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House of Lords

Thursday, 6 March 2008.

The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

International Development: Gender Inequality

Baroness Northover asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, the elimination of gender inequality is a key component of the Government’s international development policy. Reaching the millennium development goals requires sustained improvements in the poor economic, social and political situation of women. DfID has committed to increase the impact of development assistance on gender equality. We will work with our partners so that opportunities are fairer and outcomes are better for women and girls in developing countries.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that encouraging reply. Certainly DfID has had a strong track record in this area in the past. Can the noble Baroness assure me that current plans to reorganise DfID, cutting staff by potentially 25 per cent while managing a larger budget, will not jeopardise this? How will the Government ensure that there will continue to be that strong commitment within DfID? You need people to make sure that happens so that programmes, even when they are contracted out, will support women and girls in the way the noble Baroness has described.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Baroness will know from the response given to her by my noble friend Lady Crawley on 25 February how important and essential gender equality is in every aspect of the work of DfID. To give it greater priority is in line with the Government White Paper of 2006. DfID has established a network of gender champions across the department and has invited all of our overseas staff to consider gender equality as a fundamental and essential part of the work they carry out. We anticipate that we will see no change as a result of staff changes and we expect to see an enhanced commitment to women and girls in all the work of DfID.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, DfID acknowledges the horrors of female genital mutilation in its recent booklet Gender Equality at the Heart of Development. What are the Government doing to counteract this

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horrific practice and to get women’s issues in developing countries into the mainstream media and not just hidden in the Guardian women’s section?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the Guardian may take exception to the idea of its women’s section being hidden. However, I take what the noble Baroness is saying. We have done all that we can in our work on female health to raise the issues the noble Baroness has indicated. Not only is this an issue for young girls but it has a huge impact for those women who go on to have children. The mutilation they have suffered can create significant health risks for them. Raising awareness of this problem is part and parcel of all of the work that is being done through DfID’s programmes on health. With regard to the media, we have sought to raise an appropriate level of awareness of this issue. It is not always possible to get the media to pick it up but I hope noble Lords will see from today that we are certainly trying to do that.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, in view of the global credit crunch, can my noble friend reassure me that the well established micro credit schemes for women in the developing world will be protected? I am thinking particularly of organisations in the micro finance area such as SEWA in India, the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and the Small Enterprise Foundation in South Africa. They have all done a great deal not only to reduce gender inequality but also to improve family wealth and to drive economic development overall.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend and reassure her that we support the substantial increases in micro finance. We are contributing to global funds that support micro financing projects within the Women’s World Banking network. I came across these in India many years ago and saw recently how effective they are able to be, particularly in supporting women’s ability to turn what are sometimes small cottage industries into businesses that will support families and whole villages in the future.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the recent report of the Gender and Development Network says that by channelling 80 per cent of our aid through budgetary support and the remainder through multilateral institutions we are ensuring that, in some countries which are not signed up to the Beijing Declaration, no money gets down to the organisations which look after gender equality. For example, Womankind says that in Afghanistan no money is getting through to its three main partners. What specific programmes are we supporting to promote gender equality under the millennium development goals in those countries which have lagged behind?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the programme directors at DfID are well aware of the issues that the noble Lord has raised and are seeking to find mechanisms by which we can address them. On

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the example to which the noble Lord referred, Womankind in Afghanistan, DfID is specifically supporting its five-year programme to support women’s rights and awareness organisations, leadership training for women, and support for non-governmental organisations that influence the Government’s gender institutions, policies and programmes. We are trying to find the correct mechanism in each country and the right organisations to build the opportunities for women. As I have indicated, this is about training and support for civil organisations where women can play their part.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords—

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, lack of information is one of the real difficulties for women living in far-flung villages. They have no information about what is going on in the world or what their rights are. The provision of cheap, wind-up radios could be terribly good for disseminating information to these women, who are in many cases dispossessed if, for instance, their husbands die. Does the Minister agree that it would be helpful if this could happen in future?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness that one issue is information being available to women. There are many different ways of making information available. The wind-up radio has been an innovation for certain parts of, for example, Africa. There is also work we can do by visiting far-flung parts of different countries. When I was in India last year looking at issues to do with forced marriages, we arranged for the British High Commission to go out into the Punjab to 300 different villages, to put up posters and to talk to young girls and women about these issues.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords—

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, stood up just now.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that gender inequality involves the problem of pay that is not equal between men and women. Not only in other countries but also here at home we have a backlog of legal cases, running into hundreds or more, which await a decision and the attainment of something more like equal pay for men and women. Are the Government encouraging all the organisations, trade unions and other agencies in this matter to move this problem of equal pay forward again after so many years?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I trust my noble friend will wait for my closing speech at about half-past four, which will tackle some of these issues. The Question today was about international development, and I want to stick to that, though I take fully what my noble friend has said.

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Women: Domestic Violence

11.14 am

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, unfortunately, the United Nations does not provide a country-by-country comparison on tackling domestic violence, which means that we cannot compare progress in this way. However, I am pleased to report, on this International Women’s Day, that the UK Government have been determined since 1997 to tackle this most disgraceful of crimes, which devastates the lives of women, children and families, through a whole range of legislation and activity, some of which is leading the way in the world.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and for underlining that domestic violence is still a very serious issue in this country, with two women a week dying from it. But what would she do about the gaps that have been identified in a Map of Gaps drawn up by the End Violence Against Women coalition showing that it depends on where you are as to whether you have access to a refuge—many women do not—or on who you are? Some women do not qualify for any recourse to public funds and have no option but to end up on the streets or stay in their homes, with violence being perpetrated against them. What will the Minister do to end those gaps?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I am very familiar with the Map of Gaps report; indeed, one of its authors is known to me. The Government welcome the report and its useful analysis of gaps in the geographic coverage that it provides. It is an excellent piece of work that yet again underlines the debt we owe to women in organisations who campaign ceaselessly on this issue. However, the report highlights more the need to press local authorities that are not taking action in this way. The Government have provided commitments to increase the number of, for example, special domestic violence courts, and reduce serious sexual offences through the Making Communities Safer public service agreement, which sets the national direction in this area.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I am disturbed by the Minister’s comment that since 1997 people have been dealing with this issue in this country. When I was the representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, Britain was the first country ever to state in public that violence against women existed. After that, all other nations were willing to admit that it existed everywhere in the world, but was covered up. The previous Government were just as keen to deal with

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domestic violence and I was unhappy with the Minister’s statement that we have been looking at this only since 1997.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I am accounting for the Government’s work since 1997, but it is absolutely the case that a coalition of women across all parties and all sections of this community has made this change happen over many years. I would like to put it on record that women from voluntary organisations and across all parties have worked to push the Government to make sure that these changes happen. Indeed, I have worked on that with women across this House. The noble Baroness is completely correct in that, and we will be reporting this progress, which has taken place for many years, to the special session in July 2008.

Lord Elton: My Lords, have the Government taken note of the progress of circle programmes in the United States and of the research by New York University into their success? Will she undertake to read, when it is published soon, the work of my kinswoman, Linda G Mills, on the subject, which lights a path forward in this work?

Baroness Thornton: I am not familiar with this research, but I will undertake to read it and to make sure that it is fed into the right places.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, will the Minister kindly look into another aspect, which is that—amazingly, despite all the campaigning and government efforts—some women still cover up these acts of violence? Will the Government consider, therefore, extra public service advertising from time to time to try to encourage all women to denounce such odious matters?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Lord is completely correct. We must ensure that victims’ interests and needs are put at the heart of the criminal justice system and that those who experience this insidious crime have the confidence to come forward and report it.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 the use of restraining orders was one of the measures that the Government hailed as being one of their most important. These have still not been introduced. Why not and when will they be?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, Section 12 of the 2004 Act is designed to protect victims through legal measures. The Government have always chosen to protect the most vulnerable victims through more immediate, non-CJS interventions, such as the multi-agency risk assessment conference, with which the noble Baroness will be familiar. It is targeted at victims who are in danger from the most serous and persistent domestic violence.

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Baroness Byford: My Lords, if the Minister does not have the answer to my noble friend’s question about why this measure has not been introduced and when it will be, could she please send a copy of that letter and put it in the Library?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I would be happy to.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that police forces across the country have a uniform policy in dealing with domestic violence?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, there have been improvements across the criminal justice system in relation to domestic violence. Domestic violence training is being rolled out to all police and CPS prosecutors by 2008. Every police force and CPS area now has a domestic violence co-ordinator. Every police force also has a domestic violence champion—a slightly unfortunate phrase. Every probation area now has an accredited perpetrator programme and, indeed, a domestic violence training package has been distributed to all the judiciary.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell us what a domestic violence champion is?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, domestic violence champions are there to ensure that the actions I have just enumerated are carried out in their area. There will be a report on this over the summer which will tell us how effective they have been.

Afghanistan: Women in Government

11.21 am

Baroness Williams of Crosby asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, the Government’s expectations around strengthening the role of women in government institutions were included in the 2006 Afghanistan compact. We have worked with the Afghan Government to develop the Afghanistan national development strategy, due for publication later this month. This has helped to ensure that gender is integrated into the strategy by, for example, ministries and agencies implementing gender equality policies. We also fund various projects designed to empower women in Afghanistan at the national and local level.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I am sure he will recognise, as many of us do, that the encouragement of women into senior positions in the Afghanistan Government

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is absolutely central to changing a warlord culture into a much more balanced society. Would the Minister agree that it is up to the central Government to give a lead in this respect? Can he tell me, specifically, what proportion of Ministers in the current Afghan Government is female?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I understand that there are just two female Ministers at Cabinet level. On the other hand, 27 per cent of MPs are female, which is rather better than in this country. Behind those two statistics lies a country still mired in underdevelopment and a deep-rooted gender inequality. The new development strategy, which I referred to and is about to be adopted, has three points, which I think that the noble Baroness would wish to know about. First, ministries and agencies will be expected to implement gender equality policies, and allocate moneys to that goal. Secondly, the strategy will look for measurable improvements in women’s status, including improved literacy and enrolment in schools. Thirdly, it aims for greater social acceptance of gender equality, the lack of which has been a major barrier in Afghanistan.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that women police officers are now being trained in Herat, Badakshan and, I think, two other provinces? Does this not help to restore the status of women in authority that existed before the Taliban?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Earl is personally familiar with those programmes. I understand that that is correct. It is exactly the kind of action the Government need to take to demonstrate equality in practice.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the case of a very brave and articulate parliamentarian, Malalai Joya? What steps have the British Government taken in discussing the protection of Malalai Joya because of her outspoken comments?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I regret that I am not familiar with the case, but I will look into it and get back to the noble Baroness.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the British Government and the EU are providing a substantial number of trainers for various aspects of the Afghan Government. I know that there is, for example, a substantial police training mission. Can the Minister indicate how many of the trainers we are providing are themselves female?

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