My Lords, sadly there is still no country in the world where there is true gender equality in political, economic and social terms. International Women’s Day this year, with its theme “Balance for Better”, gives us a chance to take stock and celebrate the successes but also to identify the challenges that remain at home and abroad.
As my noble friend Lady Jenkin mentioned, I, and several of my noble friends, began political life in the Conservative Women’s Organisation. On Saturday, I will be attending the CWO centenary conference. I pay special tribute to my noble friend Lady Seccombe, who was Conservative vice-chairman for women for 10 years. Many of us owe our political careers to her encouragement and mentoring. She has made a real difference to so many on our side.
This morning we had the Third Reading of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill, which I have helped my honourable friend Tim Loughton MP progress through this House. It will bring in simple but important changes for women. Since 1837 there has been provision for only the father’s name on a marriage certificate, and the Bill will enable mothers to witness marriage certificates too. It also requires the Government to prepare a report on how the law should be changed to permit the registration of pregnancy losses before 24 weeks, which cannot be registered as stillbirths under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953, and a report on whether coroners should be able to investigate late stillbirths, which would support the current work by the Department of Health and Social Care to improve maternity safety in the UK.
Next week, I and many other women from around the world will head to the UN in New York for the Commission on the Status of Women meeting. This year’s theme is access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The CSW meeting is the second largest of the year at the UN, yet almost nothing is heard about it in the media. Although the CSW is enormously welcome, can the Minister please tell us how the UK will work with others to improve the impact that the CSW makes across the world? In many countries, women desperately need international support.
I co-chair and run the APPG on Women, Peace and Security, and last autumn we greatly welcomed the UK’s fourth national action plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325. I also congratulate our Ministry of Defence on launching JSP 1325, the policy on human security in military operations. This is vital in protecting civilians, especially women and children.
However, there is still much more work to be done. Eighteen years after the adoption of UNSCR 1325, why are Syrian women not allowed at the peace table? We should not have to justify women being included in peace processes; we should ask the men there to justify their exclusion. As we look at tentative peace processes in Yemen and Afghanistan, where are the women? You cannot have peace that excludes half the population. How can we, in the UK, exert global influence to make sure that women are included?
The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, launched by William Hague—now my noble friend Lord Hague—in 2012, brought to global attention the fact that rape is used today as a weapon of war. This initiative was always going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and we must ensure that focus on this important issue is not lost. Its relevance is seen in the conflicts raging today, with the high levels of sexual violence committed by Daesh against the Yazidis and the terrible stories coming from the Rohingya camp at Cox’s Bazar. Can the Minister please update us on the plans for the PSVI international conference that the UK will host this year, five years on from the unforgettable 2014 global summit?
There are always many inspirational meetings around International Women’s Day, but the one that will remain with me this year was the APPG on Human Rights on Tuesday, when we heard from two journalists—women human rights defenders—Zaina Erhaim from Syria, and Nurcan Baysal, who is Kurdish and from Turkey. Listening to them was truly humbling.
We should never forget that there are many women around the world who, in spite of constant threat, continue to stand up fearlessly for what they believe in. As we safely celebrate International Women’s Day here in the Palace of Westminster, we must hold out our hands to them and offer our heartfelt help and support.