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International Women’s Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:36 pm on 10th March 2020.

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Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench 5:36 pm, 10th March 2020

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ranger, on his maiden speech and was reminded while listening to it that, throughout my family, women most certainly rule. I am particularly pleased to follow the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, for reasons that I will expand upon shortly.

Given the small number of male contributors, I intervene to illustrate the point: the numbers speak for themselves. While women uphold their values, it behoves more men to come to the fore in support. These challenges will be resolved only with a change in mindset, with men in particular having the responsibility to step up to ensure that we will all work together to achieve these essential outcomes. Much remains to be done.

Insufficient attention is paid to celebrate women’s roles and achievements. I unreservedly add voice to the further empowerment of women internationally, not forgetting that the day for women coincides with Commonwealth Day. What better example of leadership and thoughtfulness is there than Her Majesty, Head of the Commonwealth?

Many issues emerge in restrictions placed on the role of women in society, including in religious contexts, a point recognised by the institute promoting Islamic learning instigated by King Mohammed in Rabat. With sensitivity, I wonder if the role of women in Islamic society might become more recognised.

The ending of violence against women, the promotion of economic empowerment, the championing of voluntary access to family planning and the breaking of barriers to equal access to education for girls—to these advances, the right of primogeniture must be seen as morally unsustainable in today’s world. To that end, I offer unfettered support to the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, on his request. These are all to name but a few. I would go so far on the issue of primogeniture—and even had it in mind to suggest this but the noble Earl has beaten me to the draw—to suggest testing the opinion of the House on a Private Member’s Bill at the right time, which I am sure many would agree is highly appropriate. It would certainly have my support.

The Boston Consulting Group has called women

“the most underutilized asset in the world”.

In 2019, when more than 50% of graduates are women, making up 80% of all purchasing decisions globally—that is from the OECD and Deloitte—we are still facing few women-led businesses. The barriers of inadequate access to finance and lack of access to managerial training are a major global hindrance. The economic activity of women must be viewed not just as a mechanism for social justice but a tool for reducing global poverty. A stronger role for women contributes to economic growth and reduction of poverty, so making the strengthening of opportunities for women central to sustainable development.

The marking of the short hundred years since the first women in Britain stood for election in Parliament puts this important subject in sharp focus and serves as a stark reminder of how women are shaping the agenda for the future. There is still much to be done.