughout the last decade and it is widening.
There are more women than men starting apprenticeships. However, men are dominating the apprenticeships with higher earning potential. We are seeing the way in which gender stereotypes move from school subjects, to apprenticeships, to the workplace, and that male-dominated work is valued more highly. According to the House of Commons Library figures, in 2016-17 some 54% of apprenticeship starts were by women and 46% by men. The number of women starting apprenticeships in England has been higher than men every year since 2010-11, but men continue to dominate apprenticeships with the best earning potential. In 2014-15, nearly 17,000 men started engineering apprenticeships while only 600 girls did. That is not good, and more needs to be done to ensure we make better progress. What action are the Government taking to encourage more women to take up jobs such as engineering?
We are marking the centenary of women getting the vote and being allowed to stand for Parliament—we had a good debate on this on
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union global ranking table for women parliamentarians, the UK is 39th on the list. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017 findings tell us that gender parity is more than 200 years away. That means it will happen neither within the lifetime of everyone living on the planet today nor for several generations to come. For women, that is very slow progress and we need to do much better going forward.
Progress in this field will not happen unless there is action similar to that which the Labour Party has taken by having all-women shortlists since 1997. This process has been used in all types of elections, not only to the Commons, and it works. I know other parties are taking action within their own ranks, but if we could all make similar progress, we would be well on our way to achieving the aims of the United Nations campaign “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”.
More than 130 countries have adopted some type of legal electoral quotas to deal with the underrepresentation of women in political life. Perhaps we could look at this in the UK and have a serious discussion about it. Otherwise, it will take 200 years to get there. Gender parity will not just happen; action has to be taken. We owe it to future generations of young women who want to into politics and make their contribution in public service.
In February 2017, the Prime Minister announced the Government were working towards a domestic violence and abuse Act, to which the Minister referred earlier. Last month, she confirmed that there would be a further wait for legislation. I am pleased to see that the consultation has been launched today. This is welcome because we have been waiting a while for it. However, there is concern that the scope of the Bill will be too narrow and focus solely on domestic violence and the criminal justice system, missing out vital wider issues such as sustainable funding for refuges. Will the Minister give a commitment to ensure that that this new Bill will address the full range of issues affecting victims of domestic violence?
On average, every week two women are killed by their partner or former partner. We all know this statistic and we all quote it. As the Minister said, we have perhaps become too familiar with it and need to consider how horrific that statistic is. But with austerity and cuts to funding of women refuges, many women have no safe place to go and there are stories that many of those who seek refuge are turned away as there is no place for them where once there was. This is an essential service for the protection of women and girls who are caught up in domestic violence, and more action and funding is required in order to see this happen. I hope that the consultation will allow different organisations to feed in, which is its purpose, and hopefully many good things will come out of it. I hope the new domestic violence and abuse Act will address these problems and make life perhaps a little better for women who suffer from domestic violence and abuse.
We will need to continue to “Press for Progress” for some time yet, but if the will and determination is there it will happen—I have no doubt about that. I look forward to the contributions of noble Lords and noble Baronesses and to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing this debate in this key year when we mark 100 years since women first secured the vote in the United Kingdom. We sorely miss Lady Turner as we debate the issue today. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, will have access to a very large file—if she does not have it in front of her—from the wonderful but overstretched Government Equalities Office so that she can best cover the wide range of areas that we will no doubt raise. I know that because I was, during the coalition, in the fortunate position of being where she is, responding to this debate. When I look back to those days, it is stunning to see what has changed since then.
Who would have thought then that we would face the prospect of leaving the European Union, which has brought such benefits for women into UK law, and that we apparently plan to leave even though the Government’s own analyses show that it is the poorest in our society—and women are poorer than men—who will be disproportionately affected by Brexit? Who would have thought that we would have Donald Trump in the White House, despite all the abuse he has meted out to women, and currying favour with the right wing over the rights of women? Who would have thought that he would defeat Hillary Clinton, who made the phrase “women’s rights are human rights” her own, and who made sure that women in Afghanistan, for example, were not pushed aside for so-called cultural reasons in a country where perhaps all that has emerged from allied engagement is an improvement in women’s rights?
On the other side of things, who would have thought that Harvey Weinstein and others would have been brought low, and that the world would listen when women shouted #MeToo and Time’s Up? Who would have thought that Oxfam would be on the ropes over the sexual exploitation of women in countries where they are most vulnerable? Wherever there are inequalities of power and in the relations between men and women—in other words, globally—such exploitation has long been a fact of life. We knew that in many developing countries girls were not safe even in school, because their teachers demanded sexual favours. We knew that peacekeepers could not be trusted not to abuse the female population whom they were supposed to protect. So I guess it should not have come as a surprise that in aid there could be abuse, even by those who should fully have understood their responsibility.
It is clearly the case, as the Minister outlined, that we have indeed secured greater equality in the West and in Britain. That we are all here, in this House, playing the parts that we do, is testimony to that. But women in Britain, as we have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, are still far from equal in terms of pay, responsibility for domestic work, and caring for children and older relatives. I was shocked today to read that women are five times more likely to be donors of kidneys to their husbands than the other way around. How about that for what is expected of you, and gender inequality?
Nor are we on the boards of companies in the numbers that we should be, or governors of central banks. I heard last night that only 6% of central bank governors worldwide are women. I met one last night, courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who was in his place just now, at OMFIF. She is the governor of the central bank of Serbia—but even she emphasised that she must also play a full part at home with her family; cleaning, cooking and, as she put it, having a smile on her face when her husband and children come home. This is the governor of a central bank.
We know that if equality is far from achieved here in Britain, it is miles away from being achieved worldwide. We see a sharp reminder of how things are elsewhere with the debate over the visit of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, though I welcome the shifts being made in his country and applaud the women who have helped this along. I recall visiting the country a few years back and seeing for myself the inequalities there: women boxed away in a small part of the university while the men ranged through the rest, including the library, which was barred to women. In my hotel, in a break between meetings, I decided to take advantage of the swimming pool. As I headed in, I was told “You can’t swim. This isn’t the women’s hour”. Disappointed, I asked when the women’s hour was. “There isn’t one”, came the reply.
It is because, worldwide, we see inequality that I am such a supporter of quotas and positive action in parliaments, including ours. I have seen how much was achieved in Pakistan, for example, by those elected to the women’s places. In the last Parliament there, 70% of the legislation was taken through by women, who made up less than 30% of the parliament, working across and deep into their own parties. Their focus was on improving the lot of women: for example, by criminalising acid attacks. It is also why, in terms of development, it is right to put the overwhelming emphasis on women and girls and to invest in girls’ education. The longer a girl is in school, the fewer children she has and the better she is able to be independent and provide for and educate her family. She, her family, her community and her country all benefit. It is also why emphasising family planning is vital, so that all women who wish to access family planning can do so.
We should not ignore the challenge of abortion. I welcome the report on abortion by the All-Party Group on Population and Development and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, in that regard. The report recognises that abortions will occur, and that so often deaths result where they are not legal and medically assisted. It estimates that the proportion of maternal mortality in developing countries resulting from unsafe abortion ranges as high as 18%. Maternal morbidity from the consequences of unsafe abortion is also common. The report points out, rightly, that young women, poor women and women in conflict situations are particularly vulnerable. I am proud of the fact that in coalition we put into law our commitment to 0.7% of GNI for aid, with a particular focus on women and girls. I am proud of the fact that DfID has not shied away from areas such as family planning and abortion over recent years—unlike Trump’s America. Long may that continue.
I also pay tribute here to the focus DfID has had on women with disabilities—something pioneered by my noble friend Lord Bruce when he was chair of the International Development Select Committee and my noble friend Lady Featherstone as a DfID Minister. Sightsavers points out that women with disabilities are among the most marginalised in the world. Many are likely to experience the double discrimination of gender and disability. Men with a disability are almost twice as likely to be employed as their female counterparts. Women and girls with disabilities suffer particularly high rates of gender-based violence, sexual abuse, neglect and exploitation.
So although we recognise what has been achieved globally for women, there is indeed still much to do, which is why this annual debate is important. Yes, we should not recall this on only one day a year, but this is a time, at the very least, to take stock of where we are and where we seem to be going. In some regards we appear to be moving forward, but in others the forces of reaction seem to be taking us in the opposite direction.
My Lords, in this centenary year, when we celebrate the fact that some women in the UK got the right to vote in 1918, I would like to widen the lens to consider briefly the international scene as it is now—the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, has referred to part of that already—and then I shall focus on one country in particular, Albania. This is not just because I visited it last month in the February Recess as a member of the UK’s IPU group, but because Albania provides an example of the challenges that must be overcome when seeking to achieve gender equality and the progress that can be made by determined efforts both within country and with the assistance of the UK and with UN Women.
The report published this month by the IPU Secretary-General shows that,
“progress made in women’s political involvement is slowing. With the exception of some countries that have made a headway because of political will, this has been, overall, a disappointing year”.
It is vital that women are part of decision-making institutions such as Parliament. It is fundamental, not just for gender equality but for democracy and the legitimacy of the process.
Last year we saw some positive developments in women’s participation in elections worldwide. A record number of women contested elections and more seats were won by women than in previous years, but this was largely due to measures such as electoral quotas for women. Whatever our views on gender quota systems, we cannot ignore the impact that they have. In the 20 countries where quotas were used, women won over 30% of the seats, while in the 16 countries where they were not used, they only won 17%. The trailblazers in the Americas were Argentina, Chile and Ecuador—all countries that have developed progressive legislation to promote women’s political leadership.
Elections across the Asia-Pacific region generally reflected the fact that gender norms continue to work against women’s entry into politics as societies lay stronger emphasis on women’s role in the unpaid, domestic sphere. New Zealand was the standout success where they elected the highest ever proportion of women MPs at 39% and Jacinda Ardern as their Prime Minister. Her pregnancy has given rise to a national debate on women’s ability to balance political leadership and motherhood.
Europe was the region making the greatest gains in the number of women MPs. The most prominent increase was in France, where President Macron’s party fielded gender-balanced lists.
Let me turn to Albania. Historically, it has had low numbers of women in elected office but it made significant progress last year. The proportion of women elected jumped from 18% to 28%. Why was this? It was because they benefited from a gender quota and from public fora organised by UN Women which enabled them to raise awareness of the importance of women playing a role in public life.
Our UK parliamentarians’ visit to Albania was timely. There is a significant focus on the western Balkans this year by the UK and the EU. We will host the EU western Balkans summit in London in May and I believe we hold our own summit on the western Balkans later in the summer. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in Munich last month:
“We have a long-standing and enduring commitment to the security, stability and prosperity of the region and this will never change”.
We are working with Governments from all six western Balkan countries to improve the rule of law, promote economic governance and attack the difficult issue of corruption across the region.
Albania is a middle-income democracy—a member of NATO, an EU candidate member state and a member of the Human Rights Council. It is a country that has emerged from the isolation of the Enver Hoxha years and is seeking a pathway to a secure Euro-Atlantic future. Our delegation was given a very warm welcome. I would like to put on record my thanks to the President, Prime Minister, Mayor of Tirana and all the MPs who gave so much of their time to have discussions with us. It was a pleasure to meet the All-Party Alliance of Women MPs to discuss the steps being taken to press for progress on gender equality.
In 2008, Albania passed a law on gender equality which, among other measures, established a minimum 30% quota for women and stipulated that one of the first three names on the political parties’ candidates list must be that of a female candidate. But it is not just a matter of numbers. It is vital that those who are elected are able to take up their places in safety and play their full part in politics.
The women MPs whom we met believed that the application of the gender quota has opened up many more opportunities for women and had some effect on countering prejudicial political attitudes generally. They believed that people are more convinced that women politicians are more stable, more responsible and more professional.
Hear, hear, indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton says. I agree, and I am sure noble Lords would agree too.
In recent years, the Government of Albania have embarked on reforms to improve legal policy and institutional gender equality mechanisms—we use a rather convoluted vocabulary in these circumstances. The new national strategy has provided a strong gender equality vision in Albania. However, as will sound familiar, the financial and human resources to ensure proper implementation are currently insufficient.
Domestic violence prevention, protection, prosecution and referral mechanisms are weak. But they are a Government priority and they are improving for the first time. UN Women makes the point that women in Albania continue to face daunting challenges. Violence against women is common, with almost 60% of Albanian women aged 15 to 49 having experienced domestic violence. Forced and early marriage is still a problem in some, mainly rural, areas of the country. There is much more to do, but it is important to recognise that real progress has been made and for the UK to be a firm and constant ally in that progress.
The formidably able members of the Alliance of Women MPs are ready to meet these challenges, and I wish them well. Next week, when I am in New York at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, I will attend the Albania side event on the participation of women in politics in the western Balkans and hope to learn more.
After half a century of my life working to achieve gender equality, one big hope remains. I hope that one day we will no longer even have to try to defend the principle that equality for one half of the human race with the other half is, quite simply, right in itself. I always am the eternal optimist.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this debate in such an important year—the 100th anniversary of women gaining the vote. As we have heard, we have a proud record in this country of promoting women’s rights globally.
Today, I want to focus on the progress of women in the UK. As we promote women’s rights globally, we need to do more to get our own house in order. On International Women’s Day, it is welcome that women from minority backgrounds are becoming more visible. As the only woman of Turkish Cypriot heritage in this House, I would like to see more women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds represented in public life and in all walks of life.
When I was elected in the early 1990s in Hackney, London, I was the first woman from my background to be elected as a councillor and it caused quite a stir. Only a few women councillors had similar experience to mine. I met with some opposition, mainly from the men from my community when I was out canvassing. They asked me who was going to look after my children and cook my husband’s dinner.
That quickly changed as more women from my community and heritage started to become involved in public life. I am pleased to say that women from Turkish Kurdish, Turkish Cypriot and other communities are much better represented in public life today. It is perfectly normal now. I was used to being the “only” or the “first” and I gradually found that very annoying, but I am pleased that that has changed.
My mother came to the UK with very little education. She went to school until the age of only about 12—the first girl in the family to do so. She was unable to speak, read or write English. She struggled when she came here and married very young. But she was a very smart woman, mainly self-taught as many early immigrant women were, and she went on to run a successful small business. I am proud that I come from a line of strong women who are self-starters and who, like many women here as well, just get on with it.
There are more than 2 million black and minority ethnic women in this country. They are not properly reflected, sadly, in public life across the country, and certainly not in Parliament or local councils. But today when I look around Parliament, I am heartened to see that there have been great improvements. Many will speak from their own life experiences and on behalf of minorities who may otherwise feel silenced. This is why we need greater plurality in public life.
Despite this progress, our work has only just begun. The life chances of black and minority ethnic groups, especially women of Muslim heritage, still lag far behind the life chances of the rest of the population. Black and minority ethnic groups tend to have poorer health and shorter life expectancy and face discrimination at work and in their day-to-day lives.
The most recent review by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, about 18 months ago, found that black people in Britain are more than twice as likely to be murdered as white people and three times as likely to be prosecuted and sentenced, and that the life chances of young ethnic minority people in the UK have collapsed in the last five years and are at their worst level for generations. The review examined education, employment, housing, pay, health and criminal justice and found what it described as an “alarming picture” of rampant race-based inequality entrenched within Britain. Its depressing conclusion was that these figures underline,
“just how entrenched and far-reaching race inequality remains”.
The commission’s chairman concluded:
“We must redouble our efforts to tackle race inequality urgently or risk the divisions in our society growing and racial tensions increasing. If you are black or an ethnic minority in modern Britain, it can often still feel like you’re living in a different world, never mind being part of a one nation society”.
I will just share a few more statistics that need to be highlighted. In work, women from a Pakistani background see the biggest gender pay gap, earning 26% less than their colleagues. A Black and minority ethnic person with a degree is twice as likely to be unemployed. Around 40% of ethnic minorities live in low-income households—twice the rate of the white population. We know, as has been highlighted many times, that race hate crimes against Muslim women have, sadly, increased significantly post the EU referendum. All in all, if you are born into a non-white home in 21st century Britain, you can expect to earn less, face discrimination and die earlier.
Of course, by way of balance, there are growing exceptions and there have been improvements, but it is not moving or changing fast enough. The time for talking is over and the situation has to be tackled. I do not want to wait another 30 years—although I am sure I will not be here in 30 years’ time—for the balance to be redressed. I call on the House and the Government to make International Women’s Day the day we start to do something about inequalities for women from a BME background.
On Tuesday, I attended an event organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, which, in a celebration of International Women’s Day, brought together a growing number of leading Muslim women, among them MPs, lawyers, journalists, professionals and even the winner of Masterchef 2017—Saliha Ahmed, a wonderful woman—to showcase how things are slowly changing. Women from less privileged backgrounds are now pushing or kicking open doors that remained firmly shut unless you came from the right background or had the necessary networks. The key message was for young women to ask and to not be afraid to find out how to get involved in public life or the profession they would like to join. They should not be pushed back or be afraid.
This is why role models really matter. Representation is the key to changing this situation. Ethnic minorities make up 12% of the workforce, yet just 6% are in senior positions. We are faced with what I call a concrete ceiling. Ethnic minority women, who already have to break the glass ceiling, have to go one step further to break the other ceiling as well if they want to get the job they deserve. In a way, we are talking about a double whammy, because women from ethnic minority backgrounds are more likely to be from a working-class background.
Many of us welcomed the words of the Prime Minister, who raised the issue of the poor life chances of black people in Britain on the steps of 10 Downing Street when she became Prime Minister. The Government, led by the Prime Minister, must urgently raise expectations. This is an issue for schools and colleges as well, which need to raise the expectations of girls, particularly those from poorer and ethnic minority backgrounds. We know that really matters: role models, expectations and mentoring really make a difference. We must redouble efforts to build a fair society. A fairer and more equal society is a happier society.
Globally, women are speaking out and pushing for their rights. Today I call on the Government and all like-minded women in public life to take action and work with civil society to create a more level playing field for all women here in the UK, no matter what their ethnicity. Let us press for progress.
My Lords, I was here for the Finance (No.2) Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, was saying how few people had taken part in the Second Reading, so one noble Lord who was still there said, “Well, it’s because the next debate is so important, so they didn’t take part in the Finance (No.2) Bill”. But if this debate is so important, why are so few men taking part? Nothing will change in the world unless the men commit themselves also to improving women’s lot. It cannot be done by women alone and I am sure that all the women here know that perfectly well. Until half the people speaking in this debate are men, I will feel quite disappointed. I had been hoping for this all along. I have been in your Lordships’ House since 1990 and it has not happened yet. It is amazing to think that we can do this alone.
Men have really been in the lead since time immemorial: men have been this, men have been that, while women have not. We used to think the cavemen were ahead of the women, but now they have found that cavewomen were very strong indeed. Maybe that will give us an important point to work towards. As has already been said, this whole concept of women today is global and not just British. I thank the Minister as well that it is global. There are so many different and unbelievable things happening in our world that sitting in this Chamber, we cannot really get our heads around it, but we ought to try if we can.
First, I want to remind ourselves of what is happening to some of the women in this country. We already know that a sharia marriage is not recognised by British law. What does that mean for a woman who has a sharia marriage? She has no rights whatever. Is that the right thing? She cannot ask for anything from her husband. He can put her out on the street and that is it. He can sometimes even put the children out on the street. When people say to him, “Why don’t you look after your family?”, he will say, “The Government will look after them”. There are two negative points to this: first, the woman has no rights and, secondly, the Government have to pay to look after that woman and have no claims against the husband. The sooner this is looked at and changed, the better. It is quite wrong for people to come to live in this country and to follow rules which are completely the opposite of what we believe in. It is not right and will never become right. We have to look at these things and say they are not acceptable.
It is nothing to do with religion: sharia is not a religious law, but a law which has been created by the priests—the maulvis. It changes from country to country, and sometimes it changes from one group of three presiding priests to the next three presiding priests.
So please make an effort to get this put right. It is appalling. The statistics tell us that more than 60% of women under 40 could be in unregistered sharia marriages. The families do not like registration. Why should they? Is it not much better for them if they do not have to do anything for their wives? This bothers and upsets me. A sharia review said clearly that these marriages should be registered. What has been done as a result of the Casey report? We know these things are not right, but we just go on doing them. We should know much better.
In many countries there are laws to protect women—in India, for example, there are a lot. If you were to ask a lawyer, they would tell you, “Oh, we have this, we have that”. Ask them how much is enforced. Nothing is enforced, or what is enforced is a minute fraction. It is no use having a law that is not enforced. It is far better to have fewer laws that are enforced. There are a lot of lawyers here today, so I am sure they will agree with me.
In Africa and India put together there are 1 billion women, and they do more work than the men in these areas—it is said that women do more than three-quarters of the work. When I was in Jamaica I saw the women doing far more work than the men. I begged them to have a one-day strike and to do nothing except look after the very sick and the children.
Women have worked very hard in every age and at every stage. They did not have, for example, the support of religion. You might say that religion could have supported women. Some people, such as the Sikhs, say, “oh, but we believe in equality”. Yes, their religion believes in equality, but it does not exist in fact. So we have also had the burden of religion saying to women, “your place is here”—Kirche, Küche, Kinder—“not in public life”.
I felt quite close to the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, when she said that she did not like being called “the first and the only one”. All my life I have been called “the first and the only one” because that is how my life started. When I came to this House in 1990, I was “the only one”. There were very few women here then as well. I was “the first” to be the mayor of Windsor. Things have been happening but I think we need to be in these positions because it encourages others to realise that if this woman can do it, they can do it as well. Always be proud of what you have done and what you are able to show other people that you can do.
I would like to talk about women’s attitudes towards other women. It is improving, but it has been quite bad. Women have not been willing to support other women. We have to learn to support each other all the time in everything. I hope this will happen in due course because younger women are much more aware of it.
Lastly, how do we change the attitude of mothers towards their sons and daughters? We have done a lot of work in this country and attitudes have changed, but there is a whole, vast world still where the son is the prince—not the daughter.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, led us through some rather incredible “who would have thought it?” moments. It is also rather incredible that today we have a female monarch, Prime Minister, Home Secretary, Leader of both Houses of Parliament, Scottish First Minister, head of the fire service and head of the Metropolitan Police. Despite all these great achievements, it feels very fragile, as though it could disappear in a minute.
It is eight years since I made my maiden speech in this same International Women’s Day debate and it is therefore always, for me, a moment of reflection. What have I achieved over the past year? What have I done for women over the past year? What more can I do next year? I am not going to dwell on the general election and the effect it had on women in my own party, and how well the Labour Party did, because I covered that ground pretty comprehensibly in the debate on the centenary of the Representation of the People Act last month. It is quite possible that no one would notice if I repeated myself, but I shall resist the temptation.
Let me start on the global stage and set the scene by looking at overpopulation—by which I mean the growth of restless and surplus labour. This is a massive problem, although it is by no means universal. Things are going the other way in Japan, which has the highest living standards in the world, and in much of the West. This gives us a clue about the solution. If we look at the countries where population is growing fastest, where unemployment is highest and where tensions are greatest, without exception we find a common factor: female illiteracy. The correlation is astonishing. Look at the high birth rate in countries of sub-Saharan Africa and you will find female illiteracy running at 50%, 60% or sometimes even 70% plus. Among adult women in Pakistan it is 66%; it is 33% even in India. Small wonder that India’s population is set to overtake that of China, where female illiteracy has been all but eliminated.
It really is that simple. It is not just a moral outrage; it is directly contrary to the interests of world peace, prosperity of country and community, health and happiness that such a huge proportion of our population—so many women and girls—should be unable to participate, alongside their brothers, in the economic life of their country. Female education is the tool that helps tackle so many challenges in the developing world. Societies where women can read, write and do maths as efficiently as their male counterparts will be healthier, happier and more prosperous. They will be in stabler populations and smaller families and, therefore, there will be fewer alienated and maladjusted young men whose egos require them to think of women as childbearing chattels.
This ambition and focus on women and girls is at the heart of the UK’s overseas policy—a policy shared by both Penny Mordaunt at DfID and by the Foreign Office—and will be at the heart of the Commonwealth summit in April. It is not just a campaign for fairness and freedom, but its essential contraceptive impact will help to fix so many other problems—not just overpopulation and poverty but the threat of war, disorder, terrorism, climate change and the loss of habitat and species. Mankind is conquering so many of today’s challenges—from famine to disease—but, if we are to solve the problems of today, mankind needs to prioritise the education of girls and easy access to contraception so that they can have control over their own bodies. Twelve years of full-time education is not the only answer to the world’s problems, but it is a jolly good start.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, mentioned, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that equality in the job market would yield an extra £20 trillion to global GDP by 2025. I have no feel for what £20 trillion looks like, but it is a heck of a lot of money and a life-changing, even world-changing opportunity.
Along with thousands of men and women, I attended the International Women’s Day march on Sunday, organised by Care International on the theme of #March4Women from here, just outside this building, up to Trafalgar Square. We listened to inspirational speeches. Marchers from all backgrounds, all political parties and none supported all kinds of causes. Many were marching because of their anger at injustice, at girls being denied an education, angry that half the women in the world have experienced physical or sexual violence. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for today inviting many victims of domestic violence and charities which support these women into Number 10 for a reception to celebrate International Women’s Day. Many on the march were angry that 12 year-olds are even today being forced to marry, and that those young teenagers are becoming mothers before they are ready and often die in the process. Still today in 18 countries women need permission from a man to have a job. Around the world millions of girls, and here in the UK 24,000 girls, are at risk from FGM. It was a privilege for me to walk during that march with the inspirational and brave anti-FGM campaigner Nimco Ali, a woman who has spoken out about her own experience and is determined to do what she can to prevent others suffering as she did. Many on that march were concerned that the World Economic Forum report found that the gender pay gap internationally is widening for the first time in decades. All were frustrated at the wasted talent and potential.
I applaud Penny Mordaunt and DfID for continuing to place women and girls at the heart of their efforts, particularly those to bring an end to conflict and bring peace, which includes everyone. I welcome her announcement yesterday of a £10 million fund in the name of Jo Cox, which will focus on Jo’s social, economic and political empowerment work continued by the Jo Cox memorial fund.
I had half hoped to be able to talk about the #MeToo movement today, but that is for another day because, for today at least, Time’s Up.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin of Kennington, whose record on women’s issues and equality is quite outstanding. I congratulate the Minister on initiating the debate.
The campaign for equal rights, as has been said, is not new, but it is always stimulating to participate in a debate of this kind involving women and men. One of the most exhilarating International Women’s Days that I experienced was when I attended a women’s conference in New York with Gloria Steinem as the guest speaker, but that was 35 years ago.
I am afraid that I can go back even further. Forty-four years ago, my former trade union, NALGO, decided to investigate and report on the promotion of equal rights for women, and I was lucky enough to be a member of the group. The report analysed inequality and discrimination in the workplace, the weaknesses of the anti-discrimination legislation and job segregation. It called for a full nursery and childcare facility and flexible working patterns for women. The NALGO history recorded that the report was,
“a devastating appraisal of the situation of women at work, in society and within NALGO”.
I mention this because we have known for a very long time the causes of inequality for women and the solutions. I do not want another report analysing the problems. We need a recognition by Government that they must lead, facilitate, and open their purse where necessary, if we are to move forward.
I commend the Government for going ahead with the requirement for companies and the public sector to analyse and publish statistics on the gender pay gap. It will be interesting to see the concrete figures when they are published shortly. Much publicity has been given to the gender pay gap as a result of the gyrations of the BBC. The downside of this negative coverage is that it has probably frightened a lot of well-meaning employers, who will go into their collective shell rather than making plans. The April deadline for companies with 250 employees or more to publish their gender pay gap data is fast approaching. Last month, only 550 companies out of 9,000 had published their figures. The average gender pay gap is 11%, and is worse in construction and financial services in particular.
I accept that the first round of calculations will be the hardest for companies, but after that it will be much easier and there is plenty of advice around. It is essential for companies to plan now and state how any gap will be rectified over time. An example given in People Management was of easyJet, with a 52% mean gender pay gap but only 6% women pilots. EasyJet has publicly committed to a target of 20% of new-entry pilots being women by 2020. Companies should be praised for taking these steps.
Once employers understand the difference between a gender pay gap and an equal pay issue it will be easier to communicate with their employees. Instead of regarding the exercise as a burden on business, it could be a great opportunity to become a real equal opportunities employer, attracting the best available talent and minimising talent wastage, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, said. The CIPD, of which I am a fellow, is holding a gender pay gap conference today, so help is out there.
Local government has often been more progressive than central government on this issue. My thanks go to the Local Government Association for pointing out that next year will be the 150th anniversary of single women ratepayers having the right to vote in local government elections and of the Municipal Franchise Act 1869, an anniversary which should be celebrated. The LGA is continuing its “Be a councillor” campaign on a cross-party basis to encourage more women to stand for election as councillors.
The Greater London Authority has been working with Gingerbread to assist single parents who are locked out of work because of the cost of childcare. They struggle with up-front costs, such as deposits to secure a nursery place, which must be paid before the first pay cheque comes in. This will be even more critical when universal credit is rolled out. It will be paid in arrears and costs prior to employment will not be readily available. Gingerbread has an “up front” policy, whereby local government or employers could pay parents’ deposits directly to enable them to accept a job or increase working hours before the money starts coming in. It is to be hoped that this commendable co-operation will spread to other parts of local government. However, it is a poor substitute for the targeted support which existed in the 2000s.
Local government could do so much more if it were given adequate financial support. The benefit cap has affected single parents, mainly women, who make up three-quarters of capped households. Those who find it hardest to move into work will have preschool children. Single parents still face a disproportionate risk of poverty and figures are returning to the levels not seen for two decades. Compared with the system in 2013-14, lone parent families will be £2,380 a year worse off. Single parents are more likely than the average employee to be trapped in low-paid work. Lifting the two-child cap would keep 200,000 children out of poverty, according to the Child Poverty Action Group. Removing the benefit cap could keep up to 100,000 children from poverty.
Government policy in this area has a detrimental impact on women and their opportunities. I hope the Government will look again at the issue of paying universal credit to women in couples, or at least allow an agreed split in income. The Government have argued up to now that this represents “interference” and would undermine the responsibility of couples in managing their affairs. However, one could equally argue, as the Women’s Budget Group does, that making couples choose one partner to receive the payment also represents “interference”. The Government’s aim to encourage committed couples is commendable, but their current policy could act as a disincentive to single people moving in with a new partner.
Cuts in public services have a disproportionate effect on women. The Women’s Budget Group reported that women have borne 86% of the impact of austerity through lost services and changes to the tax and benefit system. In conclusion, on this International Women’s Day, will the Minister say whether the Government are considering a review of the cuts in benefits which affect women so badly, and whether local government will have the resources that it so desperately needs?
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness and I pay tribute to the work that she has done over her lifetime, from which many people have benefited.
Are men from Mars and women from Venus? I pose it as a question that I will leave hanging in the air because, perhaps as this debate progresses, we can take a decision on it. There are differences. I am not somebody who believes that there are no differences that need to be recognised. The question is how we harmonise the differences that need to be harmonised in order to bring about equality.
Back in the 1980s when I did a proper job, I trained people in business. I recall very much then, particularly in the manufacturing sector, how the change in corporate culture, particularly in management style, was starting to come in, mainly because of things such as the Japanese just-in-time system. I can recall then having long discussions—I looked this up at the weekend—about a chap called Hofstede. We used to talk about whether the cultures in certain countries were masculine or feminine. Hofstede wrote a paper that said a masculine culture was a society that emphasised assertiveness and the acquisition of money and material things, whereas femininity was a cultural dimension describing societies that emphasised relationships, concern for others and the overall quality of life.
At that time—many decades ago—he found that Japan had a masculine quality and the Nordic countries and the Netherlands were the most feminine. I was quite interested to see on the front page of the briefing prepared for this debate by the House of Lords Library that it states:
“Gender disparities continue to exist globally, including in the UK”— which is something we would all agree with.
“A World Economic Forum analysis of the global gender gap, taking into account economic participation, education, health and political participation, found that weighted by population, the average progress on closing the global gender gap stood at 68 percent in 2017. The UK had a gender gap of 33 percent, and was ranked 15th out of 144 countries for overall gender parity. The top three countries were Iceland, Norway and Finland”— the very Nordic countries which, all those decades ago, had already identified a culture where the things that were important were to the fore. We are talking here about hard-edged management tools and management approaches of societies that emphasise relationships, concern for others and overall quality of life.
In order to bring about this equality, there needs to be leadership on a global level and on a national level. It is needed in our institutions and in our corporate sector, and it is also—this has been touched on once already today—needed in the home. Mothers particularly can have a huge influence on their sons. You might have thought I was going to say “on their daughters”. Mothers can influence the way in which their sons develop. Many of the issues are not just things that worry us but are effectively criminality, not just nationally but around the globe. If they are to be addressed, the culture has to be changed at all levels.
Again, going back many years—I promise I will not keep harping on about the past, but at my age people tend to—when I was a Minister back in the 1990s I also had the privilege of being the government co-chairman of the Women’s National Commission. It was a very fine body of women. Many people around this Chamber were involved with the WNC. I was very sorry that it was a Conservative Government who decided to dispense with it. I think it did very good work. It was exactly the right group of people to bring women together and to make their views known directly to government.
I attended the 1995 UN conference on women in Beijing. I can see others in the Chamber who were there and who were involved. From that came the platform for action that resulted in a decision to make mainstream throughout government departments legislation and policy being looked at through the prism of how it affects women.
I want to add at this point—it has already been mentioned, I think by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover—something about Sightsavers. Sightsavers is incredibly concerned about the United Nations. Of course it has to be a global leader. If the UN is not the global leader, then which organisation is? However, in terms of the women with disabilities, which Sightsavers has flagged up, it says:
“Our attention is focused on the United Nations where, of the ten United Nations treaty bodies, women are currently underrepresented on seven”,
And, even worse, there is only one woman member on the committee that looks at the rights of persons with disabilities. This is quite disgraceful, and that one person will retire in July. I urge my noble friend on the Front Bench to say that that Government will make representations on that to the United Nations through ministerial communications and through our representatives in the UN.
As has been mentioned, very often there is more than just one discriminatory area—disability is one; we all know what the others are: sex, religion, colour, race and, I would add, class. I want to complete what I am saying today—because it is, I hope, a day of celebration—by saying thank you, particularly to those women who trod the path or sat on the green Benches before those of us who have had the privilege of serving down in another place. When you read what they went through, not just to get there but when they were actually there, it is quite astonishing. I include all of them in that. It is quite interesting that, although we often mention Margaret Thatcher in terms of being the first woman Prime Minister, it was not just because she was a woman that she had to fight. She fought criticism of the class she came from, from men who thought they were far superior to her, because she was a grocer’s daughter. So very often class prejudice—and it goes both ways—adds to what often is a double or sometimes a triple burden.
I would like to finish—it sounds like the Oscars, I know, but I will never get an Oscar—by saying thank you to my mother, my long-deceased mother, I have to say. She was a working mother of three children. I grew up in a household where it never occurred to me that it was not the norm for married women with families to work. She was just a great role model for me. Thank you to all of the people who have spoken in this debate, many of whom who should be getting an Oscar for the work they have done for women.
My Lords, I am delighted because a lot of what I had planned to say—and it was not very much because I had a very late night last night, which I will tell you about later—has been said already by many Peers. That is thanks to the efforts of Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for International Development years ago and his successors in a Conservative Government. I do not often say nice things about Conservative Governments, I know, but at this time I say that they have done a terrific job, if only to make sure that a majority of people who have spoken in this debate so far have mentioned my favourite subject, which is women’s reproductive health, family planning and safe abortion. That is what I plan to talk about now, and to use my favourite phrase, you cannot promote the empowerment of women—the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, has already alluded to this—unless you give them power over their own bodies first. It is pointless talking about it unless you do that.
Women in the West, and particularly in this country, have had it pretty good from this point of view for a long time now, and I think that sometimes we take family planning for granted. We know that, on the whole, we can control the number of children we have. Even I controlled the number of children I had, because these provisions have been there for our generation of women. We do not realise that in many other parts of the world this just does not apply. Often, once a girl starts menstruating, she is married off very early and, from then on, is either pregnant or breastfeeding—or dead, frankly—as she goes on and on producing more and more children. It is a pretty dreadful life. There is no hope of gender equality there and no talk of empowerment.
The most crucial intervention is family planning and safe abortion. Many countries have already achieved this. The Asian Tiger countries are often held up as an example—and they have done it without coercion, I would add. More recently, Indonesia, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Bangladesh have all brought down their fertility rate—meaning their family size—freeing women to do other things. Because of our Government pushing this agenda, more and more women have access to family planning, and I say thank you again to the Government and to the Department for International Development. Maternal mortality has been reduced by 44% since 1990, and although the world population is rising, it is doing so at a slower rate, which is good news. The intervention of non-coercive family planning is about the availability of supplies, and our Government are making sure, as far as is possible, that we spread supplies as widely as possible.
As was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, education is terribly important. Girls have to be educated, but they cannot be educated if they are childbearing. If they are constantly expected to have more and more babies, they will be unable to access education at anything more than a rudimentary level. The World Bank has demonstrated that when women are educated, and when they have fewer children because they have access to family planning, the economy of their country improves and the lot of all the people living there is improved. It is a win-win situation for everybody if that happens.
The reason I had a late night last night is that my All-Party Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health launched a paper. I have a copy with me here and noble Lords will all get one in the next week—I am sorry to advertise it but it is very important. The Who Decides? report is about safe abortion in the developing world. It also mentions this country, which I know is quite a contentious issue.
We need legal, safe abortion in all countries and we need improvements here in the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, who was here earlier, piloted the Bill through Parliament in 1967. It was a tremendous thing for the women of this country but it now needs updating. Women still need the permission of two doctors; often they have to have two different appointments, and it can take ages to get an appointment in the first place. They need better access.
Worldwide, the abortion rate is the same whether abortion is legal or illegal in a particular country—abortions still go on. Women who cannot access safe abortion will take matters into their own hands, and many die as a consequence. In fact, 68,000 women die every year from unsafe abortion in the rest of the world. So people who oppose safe abortion provision are promoting death—the death of young women and the death of mothers of young families.
Finally, I want all noble Lords, and in particular the Government, to look at the report. I hope the Minister will reply to me in her closing comments. It is terribly important that we look at provision worldwide. Medical abortion now is so much easier: two pills can be taken in the first 12 weeks to produce a much easier form of abortion through a very early miscarriage, and no surgical intervention is required. We must promote this method worldwide. We must make sure that it is available online and without the intervention of doctors. Women do not need doctors all the time to control our bodies; we can do it ourselves if we are given the means to do so. In this country, that applies also. We should not have to get the permission of two doctors to end an early pregnancy that we unsuccessfully tried to avoid. Women must have that choice: whatever you personally feel about it, an individual woman must have that choice. We must rethink the Abortion Act 1967 and decriminalise abortion because, for goodness’ sake, it is still part of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. It is a criminal offence to have an abortion in this country without two doctors allowing you to do so. Will the Minister please say something about that and promise that women worldwide will get a better, easier deal with the advent of medical abortion, and likewise women in this country?
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, and I much admire her wonderful work on promoting family planning, reproductive health and safe abortion.
Today we celebrate International Women’s Day, and this year it is particularly special. A few weeks ago we debated the role of women in public life and the progress made in increasing their representation in Parliament, 100 years after women—some women—were granted the vote. It was an occasion to look back and see how far we have come. I welcome today’s debate, so ably introduced by my noble friend Lady Williams, which gives us an opportunity to look forward.
There is still no country in the world where women are equal to men in political, economic and social terms. We are indeed lucky to live in a country with a Government dedicated to gender equality and who put women’s rights at the heart of international development. I congratulate DfID and the Secretary of State on their Strategic Vision for Gender Equality: A Call to Action, which was announced yesterday. This recognises the need for all of us to take action to make gender equality become a reality. We have come a long way but, as others have already mentioned, there is still a long way to go both in the UK and globally.
I take this opportunity to declare an interest, due to my involvement with GAPS and other NGOs as listed on the register. The UK has a global reputation as a leader on gender equality, but yesterday nominations closed for places on CEDAW—the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Why have we never put forward a candidate? CEDAW consists of 23 experts from around the world. Every country that signs up to CEDAW is obliged to submit reports, and the committee, having considered these, addresses its concerns and recommendations to the state party as concluding observations. What kind of message does it give to other countries that the UK continues to ignore this very important global committee?
Goal 5 of the sustainable development goals adopted by the UN in 2015 seeks to,
“achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, and includes nine targets. Ensuring the inclusion of that goal was a big achievement. However, it is only in the years to come that we will see how effective it has been. Too often, countries sign up to international conventions but then not enough is done to implement them. After all, all countries that are members of the UN have to sign up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, yet 70 years later we are still pushing for gender equality.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s focus on girls’ education, because it is hard to take part in today’s world without any. Still, an estimated 131 million girls worldwide remain out of school.
The statistics are stark. About a quarter of girls today between the ages of 15 and 24 have never completed primary school and two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people are women. As we have heard, poverty drives some parents to deny their daughters education as they need them to work. In some countries, parents pull their daughters out of school when they reach puberty because they are worried that they will be raped and, if pregnant, they are then are unmarriageable In poor countries, people cannot afford to have an unmarriageable girl.
I mentioned rape, but violence against women is still an epidemic across the world, with one in three women experiencing it in their lifetime. Despite all the work and publicity, even here in the UK two women are killed a week. Nothing can be more frightening for a child than seeing their mother being beaten up. This will have a profound effect on them for the rest of their lives and on the whole community.
Conflict causes rates of domestic violence to rocket. In countries such as Afghanistan, it is estimated that 87% of women suffer from domestic violence. At a symposium in Kabul last summer, I heard a psychologist talk about the fact that, because of high levels of violence in the family, it will be hard to achieve a peaceful society there.
The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, launched in 2012 by William Hague—now the noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond—brought this issue to global attention. As noble Lords are aware, I was a member of the Select Committee on this issue, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and sit on the steering board of the initiative. The initiative was always going to be a marathon and not a sprint, as the situation was of such magnitude that it needed sustained effort. So I press the Minister to ensure that the UK does not lose focus on this important issue. Will the UK lead another global summit in 2019 to assess progress?
One has only to look at the conflicts raging today and the high levels of sexual violence committed by Daesh against the Yazidis to see how relevant the initiative is. Ending impunity is key to this. Were any Daesh men held for these war crimes when Mosul and Raqqa fell? What has the UK done and spoken out about in relation to this?
Since the adoption of the women, peace and security agenda in 2000, only 27% of peace agreements have referenced women. Between 1992 and 2011, women made up only 9% of negotiators in peace processes and 4% of signatories, and between 2008 and 2012 this fell to 3%. Yet we know that where women are included in peace processes there is a 20% increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least two years and a 35% increase in the probability of an agreement lasting at least 15 years.
The UK holds the pen at the UN on women, peace and security, and we launched our latest national action plan in January. However, 18 years after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, why are Syrian women not allowed at the peace table? We should not have to justify why women should be included in peace processes; we should ask men to justify why they are excluded.
In the aftermath of the Kabul process for peace and security co-operation last week, we must not forget the Afghan women who have put their lives at risk to take part in public life. It is imperative that their rights are not traded away to bring the Taliban around the table. How can we in the UK exert global influence to make sure that more countries adhere to what they have signed up to?
Next week, like my noble friend Lady Anelay, I and many other women from around the world head to the UN for the Commission on the Status of Women. The theme will be rural women, with the review theme looking at women in the media and information and communications technologies. What would we like the effect of this meeting to be? The CSW is the second-largest meeting of the year at the UN, yet almost nothing is heard about it in the media. Around 5,000 women from around the world attend, and we should send out a strong message about some of the terrible suffering endured by women right now, today: the Rohingya women; the women in Yemen and South Sudan; the women and their families being bombed in eastern Ghouta, to name but a few. While CSW is enormously welcomed as a meeting, I hope that the UK will work with others to improve its impact to resound across the world.
I enormously welcome this debate, because we still have much work to do. I look forward to helping our Government to further the cause of gender equality both here at home and around the world.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be the first male so far to take part in this debate. I intend to address my remarks to a relatively up-to-date example of the challenges that lie ahead in the important area of gender equality in sport.
In the past I have initiated debates in this House and the other place on the role of women in the world of sport, and it would be churlish to pretend that no progress has been made on the emancipation of women in sport, in particular during the past two decades. But, clearly, not enough has been done—there have been some strides, but not gigantic ones.
Before I list some of them, I should say that I was struck by a statement made by Nelson Mandela some time ago:
“Sport has the power to change the world”.
Of course, in the case of apartheid, it did just that—certainly in South Africa.
One reason for that change was explained to me by the former president of the republic, FW de Klerk, when I was on a visit to South Africa with a parliamentary rugby team tour. I had a meeting with him and asked him why, given his attitude over the years to apartheid, he had changed his mind. His answer was simple. He said, “We could cope with economic and trade boycotts imposed on us, but, as a sports-loving nation, we could no longer go on being isolated in the world of sport, in particular from the United Kingdom but also from other nations”.
I raise that because it was a mountain to climb, and it was overcome with determination and vigour not only by sports men and women here and elsewhere but by many others. It shows what can be done by women engaged in sport who are attempting to overcome the obstacles of gender disparity standing in their way.
As I have said, some important progress has been made. Who would have thought that, over the past two decades or so, we would have had three women Ministers for sport? Although the path for them has not been universally smooth, it was certainly a move in right direction. The first was Labour’s Kate Hoey. Her tenure was cut too short; she was shoved out before she could fulfil her ambitions. Then came the Tories’ Helen Grant, but she was hardly the right person and did not strike quite the right note. She was dismissed within a short period, notably because she once blurted out that women who played sport did not have to feel unfeminine, and that there were wonderful sports that one could do at a very high level where those participating looked absolutely radiant and very feminine, such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller-skating. To be fair, she was probably in in the wrong job.
Thankfully, she was replaced by the current Minister for Sport, Tracey Crouch, a former sportswoman who is doing a first-class job in her post, I had reason to sing her praises in earlier debates in this House. She is a credit to sport and to her gender, and I hope that she will remain in her post at least until the next general election. Of course, here in this House we are privileged to have the greatest Olympian of them all, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who, though not a Minister, is an inspirational athlete and a role model to many.
Sport, of course, is not just about medals. Most sport takes place at grass-roots level, away from the glitter of gold and silver. Unfortunately, men are more likely to be active than women, according to Women in Sport: only 29% of women take part in sporting activities, compared to 41% of men. Women need to feel that sport is a place for them, and Sport England’s “This Girl Can” campaign has made a great mark already in tackling notions of fear and judgment in sport. Already, 2.9 million women have taken part in the campaign.
Women’s participation in physical activity is especially important for women in low-income groups, who are most likely to be inactive. This experience will probably cross into other areas of their lives, affecting not only their physical health but their mental health. These issues are not new; they have been discussed by women’s sports bodies over the years—as far back as 1994, when, as shadow Minister for Sport, I was fortunate to be invited to the very first international conference for women in sport, which took place in Brighton with 280 delegates from 82 countries and many sports Ministers from other countries. Many British delegates were bemused and ashamed that no British Minister was present.
On my return to Parliament I asked the Minister, Ian Sproat, whether he was aware that he had missed this unique and important conference, which had taken place in this country, and whether he would at least adopt—as had the Opposition—and endorse the declaration that there was to be an increase in women’s involvement in sport at all levels. The reply of the Minister, Mr Sproat, was:
“If more women wish to involve themselves in sport I shall be very glad for them to do so, but it is up to them. I read the declaration: it was political correctness in excelsis”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/5/94; col. 8]
At the time that view was typical, unfortunately, of some Tory sports Ministers. However, I always exempted the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, who was a sports Minister around that time. Thankfully, that attitude has changed, however slowly, and there are increasing signs that we are moving in the right direction.
My time is up so I will not go on, but I would like to repeat how proud I am to be the first male in this debate. I know that there are others in this debate and I look forward—as I am sure the whole House does—to hearing them.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Pendry. As this past week we have been remembering the wonders of Sir Roger Bannister, who ran the first sub-four-minute mile, I can reveal that I have recently taken up running and I may set the record for the slowest mile. As the noble Lord said, however, even this girl can.
We are having this debate at a significant time, the run-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which is very important to some of us. That is because 40 out of 53 Commonwealth states criminalise homosexuality. They account for more than half of the world’s nations where same-sex relations are illegal. Seven Commonwealth nations impose life imprisonment. Some have the death penalty for relationships between men. Hate crimes against LGBT people are most widespread in most Commonwealth countries. The vast majority of LGBT people who live there have no legal protection or rights whatsoever.
This Commonwealth Heads of Government summit, happening as it is in London, is an opportunity for those of us living in this country who, over the past 50 years—a milestone we marked last year—have experienced enormous economic, social and political change and advances, to share with others around the world the secrets of how we have advanced as a nation. Will the Minister consider the work of the All-Party Group on Global LGBT Rights, which is working with an organisation called Open for Business, a collection of top global businesses that have come together and are putting together the economic case against discrimination? We are building a lot of data from well-established resources, such as the World Bank, from which we can show that countries where there is a good attitude towards LGBTI inclusion have better economic performance, are more competitive, have greater levels of entrepreneurship and foreign direct investment, and fare better in global markets. They are also the sorts of countries with less of a brain-drain. That applies to both men and women.
Lesbians are often deemed to be at less risk in these countries because they are often less visible, but in fact they are probably more vulnerable in many ways because they usually have a less economically stable existence. I commend to the noble Baroness the work of a very small charity, Micro Rainbow International, which gives business support and start-up funding to LGBT people so that they can set up businesses. The charity provides a good example of how they are able to help, concerning two women who were harassed and badly treated in their community because they were seen as outsiders. They were given money to start a small bakery and are now respected employers in their community. That is but one example of an approach that could be further adopted. I hope that Ministers attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit will make not only the moral case but also the financial and business case to other leaders in the Commonwealth, because their countries need economic development just as much as ours.
My second point is that I really liked the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, who opened this debate so eloquently and fully. She is very different from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, who answers my Written Questions. I am very sorry that she is not in her place to hear me say so. She will know that over the past year and a half I have submitted endless questions to her department, principally about the detention of LGBTI asylum seekers. I have still not received a satisfactory answer on why we are busy locking people up in detention at a cost of £36,000 per year when they are no flight risk whatever.
I will, however, give the Minister due credit for the fact that her department, after 18 months, finally got round to releasing some statistics just before Christmas. These show, quite horrifyingly, that two-thirds of people who apply for asylum on the basis of being LGB—not T: we have excluded trans people—fail. Consequently we are sending people back to countries such as Nigeria, Uganda and Sri Lanka where they will face very serious peril: in some cases they will inevitably be sent to prison for an extended period. I asked the noble Baroness a few months ago what efforts were being made by those supervising such deportations to ensure that people would not be imperilled when they go back. Even by the standards of the Home Office, I got a pretty ropey Answer. It seems that we are busy saying that this matter is the responsibility of the country to which people are returned. I do not think that is good enough when people are put in jeopardy as a result.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, Justine Greening and Mrs May all deserve a lot of congratulations on having the courage to say that they will go ahead with the consultation on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act. That Act is currently not fit for purpose. People who need to rely on it are forced to go through truly humiliating and demeaning experiences to have legal recognition of their identity. Since the Government made that announcement, there has been an absolutely relentless campaign against it, waged primarily by transphobic feminists such as Sarah Ditum and Julie Bindel and Murdoch journalists such as Janice Turner and Andrew Gilligan—along with, I might add, some absolutely woeful journalism on the part of the BBC.
I say to the Government that I would not blame them for being somewhat taken aback by the ferocity of that campaign, but I sincerely hope that they will stand firm—and do so in the knowledge that if they go ahead, as I really believe they should, they will have widespread support from these Benches. I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, might agree that there would be support from the Official Opposition’s Benches, too. We know that, at heart, this work is very necessary to bring about equality for a bunch of people who have a really tough time in our country, and to whom we owe it to bring about legal equality.
In the one minute left to me, I want to very much welcome the publication of the report by the group of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, which I was part of. Autonomy over your body is the absolute bedrock of your existence as a human being but for us women, of all different types and backgrounds, now more than ever—in the face of some of the terrible stuff coming out of the United States—we must stand together. We must understand each other’s differences and bind together on those basic things that are of immense importance to us all and to the girls of the future.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, who I know does a tremendous amount of work in the LGBT community. I thank the Government for making the time available for today’s debate, which demonstrates the importance they place on improving women’s lives in the UK and around the world.
History is littered with examples where those who have power do not want to share that power or have used it to disadvantage or exclude others. We have only to look back 100 years to the suffragettes to see the monumental struggles they went through to get the vote for women. Those struggles mean that women in the UK are now entitled to vote, have an education, work and have personal financial security. They can choose if, who and when to marry, and are liberated by access to family planning and health services. This is all underpinned by important equality legislation. I welcome these and many other improvements to women’s lives, and celebrate the huge progress made.
However, there remain ingrained negative cultural attitudes towards women, and disproportionately more to black and ethnic minority women. I have recently been asked to be a panel member for a documentary film directed by Nancy Buirski, “The Rape of Recy Taylor”. Recy Taylor was a 24 year-old black mother who was kidnapped at gunpoint as she walked home from church. She was blindfolded and gang-raped by six white boys in 1944, in Alabama. Few women, particularly black women, spoke of such attacks for fear of their lives and the lives of their loved ones but Recy Taylor courageously identified her rapists.
The law failed Recy Taylor and white media outlets ignored her story. Sexual violence against women of colour in the 1940s went largely unpunished. As the director of the film says:
“Back then, people recognized rape was a crime. Certainly it was in terms of law, but it wasn’t treated that way in terms of the culture. Men were taking advantage of women with impunity, and it was a legacy handed down from slavery, where white men owned their women slaves and their bodies”.
The issue of those who have power and those who do not is important. It is about not just legal rights but responsibilities, cultural norms and the social acceptance of attitudes. In Recy Taylor’s case, it took a powerful group of people to draw attention to those who had no power before people began to take action and the civil rights movement began.
Today, we have seen a wave of sexual assault claims against men in positions of power and gangs of men working together to sexually groom and abuse young, vulnerable girls in places such as Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford. As a former trustee of the NSPCC, I know of the devastating impact these predatory behaviours can have on individuals and their families. So, culturally, has our society really moved on when sexual harassment and abuse claims are so prevalent? The answer has to be yes, because we have stronger safeguarding mechanisms in place today and more people are encouraged to speak out—and do so courageously. To that end, campaigns such as #MeToo and #TimesUp are significant.
But many girls and women around the world cannot speak out; like Recy Taylor, they are given no voice. They have no education, no money and little or no say in what happens in their lives or their futures. Around the world we still have child marriages, the rape of young girls, and girls and women enslaved in prostitution and in enforced labour. Child marriage remains a huge issue for many in countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, India and Afghanistan. Despite the welcome progress that has been made, as stated by UNICEF earlier this week, one in five children is married before the age of 16. Girls from the poorest families are the most disadvantaged and are likely to be married much earlier than their wealthier counterparts.
As part of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, the UK provided technical input into the development of the Afghan national action plan to eliminate early child marriage. I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could give an update on that plan and any further work undertaken to eliminate child marriage there. It would also be helpful to understand how the Home Office and DfID are working together to eliminate child marriages in Pakistan for girls under the age of 16. That is because the Girl Summit charter in 2015 on ending FGM and child, early and forced marriage included the signatories of some Asian countries—Bangladesh and Nepal—but not those of Pakistan or Afghanistan, even though some individuals and NGOs from Afghanistan and Pakistan did sign the charter. However, it is very regrettable that some NGOs working with disadvantaged women have now been given three months’ notice to leave Pakistan. How are the Government monitoring this situation, and monitoring and progressing the support given through their aid in Pakistan, so that the work relating to enhancing women’s rights and lives is not further eroded?
Despite the Prime Minister making combating modern slavery one of the UK’s top foreign policy priorities, increasing numbers of girls and women are attracted by false promises of marriage and being trafficked into the UK and Europe for the sex trade and into forced labour. More needs to be done to stop this terrible crime, aided by more prosecutions and convictions of the smugglers. Tackling modern slavery is an enormous challenge but it also provides an opportunity for the international community and the UN system to show how it can come together to provide a co-ordinated and coherent response. I would like reassurance from the Minister on how this is being achieved from a UK perspective.
A UN report says that deep-seated attitudes of men towards women contribute to this problem. Are these deep-seated attitudes towards women to blame for the world's inertia when, despite significant modern technology, 300 girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014, and a further 110 girls from their classrooms only a few weeks back?
While the relationship between insecurity and poverty is obvious, our Government and the UN must seek to tackle instability and terrorism. Girls should not be at risk simply because they want an education. Like the Pakistani economy, the Nigerian economy will not flourish under the instability caused by terrorism and the poor education of girls.
I am pleased that in January the Government published their fourth UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, announcing that championing girls’ education to promote global stability will be at the heart of UK foreign development. I welcome this, but I stress that there are two top planned spending programs in Pakistan from DfID to the tune of £75.4 million and a further £43.9 million. How is this money being spent, bearing in mind the levels of corruption in Pakistan and the fact that certain NGOs are being asked to leave?
We are richer when we give our girls and women the opportunities to flourish; through our contribution to international aid we are keeping women around the world safer, healthier and better educated. As the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, said, we need to tackle attitudes and there needs to be much greater leadership if we really are going to make this work for girls and women. To that end, I urge every woman and man to do much more.
My Lords, I welcome this debate marking International Women’s Day, and thank the Minister for initiating it. I celebrate, as other noble Lords do, the centenary of women’s suffrage this year. Celebration, however, must not mask the plight of too many women internationally and here in the UK.
To this end, I wish to raise the situation of detained women in Yarl’s Wood, some of whom are currently on hunger strike. Although campaigners have welcomed improvement in conditions at Yarl’s Wood since the implementation of the adults at risk policy, which should mean that survivors of sexual and gender-based violence would not normally be detained and that the routine detention of pregnant women would be ended, there are still concerns for detained women.
Today sees a lobby of Parliament by refugee and migrant women under the banner of All Women Count, which calls for safety, dignity and liberty for all women regardless of status in the UK. The Government currently lock up 1,600 asylum-seeking women every year. Critics of the use of detention say it is unfair to deprive a person of their liberty for administrative convenience; that detention is costly, ineffective and harmful, and that there are better alternatives.
Of particular concern, highlighted by noble Lords last week, is that indefinite detention is harmful to detainees’ mental health and well-being. Safeguards to protect detainees and prevent inappropriate cases from being detained are insufficient and ineffective. As my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett said,
“the point about indefinite detention is not that the person is never released; it is that they do not know when they will be released … this has a devastating impact on mental health”.—[Official Report, 27/2/18; col. 587.]
All these concerns are still being played out at Yarl’s Wood, according to the campaign group Women for Refugee Women, to which I owe my thanks for this briefing. Last year, this group conducted interviews with 26 women who have claimed asylum and been detained since the adults at risk policy came into force and, alarmingly, found that survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are still routinely detained. Many had experience of domestic violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and forced prostitution and trafficking Many had been detained for long periods even when their mental and physical health had deteriorated. Women reported feeling suicidal, and two had attempted suicide while in detention.
I recognise that the Government argue that the purpose of detention is to enable swift removal, but there are too many examples of women incarcerated for long periods. Home Office statistics show that, in 2017, 43% of asylum-seeking women leaving detention had been detained for 29 days or more. Although the number of pregnant women detained has fallen since the 72-hour time limit came into force, it is still the case that the majority of pregnant women are subsequently released to continue with their claims, so their detention serves no purpose. Fewer than 20% of pregnant women who are detained are removed from the UK.
Women for Refugee Women has raised a number of concerns about how the new approach is actually working, despite the good intentions following the Shaw review. There is no screening process that actively identifies whether someone is vulnerable or at risk before they are detained, so survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are going into detention before any attempt has been made to find out about their previous experiences. Survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are not believed when they disclose their previous experiences and find it difficult to obtain supporting evidence that the Home Office will accept. Women are not automatically informed about rule 35 reports—medical reports prepared by doctors working in detention centres—which the Home Office will accept as evidence. Even then, women with this legitimate evidence have remained in detention.
“There were unacceptable delays in the Rule 35 process. The quality of reports was generally poor. They were vague, lacked detail and did not adequately address symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In some cases the Home Office refused without explanation to accept rape as torture. Detention had been maintained in most cases that we looked at without addressing the exceptional circumstances for doing so. In several cases, detention was maintained despite the acceptance of professional evidence of torture”.
Will the Minister assure the House that the inspector’s recommendation is being implemented? That is:
“Rule 35 assessments should be completed within 24 hours. Reports should provide clear, objective and detailed professional assessments, including on evidence of PTSD. Responses should be prompt. Where professional evidence of torture is accepted, the exceptional reasons leading to the decision to maintain detention should be provided in detail. Rape should be considered a form of torture for the purposes of Rule 35”.
HMIP noted that just a third of all rule 35 reports submitted by doctors working in Yarl’s Wood in the six months prior to its last inspection had resulted in the woman concerned being released. Overall, it found that vulnerable women were still being detained,
“despite professional evidence of torture, rape and trafficking, and in greater numbers than we have seen at previous inspections”.
As a result, it concluded that,
“the effectiveness of the adults at risk policy, which is intended to reduce the detention of vulnerable people, was questionable”.
It is surely wrong that those whose mental and physical health are clearly deteriorating while in detention should remain without hope. Home Office statistics show that, in 2017, 85% of asylum-seeking women released from detention were released back into the community to continue with their asylum claim. So their detention appeared to serve no purpose.
Campaigners are calling for a proactive screening process to ensure survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are identified before detention. There should be an absolute exclusion on the detention of pregnant women. There should be a 28-day time limit on immigration detention. Community-based alternatives for immigration detention, focused on support and engagement, are more effective and less expensive than detention.
Good practice has been demonstrated by the family returns process, implemented in 2011, following the welcome pledge to end the detention of children, which has reduced by 96%. The Government should do more to move away from the detention model and into community-based alternatives. Perhaps the new review by Stephen Shaw to assess progress against the key recommendations for action in his previous report, Review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons, will encourage the Government to be braver.
My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the noble Baroness, and I salute her for her dedication to asylum seekers and women who are detained. It is an honour to take part in these yearly events, these annual discussions and debates; it is very uplifting. I speak today in recognition of the centuries of our common struggles freely to participate in the workplace and public life, not because of nostalgia but because we are still plagued by the inequality spoken of so eloquently by so many noble sisters—sorry, noble Baronesses—across the House.
We have achieved some progress in women’s representation in the public arena, but the obstacles that women continue to face in all societies are also faced by Muslim women in Britain. This is exactly what I want to talk about today, as well as speaking about women in Britain. That is not my usual thing—I like to talk about women everywhere—but I thought it would be good to do so, given that we are celebrating this amazing century.
In this decade, Muslim women have become a symbol of many ills of our society, and I have spoken about this many times in this House. Many counterterrorism policies look specifically to women’s role in preventing radicalisation. Sadly, this is an oversimplification, if not a deliberate confusion, of Islamic traditions with the constraint of patriarchal, societal proscriptions and practice. It should therefore not be specifically odd that Muslim women also experience discrimination within their families.
What is of significance is that many women are frustrated too often by having to negotiate choices between emancipation within the home and the workplace and the challenges that they face from Islamophobia. Thousands of women, whose voices are not heard often enough, are frustrated about how Muslim women feel ill-perceived, defined and judged not by their contribution, their presence or their intellect but by their clothing, culture and faith. This generalisation reinforces divisions. It is dangerous and simply wrong, and keeps Muslim women in particular out of power and office.
To address these inequalities as lawmakers, we have to demonstrate that we are prepared to be bold, lead by example and address the issue of discrimination prevailing in society that is the pervasive obstacle to the progress of women and, particularly, to Muslim women’s leadership. So it pleases me no end to speak of my passion for the campaign “Change the Script” by the National Commission on Muslim Women—I refer to my interests in the register.
The campaign sets out opportunities for Muslim women to write their own narrative, which is often marred by misconceptions and reduced to debates about so-called religious oppression and unforgiving and biased statistics about terrorism and Muslim women’s veils. Over the past couple of years, endless conversations have taken place, both in this House and across different parts of the country, with the commissioners, with women and with women-led groups on how to redress the current and mainstream discourse about Muslim women. We have been doing it rather quietly, but it is good work and we will let it speak for itself.
Dismal statistics on employment, education and attitudes to citizenship that are published in various reports do not tend to reflect the entire truth. British Muslims contribute £31 billion to the economy, and countless thousands of talented Muslim women in every profession contribute to make today’s vibrant multicultural, multifaith Britain but remain unheard in the public space. Hence the “Change the Script” campaign, which has just begun, celebrates the incredible achievements of British Muslim women and their contributions to this society over decades that have silently shaped Britain.
The campaign aims to reflect the experiences and strengths of Muslim women, as well as the challenges that they face, by documenting and highlighting their presence in every part of society, every profession and every community and by sharing their stories through the social media campaign #WriteYourScript, a website and an exhibition, alongside publications and forums held across various cities. We have been speaking to women up and down the country, who want their voices, stories and opinions amplified in a positive way.
From community activists, artists, entrepreneurs and stay-at-home mothers to doctors, teachers, lawyers and scientists, thousands of exceptional Muslim women have made a difference to the society that we live in. Take, for example: Humera Khan and Khalida Khan, who set up the pioneering women’s project An-Nisa 35 years ago; Shahien Taj from the Henna Foundation in Cardiff; Polly Islam, who has worked on mental health in Bangladesh, Luton and Rohingya camps in various places; neuroscientist and Ealing councillor Dr Aysha Raza, who is making waves in the male-dominated STEM field; or the artist Siddiqa Juma, who has just won the Leonardo da Vinci Universal Artist Award and has put Islamic art on a mainstream platform. Just this morning, I visited the outstanding work of the Limehouse Project, led by Farida Yesmin. The list is incredible, and seemingly endless, and I would be honoured to talk about every single amazing woman who is defying the stereotypes of Muslims, but sadly time is not on our side.
We all know that achieving social change is a mountain to climb and overcome, and I hope the Minister will assist in generating awareness of these gifted women. We are determined to go beyond public profiles and listing their testimonies; we are documenting them with a publication celebrating their presence, and we are hoping to mount a wall of 100 Muslim women, celebrating the centenary of women’s suffrage as they perceive their world—a small legacy, a gift to our mothers, daughters and granddaughters. Our goal is to ensure that the work is shared with schools and higher education institutions, allowing steps to be taken to address pressing matters in relation to employment and education and increasing the number of mentors for young women.
We wish to see more Muslim women portrayed positively in the public sphere, and on this auspicious and important day for women,
#MeToo grew up among strong women. My amazingly courageous mother, who came here all by herself with five children 46 years ago and raised us, did so among men—both my grandfathers—who honoured women in their families, whether they chose careers or simply stayed at home, regardless of the cultural taboos of their generation. I look forward to the day when we can celebrate equality and justice for all women regardless of their status, race or religion, wherever they are in the UK.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak on this topic. I thank my colleagues for securing the time for this debate. I am proud to support a Government who have taken unprecedented steps to secure gender equality, both in this country and abroad. Before I consider how foreign policy and aid policy can be used to best help women, I will touch on the recent celebration of the suffragettes. These were touching and sobering commemorations, and I am heartened at every new election when the number of women in the other place goes up. Much more work is needed to get this to the 50% that it ought to be, but I have confidence that the Prime Minister will pay attention to this. After all, she can claim a great deal of credit for setting up the body that has helped propel dozens of Conservative women into Parliament.
The Opposition recently hired as an adviser an activist who had a history of making disparaging remarks about various groups. I will not dwell on all of it, but I think there is one point that deserves refuting. She said on Twitter that the suffragettes were,
“white supremacists who were fighting for white women’s rights”.
This is simply wrong. One of my personal heroes is Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, the daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh. She was a leading voice in the women’s tax resistance movement, which encouraged women to withhold tax until they were granted suffrage. The King at that time was known to remark, “Have we no hold on her?” She was no white supremacist. She was a principled woman, and I am glad that the Prime Minister referred to her at the Vote 100 commemorations a couple of weeks back.
Our aid budget is one of our most powerful international levers of influence. We are valued and respected for sticking to the spending guidelines, even in a time of austerity. I recently spoke on the importance of educating women in less developed states, especially in nursing. It has been shown time and time again that the single most effective policy to combat poverty, close gender pay gaps and boost economic growth is the education of women. If I could have my way, the aid budget would be focused on disaster mitigation and the education of women almost exclusively. However, in other projects there are a number of options to ensure that gender equality is consistently promoted.
Given the recent allegations that have affected the industry, it may be worth showing that British charities can be trusted to do the right thing in the workplace, which would also head off allegations of hypocrisy. What steps are the Government taking to make sure that the NGOs they work with have proper harassment protocols in place for when allegations are brought to them? Additionally, Ministers could urge the NGOs that they work with to ensure that their local hires are gender-balanced and that they train women when they cannot find women with the right skills profile. Of course, this may seem like an extra burden to put on NGOs, but now more than ever they need to show their commitment to gender equality.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for giving us the opportunity for this debate today. I express my gratitude to her, to women in general and to some particular women too. I start, rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, with an expression of gratitude to my mother. Had she been alive, she would have been 113 this week. She bore three sons within three years, went 12 years more and then, without any planning, I turned up in the middle of the war. My father was away; she had three young teenage boys and she was working as a weaver. We had very little money and a very poor background; we were born into a society where there was very limited public education at the time. There was no health service: it was six years before the National Health Service came into being. There were many slums around us, and generally life was quite different to what we have come to experience latterly.
I was born into a world where we worried about the quality of our leadership. It was a world that was led by men: Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini. The Chinese were preparing for a revolution led by men. We were all at war fighting each other. With male domination, what do men do best? They cannot resist fighting each other for power. There were few women around in political leadership anywhere in the world. There were a few in the Commons and none in the Lords: there were no life peerages then, only hereditaries, who were all male. I have been here for 20 years, and I look back and see the changes that have taken place not only in my lifetime, but in the 20 years since I have been in the Lords. There have been dramatic changes, particularly in the advancement of women and their opportunities here. I have served solely as a Back-Bencher, but I have served primarily under women leaders on both sides of the House. It is a remarkable tribute to the progress that we have made.
We have some great individual women here. On our side, we have already mentioned the late departed Muriel Turner, who used to sit where my noble friend Lady Donaghy is now. She was always there. Noble Lords will all recall with great affection two others who are missing today: my noble friend Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, who is unwell, and my noble friend Lady Gould, who, without any doubt, would have been speaking today. She did so much in the Labour Party for women and has done so much in this House since she came in. I am sure we would all like to send our regards to them and best wishes for their recovery from ill health.
My background is in the trade union movement which, again, is very much a male domain. I was the general secretary in a civil service trade union, which had 60% women members and only 40% men, but it was primarily run by men: the leadership, the executive council and all the important positions were, in the main, held by men. In trying to effect changes, we consulted the noble Baroness, Lady Fritchie, a Cross-Bencher who is not in her place today. She played a very important role in public appointments, trying to get gender balance in this country. She helped our union to try to get changes that would advance the interests of women. We did it mainly by a quota system. That was not particularly popular in certain quarters, and it is still not particularly popular in some areas where people say, “No, we will do it solely on the basis of our talent; we do not want any places reserved”. The situation was reflected in the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who told us how quotas have been working in Albania and how they were the only way women there could advance. I believe the problem is the class system. In particular, quotas are strongly opposed by middle-class women, but the working-class sees them as an opportunity, so they should not be ruled out. Our use in the Labour Party of women-only appointment lists is a form of quota system that has produced wonderful results; it should be looked at by other parties. There are parties that have not yet been able to produce a female leader. I hope it will not be long before we have a female leader of the Labour Party. We should look at our structures to ensure that women can continue to rise to the highest places in our organisation.
In business, again, big changes are needed; some changes have been effected. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, who has worked very hard by using the second system that is available and open to us: targets. He has gone for a 25% target for women on the boards of FTSE companies, and a good deal of progress has been made there. So we have quotas and targets.
I also like the concept of mentoring, which was mentioned earlier. I am speaking today primarily because I now have, through the good offices of the Royal College of Psychiatry, a woman doctor working with me. She has spent the last six months with me, working on mental health. She has taken me into new areas that I needed to explore that are good for me and my development, and she has taken me back to some of the issues I looked at when I worked on equality with women. She said, “You should speak in this debate this coming Thursday and persuade some of your male colleagues to speak as well”. As the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, said earlier, women will not achieve these changes alone; they need to get men on board with them, to persuade men of a sympathetic mind to stand up with them, and then you will find that you have a majority. Through a majority, we can effect the changes we need.
We still need changes in the NHS: 77% of its employees are women, but the majority of senior leadership posts fall to men. We look at the BBC—we all know what is happening there. Women are a major factor in the BBC, but are not holding as many of the posts as they should. The Armed Forces are the next area in the eyes of the British public. We listened to debates recently about whether the Armed Forces should permit part-time working. God Almighty! We are still debating issues like that—we need to change it.
I will also mention the Queen, who is outstanding. Think of the three monarchs of this country who you believe have made the greatest contribution. To my mind, it is the two Elizabeths and Victoria. When I think about the males, I recall all of them for the worst of reasons. Therefore, there is an argument to be made about the way in which the hereditary system can also produce important changes.
There is still a lot of work to be done. Primarily, we see changes taking place that we are not keeping abreast of. New international companies and communications organisations are being run primarily by men who are not accountable; women are just not on the scene. We had a change at the United Nations, but why did we not have a woman in charge of the United Nations for the first time ever? This is the kind of issue on which women—all of us—should press for change to increase the movement towards greater equality.
The areas in which women have the greatest influence on our lives at the moment are culture and religion. It is difficult to talk about these subjects here, but they have a massive influence on everyone’s lives, particularly with regard to women and equality. We look at where the religions started and who led them; who sustained them, in the main? Take the Church of England and the battle it has had over women bishops. But in many respects, it is women who keep the Church of England going and who do the hard work. That applies in so many other religions. We need changes within the religions and opportunities for greater equality, one way or another. We all need to work together for that—men and women together. Alone we will do nothing, but together we can achieve much.
My Lords, I am another of the minority that is welcomed into this gathering. We talk about female leadership; I cannot help but reminisce that when I first got here, a huge chunk of that leadership was provided by one Baroness Seear. I did not mention her the last time we had the debate on women’s suffrage. There is a military saying: “Anybody who takes the first step and says, ‘Follow me’ is a more efficient leader than anybody who shouts, ‘Forward!’, no matter how loudly”. Baroness Seear not only took the first step but shouted “Follow me!” in a very commanding tone. That is more of an aside.
I was going to talk about women’s sport but I was beaten to it by the noble Lord, Lord Pendry. We all know that things are getting better there, but there is that old problem that there is still much more to do. Sport tends to think of its traditions, and the question is how you break out of those or adapt them to allow this new group in. The new group constitutes the slight majority of the population. We are addressing most of the institutions and structures, and we have an excellent example of how successful this approach can be if you give women in sport their moment in the sun: the winter Olympics.
The great success stories and great failures were female; they provided the drama. Elise Christie—a great champion who has not quite delivered at the highest level—crashed out three times. A defending champion came back, defying the odds and reasserting herself. There was the “nearly!” struggle of the curling. That provides the drama and the approach. Many people—at least one or two noble Lords in this Chamber—will say, “But does sport matter?” If you can think of a better way of expressing soft power and bringing nations together, I will be happy to listen. Is there something else that has such a mass appeal, bringing people together? I cannot think of anything. It is able to cut across, using an understandable language of activity and unity, and admiration for what somebody else does. Sport probably takes that all on. To come back to the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, I remember that trip to South Africa. The noble Lord may remember that it was a Parliamentary Rugby World Cup. I was playing, and the noble Lord was looking very elegant in a blazer. By the way, if anybody is interested, we are still turning out. I still have my jersey; I would like to say that it fits, but let us just say that I can still get into it.
If you look at the Olympics for examples of how women’s sport has taken off, you will find the perfect example in hockey. The women’s hockey gold medal has done more to lift that sport than just about anything else I can think of. Women’s football has done very well too. I was kept up very late watching England in a tournament the name of which I forget, taking on the world’s best in the USA. I was probably something of a jinx, because I decided that I could not stay up to watch the second half—and they lost. Then again, I support Scotland, so who cares? They have taken great steps. Rugby union has expanded its base and has made sure that it reaches out to schools. Those are traditionally male sports, which are moving on, but hockey has done it. It is true that for hockey, it is easier. I was chatting to somebody who said that one of the great problems in female sport is that the changing facilities seem to be too primitive for women. I do not see that at all in hockey; mind you, we built our clubs for women as well. An old rugby union player takes a bow on that one.
The fact is that you have to bring them in, but once you have done it, and if they are successful or at least competitive, you will build up the whole sport. The whole of hockey has expanded thanks to the shot in the arm that was provided by women. Everybody knows that sport is a social good, a medical good and an economic good. What’s not to like? If the women can do that, we must encourage them. All the sports I have spoken to are taking action in this area—for example, the government initiative whereby 30% of the board has to be female. However, the real challenges are coming not in recruitment but in establishing the underlying structures.
The difficult area is coaching—making sure that we get better female coaching, with more depth. You have really succeeded when, in football, there is no discussion about why you have not got a male coach. I was at a breakfast meeting here at which the FA basically said, “We wanted a coach who was good enough, and as we couldn’t get a woman coach we took a male coach, because of the need for quality at elite-level sport”. That is pretty unanswerable, unfortunately.
Unless you work on this and government encourages this, you will not get past the issue of who takes on the leadership role. Who is the person that will take this on? There is virtually no reason why females cannot take over in male sport. What attitude surveys have been done here? I have been coached by women in my time, such as the incredible and formidable Margot Wells, when I was in the second team at London Scottish. She was a person you did not mess with. I remember cowering in a corner when she shouted at a large group of men for not eating enough for her training programme—an experience that most people in this Chamber will not have been through.
Women have the capacity to get through if they are given the chance, knowledge and drive. What are the Government doing to encourage these sports to make sure that their coaching and development programmes reflect this? I know that work is going on and it is being looked at internally but what are we doing to help? If we do not do this, the hierarchical structure at the business end of a sport will dominate for a much longer period. How are we going to provide encouragement and make sure that the leadership—the person who makes the decisions and picks the team—is female, not only in female sport but male sport, and often enough to make a difference? Once that has been done, we will be close to achieving full equality.
My Lords, I have three young daughters aged seven, five and two. When I made my maiden speech last year, my seven year-old, Anna, wished me luck and asked whether the men Lords were allowed to make speeches as well, or whether they just had to sit there. Imagine my delight when I came in today to see that I was nearly at the end of the list but surrounded by male noble Lords. It has been a joy to hear their speeches and all the other brilliant speeches by noble Baronesses. My then four year-old asked whether men were allowed to be Prime Minister and I assured her that we have had a few.
There is indeed much to celebrate about the world today. Yet I find myself sad that as my daughters’ innocence slips away, so too will the notion that women are equally represented in Parliament and wider public life. But there is an even harder story to tell them, one of violence and abuse faced by women and girls around the world, as we have heard. In many ways this is a world I want instinctively to shield my girls from. However, the main point I want to make is that around the world we need to start conversations about equality sooner rather than later, if the upcoming generation will have the chance of telling a better story.
Of course, political regimes and legal frameworks drive ultimate outcomes but these are themselves often borne of deeply engrained cultural behaviours and beliefs about gender and the relationships between men and women, who of course start off as girls and boys. My eldest daughter, the seven year-old, knows now that Malala was shot by the Taliban on the school bus. The look of sheer bewilderment on the face of a seven year-old, who takes going to school completely and utterly for granted—although she moaned about it as usual this morning—throws into sharp focus all over again the scale of the violence and injustice faced by Malala and millions like her. We rightly celebrate the courage of women who have demanded and driven a change in attitudes but we must continue to be appalled that they have been forced to find this courage within themselves because of what they faced simply as a result of being born female.
We often talk about gender equality as though it is a women’s issue, when what we need to talk about is the way in which girls and boys, men and women, live alongside each other in understanding and mutual support. I pay tribute to young men around the world who are challenging accepted norms and power structures, including those involved in Plan International’s Champions for Change project, which trains young men to become peer supporters, often using social media to converse with their peers and tackle entrenched attitudes about the role of girls and women. I shall quote Luciano, who is 19 and part of Plan International Brazil’s Goals for Peace project:
“If we want to prevent women from suffering violence, children need to start learning why violence must not be tolerated from a young age”.
“I’ve also witnessed violence in my house. My dad has violent traits, which he picked up from his father—it’s cultural. I’ve decided that when I have children, my approach will be completely different”.
This caught my eye because I know that the Government are looking at the role of technology in delivering aid, and I encourage a similar focus on the role of social media and technology in attitudinal change.
While in the UK we can rightly be proud of our record in driving progress on gender equality at home and abroad, we have no room for complacency. We see ourselves as a forward-thinking nation, yet we enable a culture in which young people can readily access images of violent, hard-core pornography and abuse. This goes beyond internet safeguarding. Again it is about challenging attitudes before it is too late. I strongly support the Government’s focus on relationships through PSHE in schools but respectful attitudes cannot sit in a silo. There is an onus on everyone in public life and in the public eye to speak up and tell our young people—boys and girls, men and women—that some of the images they are seeing of women online are not what women’s bodies generally look like, and that much of what they can be exposed to online is not sex but abuse.
As to women in public life in the UK, during my time in Downing Street I worked with my now noble friends Lord Maude of Horsham and Lady Finn, at that time in the Cabinet Office, and a range of officials and advisers who did crucial work on the Government’s diversity plan. It was a privilege to play a role in helping to increase the representation of women on public bodies and to hear their personal stories at the outreach events that we organised. I am pleased to see that the number of women on public bodies has continued to increase, and urge the Government to ensure that momentum is maintained.
I also want us to learn from the problem we had to solve—the fact that many women told us that they were lacking in confidence, perhaps after time out bringing up children, or that they did not feel ready to take on senior roles despite ample experience. How did these highly intelligent women with a wealth of experience come to hold these beliefs about themselves? With this in mind, I was shocked by a study from the University of Illinois showing that, by the age of six, girls are more likely to attribute intelligence to men than women. If girls think this by the time they are six, why are we realising that there is an issue only by the time they are 26, 36, 46 or older? Happily it is now in vogue to tell little boys and girls all about historic female role models and storybooks are thankfully moving away from the “rescued by a handsome prince” narrative.
This is all well and good until I reflect on the throwaway comments I regularly hear from men and women alike. When I tell them about my children, they say, “You will have your hands full when they are teenagers because girls are so bitchy”. My husband is told, with apparent genuine sympathy, that our house will be a mass of hormones and angst with three teenage girls and a menopausal woman—this is in the future—and I have probably been guilty of saying something like that myself because, let us face it, it is ingrained in all of us. I have to keep saying to myself that nothing is inevitable. I do not believe girls are instinctively bitchy. We are supposed to be the role models so let us recognise that we need to challenge every throwaway assumption, otherwise the most powerful public campaigning messages are hollow.
We can support and learn from those inspiring young women and men who have faced depression and abuse but have become all the more determined to challenge assumptions and face down stigma. Let us celebrate today and share their optimism but, above all, let us make sure it is absolutely justified.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, for initiating this debate. “Press for Progress” is a noble cause to drive gender equality forward and utilise the momentum of mass media coverage to push for change globally, in all countries, at all levels and within all spheres of life.
Today’s debate on International Women’s Day is particularly important as over the years we have been talking about gender inequality, the pay gap, domestic violence, human trafficking, modern-day slavery and sexual abuse against women and girls in areas of conflict by the powerful against the powerless. These are all uncivilised and barbaric practices that we are grappling with even in the 21st century. I am sure that your Lordships’ House is as shocked as I am to observe that these atrocities occur so regularly, even after all our best efforts to contain them.
A report published by the United Nations last year stated that,
“gender inequality persists worldwide, depriving women and girls of their basic rights and opportunities”.
One of the key areas that a lack of progress affects is the SDGs that our Government are firmly committed to delivering, both at home and around the world. To ensure that we deliver on SDGs, there is a need for more than just DfID covering these points: there needs to be some coming together between the various organs of government to facilitate a cohesive process that keeps the commitment on track both at home and abroad.
The Independent Commission on Aid Impact monitors DfID’s work and highlights areas of concern or where aims are not met. However, surely for something as important as the SDGs, which affect both home and abroad, there should be some form of consolidated approach from all departments in government. This is particularly so for goal 5, which aims to,
“achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.
It has nine target areas. One area of huge concern which affects many women, girls and widows—I declare an interest as founder and chairman of the Loomba Foundation—is violence against women and girls, including widows. The target is to,
“eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation”.
The conclusion of the MDGs and the launch of the SDGs speaks volumes of the progress the world has made in the mission to eradicate poverty and the work that has yet to be done. Though the fight continues to educate and empower women and girls, the issue of widowhood remains underrepresented and unaddressed. Millions of widows suffer social marginalisation, higher susceptibility to disease, the loss of their livelihood or their children and the threat of death, to name a few of the experiences that women and girls across the world must endure as a result of a tragic event over which they have no control—the death of their husbands. Sadly, widows are victims of double discrimination: they are women and they are widows.
These grave injustices are most prominent in the developing world, thus becoming a critical absence in the development agenda. These women and girls have been excluded not only from their own families and societies but from the agendas of development experts and practitioners across the world who devote their careers to ensuring that no one is left behind. Many of these women and their dependants live a vicious cycle of poverty. They are unseen and most certainly left behind. We have made great strides in alleviating poverty since the inception of the MDGs but not so much with stopping some of the terrible things that happen to women, either in conflict or often in the security of their own home. There needs to be a step change in attitudes; we need to do more at an earlier stage. While we are focusing on the education of girls, 64 million of whom, it is well documented, are not in education globally, perhaps we should turn some of our attention to educating boys and ensuring that the message gets to them at an early age about what is and is not acceptable behaviour. It is really and truly only by bringing the other half of the population on board that we will make real progress.
The UN, in collaboration with the EU, has initiated the Spotlight Initiative, which aims to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, shining a light on these issues in order to make change happen; is this something that DfID is also involved in? To press for progress is a huge challenge, considering how slow progress has actually been. Last month, to commemorate 100 years since the first Act of Parliament to allow certain women the vote, many Peers in this House, myself included, lamented the slow progress we are making to ensure that women’s voices are sufficiently heard at the highest level. As we noted in that debate, women still have not gained equality in this House and the other place. With the recent revelations about pay inequality at the BBC it would appear that we are only paying lip service to real gender equality. If we are to truly make progress, we need to set an example—if we cannot do it ourselves, how can we ask others to do it? We really must get our own house in order first and ensure that there is gender equality here to improve matters for women and for their complete participation in the democratic process. Alongside this, we must bring in better education for boys, so that they fully understand and take on board the message, to allow real change and make real progress.
Finally, I ask the Minister what steps the Government will take to stop paying lip service and do deeds, to press for progress for gender equality here and abroad.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the Minister for initiating the debate and giving us a very good introduction. I am part of the quota of men, by the way, and pleased to be so: I expected it to be a bit larger, I must admit. I have to confess that in this historic year I learned only recently the nuanced difference between the suffragist and the suffragette movements—a gap in my political education. I am not sure where I would have stood. I was reflecting on that. When they took the decision—I do not know if it was in a smoke-filled room—that somebody was going to slash the picture in the National Gallery, I might have asked for an amendment: could they not just stick “Votes For Women” over it instead? Whether they would have liked that, I do not know.
We have had a fascinating debate with a welter of statistics. I have learned a lot and been educated, which is always a good thing. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Gale for reminding us that it is National Apprenticeship Week and giving us the statistics on apprentices, a subject that noble Lords will know I am quite interested in. It is true, as she said, that there are more women apprentices, but if you look where they are, they are in care, in hospitality, hairdressing, nursing, et cetera. When you look at the more highly paid side, it is obvious that we need more encouragement. There are successful women in IT and engineering and we need those young women to be able to go into every school and demonstrate as role models to their peers. I would welcome a comment from the Minister: can she give an assurance that the Government will insist that all secondary schools allow apprentices and employers to come in and talk to their sixth form, their 16 and 17 year-olds, and maybe even earlier, about the value of apprentices as another career path and not simply as an alternative to an academic one?
We certainly have not achieved equality in the realm of pay, or even responsibility. I was reflecting on the time when I was general secretary of my union. It was my good luck to have married someone who said to me: “Part of the contract is that I want two children and I’ll let you know when I want to go back to work”. That was probably over 30 years ago. She was doing something exceedingly valuable in bringing up the family, but it gave me the luxury of not having that responsibility.
I reflected on my deputy general secretary, my noble friend Lady Drake, who unfortunately is not in the Chamber today. She had to carry out that job and worry about looking after three young children. Possibly, if she had not had that responsibility, she would have been the general secretary of the union. We know that the uptake of paternity leave is still woefully small, so most of the responsibility for childcare is falling on women. They get a tough deal because so many more of them have to go out to work as well in today’s society.
The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, is in her seat. I am glad she brought up the subject of sharia law. I absolutely agree with her. I cannot help reflecting on the fact that we had a previous most reverend Primate who recommended it. Today’s most reverend Primate fortunately has gone away from that position. I agree with the noble Baroness that it discriminates against women and should have no part in our society, where there are enough challenges to face.
We face a challenge in ensuring that women get a fair deal. We have made it clear where we stand on female genital mutilation. The late Ruth Rendell, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, was a tireless campaigner on that issue.
I pay tribute to the Government on the areas of equal pay and modern slavery. On pay, I cannot help but reflect on the difference between my son and daughter. My daughter is a trainee advanced medical practitioner—somewhere between a nurse and a doctor, I am not quite sure of the status. She has already done a four-year degree to become a paramedic and is now doing an MSc. She is on half the pay of her brother, who has a nice number in IT. He works hard, but is that really equal pay for work of equal value?
If I look at the four years of training and pay of a nurse and the pay of train drivers, I do not see a four-year training course there. I do not cast any aspersions on the talent or ability of train drivers, but we still have a long way to go in our society in rewarding women for the value of the work that they do.
I will focus briefly on some women whom I have met recently who made a huge impression on me. As part of the Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship programme on manufacturing, I came across a company called Fashion Enter. It is a social enterprise led by Jenny Holloway who has invested a huge amount of her own money in it. She has created a company that actually manages to manufacture clothing in Haringey. She has a phenomenal training scheme which draws in people from a very local and diverse community and teaches them how to cut patterns, sew and make garments. It is a fascinating enterprise. She is not a CEO who pays herself large sums of money, far from it. She has invested her “skin in the game”, to use the title of a recent book, and I pay tribute to her.
As I was going round the factory, I met a young Muslim woman wearing a hijab and I asked her what she did. She said: “I work in Savile Row, I am a tailor”. I have been to Savile Row and I do not think I have encountered many women there. I have certainly never encountered a Muslim woman. I asked her what her speciality was and she said that she made coats. I thought about how that situation has changed. I am sure that 10 years ago we would have seen hardly any women and certainly not a young Muslim woman. It is a tribute to Jenny Holloway that she has created an environment where people like that are able to prosper. I also recently met a Traveller woman who, at the age of 11, taught her mother to read—I apologise for having been absent from the Chamber, because I went to a Gypsy, Romany and Traveller event. The woman is now the director of learning and skills in Derby.
There are some great achievements out there and I end on this one. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wyld. I was fascinated by her contribution about her children et cetera—we have all faced that challenge, in different ways, as to whether the things that you say tend to encourage the wrong attitude. She happened to mention Malala Yousafzai, for which I am grateful. What an astonishing young women she is. A few years ago, I suggested to the House that she should address Parliament, but I have to say the response was not very good. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, who had the unenviable task of telling me that it could not be done because it would interrupt her education—if I have the wrong person and it was not the noble Baroness, I apologise, but somebody from the Government Benches said to me that it could not be done because it would interrupt her education. I groaned. Here we have this phenomenal role model, one of the most courageous young women you could ever wish to meet.
If you want to influence young women in this country, especially young Muslim women, that there is a really wonderful alternative to going to join ISIS, what a role model she is. Is it not ironic that, in 2017, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize winner—a Nobel Peace Prize winner—addressed the Canadian Parliament, but we have not found the wisdom, generosity or understanding to give her that honour? If I have one plea to the Minister who is replying, it is that she could take that issue away and perhaps give a more considered and sympathetic response, which I think would make a real contribution to young women in this country.
My Lords, we have much to celebrate today, as well as the opportunity to point out that there is more to be done in this country and indeed globally. It was good to hear from my noble friend Lady Williams at the outset about the Government’s programme. Looking for a moment at the past, I will say that the United Kingdom can be proud of the fact that we set up the Equal Opportunities Commission in 1975, which achieved a great deal under the inspired chairmanship—or should I say chairwomanship ?—of Lady Lockwood, whose deputy was the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote. Not only did this spur on the process of improving the status of women in this country, it served as a blueprint for other countries.
Today’s debate has been compelling and informative and has proved that these issues can bring political parties to work together for the greater good. It reminds me that my late sister Angela, who was then the chief woman executive at Conservative Central Office, had regular contact with her opposite number at Transport House—none other than the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton. That was during the 1970s and 1980s, and look how things have moved on since then. I also record my thanks to the Library and all the outside organisations that have sent in really useful briefings on what is happening and what ought to happen in this country, putting forward ideas, for example, to encourage young women and to bring more women into public life.
Local government is an important starting point for many women embarking on a political career. Indeed, looking around your Lordships’ House, one can see that this is obviously a successful route. Although we still form only 26%, I believe, of the total membership of the House of Lords, anyone following our debates or looking at the Front Benches would be surprised, since women Members are so active and contribute so much. We have only to think of my noble friend Lady Trumpington or indeed the first woman Leader of your Lordships’ House, Baroness Young, not to mention my noble friend Lady Williams, to see shining examples of women who have moved from local government to the Front Bench.
I intend to focus mostly on the international aspects of this debate, and will start by continuing with the theme of local government. In developing countries it is certainly a way to encourage women to commit to their local communities and work close to their homes in a way that impacts on their daily lives. Only yesterday I learned that, in Ethiopia, already more than 50% of elected local councillors are women. This has led to some 38% representation in the regional government. Although the federal parliament has a much lower representation, things are clearly moving in the right direction.
Similarly, in Saudi Arabia—much in the news because of the Crown Prince’s visit—the first breakthrough for women came two years ago when women were permitted both to vote in local elections and to stand as candidates. These examples illustrate success and I believe that the United Kingdom should support activities and education in this area through its development aid programme to enable us to fulfil our commitment to the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, and in particular the nine targets of goal 5.
I also draw attention to the valuable work of the IPU—the Inter-Parliamentary Union—and of the CPA—the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association—in this area. Both organisations currently have women chairmen. Gabriela Cuevas, a Mexican senator, now leads the IPU and, only last week, at the pre-CHOGM parliamentary forum, held here in London, the CPA chairman, the Honourable Emilia Lifaka, the Deputy Speaker of the Cameroon Parliament, presided over sessions. Both organisations have ad hoc committees concerned with women’s roles in public life and women’s issues generally. As a member of the executive committee of the British group of the IPU, in a few weeks’ time I shall be at the IPU meetings in Geneva, where we will be considering ways in which the IPU can work to achieve the United Nations sustainable development goals in this respect. I shall be able to quote suggestions from today’s debate in my contribution to those discussions—a rather useful form of recycling.
I turn now to Latin America. I am delighted to say—this has been referred to—that women’s parliamentary representation in the Americas has risen to 28.4% overall. The trailblazers were Argentina, with an increase to some 38%, Chile with 22.6% and Ecuador with 38%. It is interesting and important to note that these are countries that devised progressive legislation to promote women’s political leadership, resulting in increased female representation. We have also seen women presidents elected and re-elected in Chile, Argentina and Central America. Between 2013 and 2015, the region boasted the largest number of female heads of state in the world. However, by the end of 2017, there were none. This bears out what my noble friend Lady Jenkin said earlier: namely, that in spite of success the situation still feels very fragile.
We can still say that, in London, we have one of the largest groups of women ambassadors from the region—currently from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru. But the fact remains that there are still many women throughout Latin America, particularly from indigenous groups, who suffer from many of the injustices that have been outlined today—particularly well by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. Health has been emphasised, and I would add land ownership rights to the list, as a means of improving the economic security of women. This is particularly relevant to rural communities.
This leads to my final point. As an example of what can be achieved, I would like to describe a micro-finance project with which I have been involved. It started in Bolivia and has since spread throughout Latin America, with great success. It is called Pro Mujer—for women. Not only do we have a 98% success rate in the repayment of the small loans made to women, who are in many cases a single parent head of household, we have developed the project to offer health checks at the same time as the loan is being processed. This enjoys a high acceptance rate and is a relatively simple way of meeting a huge need.
The world is changing so rapidly that it is easy to see change continuing at an ever-increasing pace—and let us hope so. The important thing in my view is not so much equality but equal opportunity—and, if necessary, equal opportunity to be unequal.
My Lords, this has been an absolutely fascinating afternoon. With so many wide-ranging and varied speeches, it is almost impossible to summarise them and I wish the Minister well in doing so. We have had speeches from “men Lords” as well as “women Lords”, according to the daughter of the noble Baroness, Lady Wyld. The noble Baroness talked about how we bring up our daughters and our sons. Several noble Lords mentioned that hugely important point and it is incumbent on all of us to be aware of it.
I apologise to any noble Lord whose speech I do not mention but I have enjoyed every single contribution this afternoon. They have all taught me something that I did not know before. We have had contributions from my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece and the noble Baronesses, Lady Uddin and Lady Flather, who talked about the challenges facing BAME women. My noble friend Lady Barker talked about the challenges facing LGBT women. Young women and gender stereotypes, particularly as they affect young women taking up apprenticeships, were covered in great depth by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale. Several noble Lords mentioned sexual harassment and the fight back—the #MeToo movement—notably my noble friend Lady Northover.
Health and education have rightly featured strongly in the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, talked about decriminalising abortion by updating the Abortion Act 1967 and the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, said that education was the key to health, happiness and wealth. The noble Baroness, Lady Healy, talked about the plight of detainees in Yarl’s Wood, and good for her in speaking up for some of the most disadvantaged people in the worst position in British society today.
There have been a lot of personal tributes to mothers, including from the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. I pay tribute to my mother, who encouraged me to believe that I could be anything that I wanted to be. However, I do not think she ever thought that I would end up in this place. She is still pinching herself.
The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, spoke warmly of the contribution of the trade union movement in this area. I pay tribute to the long service that she has given to that movement and to this place. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, in that respect. The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, talked about the work of his charity in helping widows and tackling violence against women and girls. Many noble Lords have spoken about that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, talked about the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the CPA. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, who asked why the Government have not sent a nominee to the CEDAW meeting.
We have heard a lot about women’s sport. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked about the drama and professionalism exhibited in women’s sport and the soft power that it can wield. The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, talked about the This Girl Can campaign. My noble friend Lady Barker can, and I can too. I am still dead slow—but still lapping everybody on the sofa.
We have had a lot of discussions about other areas. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, talked about Albania and the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, about Pakistan. Last December I went as a volunteer to Karachi to support the work of VSO and its celebration of Women of the UN’s 16 days of activism against violence against women, working with the police and others to publicise efforts to encourage abused women to come forward and report their abusers. There is a whole culture change going on, particularly in Sindh province, where I was. I met some incredibly inspirational characters, such as Majida Rizvi, a Supreme Court judge who succeeded in getting the laws on rape changed. Before her long campaign to secure a conviction for rape, there had to be four male witnesses. That just shows how far they have come.
We in this place are in a highly privileged position. We can open doors and use our diplomatic skills to put pressure on those who have power over women’s lives, at home and abroad.
A country which is arguably much worse in its treatment of women is Papua New Guinea and the surrounding islands, where families who want marriage for a son are exhorted to pay the bride price. The presence of companies extracting mineral wealth has distorted and inflated the bride price market. Where once, payment would have been in shells—a beautiful way to trade before other forms of currency were introduced—today the monetary wealth that working for refineries has brought has caused the bride price to skyrocket. Leaving aside the lack of say that a girl is likely to have in the matter, many families, having laid out a huge amount of money to “buy” their bride, feel justified in treating her literally like a slave.
Our parliamentary group, extremely ably led by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, was treated with great honour, but I fear our entreaties and remonstrations fell largely on deaf ears. What people say and what they do are sadly often different things when it comes to relinquishing power.
How bad are things in the world today? The noble Baroness, Lady Browning, referred to the international measure of the gender gap, which incorporates disparities in health, education, economy and politics. It has assessed the global gender gap at 68%. In Britain it is 33% and we are ranked 15th out of 144 countries for overall gender parity. Women in Britain are treated twice as well as in the average country but a third less well than the men here. If we are meant to be grateful for this statistic, I can tell you, we are not. Never mind for a moment about the rest of the planet. On this little part of it, which is under our control, we are failing women.
So what should we be doing about it? The first thing that I believe will effect change is to have as many women sitting around the table making the decisions as men. In Parliament we are making great strides in increasing the number of women parliamentarians, as several noble Lords have mentioned. Labour’s policy of all-women shortlists has helped enormously and I am delighted to say this is now being introduced in the Liberal Democrats—and about time too. However, despite the remarks of the Minister, currently there are still only six women in the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister, which is 26% of 23 Cabinet posts; so we have a way to go, is all I am saying, although I applaud all the strides that have been made. It would be very churlish not to do so. Having a woman as Prime Minister is not quite good enough when only a quarter of the Cabinet is female. I note that Mrs Thatcher did the same, with only one woman in her Cabinet apart from herself.
In the workplace, women are still severely underrepresented in any job that involves decision-making, and receive less pay than their male counterparts even when they do succeed—usually at great personal cost—at breaking through the glass ceiling. One piece of government legislation conceived in the coalition and implemented by this Conservative Government is making companies look very seriously at how they reward talent. I speak of the requirement to report on the gender pay gap, which has been mentioned several times. I am already being approached by companies that want to tell me all about their pay gap results and get them out there and justify them before being forced to publish them in April. Our overall gender pay gap stands at 18.4% in favour of men, but I know of at least one large construction company that has been prompted to fundamentally rethink its pay structures and how it values work.
What should Parliament do? Women are held back by the lack of affordable childcare—that is nothing new; we all know that—and that is probably the number one issue for us. In recent years strides have been made in the provision of free childcare and making fees tax deductible. However, that is still not enough. For women in lower-paid occupations, the economics of working while having small children just do not stack up—even when the children are of school age, the benefits can be marginal. We have to do something. It is the fundamental thing that would change the balance.
I have talked already about shared parental leave in the context of what business should do. Really, it is up to businesses to change their culture. Parliament, however, can give them a nudge, as has proved so successful in pay gap reporting. Naming, and by implication shaming, companies has two functions. First, it makes companies think about the policies they are operating compared with others, and a bit of healthy competition—“We’re a better, more compassionate and enlightened employer than you are”—works wonders. Secondly, of course, what you do not measure you cannot manage. For a start, what about requiring that companies over a certain size publish their maternity and paternity pay policy?
The Liberal Democrats have put forward several proposals, including that “upskirting” should be made a criminal offence. Several noble Lords have worked on proposals dealing with period poverty, and we look forward to a response from the Government on that. Other proposals include gender-neutral school clothing, making sexual harassment outside of work illegal and improving knowledge among employers—for example, it is illegal to ask women whether they plan to have children but a lot of employers do not know that. What about changing the rules so that men can register children’s births if they are not married to the mother? To me, that seems a sensible and sane thing to do, and it would be especially helpful if the mother is unwell—it is a partnership, after all. What about changing the name of this place from the House of Lords to the House of Peers? That would make it a lot more gender equal. Finally, we should set a date to look at the Gender Recognition Act, so that we can see changes and progress following the completion of the consultation.
If I can pray the patience of the House for one moment more, I want to talk about my lapel badge—for anyone who cannot see it, it is a spoon. My lot know all about it because I have been on about it for a while, but the charity Karma Nirvana works very hard against forced marriage. Part of its charitable work is to advise the police, airport authorities and schools. If someone is absolutely desperate and fear that they are being taken abroad for a forced marriage, they should pop a spoon in their underwear. That way, they will be stopped when going through security and taken into a separate room on their own where they will be able to express their concerns. If anyone would like to know more about Karma Nirvana and the wonderful work of Jasvinder Sanghera, please see me afterwards.
My Lords, we have had another great debate today. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on getting us off to a brilliant start. As usual, a range of challenges and celebrations characterised this International Women’s Day debate.
I want to mention two internal parliamentary things that we need to celebrate and which have not been mentioned so far. That, of course, is that we have our first woman Black Rod in 600 years here in our own House. We can also celebrate the fact that the chairman of the Press Gallery and the chairman of the Lobby are both women. They are Kate McCann and Emily Ashton. They issued a press release today—I shall not read it all out, but its headline reads:
“Top female lobby journalists say ‘we need to show it’s not an all-boys’ club’ on International Women’s Day”.
Well, hear, hear to that and congratulations to them.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, I shall not try to cover everything that has been said today, but there are a couple of things which I think are worth mentioning. I certainly support my noble friend Lord Young in his remarks about Malala and his saying that her addressing both Houses of Parliament would be a great thing to do. I do not think that it is the Government’s job to organise that; it is Parliament’s. I invite the Minister to support us in that ambition, but I would exonerate her from having to deliver it. We need to talk to the two Speakers and others to help us to do it.
I enjoyed in particular the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, about Albania, about which I did not know very much and have not thought very much. It was absolutely fascinating. I also enjoyed the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, about “Who would have thought?”—and quite right, too. The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, was also quite right: our gains are fragile, and we have to fight to protect all of them all the way through. My noble friend Lady Donaghy’s appraisal was, as usual, devastating and quite correct. I enjoyed enormously the “Oscars speech” of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning—she was quite right. The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, was quite right to ask the question about CEDAW. However, the coalition Government abolished the Women’s National Commission, which was the main organisation that collected the views of British women to take to CEDAW. The noble Baroness is right—so what are we going to do about that? The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, was quite right and has my support in bringing forward the gender recognition Bill. As she said, it will be an important moment for a group which is small but has a very hard time. I have always thought that part of our job in the House of Lords is to champion those people and groups who may be quite small in number but who have the most difficult time and are discriminated against.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, was right to remind us that the World Economic Forum finds that the UK has a gender gap of 33% overall and is ranked 15th out of 144 countries. Against all the indices about economic empowerment and opportunity, we could probably say, “C-plus. Could do better”—that is the sort of grading that we are approaching; I think that most people would agree with that. One needs to ask why we do not do as well as we should on all those economic indices and I want to suggest something we might consider. I say this in tribute to the Women’s Budget Group of feminist economists, and it is about how we measure economic activity. We can see quite plainly the way in which GDP is measured: it takes into account the value produced through wage labour but not through unpaid domestic care work carried out predominantly by women in the home, even though all are essential to a well-functioning economy. Indeed, proponents of feminist economics argue that, in terms of methodology and focus, modern economics is too centred around men, with women’s contribution to the economy routinely ignored.
From a political perspective, feminist economics is an economics that focuses on what is needed to produce a gender-equal society. It argues that because modern economics is built around the idea of the “economic man”, it is ideologically weighted towards normalising men’s lives and consequently ignores the experience of women. This is important: we cannot expect models based on economic man to understand or even notice gender inequalities, let alone create policies to alleviate them. Would the Minister raise this issue with her right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and with the Prime Minister, and perhaps suggest that the Treasury take account of it in its economic policies?
This is important, because while there has been progress on some aspects of gender equality, women still experience structural inequality throughout their lives. For example, independent research carried out before Christmas revealed that women have borne 86% of the impact of austerity, largely through lost services and changes to the tax and benefits system. Were we measuring things differently, we would come to a different conclusion about that.
This morning I was privileged to attend an International Women’s Day conference organised by Unity Trust Bank and the Employee Ownership Association. We were addressing the empowerment of women across the world through employee ownership, social enterprise, co-operatives and profit-for-purpose businesses. By the way, women are eight times more likely to be the chair in a co-operative than in a FTSE 100 company. A recent British Council report that looked at social enterprise and women’s empowerment across the world found that 75% of women who start a social enterprise say that it had given them an increased sense of self-worth, while 64% reported enhanced self-confidence.
Such empowered women—social entrepreneurs—provide crucial role models for the next generation, so I congratulate the FCO and DfID on the support they have been giving to the British Council in the social enterprise programme, and I hope that will continue.
We have all been going to lots of celebrations of International Women’s Day. Yesterday I attended the launch of What Women Want 2.0. I remember—as I am sure will other noble Lords—the 1996 What Women Want survey, which was linked to the Beijing United Nations women’s conference. I took part in it. It had a great impact: 10,000 women took part in the survey. The same thing has happened again, and with social media it has generated a huge digital discourse. Fascinatingly, the results mirror almost exactly what women were asking for in 1996, which must make us pause to wonder why there is so much unfinished business: equal rights, equal pay, respect, a child and carer-friendly working world, an end to the culture of pornography and rape, more women in politics, more women running big organisations and companies, and a peaceful safe world for our children and the ones we love. It is very much the same as 1996, but the difference now is that this new wave of feminists—and in 1996 it was still unfashionable to call yourself a feminist—are not only saying that this is what women want but also that this is what women believe they deserve. I took great encouragement from the large and diverse group—hundreds of women—who came to Parliament yesterday.
As the health spokesperson, I finish by raising an issue about women’s health. It is to do with women and mental health. In 2003 we had an excellent women and mental health strategy. It was archived in 2011 by the coalition Government, which is a great shame. This is important: poor mental health among women has increased, with one in five experiencing common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, compared to one in eight among men. Young women are the group most at risk, experiencing alarmingly high rates of self-harm, eating disorders and PTSD. Women’s mental health is closely linked to their experiences of violence and abuse, which should not be surprising, and many women struggle to get the support they need from the mental health services. Agenda, a women’s organisation supporting women and girls at risk of abuse, poverty, poor mental health and homelessness, found that women and girls are regularly and repeatedly restrained in mental health settings, despite the risk of re-traumatising women who have already experienced violence and abuse.
Can the Minister tell us—if not now, perhaps she could ask her noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy to do so later—what steps are being taken to respond to women’s mental health needs and tackle the rise in mental ill-health among women? Is it not time for the new women’s mental health strategy that we need?
My Lords, the theme of International Women’s Day this year is “Press for Progress” and I have been struck by the amazing examples of progress in many of the contributions today. Similarly, as many noble Lords have noted, there is more—much more—that needs to be done. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, highlighted so many shocking and astonishing examples; I will have to have a word with my husband tonight about whether he would give me a kidney. My noble friend Lady Browning enthralled us with her contribution about culture and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has just expanded our understanding of economics. There is so much food for thought and I give my heartfelt thanks to all the contributors. There are far too many to mention.
The vote has been mentioned by many and it would be remiss of me if I missed it out. It is just 100 years—about four generations—since women, albeit not all women, were granted the right to vote. Since then, other courageous and inspirational women from all sides of politics have blazed the trail that has got us to where we are today. We have our second female Prime Minister and our third female Home Secretary, and almost a third of government posts are currently filled by women. There are so many more, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Jenkin and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. Some of the campaigners of 100 years ago have their names written forever in history, including Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett and Emily Wilding Davison—and Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, who was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Suri. I know that she has been mentioned in your Lordships’ House before. A great many more have not achieved national recognition, or perhaps notoriety, and we may never know their names. They were just ordinary women doing their bit to challenge injustice.
It was 40 years after women gained the right to vote and to become MPs that they were able to sit as life Peers in your Lordships’ House. In 1958, just 60 years ago and within the living memory of some noble Lords, Baroness Swanborough became the first female Peer to take her seat. Since then, 294 female life Peers have been created and there are now 203 female life Peers in your Lordships’ House. That means that seven out of 10 such Peers ever created are still here. The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, talked about getting our own House in order—so I had a quick look. I have been in your Lordships’ House for 18 months and made my debut at the Dispatch Box in this debate exactly a year ago. Of the 14 political appointments 18 months ago, of which I was one, eight of us were women—more than half. So the former Prime Minister, my right honourable friend David Cameron, was a man of deeds and not words when it came to women’s representation.
This is the most diverse Parliament in British history, with the highest number of women MPs ever. Women make up 32% of all MPs, up from 22% in 2010. But compare that to countries as diverse as Senegal, where 41.8% of MPs are women, and Norway, which has 41.4%. We must and can do better. We must use the examples of all courageous and inspirational women to galvanise women and girls, including those from the BAME communities, as mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hussein-Ece and Lady Uddin, and my noble friend Lady Manzoor, to use their voices and have a say over what our future looks like.
Since 2010 the Government have been making a real difference to “Press for Progress” for women. There are 1.48 million more women in employment than in May 2010 and the employment rate remains at a joint record high of 70.8%. What is more, the full-time gender pay gap, as mentioned by many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, has fallen to a record low of 9.1%, while the overall gender pay gap has fallen from 27.5%, in 1997 to 18.4%. Our ground-breaking gender pay gap reporting legislation, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, will encourage employers to take responsibility and take positive steps to close the gap even further.
The deadline is approaching and I am sure that all noble Lords are very excited by this. I can share with noble Lords that many times more companies have registered than have already submitted their data. So time will tell; I remain positive. Companies leave things to the last minute, as we know. So let us keep an eye on that and see how we do.
We are championing female representation at all levels—an issue that was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. Through the Hampton-Alexander Review and the Women’s Business Council, we are supporting business to get more women into senior leadership positions.
We recently launched the national campaign to promote and increase the uptake of shared parental leave, and 97% of all UK workplaces now offer some form of flexible working. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, mentioned childcare. As a mother I agree with the noble Baroness that it is one of the biggest challenges that any family faces when they are deciding how to structure their family going forward. We have doubled free childcare for working parents of three and four-year olds and we have introduced tax-free childcare to help working families.
We have had a wide-ranging debate today. The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, gave us a stunning tour-de-force on the world of women in sport. He paid tribute to my honourable friend Tracey Crouch in the other place in her role as Minister for Sport, and I would completely agree with him. He talked about Sport England and the This Girl Can campaign. This girl can, too—but only very occasionally because I am usually too busy. In terms of This Girl Can, over 11,000 organisations have registered, which is a great step forward. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, will agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and indeed with me, that we now have some more superstar sporting heroes and role models who have come out of the Winter Olympics, including of course Lizzie Yarnold and Elise Christie for the way she faced up to the challenges that she had. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, also spoke about the benefits of sport and the action being taken. I note his question on coaches. If he will forgive me, I will write to him further on that when I have the full facts at my fingertips.
My noble friend Lady Manzoor spoke very movingly about a crime of the past that is still a crime of the present: sexual abuse, rape and grooming. This was also mentioned by my noble friend Lady Wyld. Large-scale sexual abuse and grooming in our cities must be tackled. Indeed, it must be stopped. The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, spoke about sexual harassment in schools. The Government are taking concrete action. We are working to make relationship and sex education mandatory in secondary schools and relationship education mandatory in primary schools. The DfE, too, is busy improving the guidance available to schools. It will be publishing specific guidance on child-on-child sexual harassment and violence, revising bullying guidance, and consulting on proposals to strengthen the safeguarding guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education. Those changes should come into effect in September 2018—so the Government are not hanging around. The DfE is ensuring that all expert views are reflected, including through an expert advisory group, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, and wide consultation on both the content of the sex education programme and also Keeping Children Safe in Education.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, also spoke about the domestic abuse consultation launched by Her Majesty’s Government today, and mentioned why she thought that the Bill was solely focused on criminal justice and a criminal justice approach. The Government are committed to doing everything they can to end domestic violence, and the consultation seeks views from all sides. From legislative and non-legislative action, we need to look at the different things that the Government can be doing to tackle this devastating abuse.
The consultation and the proposals for the domestic abuse Bill are all about intervening early so that we can get people the support that they need. We have made clear in the consultation document our commitment to review funding for safe accommodation, including refuges. This is why we are conducting the most thorough review of domestic abuse services that we have ever undertaken—to make sure that we get this absolutely right.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, mentioned mental health. This is an area that is very close to my heart as I have worked in mental health provision in the past. The Government are committed to achieving parity of esteem for mental health. I am proud of our achievements. We have invested more than ever before in mental health, with spending estimated to have increased to £11.6 billion. There is additional investment to improve services for eating disorders, which, as we know, disproportionately affect women, and we have introduced the first waiting time standards for mental health.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, raised the issue of apprenticeships. We are using the employer Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network to champion gender representation in industries where improvement is needed. The recently published careers strategy includes a commitment to ensuring that STEM encounters—I think that just means meetings with people from STEM organisations—such as employers and apprenticeships—yes, there we go—are built into the school careers programme by updating the statutory guidance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, mentioned encouraging women into STEM and engineering; as a former engineer myself, I think that is a great thing. This is the Year of Engineering, and we have invested in many programmes to encourage the take-up of STEM-related subjects and courses. We announced substantial spending commitments in the 2017 Autumn Budget on maths, digital and, of course, technical education and the T-levels, which I think will be very important.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, mentioned BAME women and the particular challenges that they can face. We are committed to addressing these issues. In October 2017, the Government published the Race Disparity Audit showing how people of different ethnicities are treated across public services, and we have begun a programme of work to tackle some of the disparities with targeted action in employment, education and the criminal justice system.
The noble Baroness, Lady Healy, mentioned women in detention at Yarl’s Wood. We are committed to treating women who seek protection with dignity and respect. We take our responsibilities towards detainees’ health and welfare seriously. We have worked closely with partners including Asylum Aid, the Refugee Council and UNHCR on a range of initiatives to ensure that gender sensitivity is embedded in the asylum process.
On the last area that I would like to mention in relation to domestic matters, the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, spoke about the reform of the Gender Recognition Act; I have heard her mention this in the past and I encourage her to keep going. The Government have already begun engaging with a wide range of people and organisations, including LGBT groups and women’s groups. I would like to reassure her that we are standing firm and will bring forward the consultation shortly.
However, it is not just at home where we are pressing for progress. The UK is an international leader on gender equality. We have brought critical issues such as sexual and reproductive health and rights, female genital mutilation and child and early forced marriage to the world stage. The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, called some of these practices uncivilised and barbaric, and I would agree with him. The noble Baronesses, Lady Northover and Lady Tonge, graciously mentioned the good work done by DfID over many years, and indeed many of these issues were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, in her contribution.
We have been able to leverage ground-breaking international partnerships and commitments. A good example of this is our instrumental role in securing the inclusion of global goal 5 on gender equality and ensuring that gender equality is mainstreamed across all the other goals. Since 2014, the Department for International Development has had pioneering legislation in place requiring the Government to consider gender equality in all our development and our humanitarian aid. Our leadership puts us at the forefront of global efforts to demand rights for women and girls, and is the key feature of global Britain.
Key to this is that we work across government to achieve the best development, diplomatic, defence and trade approaches to achieve the maximum impact for women and girls. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, will feel reassured that there is indeed cross-departmental action. A good example of this is our cross-departmental government strategy on ending violence against women and girls. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for his work in this area, particularly in highlighting the plight of widows and the Spotlight Initiative.
In January, the Government launched our new UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace & Security, which has nine focus countries, many of which we have discussed in the Chamber today. They include Afghanistan, the DRC, South Sudan and Syria. It puts women and girls at the heart of our cross-government work to prevent and resolve conflict and focuses on diplomacy, development and peace. As my noble friend Lady Hodgson noted, we absolutely know that in peace processes where women are able to exert a strong influence, it is much more likely that an agreement will be reached and implemented and peace is 35% more likely to last for 15 years. This is why the UK has provided around $2 million to the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund, to enhance the capacity of local women to prevent conflict, respond to crises and emergencies and seize key peacebuilding opportunities. We work across government to deliver strong gender-equality messages and secure progressive languages, for example, through the G7 and the G20.
Education was mentioned by many noble Lords as a priority. Between 2015 and 2017, DfID supported 7.1 million children to get an education. That included 3.3 million girls. In April, we will collectively strive for a commitment at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to 12 years of quality education for all girls across the Commonwealth.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, mentioned LGBT issues and the Commonwealth. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has spoken about the UK’s special responsibility to help change hearts and minds, and is committed to ensuring that LGBT issues are discussed at the Commonwealth summit. I heard what the noble Baroness said about the evidence being gathered of the costs of discrimination, and look forward to seeing that when it is available.
My noble friend Lady Hodgson mentioned a variety of issues, including the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, an initiative set up in 2012. The UK has committed more than £40 million to this initiative since it was founded. We have supported 23 projects in 14 countries in this year alone, and more than 17,000 police and military personnel have been trained. She will be very pleased to hear that the UK plans to host another PSVI summit to continue with the momentum that we have, and it will take place in 2019.
My noble friend Lady Hodgson and a number of others mentioned CEDAW. The UK strongly supports CEDAW and believes that it is an effective treaty-monitoring body. It is one of the best mechanisms to promote women’s rights around the world. The Government engage with CEDAW and submitted their eighth periodic report to the UN CEDAW committee in 2017, which highlighted the UK’s record on gender equality. A range of factors are considered before making a decision about UK representation on bodies such as CEDAW, and sometimes this means making difficult decisions about which bodies to seek election for. The Government are carefully considering whether to nominate a candidate for the 2020 election.
I turn to the comments made by my noble friend Lord Suri. I thank him for his ideas and thoughts on the activities of NGOs overseas, particularly on potential unwelcome behaviour by certain members of staff. On
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Hooper for her work with the Inter-Parliamentary Union. It is very interesting to hear about women in local government. Often, we talk about women in national government and it is very heartening to hear that women are active in local government. Indeed, it is disappointing to hear that progress at a national level is slightly slowing. Obviously, we will continue to support that work.
I may just have time to address the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge. I pay tribute to her tenacious campaigning in this area over the years—I know that she has done a lot of work on it. The UK firmly believes in supporting comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls. On the issue of safe abortion, our position is absolutely clear. Research shows that restricting access to abortion does not make abortions less common, just less safe. The UK will continue to show global health leadership in this area.
We all know that there is still a way to go before we achieve gender equality in the UK—
It is a superb idea. I had her speak at a conference I organised in 2015—but that does not mean that I take responsibility for it. I encourage all noble Lords to support that idea.
We all know that there is a way to go, but we simply cannot afford to let anyone waste their talents because of missed opportunities or social barriers. In 1903, the mantra “Deeds not Words” was adopted by Emmeline Pankhurst, and I encourage all noble Lords to carry on the deeds they are doing. Together we must, and we can, create a fairer and more equal world where everyone has the same rights and the same opportunities, no matter what their gender.
House adjourned at 5.01 pm.