International Women’s Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:04 pm on 7th March 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Flather Baroness Flather Crossbench 5:04 pm, 7th March 2019

My Lords, I have just come back from my annual visit to India. I have been going to India for many years, just to see what has changed—what has got better, what has got worse. I was very distressed this time. Things have not got better, and they do not seem to be getting better, particularly in relation to women. I now feel very strongly that I do not want to go back again, because things are so bad. Seeing how difficult women’s lives were was personally hurtful to me.

India has the largest number of poor people in the world, and noble Lords can imagine who are the poorest of the poor: it is always the women. It is said that men spend 37% of their earnings on their families, and the rest they need to enjoy themselves. As noble Lords can imagine, earning more does not help much; men still give their families only what they wish to give them.

India is a country of Indias. We must not think of it as one large, cohesive country, because it is not. Each state has its own culture, food and dress—some of us can even tell which state a person is from. Having said that, the north is much worse for women than the south. In the south, they still have some respect for women and do not do the sort of things that are done to women in the north. Mumbai is much better for women than Delhi. Delhi is pretty bad; there are a lot of rapes and attacks on women, and very few people are caught because, as we all know, it is never considered the top priority. This sort of thing is very distressing.

Modi, the present Prime Minister who will be facing an election soon, said that he would work on making women’s lives better. He has not done very much. He reduced the abortion of girl babies in his state of Gujarat by quite a bit, but it is still happening in the northern provinces. It is rife. In Haryana, there are 12% more boys than girls. What some do there is even more horrible: they buy a girl—Nepali or Bangladeshi or something—and when one man has had a baby with her he passes her on to another man to have a baby. Sometimes when you think about women’s lives, things are so bad that you cannot actually stay sane.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said that we are very fortunate to live in this country. We should realise that. I hope all the women who live here know that, because they complain all the time; I call it the British disease—moan, moan, moan all the time, whether it is about the weather or whatever else. Yes, we are better off here; there is no question about that. In that poor country, there has just been the wedding of a very rich man’s daughter. The wedding cards cost 100,000 rupees, which could have fed several families for a whole year. This man spent so much money on his daughter’s wedding, and to me it is an obscenity. How could he do that? In our culture, when you have a wedding, you go and feed the poor at the same time—that is what you do. He did not feed a single person. All these things together have put me off going back.

There is another issue in Haryana. If a girl and boy marry without parental permission, the parents’ agents find them in one of the big cities and kill them. It is just so bad. I have set up a charity, which is not showing any success, called Women Matter. By visiting a lot of projects, I have discovered that if a woman earns even a small amount of money, she changes: she changes; her family changes; her status changes; everything changes. And it is very quick—it does not take years, but weeks. Suddenly she is somebody, because now she can bring in money. The whole idea is to try to get companies to employ poor women—not the educated ones—and give them a little training if necessary. If women are very hungry, they train very quickly. That is what I am trying to do, at the moment a little unsuccessfully.

On Muslim girls and boys, I want to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, that I used to teach immigrant women, and there is no question but that the girls learn more quickly and assiduously. But those are the girls born here, or who are at least very young when they come here; the ones who come as wives have a different problem. Boys do not do anything, because they are little princes—why should they bother? Why the men are so much more important than the women, always and everywhere, is another issue.

I will say one last word about faith or religion. Religions have not supported women. I do not know how your Lordships feel about it—I am looking at the clock and am finishing—but they have not supported women. If they had supported women, it would have been a lot better for us.