International Women’s Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 7th March 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat 3:45 pm, 7th March 2019

I thank the noble Lord for his contribution. He slightly proves my point.

Yet nuclear weapons, including our own Trident system, specifically target civilians; they target cities and women and children as a so-called deterrent.

I will use my time today to ask the Minister whether there is a correlation between the lack of women involved and the fact that not only have nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament talks largely stalled, but we are now likely to be heading into a new nuclear arms race. That truly terrifying prospect was highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, when he talked of the evidence that the International Relations Committee had heard that,

“we were on the verge of a terrifying new arms race and the possible spread of tactical nuclear weapons, and that the limits on nuclear warfare that the world has hung on to since Hiroshima are now slipping away and could leave our cities in smoking ruins”.—[Official Report, 27/2/19; col. 253.]

Your Lordships will remember that back in 2000 the UN passed Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, to encourage greater female representation on disarmament bodies. That has not happened to the degree that was hoped for then. One of the women to see this first hand is the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Her Excellency Ms Izumi Nakamitsu. As frequently the only woman at high-level talks, she says:

“More perspectives could help to find new approaches to break stalemate”.

Many noble Lords will have heard of the Doomsday Clock, which moves nearer to midnight according to the threats. Right now it is at two minutes to midnight because of nuclear war and climate change.

I am sure that noble Lords will agree that, the moment you have children, the existential threats to the future take on a new urgency. Back in the early 1980s, when the US was planning to, and did, put nuclear-armed cruise missiles in the UK, the women of Greenham Common were so moved—Helen John in particular, who was their leader—that they raised public awareness, putting the issue firmly in front of politicians and the public. Taking part in the “ring the base” at Easter made me aware of the power of women acting together to address this terrifying threat to humanity. We need that power again. Of course we need it for climate change, and Greta Thunberg is doing a great job with the much younger generation; Spring Uprising in Bristol is looking at that. However, the threat from nuclear weapons has not taken on the urgency that it needs to prompt the same sort of action among the young.

We need nuclear weapon use or possession banned. It will not happen in my lifetime, but the first step was taken with last year’s UN ban treaty, which was signed by 122 countries—sadly, not the UK. When it is ratified, it will make the possession or use of nuclear weapons illegal. As we start on the first steps of this process, if humanity and the world as we know it are to enter the 22nd century, we need women to be far more involved. Men have not had the impetus or the will to achieve nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Women are good negotiators; we are realists and we invest emotionally in the future. Women must become involved in the nuclear disarmament effort at every level—and fast.