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Mrs. Gillan: I agree with the hon. Lady that female genital mutilation is appalling. Does she agree that even legislation does not seem to be the route to banishing this horrible mutilation in certain countries and that only fundamental and continuous education among men and women will lead to good progress being made in outlawing it?

Chris McCafferty: I agree entirely with the hon. Lady. We need a bottom-up education of women, as well as of men and children. An education network would ensure that, as groups, they learned about human rights, so that people from countries where FGM is still common realise that the practice is not helpful and must change. However, countries such as Britain must do more through legislation.

Enabling women to choose to abandon FGM requires an improvement in women's status. Governments need to reform all laws that serve as barriers to women's equality.

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Women must not stand alone in their demand for social justice; other sectors of society must be involved. Women need allies among politicians, religious leaders and health professionals.

Last year, the all-party group on population, development and reproductive health held hearings on this difficult subject. The aim was to raise awareness of the subject in the UK and abroad, and to generate support for FGM prevention and eradication programmes. The UK has a law on FGM: the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985, which was introduced by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe). Despite that Act, there has never been a prosecution in this country, although there is a lot of evidence that FGM is taking place here. An estimated 15,000 girls in the UK are at risk every year, so it is vital that the law is fully implemented.

The hearings panel recommended that the Act be amended to ensure that UK residents who take girls abroad for the purpose of FGM can be prosecuted under UK law when they return, regardless of the legal status of FGM in the country where the mutilation took place. We would also like the name of the Act to be changed to incorporate the term "female genital mutilation". We want health professionals and other relevant authorities to report incidents of FGM so that accurate statistics can be obtained.

Since the UN declaration on the elimination of violence against women in 1993, much progress has been made in establishing reproductive rights. There is, however, a lot more to be accomplished in translating those rights into policies and programmes. Honour killings, human trafficking and female genital mutilation are all gender-based violations that attempt to subordinate women, and it is a fact that gender-based violence causes more disability and deaths in women between the ages of 15 and 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war put together.

I am sure that all hon. Members condemn the centuries-old practices of slavery and torture, and racial and ethnic prejudice, and rightly so. We certainly condemn them when they involve people of colour, political dissidents or ethnic groups. The violation of women's human rights must be met by the same pressure in the House and internationally. Discrimination against girls is a persistent barrier to achievement. It is a violation of human rights and a threat to development—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady has had her time. I call Angela Watkinson.

5.21 pm

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): Most inequalities for women spring either directly or indirectly from the fact that women have children and men do not. That fact is never going to change, and we have to face up to it. The holy grail of total equality for women is, therefore, unachievable, but enormous progress has been made over the past decades, and I hope that that will continue.

In the home, both parents now share responsibility for the children in a way that never happened when my children were young. That is not a personal criticism of my husband, I hasten to add. Nowadays, with property prices as they are, most mortgages are two-salary

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mortgages, so even women who would choose to stay at home and look after their children are unable to do so. The logistics of everyday life in a family—child care, school runs, travel, and going to Brownies, music and swimming lessons—are at least shared by two parents. In my day, women took full responsibility for the running of the entire household and looking after the family, and had a job outside the home only if they could fit it in. Progress has therefore been made in terms of women's ability to choose a career, if they wish to do so.

In the 1950s, all women in the workplace were regarded as temporary employees. It was assumed that, as soon as a woman got married, she would leave fairly shortly afterwards to have children. Even single women who stayed in their jobs all their lives were still regarded as temporary employees, and put on a separate pay scale, on which they were paid less than men for doing exactly the same job. Thank heavens that those days are over. Executive positions for women were extremely rare in those days and, even in 2002, there is a predominance of women in junior posts in most large organisations.

I received a card recently from PCS—the Public and Commercial Services union—about pay in the civil service. I phoned the union, but, unfortunately, it was unable to get back to me to clarify the statistic at the bottom of the card, which states:

The civil service is supposed to be an enlightened body, so it is very disappointing to know that that disparity still prevails. I wanted to clarify whether that figure involves there being a rate for the job. I hope that it does not mean that women are doing the same job as men for less money. I am sure that it does not, and that it means that there is a rate for the job. The conclusion, however, is that there is a barrier to women receiving promotion, and that a lot of women are undervalued and under-promoted. One wonders whether that is related to the basic fact that they have family commitments. I hope that the organisation will come back to me on that.

Nowadays, there is much heightened awareness of sexism and sexual harassment, which were almost unheard of years ago. It would be a brave colleague on the Conservative Benches who made comments about a "pretty filly" within my earshot, and I do not know who the gentleman referred to earlier was. However, there have been some notable setbacks involving a few well publicised cases in which false accusations have been made. They have done enormous harm to society as a whole, and its perception of gender equality.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) mentioned Sweden. I visit Sweden regularly, because my son lives there. I was interested by the hon. Lady's comments about the list system used in elections. There are 101 seats on Stockholm city council, 51 of which are occupied by women. On my last visit, I asked what the women had done to achieve that, and they protested that they had done nothing. Sweden probably has a more advanced attitude than us to gender equality.

New legislation will enable our own political parties to do what they think is right and fair to encourage more women and members of ethnic minorities to come to this place. I have grave reservations about all-women lists. I wonder how much credibility will be given to women

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who arrive here by that means, and what status will be afforded to them if it is thought that they might not have managed it otherwise.

Sandra Gidley: As a new Member, can the hon. Lady tell which female Labour Members are products of all-women lists and which are products of the standard selection procedure? I certainly cannot.

Angela Watkinson: I can do so only because it was well publicised at the time. I assure the hon. Lady that I cannot differentiate between them on performance grounds. What concerns me is the perception among the public that those on all-women lists have gained an unfair advantage. Perhaps it would be better if the names, gender and even ages of women applying to become candidates were obscured on their application forms, so that they would be chosen entirely on the basis of merit and experience.

It is particularly important for women to be treated on equal terms in the armed forces, the police and the fire service, where they must serve alongside men. At present, serving men must be confident that women will provide the same service, and will be able to do the job. Diluting entry qualifications is dangerous if standards of service are to be maintained.

The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who is no longer present, spoke of the importance of education. I remember being given career advice at my co-educational grammar school—in 1958, I must confess. Girls were given separate advice. We were taken into the hall and asked to form two orderly groups, teachers on one side and nurses on the other, because those were seen as the only two respectable occupations for women. We are light years away from that now.

Sandra Gidley: Which group did the hon. Lady choose?

Angela Watkinson: Neither, and I was damned from that moment.

There is, I believe, a correlation between the amount of sex education and sex information in schools and the alarming number of teenage pregnancies. Sex education for girls should be far more robust. A girl needs to be told in no uncertain terms that if she has sex with a young man with no job, no desire to get married, no desire to settle down, no interest in becoming a parent and no intention of taking responsibility for the outcome—a young man who, unlike the girl, is quite able to walk away from the situation—she will, literally, be left holding the baby. She will be dependent on family or benefits not just for nine months but for a very long time indeed, and will be taking on a 24-hour-a-day responsibility for perhaps 20 years.

Life in a council flat alone with a baby is not half as exciting as that woman might think. Her education will be curtailed, her career prospects ruined, at least for the foreseeable future, and she will have many years of lonely struggle while her personal ambitions are shelved. The skills that she learns during those years are highly transferable to the workplace. Unfortunately, they are not recognised as such, and we can do much more to explain to employers that the survival skills that women learn in those years are of enormous benefit to an organisation. The best service that we can do for girls and boys in

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school is to encourage them to defer sexual activity until they are physically, emotionally and financially mature, and to plan parenthood. That is the single strategy in sex education that will help both genders.

I look forward to when I am looked on not as a woman MP, but simply as an MP who happens to be a woman, and to when that is reflected throughout the employment spectrum and society.

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