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House of Lords

Thursday, 7 March 2013.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Sport: Women and Girls


11.06 am

Asked By Baroness Massey of Darwen

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to encourage women and girls to take part in sport, and how they will seek to improve the profile of women’s sport in the media to that end.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, the Government are committed to encouraging more girls and women to play sport regularly as part of the sporting legacy. Sport England’s £1 billion community and youth sports strategy includes programmes designed to appeal specifically to women and girls. In addition, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has been working closely with the broadcast and print media to encourage them to cover more women’s sport.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: I thank the noble Baroness for that encouraging Answer, but can she expand on the consultation that is taking place not only with the media but with sports advisers in schools to encourage girls? In particular, what kind of sports are being identified as problematic for women and girls, and how will the media be asked to deal with that?

Baroness Northover: The picture here is encouraging but there is a tremendous amount more to do. I was struck by the fact that the latest figures, from December 2012, show that 1 million more women are taking part in sport than was the case when we won the Olympic bid in 2005. On coverage, in 2005 the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation estimated that only about 5% of media coverage was of women’s sport. The BBC has just told us that women’s sport now amounts to 25% of its sports coverage. Clearly, a lot more needs to be done and one of the things that is being taken forward by Sport England is to look at how best to encourage further development of this and encourage more women and girls to take part in sport.

Baroness Heyhoe Flint: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that developing a sporting habit for life is something that needs to start in primary school? There is a minimal amount of physical education within that sector and teachers of primary school children receive only a meagre six to 10 hours within a one-year training session. Back in the last century, my physical education training took three years. Would the Minister agree if I suggested that the introduction

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of physical education to primary school teachers would be a great advantage in developing that habit for life?

Baroness Northover: My noble friend speaks from a huge amount of experience and she is of course right that it is extremely important that we develop this from the earliest age—getting children out of pushchairs, for example, and onwards. As for primary schools, she is right. I am sure that she will be reassured to know that discussions are happening at the moment about how to strengthen school sport from primary schools upwards. An announcement will be made very shortly.

Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, media coverage is very important and I declare an interest as chair of the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation’s Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport. However, for elite success and media coverage we also need good participation figures and recent data have shown that mums are much less likely to take their daughters to play sport than their sons because of their own experience of sport in school. Can the Minister say what plans the Government have to insist in changing the culture around women so that they encourage their daughters to play as much sport as their sons?

Baroness Northover: Again, the noble Baroness speaks with huge amounts of experience and the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation is a crucial body in trying to take this forward. Sport England has awarded a grant to that organisation to try to identify how best to encourage women and girls to be involved in sport. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that mothers who were themselves switched off from sport are less likely to encourage their children to be involved in sport. That is one key area where we welcome insights into how best to tackle this.

Baroness Nye: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, after the success of women athletes at the Olympics last year, it is a disgrace that two-thirds of boards of sporting organisations do not meet UK Sport’s minimum target of 25% female members and six, including British Cycling, do not have a woman on them at all? Given that public money is involved, do the Government have a strategy to deal with this?

Baroness Northover: The noble Baroness is right; Sport England and UK Sport are both encouraging national governing bodies of sport to increase the number of women on boards and the Government expect that all publicly funded sports bodies should have at least 25% women on their boards by 2017. That is very important but we also need more women as editors of newspapers, political programmes and so on.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the earlier you start to play sport, the more chance you have of playing golf, as I do, at the age of 90?

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Baroness Northover: The noble Baroness is a model we should all emulate.

Baroness Meacher: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the outstanding work being done in many of the mental health trusts in London to promote sport among psychotic young people? We found that taking part in regular football matches, exercise and so on significantly reduces the readmission rates of these young people. Would the Minister please put pressure on her colleagues in the Department of Health to exert pressure on the commissioning bodies to promote sport among psychotic people? Without it, many of them make very little recovery over decades?

Baroness Northover: The noble Baroness is right to highlight mental health generally in relation to sport. Public Health England is well aware of the importance of sport in relieving depression and so on. I am very happy to take the points that she makes back but I can assure her that the Department of Health is well aware of the significance of sport in this regard.

Baroness Billingham: My Lords, the Government are determined that competitive sport in schools is the key to greater participation; that view is certainly not shared by the majority of physical education experts, who fear that such a programme will alienate many boys and girls and do nothing to produce a “sport for all” approach and lasting participation. What evidence is there for the Government’s proposed formula? Our evidence suggests the reverse. As for representation in the media, will the Government look at Title IX, the American system which guarantees equal exposure in sport for girls? We cannot reproduce it perfectly here but we could do a modified version, which may well help with the lack of women’s sport seen in our media.

Baroness Northover: We now have 50% of schools taking part in competitive games. There is mixed evidence as to the interest of girls and boys in that, and the noble Baroness is right to highlight to need to make sure that we analyse it properly. Sport England is looking at how best to encourage girls as well as boys to come forward. Some girls enjoy being part of a team, even if that may seem too competitive for some. I hear what the noble Baroness says on Title IX. We are taking a lot of measures to try to ensure that the media recognise the significance of covering women’s sport and the appeal of it—everybody could see how outstanding the women’s team was in the Olympics.

Women: Board Membership


11.15 am

Asked By Baroness Howells of St Davids

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to address the under-representation of women, especially black and ethnic minority women, on FTSE 100 boards.

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, in 2010, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, reviewed the barriers to women reaching the boardrooms of UK plc. Following his report, a voluntary, business-led strategy for the advancement of all women irrespective of their ethnicity was adopted. This is working; for example, the number of FTSE 100 all-male boards has fallen from 21 to six. However, we are not complacent. The most recent figures for women on FTSE 100 boards prove that there is no room for that.

Baroness Howells of St Davids: I thank the noble Baroness for her response. She has cited the report from which I was going to quote. It seems absurd that, after more than 30 years of equality legislation, we continue to see only glacial progress in the representation of women on the boards of our 100 most lucrative companies. Women are now successful at university and in their early careers, but attrition rates increase as they progress through those organisations. The companies are missing out. Evidence suggests that companies without strong female representation are less successful because they are unable to draw from the widest possible range. My concern is not women who are European—although I know that they are suffering—but those from black and ethnic minorities who are willing to serve on boards.

Noble Lords: Question!

Baroness Howells of St Davids: I would like to ask the Minister what the Government are doing about that.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The noble Baroness is absolutely right that we want more women on boards. We do so because they make up more than half of the nation’s talent and we cannot afford for the best and brightest not to be there. The statistics on black and minority ethnic women are not available because the statistics for women on boards are not broken down in that way, but I know anecdotally that they are not great. What I can say to the noble Baroness is that, through a range of measures that the Government are taking, we are ensuring that our effort expands to cover all women. She may like to know that the Women’s Business Council, which we set up to make sure that we address the pipeline so that more women come forward, is chaired by Ruby McGregor-Smith, who is chief executive of MITIE and the only Asian woman chief executive in the FTSE 250. She is chairing that council for the Government because she is so committed to diversity in all its forms.

Baroness Brinton: My Lords, 17.5% of FTSE 100 boards are made of up of women. I prefer to use that figure rather than the number of companies that have one token woman on the board. I know that it is below the target set by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, but it is a step forward from the 1990s. Given this very low figure, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that sufficient mentoring and counselling are available to women below board level who have ambitions of rising within companies and breaking through the glass ceiling?

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My noble friend is right that mentoring is an important aspect of encouraging more women to put themselves forward for these senior roles. That is an important issue that the Women’s Business Council, which I just referred to, is looking at. I hope that we will see some evidence to help us in its report due out later this year.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware of the tremendous investigation and work carried out by my noble friend Lord Davies of Abersoch. One fundamental issue that has come through in that research is that role models start very young. Are the Government consciously working to ensure that young women going from schools into colleges and universities—that is, black women and those from ethnic minorities, but also all women—have that aspiration?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: We certainly need to make sure that all girls at school have high aspirations and that we encourage them to be ambitious. If the noble Baroness is around for the International Women’s Day debate that follows Questions, that is an area that I hope to expand on in my opening speech.

Lord Kakkar: My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of Sub-Committee B of your Lordship’s European Union Committee, which was involved in scrutinising a directive provided by the European Commission on this matter. Are Her Majesty’s Government content to accept that directive in view of the fact that both Houses of this Parliament have sent a reasoned opinion raising their concerns about it to the European institutions?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: As the noble Lord knows, the Government very much welcomed the reasoned opinion put forward from this House and the other place. Sadly, I am told that not enough member state Parliaments issued a reasoned opinion for that to be successful in raising what is termed a red card or yellow card in Brussels—I am not sure. As far as we are concerned, we are still actively working with other EU members to make sure that whatever arrives finally from the European Commission supports our own approach to this issue.

Lord Flight: My Lords, I believe sincerely that there is a general wish and support for more suitably qualified women on boards. Yet surely the role of directors is to oversee the running of a business and that needs people with the appropriate skills. To the extent that they are representative, they are representative of shareholders and not really in a quantitative context of the nation at large.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Okay. I say to my noble friend that we need more women on boards because half the people who spend money in the economy are women, as are half the people who have pensions that are part of the investment into those companies that enjoy that benefit. We just bring so much more that I find it astonishing that he does not feel the same way.

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Violence against Women and Girls


11.23 am

Asked By Baroness Prosser

What action they will take to ensure that the action plan for ending violence against women and girls is delivered consistently in schools.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, the Department for Education is committed to making the cross-government action plan on violence against women as effective as possible. The statutory guidance for sex and relationship education makes clear that schools should ensure that young people develop positive values and a moral framework that will guide their decisions, judgments and behaviour, and specifically that all young people should understand how the law applies to sexual relationships.

Baroness Prosser: I thank the Minister for her reply. One part of the Home Office action plan on violence against women and girls commits to work across different government agendas to increase activity to influence children’s attitudes to violence against women and girls. If that is the case, why has the Department for Education not been required to place this within the core curriculum in schools? How do the Government think that girls who are in danger will be given the self-confidence and information they need to enable them to deal with dangerous and threatening situations?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her influential work on women’s and girls’ rights and opportunities. I entirely agree with her that girls should be equipped to deal with threatening situations and act confidently, but this provision should not be limited by a narrow curriculum requirement. The ethos of the school and the attitude of staff in all aspects of school life should play a key part, and all schools should seek to set a strong example for pupils to follow.

Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister what is being done following the overwhelming evidence in the British Crime Survey 2009-10 which found that 16 to 19 year-olds are more likely to be at risk of abuse? Studies indicate that in the past year one in four teenage girls have experienced abuse by their partners. What work is being done across schools and further education colleges to prevent relationship abuse and equip young people with an understanding of healthy relationships, consent and non-violence?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My noble friend raises some very important issues. The safeguarding of children in schools is an important part of the training of teachers. They should all have the skills and knowledge to identify and respond to bullying, violence and signs of abuse or neglect. As she points out, if the abuse is happening at home, that is an area where one might hope that children would acquire some

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moral confidence, strength and values. Teachers have a particularly challenging role if they have to identify that it is the domestic situation that is causing the problem. Of course, schools try to address all these topics within the curriculum.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, would the Minister not admit that one of the most pernicious and dangerous aspects of violence against women is female genital mutilation? When I was a Minister I became aware of this obscene business and I am afraid that I was not able to stop it as much I would have hoped. Can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to achieve some results in this area? At the moment, what I have seen of it seems rather Autolycus-like, and we know what happened to him.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: The noble Lord is right. To ensure that female genital mutilation is tackled, cross-departmental work is going on between the Home Office, the Department for Education and the Department of Health to try to identify the particular cohorts of girls who might be most at risk and to prevent this happening before it takes hold in particular cultural parts of society.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, does the Minister think that personal, social and health education in the curriculum is essential to cover the aspects that she has discussed today so eloquently? She is right that this should be covered by the ethos of the school, but surely specific issues such as child internet safety and violence in the media should be tackled head on.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: I know the noble Baroness’s campaigning skills in this area and we agree that the content of PSHE is important in the school curriculum. However, parts of that are sometimes tackled under other subject areas within a school. All schools must have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance in this area when they are teaching relationship education. Of course, sex education is already statutory but other aspects of relationships are key across all subject areas in schools.

Baroness Brinton: My Lords, the Minister has just said that all schools must have due regard to guidance on sex and relationship education. Does this include independent schools, such as the Hales Exclusive Brethren schools, that fail to teach any sex and relationship education because they believe that it is completely inappropriate until the age of 20?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: As my noble friend is aware, there are different flexibilities and freedoms for some independent schools in this country but there will always be a need for schools to have regard to the best interests of their pupils.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, tomorrow is International Women’s Day. Does the Minister agree that violence against girls in and around schools is a global problem, and that in developing countries girls

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endure harassment and sexual violence from teachers and face considerable danger as they walk to school? Can the Minister tell the House whether DfID is working with Governments to enforce policies that combat sexual exploitation and abuse by teachers, and whether more is being done to retrain and retain female teachers?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: The noble Baroness takes this Question beyond the original remit, but I assure her that DfID is working consistently in this area to try to ensure the safeguards that she has identified in countries beyond our own.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, does the Government’s action plan address the considerable violence and bullying meted out to girls of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller origin?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: The guidance will cover all pupils and all schools, so all minority groups should be within it.

European Convention on Human Rights


11.30 am

Asked By Lord Clinton-Davis

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, as the only male to have the temerity to be on the list today, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): I am not going there, my Lords.

The Answer to the Question is no.

Lord Clinton-Davis: Did not the Home Secretary argue recently that the next Tory election manifesto should include a pledge to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, thus reflecting the views of many Conservative MPs? Was that not described by the former Justice Secretary as “laughable and childlike”? Does not this division on a serious issue of policy show evidence of a hopeless split in the Conservative-led Government today?

Lord McNally: My Lords, I speak at this Dispatch Box for the coalition Government and the coalition Government’s policy on the European Convention on Human Rights is very clear. The noble Lord asked a specific question, “Is it our policy to withdraw?”, and I gave him a specific Answer: “The Answer is no”.

Lord Pannick: My Lords, do the Government recognise the link between this Question and the previous three in that the European Court of Human

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Rights has played a major role over the past 40 or so years in combating arbitrary discrimination on grounds of sex and race and other invidious grounds?

Lord McNally: My Lords, I find that a very helpful contribution. When the question, “Are you in favour of the European Convention on Human Rights?” is asked, certain people will see the word Europe and their eyes will start spinning round. As the noble Lord has pointed out, however, if you ask people, “Do you want built into law protection against the power of the state?”, in the way that he has just illustrated, they will invariably say, “Yes, please”.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his clear and concise Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. Does he accept that Britain has an enviable record in promoting human rights and the rule of law throughout the world? What sort of response does he think he would get from people like Mugabe if we were to withdraw at this stage from the provisions of human rights legislation in this country?

Lord McNally: My noble friend asks a helpful question in putting this matter into perspective. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has quite rightly made human rights, and Britain’s championing of human rights, part of his soft diplomacy strategy. It has been greatly to his credit and to the credit of the United Kingdom. It is important that we have a record that we can be proud of when we look at other regimes and criticise them about their human rights record.

Lord Tomlinson: The Minister gave an unequivocal Answer to the Question about withdrawal. However, can he be equally unequivocal about any plans to dilute the application of the European Convention on Human Rights to things where there is a conflict between the judgment of the court in Strasbourg and the view of a Government in the House of Commons?

Lord McNally: My Lords, I think that “dilute” is the wrong word. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, pointed out in his interview the other day, the relationship between our Supreme Court and the Strasbourg court is a healthy one of learning from each other and looking at each other’s jurisprudence as it develops. What we have been doing, and one of the proudest things I have been involved in as a Minister, was the Brighton conference on the workings of the court which looked at how we can build in a subsidiarity to take notice of the importance of national supreme courts while still retaining the strength and the moral authority of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lord Faulks: My Lords, whether human rights are best protected by the Supreme Court, by Parliament or by Strasbourg, all noble Lords are anxious to

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protect them. However, even human rights have a cost. Public authorities are spending a great deal of money trying to make their policies compliant with the convention—rather like with health and safety—when the Strasbourg jurisprudence is extremely uncertain. The diminishing pot of legal aid is being spent on often unmeritorious cases about human rights, rather than on far more meritorious cases. I was one of the commissioners, and we were not allowed to consider questions of cost. I ask the Minister whether the Government, in the whole human rights debate, could tell us how much human rights is costing.

Lord McNally: I am not able to put a cost to human rights any more than to anything else. I see in government—and I suppose that we have a lot of experience of local government in this House—how agents of the state, as the noble Lord said, when making decisions have in the back of their mind that they have to clear certain hurdles about respect for the individual citizen. To me, this is a prize beyond cost.

Lord Beecham: Can the Minister match his welcome, unequivocal statement that there is no intention to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights on the question of repeal of the Human Rights Act? Will he confirm that the Government have no intention to seek to repeal the Act?

Lord McNally: Both publicly and privately, I sense that there is no majority in this Parliament in favour of repeal of the Human Rights Act. If an individual party at the next election wants to put repeal in its manifesto, that is its privilege and right, and it will have to take that to the hustings. It will not be in the manifesto of the Liberal Democrats.

Arrangement of Business


11.37 am

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to make a short Statement about business. My noble friend the Leader of the House has today made the usual Written Statement to announce that the Queen will be pleased to open a new Session of Parliament in state on Wednesday 8 May. Parliament will be prorogued in the usual way a few days before the start of that new Session, on a date to be announced once the progress of our remaining business is certain.

I have one further announcement. When I announced last October a set of provisional recess dates up to January 2014, I made it clear that those dates were subject to the progress of business. Business has indeed progressed, and I am therefore today adding a week to the Easter Recess. We will now rise for Easter at the end of Wednesday 27 March, as anticipated, but we will return on 22 April.

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Business of the House

Timing of Debates

11.38 am

Moved By Baroness Anelay of St Johns

That the debate on the Motion in the name of Baroness Stowell of Beeston set down for today shall be limited to four hours and that in the name of Lord Wallace of Saltaire to two hours.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford. The Motion relates to the debates today, and perhaps I may refer to each debate separately.

I refer first to the debate which celebrates International Women’s Day. I regret that on the notice that has gone round to all Peers, there is a printing error at the very end about speaking times. For Back-Benchers, I promise that it makes no difference whatever. I hope that the House will agree that the changes are all to the good because they give the Front-Benchers more time. My noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston will now have 20 minutes instead of 15 for opening. She may not need to take it all; we will see. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, will now have 12 minutes instead of 10 when she winds for the opposition Front Bench. I am sure that she will need all that time; she is expert on these matters. My noble friend Lady Northover is now permitted 25 minutes instead of 20.

I also have what I hope may be welcome news with regard to the second debate. We tried to give as much notice as possible so that Back-Bench speakers could prepare their speeches to the full, and we gave notice that Back-Benchers would have five minutes. Yesterday, however, there was a sudden flurry of interest and names were added to the list. I now beg the leave of the House to make a manuscript amendment, in a sense, to my own Leader’s Motion, so that the second debate should run for two and a half hours, not two. This means that we can keep our promise to Back-Benchers that all Back-Bench speeches will remain at five minutes per person. It makes no difference to the Front Benches throughout, but it means that we can keep the promise to Back-Benchers of five minutes for their speeches.

Motion agreed.

Standing Orders (Public Business)

Motion to Agree

11.40 am

Moved By Lord Hill of Oareford

That the standing orders relating to public business be amended as follows:

Standing Order 72 (Affirmative Instruments)

In Standing Order 72(1)(a), in line 3, leave out “or”; in line 4, leave out “or”; and in line 6, after “2001” insert “, a draft order laid under or by virtue of section 7 or section 19 of the Localism Act 2011, or a draft order laid under or by virtue of section 5E of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004”.

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In Standing Order 72(1)(b), in line 2, leave out “or”; and in line 4, after “2001” insert “, a draft order laid under or by virtue of section 7 or section 19 of the Localism Act 2011, or a draft order laid under or by virtue of section 5E of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004”.

Motion agreed.

International Women’s Day

Motion to Take Note

11.41 am

Moved By Baroness Stowell of Beeston

That this House takes note of International Women’s Day 2013.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, it is an enormous privilege to introduce the International Women’s Day debate. In the same debate two years ago I made what was then my second speech in your Lordships’ House. I seem to recall the noble Lords present taking a sharp intake of breath when I said then that I had only very recently become familiar with International Women’s Day. My saying that betrayed two things. The first is that, unlike so many Members of this House, I have no claim to involvement in the fantastic advances that have been made in support of women over the past 100 years. Indeed, I feel a great sense of humility when I look down the list of speakers today.

Of course, many other Members of this House—too many to mention—have campaigned hard and achieved so much for the rights of women over the years. However, I would like to mention two Baronesses by name who we have sadly lost from this House over the past year: my late friend Lady Ritchie of Brompton, who founded Women2Win and helped so many women in my own party become MPs; and the late Lady McFarlane of Llandaff, who was one of nursing’s great pioneers and, indeed, the first nurse to become a life Peer.

Secondly, my rather shocking remark betrayed that, unlike many other countries, we here in the UK have not got into the habit of using International Women’s Day simply to celebrate women. In fact, I was talking to some Italian women the other day, who told me that in Italy the men shower them with mimosas on this day. Now, I am especially pleased that six noble Lords of the male variety have joined us, but I reassure them that we are not expecting flowers; I would not want to overburden them coming so soon after Valentine’s day and just before Mothering Sunday. Seriously, though, I am pleased that this is not a women-only debate. We will be discussing issues that affect women, but we cannot address them without the support and input of men.

Today’s debate is a chance for us to draw attention to the serious challenges that women still face here and around the world. Last night, my noble friend here with me on the Front Bench today responded to a very powerful debate about the ongoing use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. This morning we have

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already responded to Questions, some of them rather interesting, about a range of inequalities affecting women. I am sure that some of these matters, as well as many others, will be raised again, and my noble friend Lady Northover will be pleased to respond to them.

As the person opening today’s debate, I will focus on women and their careers, or more specifically on what we are doing to ensure that we better utilise the talents and skills of all women, whoever they are, wherever they come from and whatever they do. I want to celebrate the contribution of women and talk about how we can support them in achieving their full potential.

The challenges facing women today are very different from those that women faced in the 20th century. We know that in the past British society did not see much value in educating girls. Indeed, this is sadly still true in some parts of the world, as Malala Yousafzai’s ordeal at the hands of the Taliban has shown all too graphically. Here, girls now outperform boys in nearly every subject at nearly every stage of school, yet too many girls lack confidence, self-esteem and ambition.

In the past, women were banned from universities. Now, more young women than young men go to university, yet there are still too many subjects where a female face is rare. As we all know, it was legal in the past to pay women less than men for the same work. Women were barred from too many professions entirely. Getting married could mean losing your job; I will not even mention having a baby. Now we have some of the most comprehensive anti-gender discrimination legislation in the world, yet the gender pay gap remains and women continue to be underrepresented in positions of power and leadership.

It is clear that the way we respond to these very complex modern-day challenges needs a sophisticated, modern approach. The solutions cannot be found simply in more laws, regulations and targets. Of course, finding the solutions is not easy when there is little money around. I realise that women will wonder how we can make their lives better when we also have to make significant cuts in public spending. The truth is that it is not easy, but there are things we can do and are doing.

I will not go through the whole list, but the kinds of measures I am talking about for those on the lowest incomes and most in need include lifting more than 1 million of the lowest-paid workers out of income tax altogether, the majority of whom are women. We will also increase child tax credit by £180 above inflation for low to middle-income families. Where we can we are spending money in ways that empower women and give them real choice and control over their lives.

The top issue that comes up time and again for women is balancing work and family life. Our current inflexible system of maternity and paternity leave makes it incredibly difficult to break down the stereotypical and intrinsic view that women should stay at home and look after the children and men should go out to work and earn the money when a couple start a family. What if the mother earns more? What if she is in a more senior position than the father? What if the father simply wants to take on more of the caring

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responsibilities? In our modern world the state should not make it harder for parents to choose the best arrangements for their children.

That is why, after an extensive consultation, we announced last November that from 2015 we will introduce a new system of shared parental leave that will make an enormous difference to working women who want to have children. It will mean that if fathers want to take on more of a role, they can. If mothers want to return to work earlier, they can. If parents want to spend some time at home together around the birth of their child, they can. Parents will have a choice.

Crucially, albeit over time, the new parental leave arrangements and the access to flexible working for all employees—the other initiative that we recently announced—will put men and women on a level playing field in the workplace. Employers will no longer be able to assume that only women take a career break to look after their children. For my part, that was one of the biggest things that sold this policy to me.

Until that time arrives, we are also determined to help working women by boosting childcare wherever and whenever we can, especially to those who need it most. This includes but is not limited to 15 free hours a week in a nursery or with a childminder for all three and four year-olds. From September this year that will be extended to two year-olds from the most disadvantaged homes.

Even in flexible and family-friendly workplaces, women can still hit the glass ceiling, so we are working with employers to ensure that there really is no limit to how far women can go in their careers. We have just been talking about women on boards, and as a result of the fantastic work by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, to increase that number, the number of FTSE 100 all-male boards has now halved, and since last March 40% of new appointments to boards have been women —up from 13% in 2010.

There is, however, a pipeline issue for women in executive roles. Our Think, Act, Report initiative to improve transparency on pay and wider workplace equality is helping to make a difference. Employers who sign up make a commitment to identify any barriers to women in their organisation, to take action to address them, and finally to report publicly on their progress. The transparent reporting bit of the scheme is a particularly powerful tool with which to achieve change.

Since the initiative was launched just over a year ago, 73 organisations have signed up. In total, they employ more than 1 million people and include firms such as Marks & Spencer, Tesco, BT, EDF and BP. As of today, they have been joined by the Chartered Management Institute, which has more than 90,000 members and huge outreach to other employers. However, we are not stopping there. Because we recognise that we do not have all the answers, last year we established a Women’s Business Council, made up of exceptionally high achievers in business, to provide advice to government on what we can do to maximise women’s contribution to our future economic growth. It is comprehensively examining the evidence, from the issues and choices facing girls in school right through to the experiences of older women who need to continue working into

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their retirement but who face diminishing options in the labour market. That council is due to report to the Government later this year.

We need to encourage all women to aspire to and be ambitious for success, but too many young women still do not have the confidence to follow their dreams and, even more distressingly, too many do not have dreams at all. We are trying to change this through measures such as our pupil premium to help schools better support their disadvantaged pupils and close the attainment gap between them and their peers. We are working with schools, advertising, retail and the media to improve perceptions of body image through our Body Confidence campaign so that more young women realise their future will be defined by their talent, hard work and abilities, not by what they look like.

We are encouraging women to choose more of the STEM subjects at A-level and university that will allow them to flourish in today’s economy, and we are giving them the skills they need to succeed. Noble Lords might be interested to know that last year, for the first time, more women started an apprenticeship than men, but let me say something about aspiration, ambition and success, about which I feel very strongly. There are many definitions of success. It is vital that we have more women in positions of power, whether in business or politics. We want those women on boards. We need more women around the Cabinet table, as the Prime Minister said very recently.

However, we must not forget that many women have no desire for that kind of success. They might want to run their own business instead or be a doctor specialising in a particular field of medicine. Just because people who work in Parliament enjoy power, we must not think that everyone else does. We have to be honest here: there are also many women for whom reaching the top of the tree is not a realistic ambition. By concentrating so much on the high achievers, or telling people to aim for the very top, I worry that sometimes, without meaning to, we diminish other people’s achievements and even discourage them from being ambitious at all.

I would like to recount a story about a friend of mine called Julie. She is an undertaker. She is roughly the same age as me and left school with little in the way of formal qualifications, so was put on what we then called a YOP scheme. I am sure she will not mind my sharing this story with the House. On her first day at work, she thought that the funeral company’s office was a car showroom when she turned up because of all the big black cars outside. After a few false starts and once she had got over the shock that she was working at a funeral director’s, she knuckled down and started to progress up the undertaker ladder.

After a few years, Julie was put in charge of its new Beeston branch, which included arranging funerals. That is a difficult task, as it means talking to people when they are at their most vulnerable. However, she was good at it, so much so that the family of a teenage boy who had been killed in a dreadful accident requested that Julie direct the funeral as well and be the person leading the cortege. She had never done that before and it was a massive step. Because the family insisted

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that she did this, the firm quickly rustled up a uniform for her and she did it. She was magnificent. She was so proud and walked through Beeston in front of that hearse as if she had been doing it for years. As she had been so successful, she was given that additional responsibility and started to build a strong personal reputation throughout the town. Word got around that she was very dedicated and good at her job. After a further few years, after she had a short maternity break, she tried to return to work but unfortunately was not able to agree mutual terms at her old firm, and that was that; at least, it could have been.

Not many avenues were open to Julie and it would have been easy for her to enter a system that led to nowhere. After a while, however, she spotted some premises which she thought would make an ideal funeral home. With the support of people who knew her reputation and that she was a sound investment, she set up her own funeral directing business. That was five years ago and the business is now thriving, so much so that she keeps six people employed in full-time work and provides regular casual work to another four.

I told you Julie’s story to make this simple point; she is as much a role model to the young women of Beeston as I might like to think I can be. As much as we want all girls to be ambitious at school and aspire to great things, because that is the most secure route to success, those who do not can still achieve their own very worthwhile version of success if they aim to be the best at whatever they find themselves doing.

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, and the Government are doing a range of things to mark the event. We are, very simply, celebrating all women. I hope all noble Lords will join us, and I look forward to all the contributions that will be made today, especially from the right reverend Prelate, who has chosen a debate about women to make his maiden speech, which I am sure will be very interesting. I beg to move.

11.56 am

Lord Parekh: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, for securing and introducing this debate, which she has done marvellously. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to introduce a note of caution. It is quite common to talk about “the woman”, which leads one to think that all societies think of women in more or less the same way. Coming as I do from India and as a student of developing societies, I suggest that it would be a great mistake to homogenise or essentialise the woman. The woman comes in many roles: she comes as a mother, as a daughter, as a wife and also as a companion. In some civilisations, woman as a daughter is not much valued and is disposed of in arranged and other marriages. Woman as a mother, however, is the subject of enormous power and considerable authority. This is what happens in India. So if one looked at women simply from the standpoint of what happens to daughters in arranged marriages, one would be inclined to think that women do not enjoy equality. However, this makes it very difficult to explain why India or Sri Lanka or other developing countries had women Prime Ministers long before we did and long before any western country. If

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women were treated as inferior or unequal, why should India, for example, have more women in the highest positions, as vice-chancellors in universities or as Cabinet Ministers? The explanation is that, as I said earlier, the woman can be seen in many different roles, and as long as she is seen as the mother figure she wields considerable power and authority. Women, while suffering from inequality at one level, enjoy equality at another and the picture becomes much more complex.

The other point to bear in mind is that, for some reason that I do not have time to explore, the equality of women in our civilisation—certainly after the war—has gone in hand with sexualisation of the woman, and this has created all kinds of problems. On the other hand, in non-western societies it has gone hand in hand with desexualisation because if a woman is seen as the mother then, obviously, she is not seen as an object of sexual desire. In India, a woman in a position of authority has to conceal her sexual charm if she is going to carry any kind of authority, as has happened to every Prime Minister or happens to women in any other position of authority. Here the opposite tends to happen, with the result that cultural historians and sociologists have introduced a new concept called “erotic capital”. The argument is that having charming, good-looking, beautiful women under a certain age in positions of authority generates the business a certain amount of capital and brings good will and customers who are attracted by the ambience. That sort of thing has gone hand in hand with the sexualisation of the body and the woman in the context of equality. This relationship is contingent. It need not have happened but it has happened. It has been a source of considerable worry, and those of us who are extremely anxious to fight for equality for women in all spheres—natural, spontaneous equality in ordinary relations, not just equality of rights—would have to engage in a deeper cultural critique to make sure that a woman is not understood in this way.

Having got rid of this general point, which has been exercising me for some time, I want to concentrate on what happens in our own country. The following percentages of women in positions of power in our society are striking: Members of Parliament, 22%; the House of Lords, 21.7%; the Cabinet, 17.4%, but the figure keeps changing; local authority council leaders, 12%, but local authority chief executives, 23%; senior ranks of the judiciary, 13.6%; heads of professional bodies, 33%; university vice-chancellors, 14%; academics in general, including lecturers, senior lecturers and readers, 35%; professors, 20%; editors of national newspapers, 5%; directors of FTSE 100 companies, 16%; elected mayors, 13%; senior management in the Civil Service, 31%, but Permanent Secretaries, 16%; heads of primary schools, 71%; heads of secondary schools, 38%; and heads of independent schools, 11.9%.

I have given those figures because I want to draw four important conclusions from them. First, if a position happens to be elected, the chances of women being underrepresented are considerable. Secondly, there is no difficulty at the bottom level of a profession because women are represented there in proportion to their presence in the population. As you go higher up to the middle level, there does not seem to be much of a problem either, but there is suddenly a narrow pyramid

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at the top. Thirdly, there is underrepresentation at the top in the private sector compared to the public sector. Fourthly, women’s representation is very poor and they are only just beginning to break through in new areas such as TV journalism or as editors of national newspapers. This tells us where we need to concentrate. Although it is striking that progress is being made in all those areas, we still have a long way to go.

Why is this the case? Whether in elected bodies or people at the top, why is this kind of inequality persisting after all the attempts? My own study tells me that four or five factors play an important part. First is of course the conscious or unconscious bias of males in positions of power. They, for all the kinds of reasons that I mentioned earlier about the way in which female equality is understood, feel uncomfortable or threatened by female presence. There is also the question of women themselves feeling slightly diffident and therefore not displaying, or playing to, their strengths as well as they could. Thirdly, there is the culture of the organisations, which, being male-dominated, sets certain norms, and women feel intimidated or unwelcome in those organisations. Fourthly, there is the question of family responsibility. In spite of all the talk, it is women who carry the family, with the result that women are not to be seen in many branches of the medical profession, with which I am familiar. For example, women generally tend to avoid those courses in medicine or those areas of employment where they might be required at any time or where there could be an acute emergency. There are therefore a large number of women in ophthalmology, but there are very few in general surgery or acute medicine.

The fifth and final point to bear in mind is that the male historically has been the standard of reference and, therefore, the criterion by which to decide how an organisation should be structured, who should be appointed and who should not be. As a result, for example, in many cases a male on an appointment panel would say: “This particular candidate is not decisive or partisan enough, because that is what an organisation requires”. The result is that women, who are not generally pushy, partisan or aggressive and are more concerned to compromise, tend to be under- appreciated and not appointed.

12.05 pm

Baroness Brinton: My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of Christian Blind Mission. Antoinette Androis, a young woman living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, suffered the devastating loss of a child a few years ago. Forced out of her home for over six years, pregnant Antoinette was left to give birth on a few banana leaves out in the bush. Shortly after cutting the umbilical cord with a machete, Antoinette's husband and some women from the village watched helplessly as the baby girl died in front of them. Antoinette’s latest pregnancy, in 2011, was completely different from her experience in the bush. Thanks to access to a clean delivery kit, distributed to women in the Ituri and South Kivu provinces by Medair and UNFPA, Antoinette was admitted to a health centre and gave birth in a maternity ward assisted by a trained health worker. This time her child survived.

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In 2009, the Liberal Democrats reaffirmed their manifesto commitment, which was subsequently incorporated into the coalition agreement, to guarantee giving 0.7% of our gross domestic product in international aid. This aid will save the lives of 50,000 mothers and 250,000 babies by 2015. It has already saved the lives of women like Antoinette and her child, who directly benefit from UK involvement in international organisations like Medair. I am proud to say that today the UK is on target to meeting its commitment.

In 2000, as a signatory to the UN millennium development goals, we pledged to improve maternal heath and reduce child mortality, among other goals, by 2015. The international community has certainly taken big steps forward in tackling each of these eight goals and it is important to recognise the successes. For example, both the goals of reducing by half extreme poverty and the number of people without proper access to safe drinking water have already been met by these efforts. However, we cannot forget that while progress has certainly been made, data that have been disaggregated by sex tell us a grimmer story of continued inequality for women around the world, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the poorest households in nearly every country in this region, wage earners are more likely to be women than men. UN Women reports further that even when women have access to work, they are,

“often faced with low income and lack of job security and benefits”.

A lack of access to financial resources can have a direct impact on the likelihood of a mother and child surviving a pregnancy. In many places in sub-Saharan Africa, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo where Antoinette gave birth, overcrowded and underfunded health centres lack sufficient supplies, requiring expectant mothers to provide basic materials like soap, gloves, a razor blade and even a sheet, which are needed to ensure a clean delivery. Women who are unable to afford these supplies or who have not received a clean delivery kit provided by international aid organisations are often turned out to give birth in the bush without assistance because the health centre simply cannot accommodate them or even provide the basic kit.

The three primary causes of maternal death in sub-Saharan Africa—haemorrhage, sepsis and eclampsia —can all be prevented or managed by trained health professionals in a clean environment. However, most clinics are understaffed and overwhelmed by an increasing indigent patient load. The hospital in Boga, where Antoinette gave birth, provides healthcare for over 30,000 internally displaced people who have fled armed conflict. In attempting to treat as many patients as possible, the clinic lacks funding for basic supplies, and thus the burden of the cost of giving birth is transferred to the expectant mothers, who are already struggling with unimaginable poverty.

This cycle can be broken by the continued commitment of the international community, including our Government, to provide funding to programmes that address the two central concerns of women’s health: poverty and training. Through a continued focus on millennium development goal 1 to eradicate extreme poverty, this time for women as well as men, women

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who would normally be unable to afford even the most basic supplies for a delivery will be able gain access to health clinics.

Secondly, through continued involvement with the UNFPA and Medair to meet millennium development goals 4 and 5, a greater number of health clinic employees and midwives can receive proper training, which will significantly reduce mother and child mortality. Access to training will also provide job opportunities for women in these areas, and through supporting these programmes we can set off a new cycle of training and employment instead of poverty and poor health.

Maternal care must extend beyond the birth of the child. A lack of access to adequate postnatal care can be devastating to women like Dorotea from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Dorotea was a teenager when she became pregnant with her first child. Unable to afford to go to a hospital, she was forced to give birth in her home without assistance from a trained health worker. Neither Dorotea nor her mother realised that the umbilical cord had got wrapped around the baby’s neck, and after four agonising days of labour, her daughter was stillborn.

Dorotea’s heartache continued two days later, when she realised that the stress of the labour had caused her to develop an obstetric fistula—a hole between the bladder and the rectum where the baby’s head had crushed the tissue. Because of her condition she was deserted by her husband, beaten and abused, and she was unable to work or seek help. For 18 years Dorotea suffered the embarrassment and isolation of her condition until one day her sister happened upon an advertisement for Christian Blind Mission services. Her fistula was repaired after 30 minutes of surgery in Dar es Salaam.

Dorotea now has the chance of a normal life, and is even able to have more children, but, thanks to CBM and the services she got, she was given the most important gift of her life: her dignity. CBM and many other organisations continue to set up clinics around the world for women suffering from obstetric fistula, providing them with essential postnatal care unavailable in their local hospitals.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, a woman’s risk of maternal death in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one in 24. In the United Kingdom, the risk of death is one in 47,000. I congratulate this Government on their continued commitment to the pledge of giving 0.7% of GDP in aid, which not only sets an example to our global colleagues that it can be done but, more importantly, will make a real difference and help to reduce maternal deaths.

12.13 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, listening to the range of subjects covered already, it is quite clear that there is no shortage of issues to do with achieving equal opportunities for women that we can debate today. I fear the road to achieving equal opportunities is a long one and will continue to provide ample material for speeches on International Women’s Day for many years to come, before the goals that we are all seeking are at last achieved to everyone’s satisfaction. I will confine my remarks to two issues: women at the top, which has been covered already today; and women in the penal system.

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I will start with women at the top. Clearly, the 2011 report by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, Women on Boards, was a major step forward. It reflected what had become, at last, a cross-party agreement; that is, that percentage targets for female company board directors should be set and backed by compulsion if voluntary efforts continued to fail. For the FTSE 300 companies, this involved both targets and a requirement to set out detailed plans of how their percentage of women would be achieved. The aim for the FTSE 100 companies was to achieve a full 25% representation by the same date, 2015—but that is only 25%.

However, there has been significant progress. All-male FTSE 100 boards have fallen from 21% to 7%, as we have already heard. Without doubt, too, the annual published updates of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, on the progress of these companies will certainly keep things moving in the right direction. However, for this debate, it was helpful to hear from the Minister about the plans the Government have to ensure that a satisfactory supply of qualified women candidates are aware of, and trained for, these opportunities at appropriate earlier stages in their life. Education in their school years will of course be vital and relevant careers advice is absolutely essential. Girls’ interests and aptitudes need to be taken into account, but so do national and international employment trends and, more locally, the likelihood of job vacancies and remuneration levels.

It would be useful, too, to know what further action the Government are planning to take to encourage employers to allow men as well as women to work flexibly or part-time, thereby opening up more opportunities for women as well as men to continue their careers while their children are young.

However, we all know that the percentage of women at board level is not the whole story. It is also about those other areas where power exists, whether for good or evil, a subject we have heard rather too much about during the past few weeks. It is here that the Sex and Power 2013: Who Runs Britain? report, which has already been referred to, tells rather a different story about women at the top. We learn from that, as well as the figures we have already been given, that women have slipped from 33rd to 57th place in international power rankings since 2001. So it would be helpful to hear a little more about the plans and priorities the Government will be pursuing to help increase the percentage of women featured in all categories ranked in Sex and Power.

Turning to women in the penal system, I want to draw urgent attention to the continued neglect by our criminal justice system of women held behind bars. In the UK we imprison more women than almost any other western European country. Decades of research and reports testify to the disproportionate harm that this does to women themselves, their children, families and the wider community. Although women comprise just 5% of the prison population, they account for a third of all self-harm incidents in prison, and every year nearly 18,000 children are affected by the imprisonment of their mothers. Just think of the range of the ways in which they and their future lives are affected.

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About 13,500 women are sent to prison every year. One in seven of these women are foreign national prisoners, and recent research has shown that many of these women have been trafficked into the country and coerced into offending. Many of them have been subjected to appalling abuse and multiple rapes but are too terrified to report these crimes. They also have little English. However, only a quarter of these women have been identified and are referred through the national mechanism for the help and support to which they are entitled as victims of trafficking.

Seventy per cent of women entering prison every year in the UK are on remand. Most of these women have committed non-violent and petty offences for which they will not ultimately receive a custodial sentence. Many are imprisoned for breach of a community order, meaning they are sent to prison, often for a very short period and often for not turning up to appointments because of childcare responsibilities.

Women’s offending is linked to underlying mental health problems and a history of child abuse and domestic violence. Thirty per cent of women in prison have had a previous psychiatric admission, while more than a third of those who are sent to prison have previously attempted suicide. These women need help to turn their lives around, not imprisonment in conditions that make it impossible for them to take responsibility and address the causes of their offending. I welcome the new programme from the Prison Reform Trust, supported by the Pilgrim Trust, to reduce women’s imprisonment, as well as excellent organisations such as Eden House and the ISIS women’s centre in Gloucester. I want to stress how important it is to bring all these schemes together and publicise them well so that everyone around the country will see them as ways forward.

Alas, I have to end on a less happy note. Your Lordships’ House was able to secure an amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill that would have ensured the necessary statutory requirement to provide community support and supervision services designed with the particular needs of women in mind. Sadly, I have to report that the amendment was struck out in Committee in another place. I only hope and pray that somehow the Government will see sense on this. It is time that all the hard work in this direction by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, which resulted in her report, is put into action. We have put this off for far too long.

12.21 pm

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, I am immensely grateful for the kindness that I have received from your Lordships on entering this House, and for the support that I have been given at all levels by its staff. I am delighted to be able to make my maiden speech during this moving debate to mark International Women’s Day. I hope that I may be permitted to say something about my diocese and the interests that it has shaped in me, in ways that relate to the debate.

I begin by paying warm tribute to my excellent women clergy colleagues who give of themselves with extraordinary dedication to the people of Coventry and Warwickshire. Thirty per cent of my priests are women. They work tirelessly and with great skill for the good of their communities. The Church will need

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their like to guide its life as our bishops in the future, and I assure your Lordships that the present House of Bishops is impatient for the collegiality of women as bishops, including their presence in this House. The absence of women on these Benches today is, of course, particularly noticeable. We are committed to seeing this happen for the good of church and nation. There are also countless lay readers, church wardens—including the indomitable warden of Idlicote, the parish of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe—treasurers, youth and children’s workers, and Mothers’ Union members of all ages. That is an army of women who tend their communities through the ministry of the church in innumerable and often hidden ways across our 200 parishes.

The common life of Coventry and Warwickshire depends on the leadership of women in every other sphere—in political and civic life, business activity and public institutions, the arts and sport and in the myriad charities and agencies that care for those in need and raise the quality of our life together. It was notable that at our recent Pride of Coventry and Warwickshire Community Awards, six of the seven prizes were awarded to women, all of them remarkable people.

Noble Lords should know, though, that the recession is biting hard in Coventry and that it is women who are bearing a disproportionate load. The churches in Coventry have fed 18,000 people since our food bank was established in 2011, many of them families with young children. There are regular stories of mothers going without food in order to feed their children; almost one in four of the city’s children are said to be living in poverty.

However, it is the history of Coventry, framed through war and reconciliation, to which I would like to turn, especially the effects of violent conflict on women. Noble Lords will know that although International Women’s Day had its origins in the movement for women’s suffrage, during the First World War its focus shifted to the struggle against war—war waged, through so much of history, by men but suffered by women and their children, as in Syria today. My own grandmother was one of those women who suffered and died in the First World War, running down the steps of a London Underground station fleeing a Zeppelin raid in 1917. She was pregnant, and my father was left motherless, the only child of a single father who was so overwhelmed that he turned to his own mother to care for his son. She did a pretty good job. He died a few years ago, before I was made Bishop of Coventry, and I had no idea of course that I would be speaking today. He would have been 100 years old this coming Sunday.

Two decades later, in 1940, many women died in the Luftwaffe raids in Coventry. Instinctive Christian convictions in Coventry cried out for an end to the spiral of violence, calling not for retaliation but for a reaching out to the enemy, armed only with the words of Christ, “Father, forgive”—words that confess a common complicity in war, that were etched into the east wall of the ruined cathedral and that continue to speak eloquently to the violence of the world. The ruins of the cathedral destroyed in 1940 were redesignated in 2011 as a memorial to all civilians killed, injured or traumatised by war and violent conflict. The Minister

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will be glad to know that, as one of six themes that guide the reconciliation ministry of Coventry Cathedral, we are working to support those who stand up against the use of sexual violence as a strategic means to demoralise, degrade and control the perceived enemy. It is a shame on our world that such things happen, and I welcome the commitment of the Foreign Secretary and his office to document and hold to account those responsible, as well as recent announcements of the Secretary of State for International Development and her office.

Coventry convictions in 1940 did not save the people of Kiel, Berlin, Dresden and other German cities, where tens of thousands of women suffered and died. Relationships between the cities were restored, though, and it is an enormous privilege as Bishop of Coventry to step into this remarkable story of reconciliation. To be asked as an English bishop to give a blessing in the now rebuilt Frauenkirche in Dresden on the anniversary of its destruction is deeply humbling and healing. In another act of extraordinary generosity, I have been asked to preach at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche in November, when it marks the 70th anniversary of its destruction. While there, I will pay my respects to the German memorial for victims of war and violence—Käthe Kollwitz’s desperately sad statue of the weeping mother holding her dead son.

Through these encounters and the friendships that have developed in Coventry’s international Community of the Cross of Nails, I have learnt the importance of remembering the suffering of war together with those with whom we were once locked in conflict, and of commemorating our dead together. As we approach 2014 with its anniversaries of great and terrible battles 100 years ago, my hope is that our local and national commemorations will remember that the tears of German widows and mothers flowed with the same agony as those of British and Commonwealth women. It is alongside and with our former enemy, who is now our friend, that we reflect with Germany and our European partners on the impact of war on our continent and share a commitment for a reconciled and peaceful future for the world.

12.29 pm

Baroness Heyhoe Flint: My Lords, I extend our warmest welcome to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry to this House. The emotion, eloquence and relevance of his maiden speech certainly captured the attention of his new congregation here in this Chamber. The right reverend Prelate lists on his very worthy CV a plethora of patronages of a wide variety of causes and charities. His parliamentary interests list higher education plus conflict resolution and reconciliation; one hopes that in this Chamber he has little conflict resolution but plenty of reconciliation. As a fellow West Midlander, which is perhaps why I have been asked to do this welcome, I also wish the right reverend Prelate better fortune to his diocese football team. Coventry City struggles on and off the pitch, and may the right reverend Prelate’s inspiration help to return the Sky Blues to a higher place.

I am sure that, like me, the right reverend Prelate has beliefs that women deserve a much higher level of recognition in sport and recreation, which hopefully

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should then encourage a more active lifestyle among UK females. Let us start at the top. I was intrigued on Monday to read new research by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation that only 22% of board members in 33 out of 57 national governing bodies are female— up 2% from 2010, unchanged from 2011—despite government urging. Six publicly funded NGBs out of those 57 have no women on their boards, as was mentioned earlier in Oral Questions. The largest participant offender was British cycling, despite the impact that British women cyclists made in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Indeed, only a couple of weeks ago 21 year-old Becky James made a further impact for British cycling when she dashed into the record books when she won her second gold and a total of four medals in the recent track cycling world championships in Belarus—such an impact, no less, that Becky was featured on the front page, in glorious technicolour, of the

Daily Telegraph

, so perhaps the media are improving their recognition of our sportswomen, but more on that later.

I am talking not from a feminist standpoint but about a practical, common-sense approach, and I am not just saying that because in cricket I happen to serve on the boards of the England and Wales Cricket Board and the MCC. Even though I am there, still the men are not knitting and making teas in the pavilions of England, if that is what the fear is from the chaps. Diverse leadership is a bonus and women’s board representation, as has been mentioned, should help to unlock the potential of women’s sport, thus promoting higher levels of participation, sponsorship and media profile. As the Minister said this morning, Sport England and UK Sport wish that by 2017 every national governing body will have 25% board representation.

The MCC and the ECB have grasped the nettle and now the Football Association also has recently appointed its first female independent director to its board in 150 years, so we are making progress. She is Heather Rabbatts, not a token appointment but a lady well steeped in the business of football knowledge as executive deputy chair of Millwall Football Club, to whom I apologise after they were beaten 2-0 on Tuesday by my beloved football team, Wolverhampton Wanderers.

With a Government committed to breaking down gender equality barriers, how can the Royal and Ancient, the governing body of golf throughout the world, continue to operate a male-only membership of its club at St Andrews when this summer it is hosting the Women’s British Open championships? Such an entrenched attitude reminds me of a historic notice in a car park in an all-male golf club in Kent several years ago that read, “No dogs or women allowed on the course”—and it was true. Another discriminatory establishment drawn to my attention recently is Gathurst club in Lancashire, where the men will not let women on the course at weekends unless they are playing competitions, and the men will not allow women to play such sanctioned competitions.

My right honourable friend the Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson has spoken on the record about the R&A, saying:

“It is increasingly anachronistic not to allow women to become members … The defence of the Royal and Ancient is that it is a private club and so has the right to do what it wants. That is

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legally correct and I have no quarrel, when it is acting as a private club. However, I believe that when a private club fulfils a public function, such as staging a major event, then there is a different slant”.

Nothing could be more major than the Women’s British Open, so surely this issue should be addressed. I wonder if the participants might even be changing in the car park as a result of this sanction.

We all basked in the triumph of the Olympics and Paralympics; media coverage was brilliant, turning minor sports into major sports and unsung, unknown champions into heroes and heroines. Didn’t the girls do well? The women of Team GB won 10 golds and 22 medals in total, and a woman won the first Team GB medal of 2012—silver for Lizzie Armitstead in the road cycling. Women won the first gold for team GB—rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. This was the first Olympics where women competed in every sport, with the introduction of women’s boxing, and we all marvelled at the heroics of Great Britain boxer Nicola Adams, who won gold. It was also the first Games where every country sent female athletes; Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei were the last three to do so. That is global progress.

The Government are seeking to encourage all sectors of the media to continue their high level of coverage of women’s sport, not just every four years when we have the Olympics and Paralympics or when Wimbledon comes along annually. We need that consistent coverage to develop role models for young schoolgirls, who I worry nowadays aspire to be footballers’ wives, page three models or “X-Factor” wannabes singing out of tune. I want those young girls to aspire to be Victoria Pendleton, Jessica Ennis, Ellie Simmonds and Katherine Grainger. After the Olympics, 81% of respondents to a Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation survey thought that female athletes were much better role models for young girls than other media “celebrities”.

The right honourable Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities, believes strongly in the power of the media to raise profile and encourage greater levels of sponsorship for women. After the Olympics she wrote and met with all facets of the media to impress this fact.

There is light at the end of the camera lens that there may be extra coverage. There is to be TV coverage of women’s football this summer, the England appearance in the Euro finals, while Sky gave great coverage to women’s cricket in India, even though England did not quite come up with the goods, as they say. They also have platforms for netball super league, women’s hockey and European and USA women’s golf.

Women’s sport receives less than 5% of total sport print coverage and currently receives less than 1% of TV coverage and 0.5% of total sponsorship income. A recent Sport and Recreation Alliance report revealed only one in 10 14 year-old girls is getting the recommended physical activity levels suggested by health professionals. Sadly, 51% of girls say that their experiences of school sport and physical education put them off being active. Sport does not need to be team games; it can be competitive sport, non-competitive sport, gymnastics, aerobics or Indian dancing—though I am not sure the

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Prime Minister approves of that. My experiences at school were the other way around: I hated academia and sport was the only thing for my whole life.

Primary school teachers receive only a meagre six to 10 hours’ tuition in their training to teach youngsters in primary schools. Surely more is needed. On Tuesday this week an alarming report published in The Lancet showed that we have dropped from 12th to 14th in the life expectancy tables. I must close now but could my noble friends the Ministers in Government ask whether it is possible to give more recognition to women’s sport and women’s activity? What better, on International Women’s Day?

12.40 pm

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, for her introduction to this debate. I know that she has had a heavy week, and I hope that this will relieve her spirits somewhat. I know that the debate will be, as always, both stimulating and thoughtful. It is a great pleasure to follow my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe-Flint. Unfortunately, I cannot call her my noble friend because she is not on the same side as me, but for years she and I have campaigned for girls and women—indeed, young people—to be involved in sport. We were comrades some time ago in batting and bowling, and thereby hang many tales. It was also a great privilege to hear the moving comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and to listen to his positive support for the role of women in the Anglican Church.

I want today to look at the issue of invisible women and ponder whether they are becoming more visible. This may seem a strange thing to bring up in your Lordships’ House. When I talk about involvement in this House, everyone always assumes that far more than 24% of noble Lords are women because, as we know, women in this House are far from invisible.

However, let me go back to my theme of invisible women. In the 1980s, a feminist called Dale Spender wrote several challenging books about the lack of profile of women in education, literature and business. She maintained that patriarchy served to subdue women and that they thereby became invisible. She reminded us that there were very few women in some professions and very few at the top of most professions. I want to explore whether this is still an issue. An earlier feminist, Simone de Beauvoir, speculated on why women always seemed to be wrong, why men were more representative and more authoritative and why women’s differences were seen as deficiencies. Is this still the case?

Dale Spender maintained that men and power are the problem. She stated that men are seen as authoritative; that male experience counts; and that males have more influence on systems. Men are attributed with qualities such as reason, objectiveness, leadership, independence, authority and strength; women with being emotional, irrational, weak and hysterical. In mixed contexts, Spender maintains, men talk more, interrupt more and do not know that they are doing it. When women become visible and assert power, then patriarchal values are under threat and it is scary—look at the Suffragettes. In a recent survey, mentioned earlier, reference was

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made to this. Many women would assert, as do many men, that when the distribution of power is more equal, men also benefit. Some men would agree.

I return to invisibility. I shall give a couple of examples from literature. Spender points out that there were hundreds of women authors writing for at least 150 years before Jane Austen—invisible women. Let us take as an example the successful playwright and novelist, Aphra Behn, writing in the 1600s, who produced plays, poetry and novels that were immensely popular—Nell Gwynne starred in her most successful play, “The Rover”. Aphra Behn was also an international spy for Charles II. She was described by critics as being “disgraceful” and “bawdy”, whereas Virginia Woolf called her, more flatteringly, shady and amorous. Another example is Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th-century philosopher, who wrote novels, historical plays and travel books, as well as being an advocate of women’s rights. She was described by Walpole as “a Hyena in petticoats”. When six volumes of biographies on women were published in 1803, Mary Wollstonecraft was missed out—invisible women. The novel Mary Barton was published anonymously in 1848 to great praise. When it was known to be by a woman, Elizabeth Gaskell, praise then turned to criticism. Women had to publish under male pseudonyms—invisible women.

Has this invisibility made a difference to how women see themselves today and to why women are still largely absent from top posts in industry, politics, sport, the Church and the media? Has it influenced how men see women? Are women destined for certain jobs but not in the first flight? Much worse than that, can women be treated with disrespect—even violence? Is the status of women also improving life for other women?

I shall share one anecdote with your Lordships. A close female relative of mine went into a boardroom recently to set up a presentation. Three men were already sitting there and one said to her, “Hey, girlie, where’s the coffee?”. He was shocked and embarrassed when she turned out to be a senior vice-president of the company, setting out its future strategy.

The report Sex and Power has already been mentioned. It points out that a girl child born today will be drawing her pension before she has any chance of being equally represented in the Parliament of her country. It discusses other deficits—in public appointments, the voluntary sector, the law, the Church, the police and so on. Two-thirds of public appointments go to men. Women still earn on average 14.9% less than men for the same job and they lose out on bonuses.

A study published in the Daily Telegraph by Experian expresses some cautious optimism, finding that the number of female directors is increasing but that some professions such as social work, hairdressing and primary school teaching, while dominated by women and having more women in senior positions, have not changed in profile. Both men and women seem to back positive action, and women’s networks are flourishing. Women’s performance is enhancing sport, but coverage is poor.

Has progress been made in the perception of women since the 1980s? Are they less invisible? The answer is a cautious yes. On paper they have more rights, and they are more likely to challenge discrimination, but we are a long way from a guarantee that those challenges will be taken note of.

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We must not forget in our deliberations that women in many developing countries, as graphically described by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, are hounded, tortured and denied rights. On International Women’s Day, we should surely embrace and promote visibility for all women, justice for all women and an opportunity for all women to reach their potential.

12.47 pm

Baroness Benjamin: My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this celebratory International Women’s Day debate, and I thank my noble friend for securing it. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his compassionate maiden speech and welcome him to the House.

This coming Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I pay tribute to mothers everywhere, especially to those who have lost their children unnecessarily through war, gun or knife crime or suicide.

International Women’s Day is to inspire, to celebrate women’s achievements but, most importantly, to focus on issues that women have to confront and the changes that need to take place. In the 1960s, the feminist, bra-burning women’s lib movement set the scene and signalled the beginning of real change towards equality. Hard-working women like my beloved mother made many sacrifices for her daughters in order for them to succeed, and I will be eternally grateful to my mother.

I am proud to say that, today, women are educated, influential and powerful in many areas in society. Not all women—there are those who are still struggling to break through the toughened glass ceiling, especially women from culturally diverse backgrounds. But things have improved dramatically from the days when the careers officer told my mother, “I'm sorry, Mrs Benjamin, your daughter can’t apply for that position. They don’t employ coloured people in that company”. Thank goodness I had a feisty mother who never took no for an answer.

Yes, there has been progress but despite all this women’s equality, as we sit here in the 21st century, on the eve of International Women’s Day, we continue on an almost daily basis to witness revelations of sexual and domestic violence against women, and the sexualisation of young girls in a society where violent pornography is only a mouse click away. This is a pan-global epidemic, underpinned by the media and the internet which support imagery and attitudes that relentlessly promote the idea that social emancipation and free speech equal the freedom to flaunt the boundaries of decency, self-respect and the sanctity of our bodies and souls. Women, especially young women and girls, are the main casualties of this.

No wonder that we witness highly sexualised behaviour by children and young people when they are influenced so strongly to believe that stardom, success, fame, riches and happiness can be achieved by using sex as a commodity. Young boys are learning to see their female counterparts as sexual objects, expected to perform in the same way as they see on porn sites so easily accessible today to anyone with a smartphone, computer or tablet. We now have degrading behaviour by boys who force young girls to perform sexual acts, film the humiliating action and then shame the girls by putting

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it on the web. The girls in turn self-harm or even take their own lives. This has to stop. The recent NSPCC report,

Saying the Unsayable

, highlighted a dramatic increase in girls self-harming and committing suicide because of sexual exploitation and degradation.

We are all aware that the sexual exploitation of women is ageless but in recent times the globalisation of media and the internet has led to an explosion in the sexual objectification of women. Women are encouraged, paid, enticed and forced to portray themselves in more and more explicit sexual ways. Young women university students advertise themselves on websites as looking for a sugar daddy, and see this as a perfectly acceptable way of advancing themselves both financially and socially. My main worry is that, while all this is happening every day before our very eyes, children and young people soak up this imagery and accept the messages and culture that they portray as the norm. In the era we are now living in, children and young people lose their innocence far too early as they are exposed relentlessly to this sexual culture, where many young women allow themselves to be exploited, degraded and manipulated.

I tell young women that I mentor never to compromise themselves with their beauty, to respect themselves and keep their dignity intact. It pays off in the long term. We have opened a Pandora’s box and I have no answer as to how we can reverse the trend in the sexual objectification of women or protect our children against its influence. But I know that the global and domestic challenge is for women to join together and lead the fight against this, and stop allowing females to be exploited by the culture of sexualisation—for the sake of their daughters and granddaughters.

Organisations such as the Parent Zone are fighting back. They believe that the internet and technological developments have given women access to economic, social and political opportunities across the world but as mothers they feel disempowered by an environment that ignores their right to protect their children online. Access to their children’s data and images is withheld by companies who have created their children’s online world. There are international laws in place protecting children online. However, mothers are beginning to realise that in the UK their online rights do not match their rights offline. In response to this, the Parent Zone has launched the first Charter of Parents’ Online Rights, calling for the two to be brought into line. The charter calls for parents to have the right to know what data are stored about their child and challenge inaccuracies. They should be able to intervene on behalf of their child if problems arise online, have their consent sought when a child signs up to use an online service and expect minimum safety standards for children’s websites. This is the sort of initiative we must promote and encourage to help parents—especially mothers—fight back against a seemingly unstoppable march into a moral wasteland. I hope that the Government will give support to this initiative.

I tell children when I visit schools to learn to love and respect themselves, have self-esteem and feel worthy even though they may be suffering abuse. They must never feel it is their fault. They must live their lives with integrity, honesty and above all have the moral

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courage to stand up against those who want to take advantage of them. We must ensure that all children understand the meaning of unconditional love and long-term relationships within which they can enjoy a fulfilling, healthy sexual partnership. We must give our children—boys and girls—the guidance, education and protection they need to achieve this well into their adult lives. As women, we have the power to make the change for good so let us all join forces together and do just that. I say to all women: let us celebrate International Women’s Day and fight for this change, wherever you are in the world.

12.56 pm

Baroness O'Loan: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, for her introduction to this debate on International Women’s Day. I also pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry for his fine maiden speech and look forward to the erudition, eloquence and compassion that he will bring to debates in this Chamber.

The UN theme for International Women’s Day is, “A promise is a promise: time for action to end violence against women”. Women come to their experience of violence through many routes. Predominantly, they will be victims, either of domestic or war-zone violence. In places such as Northern Ireland, where the Troubles have dominated our lives for so long, that still takes a toll on those who suffered: on the relatives of the dead, the maimed and the families of the disappeared. There will also be those women who decide to take an active part in conflict as combatants: up to 40% of some groups are female. Those women combatants may ultimately be peacemakers. No matter what role they play or position they hold in relation to the conflict, the range of potential effects of violence is similar. It is important to acknowledge that, to acknowledge that violence has so many facets, and to identify what must be done to address them.

I want to address some of those facets. First, there is physical and sexual abuse, and the lack of mechanisms, structures and the necessary determination to prosecute such crimes. Reparations for rape, real property theft and lost educational opportunities when children are taken for camp slaves have to be dealt with quickly and effectively. In many conflicts, the warlords openly acknowledge that they will rape whole villages as a clear statement of the threat that they represent and to force people into compliance. We have seen the abduction of children from their families to be used as child soldiers, including girls. In some conflicts, tens of thousands—some 50% of all child soldiers—are girls. We probably all know the pressures to which children are subject in organisations such as the Lord’s Resistance Army: pressures to murder members of their family and each other as the combatants seek to take total control of them. We have seen the abduction of women and girls to be used as camp slaves.

Each state has a responsibility—as does the international community—to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for such crimes. That does not happen very often. The consequential exposure to sexually transmitted infection and trauma-related illness give rise to huge medical and PTSD

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treatment needs That can have an enormous impact on people’s ability to deal with the ordinary challenges of life. They will have higher levels of mental and physical illness, injury and suicide. That is what we have experienced in Northern Ireland.

Displacement from and the loss of their homes is a major problem. These women often end up in IDP and refugee camps for years. Even when the conflict has been resolved to the extent that it is possible for them to go home, they may be reluctant to do so even where there is funding available for them because they have access to health services, education and maybe some protection and security. It has often seemed so terrible yet so understandable to me that they can prefer living in UNHCR tents for years, without electricity or running water, to going home where the impact of the destruction of a local community in terms of unsettled scores, suspicion and resentment may linger for years and where people see the perpetrators of violence walking the streets and even in government, occupying influential and highly paid jobs.

That is part of the price of peace. It can be very hard for those who still seek reparations and the recovery of the disappeared. In Northern Ireland we still have seven families grieving people who were abducted and murdered, and whose bodies lie in unmarked graves that may never be found. For each family this is a daily agony as it remembers the young man or boy who went out one day and never came back.

In conflicted societies one of the biggest barriers to equality for women is often the existence of traditional laws and justice procedures. Women are often not allowed to own property. That will have to change and be a priority in each conflict zone. Where huge numbers of men have died the widows and children risk homelessness and destitution unless change is made. Returning combatants, often traumatised themselves, often bring higher levels of domestic violence.

Issues around demobilisation, decommissioning and resettlement must be dealt with. Women have to fight for their share of funds, as money is normally paid principally to men, who have had front-line posts, leaving a disproportionate amount of the very scarce funds that are available in the hands of men only. There is also the new phenomenon of the vulnerability of some women to fundamentalism and the honour that is perceived as coming to families when one of their number becomes a suicide bomber.

Loss of the opportunity to be educated, because of war, because teachers go to war, or because it is not safe to go to school, impacts on women’s ability to participate in society at all levels. Often they cannot drive, even where motorbikes are about. That means that their capacity to engage in commercial initiatives is limited. Women need, above all, security so that they can access water, food and fuel. In countries where there has been conflict and in others where there is great poverty women will suffer not only violence but all the problems associated with the daily trek for water and fuel, and with the grind to grow food. In those circumstances men may resist attempts to bring water to the community, because their women will then have free time which they may not use as the men would wish.

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In times of violence there is also difficulty for women in accessing health and other services, because of costs of travel, time, and the fear and insecurity around travel. Often there is no hospital because of a war, or they cannot afford the fare, they have no access to transport and they are afraid. When you are about to have a baby this can be a time of great need. I lived in Kenya when I was expecting my third child. The rains were coming. It was a 40-kilometre drive up a dirt road to the nearest mission hospital that had no electricity or running water. Yet we knew that we had to go before the rains came. I had that option. The other women in the community did not, because they had no access to a car.

The international community must urgently address the needs of the “UN babies”, born as a consequence of a relationship, prostitution or rape involving UN personnel. These babies may be rejected by their fathers and the societies in which their mothers live simply because they are visibly of a race different from the community in which they live.

These things will involve not just policy change, and planning, training and development, but also changing the hearts and minds of many of those who were the perpetrators of violence and who have lived often for years in abnormal circumstances. There will inevitably be unsettled scores, old hatreds, and a desire for punishment and vengeance that may well have the capacity to destroy an embryonic state. Old combatants will have to come to terms with living at peace with each other. It will take time and energy. Many women have great skills that can be utilised for the benefit of an emerging nation in those matters that require mediation, such as prisoner release, disarmament, resettlement and reintegration.

Gender-responsive policy-making can be life-changing. Gender-responsive changes in the mandates, practices and cultures of states and international institutions are occurring. On International Women’s Day we applaud the courage and determination of women who have emerged to take their rightful place in local and national politics across the world. We meet many of them at Westminster as they travel here to learn more of our practices and procedures, and to be affirmed and encouraged in their role as parliamentarians in situations infinitely more complex and dangerous than those in which we operate. Those women will bring the gender perspective to the debates and law-making of those assemblies, so that each society and state can function to maximum effect, benefiting from the talents of all its members.

1.04 pm

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Stowell for securing this timely debate. We are here to pay homage to the achievements of women all over the world, as marked by this annual celebration, as well as to emphasise the progress that needs to be made and the challenges that lie ahead.

Women play a central part in keeping families and communities together. There is a strong link between achieving peace and the sustained development and advancement of gender equality. Earlier this week I spoke in a debate on the plans to mark the centenary of the First World War. This was a key influence in the

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development of women’s rights in the United Kingdom as women often replaced the millions of men who had been called up to fight on the front line. During this time, approximately 1.6 million women joined the workforce across government departments and in business administration, and played an invaluable role in our munitions factories.

The past 100 years are full of numerous examples of the contributions to world history made by remarkable women, such as the suffragettes, led by the Pankhurst sisters. In that time we have covered a great deal of ground, particularly in respect of voting rights, the opening up of various professions, opportunities in higher education and positions in businesses. I am heartened by the progress that we have made in increasing the number of female Members of Parliament in recent years, although the House is united in acknowledging that more needs to be done.

Since Nancy Astor took her seat in 1919, we have seen female representation in the House of Commons increase to 22%, which is a significant step forward, but we must move faster. We have a similar situation here in the House of Lords. It is, however, encouraging that the numbers are much healthier among our younger politicians, with women consisting of half of the 28 MPs under the age of 30. It is accepted none the less that women are still underrepresented in many aspects of political, corporate and cultural life, and in the media.

I believe that this Government appreciate and understand the challenges that we face. On a visit to Mumbai two weeks ago, the Prime Minister stated that there are not enough women in boardrooms, or indeed around the Cabinet table, and that companies and political parties need to be more proactive in attracting women. We have already seen a number of measures over the past two years that have helped women in various respects. One of the most notable has been the establishment of the Women’s Business Council. This looks to challenge the barriers that women face in playing a fuller part in business and the workplace. As a businessman, I am particularly excited by the potential benefits for economic growth in addition to the further female empowerment that could come from this. As an employer, I have always promoted my staff on merit, irrespective of gender.

Better appreciating and harnessing the skills women have to offer will only accelerate our economic recovery and it is estimated that such action could deliver benefits of between £15 billion and £21 billion per year. The Government should be congratulated on their introduction of flexible parental leave, allowing new mothers to share their maternity leave with their partners and giving them ultimate flexibility over how and when it is taken.

The United Nations theme for International Women’s Day 2013 is ending violence against women. Domestic violence against women often takes place in households where children are present, and in some cases these children are also victims of abuse. There should be an increase in support services for children who have witnessed abuse and for those who are victims of domestic violence. Research suggests that a number of adults who witnessed domestic violence as children are perpetrators of violence against their partners. It is

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also thought that the current economic climate could have the effect of increasing acts of domestic violence in households that are struggling to make ends meet. Does the Minister agree that more attention should be given to identifying those who are most vulnerable and dealing with this disturbing trend?

Human trafficking is also an issue that is of great concern to me. I have raised it on a number of occasions in your Lordships’ House. I believe that this immoral practice is the equivalent of modern-day slavery. I am proud that the United Kingdom has ratified the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. Women tend to be the main targets of the predatory gangs who engage in this immoral trade. What plans do the Government have to ensure that victims of human trafficking are given adequate support to rebuild their lives?

As a former visiting lecturer, I value the importance of education in giving people greater opportunities. Women have historically been deprived of chances to gain access to further education, and this has contributed to further inequality in the workplace. I am pleased to note that there has been a marked rise in the number of young women who are entering higher education in Britain. Last week, I was asked by the high commissioner of Bangladesh to present awards to British Bangladeshi school leavers who had attained very good results, and I was pleased to note that more girls than boys had been given the awards. However, these improvements are not reflected in the poorer parts of the world. It is imperative that we focus on regions and countries that have lacked progress and do all we can to educate and empower women in these places.

I care about the well-being of women, and I have spoken in your Lordships’ House on issues relating to female genital mutilation and forced marriages. Eighty per cent of cases of forced marriage involve girls. The Government have taken some positive steps on these issues, but it is important that we continue to address them through education and by encouraging the involvement of leaders and members of the communities in which these practices are taking place.

We are also very concerned about the use of rape as a weapon of war, which was debated in your Lordships’ House yesterday. I spoke then, and I shall reiterate a point that I made then. I am pleased that this Government have formed a UK team of 73 experts dedicated to combating and preventing sexual violence in armed conflict.

We should continue to lead by example, encouraging other countries to embrace the empowerment of women in the way that we have and inspiring our women, and indeed men, to continue extending and celebrating the reach and impact women can make in every facet of our lives.

1.13 pm

Baroness Prosser: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, for initiating this debate in celebration of International Women’s Day. The title of the debate enables us to roam far and wide, and we know that the issues are many and various, but I have chosen to concentrate my remarks on ways in which the situation of women can be improved by the actions

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and interventions of men and boys, which the Minister mentioned in her opening remarks. It was the subject of the thematic debate at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2004 and 2009, and is reflected to some extent within the detail and requirements of a number of the millennium development goals.

Before we depress ourselves completely on the downside of the situation, let us consider how far, over the past 50 or so years, society’s view of women has moved on. Last year, my noble friend Lord Monks forwarded to me an e-mail entitled “Can You Believe This?”. The content of the e-mail consisted of a series of American 1950s newspaper and magazine advertisements commonly used at that time without a hint of irony or even a raised eyebrow. One is an ad for a Kenwood Chef food mixer. The man is saying, “The Chef does everything but cook, but that’s what wives are for”. His happy, smiling wife is looking very grateful. The second is for a vacuum cleaner, which is decorated with a lovely blue satin ribbon. A beautiful woman is lying on the floor beside the object, stroking it and reading the gift card. The wording on the ad says, “Christmas morning she’ll be happier with a Hoover”. I somehow doubt she was happy even then, but she certainly would not be now.

Of course things have moved on, and the advertising industry would not dream of suggesting such copy now, but media images of women still concentrate on a woman’s looks, size and age. Older women lose out on television and in theatre and film because there are so few strong and central roles available to them. Female presenters and newsreaders have to look perfect with not a coiffed hair out of place. This would not be so irritating if the same criteria were applied to men but, judging by some of the sights we see, this clearly is not the case. There is a big responsibility here for men at the top of TV and radio to recognise that this is not only silly and unfair but presents a skewed image of women and helps to promote the notion of woman as object.

Advertising and the media are not, of course, the only areas with room for improvement. Comments have been made this week by the previous Master of the Rolls, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, regarding the small number of female senior judges. He unsurprisingly comes out against positive discrimination, but positive action programmes could be used to help improve the balance. Special events not just for women but to which senior women from the legal profession are invited could be used to help those women get to know the senior men in the profession, and to help the senior men realise that women lawyers are not, after all, such a strange species, and that just like the men they too might have hopes of moving on and up.

The Government’s encouragement of the work of my noble friend Lord Davies in increasing the number of women on company boards is to be lauded and welcomed. However, the businessmen in those companies should not need to wait for government initiatives and pressure. They could, for example, introduce special training programmes to help bring forward some of the women already employed in the company so that they feel ready to move through the pipeline. It makes economic sense and helps to instil commitment to the

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organisation. Companies should also ensure that they have good return-to-work programmes enabling mothers to continue with their careers, and add to that by welcoming and encouraging paternity leave and flexibility for fathers.

Encouraging women to hold down senior positions in the public and private sectors, and ensuring that they can do so, should not be seen as some sort of extra-curricular activity, but still we continue to have to press the point home. Why, for example, are there not more opportunities for good quality part-time jobs? This is not rocket science, as was shown by two young women in 2005 who started an organisation called Women Like Us. This came about from frustrated conversations at the school gates between them and other young mums looking for decent part-time work. Linking their demands with the needs of local employers proved a very successful approach and, late last year, with the sponsorship of Ernst & Young, Women Like Us launched Timewise Jobs, a website dedicated to providing access to quality part-time professional employment vacancies.

Come on, all you male employers: use a bit of imagination and initiative. Not only will you be on the road to providing a better gender-balanced workforce, you will save money by not losing good and committed female staff who find it impossible to balance full-time employment with being a parent.

There are a million and one ways in which men could be more helpful and could use their influence to increase women’s chances and status. Most important is to start at the beginning, and to look at the role of families and education. It would be wonderful if all families were sufficiently well organised and caring of each other to allow us to say that the home is where appropriate influences should begin and end. It is of course key that we encourage parents to set a good example by treating each other with respect. Seeing fathers help in the home—cooking, tending children and so on—also provides good role models.

However, not all families are able or willing to do this, and the role of the state then becomes important. This could be encapsulated in the Department for Education’s personal, social, health and economic education programme. Unfortunately, this is not part of the core curriculum so many young people will not have the chance to look at life, women and girls in a different and, I hope, more respectful way. This is a missed opportunity on the part of the Government to be able to say that they are playing their part in ensuring that the gender gap, which manifests itself in so many ways in our society, is recognised as being in real need of attention, and that they will play a leading and strategic role in addressing the part that can be played by men and boys.

1.21 pm

Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Since so much of what the commission does bears on the topics of today’s debate, I feel multiply interested, in every sense of the word. I am very grateful to the Minister for instituting this debate and for its length, which enables us to say a

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little bit more. Like many other noble Lords, I admired the right reverend prelate’s maiden speech; it reminded us of how deep some of these issues go.

International Women’s Day is always a time to reflect on the rights of women, proclaimed, of course, in the 18th century—as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, reminded us—but secured only very gradually across many decades in many different countries, in many different legislatures and by the action of many different people. We should remember in all this that the rights of women are not to be contrasted with the rights of men; they are rights that today, as earlier, are claimed and defended in the name of our common humanity. They are affirmed in some of the great documents of the modern world: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950.

Earlier today at Question Time, there was reference to the question of whether the United Kingdom might withdraw from the European convention. I will just observe that the irritation that people express is often directed at the court, not at the convention. If we had a British Bill of human rights, I am pretty convinced that it would contain the same rights that are in the European convention, but of course we might lose touch with some of the necessary jurisprudence for interpreting those rights if we made such a shift.

However, we must all admit, and there have been many illustrations of this point, that the extension of rights to women is a very long-fought battle. It is a battle in which many countries have entered reservations, sometimes in order to afford additional protection to women—in matters such as night work, pregnancy or military service—but sometimes to differentiate the rights of men and women in areas such as family law, inheritance or succession. Hence the complexity of the process by which the United Nations has gradually inched the issue of women’s rights forward.

Despite continuing disputes about some of these reservations, though, the most remarkable thing is the progress that has been made in recognising the rights of women and girls, not merely—and proudly—in this country but across virtually every country in the world. There are, of course, still horrifying cases in which the rights of women are systematically ignored, where legislation does not restrict forced marriage or domestic violence, genital mutilation or—unmentioned so far but as serious as any of these—forced child-bearing. The deepened recognition and protection of women’s rights is one of the most profound social transformations of the past century, and it is to be greatly welcomed.

It is very easy to miss the profundity and scope of that transformation if one concentrates only on the human rights declarations and conventions. Human rights documents, in the nature of the case, set out certain aspirations. They seem lofty and abstract. The realisation of women’s rights is another matter, for rights are indeed no more than rhetoric if we do not secure the counterpart obligations. This fundamental point about rights was made with great elegance and accuracy by Clement Attlee, speaking in Scarborough in 1951. He asked,

“what kind of society do you want? We know the kind of society we want. We want a society of free men and women—free from poverty, free from fear, able to develop to the full their faculties in

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co-operation with their fellows, everyone giving and having the opportunity to give service to the community, everyone regarding his own private interest in the light of the interest of others, and of the community; a society bound together by rights and obligations, rights bringing obligations, obligations fulfilled bringing rights; a society free from gross inequalities and yet not regimented nor uniform”.

That statement has stood the test of 70 years very well. The phrase,

“rights bringing obligations, obligations fulfilled bringing rights”,

gives us a sense of what women’s rights are really about. I do not mean that we should focus once again on obligations or duties at the expense of rights, but we should acknowledge the indispensable interdependence of rights and obligations. Rights without duties are indeed mere rhetoric. Women’s rights are not going to be realised by proclamation—although proclamation has its point and there is a time for it—but rather by respect for and fulfilment of the corresponding obligations. These obligations are rather too often identified with securing legislation in each jurisdiction that enforces respect for the obligations necessary to secure and observe others’ rights. However, we now know that it requires more than legislation, legislation by itself is not enough to secure respect for rights. There is a tendency to imagine that in the case of human rights, all obligations lie with states. That is patently mistaken. Often, obligations lie with individuals and with the institutions of civil society, and the role of states and of legislation in particular is to back up and secure the performance of obligations, when that is the right way to secure respect for rights.

This point was clearly recognised in the 2011 report that has been referred to repeatedly today: Women onBoards. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, noted that quotas risk leading to tokenism, but that substantial change could be achieved by companies focusing on the robust, commercial reasons for seeking diversity on boards. Why do you need someone who will clone your own views and experience? That is the very person you do not need. Diversity nearly always has good effects.

I finish by asking the Minister two questions. First, how well is the public service progressing in taking steps to encourage the appointment of a reasonable proportion of women to senior posts, and to the boards to which it makes appointments? Secondly, our progress in securing and supporting women’s rights is monitored under CEDAW, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The seventh periodic review of UK performance under CEDAW is now under way, and the UK Government will be discussing its progress in Geneva in July. Will the Minister undertake to secure a debate on progress, or lack of it, on these issues in your Lordships’ House?

1.29 pm

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on her enthusiastic introduction to this debate. We are here again, another year older, another year wiser—or, if not, we are perhaps better informed—to celebrate International Women’s Day. I always look forward to this day. The annual debate gives us a unique opportunity to reflect on the place

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that women have in our society and how it has changed from year to year—a State of the Union debate for women, you might say.

Next year will see the centenary of the start of the First World War; a war that means much to me as my father was one of the millions who suffered the horrific conditions in the trenches. I would like us to quickly reflect on how far women have come since then. That Great War was a real turning point for women. The first “total war” effort demanded the mobilisation of the whole country. The traditional workforce of millions of men was sent out to battle. This created a need for new workers, a need that could be filled only by women. Truly significant numbers started work, but the impact of war on the employment of women meant that suddenly they were able to break into jobs that had previously been the preserve of men, such as heavy industry, munitions and police work.

Since then, each year has seen what may appear to be slight, incremental changes for us as individuals. When they are viewed as a whole, though, we can see the enormous progress that has been made from the time of Emmeline Pankhurst, who as a Tory has always been an inspiration for Conservative women. We have had universal suffrage, women attending university and now among the most highly qualified professionals in the country, women running businesses and of course, memorably, a female Prime Minister.

The year 2012 was particularly great for women in this country. We saw innumerable successes for British women: Olympians like Jessica Ennis and Victoria Pendleton; Paralympians like Ellie Simmonds and Sarah Storey; and above all Her Majesty the Queen celebrating her glorious 60-year reign. Of course we still have a significant way to go, but that is quite some progress in anyone’s books.

There are a number of highly commendable schemes out there to help women, but I would like to update the House on one particular small scheme that I mentioned last year. The Electrical Contractors’ Association hugely impressed me with its pilot scheme, Wired for Success, aiming to encourage young women into the electrical contracting industry through apprenticeships. Last year the scheme’s founder, Diane Johnson, the first woman president of the ECA, won a prestigious First Women award sponsored by Lloyds Banking Group and the CBI. Twelve women started the two-year Wired for Success course, which, when completed, will give them a qualification to work competently and safely in a domestic environment. There are now 10 women nearing the end of the course. Many of them were long-term unemployed and now relish the new-found confidence and opportunities in their lives. Jahmena Wilson-Duhaney, one of the Wired for Success trainees, says:

“It’s been good to be involved in repair and maintenance work, and get a real feel for the job. The course is much more enjoyable than I expected it to be. I hope one day to be able to start up my own all-female firm so I can provide services for those who would prefer a woman to come into their home to do any work”.

Another woman to have benefitted, Josephine Blackwood Demirkilic, went on:

“It’s a real confidence boost because I can understand what is happening and see how the things I have learnt are put into practice”.

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This is just one of a handful of brilliant projects that are inspiring women to further success. Through this and other imaginative schemes, we can encourage today’s women to take their future into their own hands. Not only will this help our economy but it will ensure that we continue to build on the tremendous progress that women have made so far. Schemes such as this can act as a beacon for others to adopt. Increased employment must come from the private sector and, in these challenging times, it is so good to have seen a steady rise in the employment figures. Apprenticeships, which must be increased, have for many years been the preserve of men. It is therefore particularly pleasing to hear of women taking advantage of a scheme that will set them upon a path of advancement to a fulfilling and rewarding career.

I am certainly not complacent and unaware. I realise that there are women who are still in a hurry for further progress in every field. However, I think it is important that once a year we reflect for a moment on how far we have come, marvel and then move forward with renewed zeal.

1.35 pm

Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill: My Lords, I thank the Minister for securing this debate to mark International Women’s Day, which allows me to raise the plight of women prisoners in the UK and to mark another noteworthy event: the groundbreaking report published six years ago this month by my noble friend Lady Corston. Thanks in large part to her review, there have been improvements in some aspects of treatment, notably the ending of the routine strip-searching of prisoners, but there is still much to do. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, for raising this issue so eloquently earlier; I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I restate some of her arguments.

There is a growing consensus that there are better ways to deal with young vulnerable women, often addicted, with mental health issues, unemployed, often homeless yet also parents, than by locking them up for short-term prison sentences for non-violent crimes. However, despite this consensus and the key recommendation by my noble friend Lady Corston in 2007 that custodial sentences for women must be reserved for serious and violent offenders who pose a threat to the public, in 2010 68% of women in prison were still there for non-violent crimes.

My noble friend Lady Corston’s report set out the stark facts. Most women prisoners were mothers, some were pregnant and they were often drug users, with habits of £200 a day for crack and heroin. Many were alcoholics and many were unwell, in poor physical and mental health. Common experiences included sexual, emotional and physical abuse, leading to chaotic lifestyles. There was often self-harming.

The Corston report argued strongly that there are fundamental differences between male and female offenders and those at risk of offending that indicate that a different and distinct approach is needed for women. Proportionately more women than men are remanded in custody. Women commit a different range of offences from men. They commit more acquisitive crime and have a lower involvement in serious violence, criminal damage and professional crime. Relationship

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problems feature strongly in women’s pathways into crime. Coercion by men can form a route into criminal activity for some women. Drug addiction plays a huge part in all offending and this is disproportionately the case with women. Mental health problems are far more prevalent among women in prison than in the male prison population. Self-harm in prison is a huge problem and more prevalent in the women’s estate.

Women represent just under 5% of the overall prison population, standing at 3,967 this month. At the end of June 2012, 58% of sentenced women entering prison were to serve sentences of six months or less. The life chances of these women, even before offending, are severely disadvantaged. According to statistics published by the campaign group Women in Prison, one in four women in prison has spent time in local authority care as a child. Nearly 40% of women in prison left school before the age of 16—almost one in 10 were aged 13 or younger—and 30% were permanently excluded from school. Over half the women in prison report having suffered domestic violence, and one in three has experienced sexual abuse. In the prison population, 19% of women were not in permanent accommodation before entering custody and 10% of women were sleeping rough.

These already vulnerable women suffer more, once in prison. Women account for 47% of all incidents of self harm, and 30% of women as compared to 10% of men have had a previous psychiatric admission before they come into prison. Of all the women who are sent to prison, 37% say they that have attempted suicide at some time in their life; 51% have severe and enduring mental illness; 47% have a major depressive disorder; 6% suffer from psychosis; and 3% suffer from schizophrenia. Eighty-three per cent stated that they had a longstanding illness, compared with 32% of the general female population, and 73% were on medication on arrival at prison. The Ministry of Justice has admitted that women may be less able—for example, because of mental health issues—to conform to prison rules and therefore are often subject to higher rates of disciplinary proceedings than men.

Not only do women suffer grievously by being imprisoned but so do their families. It is estimated that more than 17,000 children are separated from their mothers each year by imprisonment. Only half of the women who had lived or were in contact with their children prior to imprisonment had received a visit since going to prison. Maintaining contact with children is made more difficult by the distance at which many prisoners are held from their home area. This is a particularly acute problem for women given the number of women’s prisons; in 2009, 753 women were held more than 100 miles from home.

These statistics prove the need to fully implement the Corston recommendation that community solutions for non-violent women offenders should be the norm, and that community sentences must be designed to take account of women’s particular vulnerabilities and domestic and childcare commitments. However, 80% of women sentenced to custody in the year to June 2011 had committed a non-violent offence, and only 3.2% of women in prison are assessed as high or very high risk of harm to others.

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My noble friend Lady Corston rightly concluded against imprisoning women offenders who posed no risk to the public. She called for the closure of women’s prisons over a 10-year period and their replacement by some small custodial units for serious and dangerous offenders. However, currently there are still 13 women’s prisons in England.

The need for more women’s community centres to act as a real alternative to prison is critical to an effective and humane criminal justice system. Increasingly, though, despite the excellent work being done and the success rate in reducing reoffending, many of these centres are now under threat because of cuts to their funding.

This strategy of providing an alternative to custody also makes economic sense. As my noble friend said in her report:

“Problems that lead to offending—drug addiction, unemployment, unsuitable accommodation, debt—are all far more likely to be resolved through casework, support and treatment than by being incarcerated in prison. The vast majority of women offenders are not dangerous. Because most women do not commit crime there is no deterrence value and the cost to society is enormous, not simply the cost of keeping women in prison … but also the indirect cost of family disruption, damage to children and substitute care, lost employment and subsequent mental health problems. The continued use of prison for women appears to offer no advantages at huge financial and social cost”.

I hope that the long-awaited review of custodial arrangements for women promised for this summer will offer a radical alternative to sending women who commit non-violent crimes to prison, and will finally implement my noble friend’s ground-breaking report.

1.43 pm

Baroness Afshar: My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, for putting this debate on the agenda. On this occasion I will speak on the experiences of Iranian women, whose access to education has been systematically curtailed over the past decade, and ask whether it would be possible for conditions allowing bright, qualified, English-speaking Iranian students who apply for universities and have the resources to be more easily admitted via the visa requirements. However, before doing so, I point out that the reason why the access of Iranian women to education has been severely curtailed by the Iranian Government over the past decade is the fear that, through education, they will gain familiarity with and knowledge of their Islamic rights.

Some 14 centuries ago Islam gave women rights that are the subject of discussion in this debate today. I will begin with the right of independent means. Muslim women never lose their property on marriage. As I said to my husband when I married him, what I have is mine—and what he has is mine too. The reason for that is, to follow the comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, the duty of reciprocity. That is to say, Muslim men first have the duty to pay for women to agree to sign a marital contract. Marriage is a matter of contract between consenting partners, and men must pay women to participate and sign in the first place. They can impose any condition they like, and these are contractually binding agreements.

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Secondly, marriage and motherhood are not indivisible. The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, raised questions about paying for childcare and motherhood. The reality is that Islam, 14 centuries ago, gave women the right to choose. If they chose to be mothers, they were entitled to payment, not by the state but by men—by their husbands. If they chose to do housework they were entitled to ask for payment—again, by their husbands. Therefore, essentially, rights that as a feminist in the West I have been fighting for ever since I have been in England were bestowed on Muslim women 14 centuries ago.

However, in order to exercise these rights women need to be familiar with the Koranic teachings and with what Islam offers them. This is the Iranian Government’s fear. In fact, they have two fears: the first is of women knowing their Islamic rights, and the second is the fear of the West—of West-toxification, of Iranian women being intoxicated by the West. They have nowhere to turn.

After the Iranian revolution, the post-revolutionary Iranian Government closed all universities in order to cleanse them of any kind of western influence. When they reopened the universities only 10% of university students were women, because women were deemed unsuitable to attend university. However, using their Koranic rights and the teachings of Islam, women fought, and within a decade they made up 18% of university places, eventually reaching 50% of the student population.

Far from seeing this as an achievement, the Iranian Government declared that this kind of access to education caused,

“social disparity and economic and cultural imbalances between men and women”.

This fear was exacerbated when women made further progress until they comprised 65% of students at universities, simply because they were willing to work harder; they passed entrance exams, which are set for all, and they did better than men. We all know that women often do better than men if they are given the chance.

By 2009, 68% of all graduates in the sciences at Iranian universities were women. This caused real fear on the part of the Iranian Government. Ayatollah Khamenei, the spiritual leader, ordered a second cleansing of university material—and Islamification all over again. As part of this, they felt that there had to be severe segregation between men and women; women would study particular subjects while men would study other, more suitable subjects. The result of that was that by the year 1213, 77 fields of study were considered to be male only, and therefore unsuitable for women. The one women-only subject was nursing; it was recognised that we might be good carers, but nothing else mattered.

There was also an idea that because the female dormitories were limited, fewer women would attend universities from towns other than Tehran. Furthermore, it was felt that educated women who accessed universities and read the limited range of subjects that they were allowed to study caused a very serious problem. First, they tended to marry later. Secondly, they tended to be much choosier about who they married and they preferred to marry men who were equally well or better educated than themselves, so the poor old uneducated men were

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left on the shelf. That was not considered acceptable. Of particular importance was the fact that educated women had fewer children. Following that, the Iranian Government have imposed draconian measures that have resulted in a number of prestigious universities, such as the Oil Industry University and Isfahan University, no longer admitting women. Those universities that do admit women limit them to a very restricted range of subjects. Human rights, English literature, women’s studies and a whole raft of subjects are considered unsuitable for women. I suppose they think that women might get interested in other subjects through reading English literature. At this crucial point it is very important to open doors for those Iranian women who are able to go to university to enable them to do so in countries such as the UK and to treat them as freedom fighters, not potential terrorists.

1.51 pm

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for securing this debate. I also extend my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry on his excellent maiden speech, which I watched on the screen upstairs. I must confess that I am still reeling from Question Time and the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Flight. I think that he may well be in the running for the title of dinosaur of the year.

My credentials are as follows. In the mid-1980s I was chairman of a public company in the tech sector. We were a fully listed company and we had a woman on our board, who was there because she was outstanding. She was in her late 30s and had just had her first baby. She brought her baby to a board meeting and breastfed it during the meeting. We reckon that we were the first company where that had occurred.

Today I wish to talk about a very special organisation called Women for Women International, on the main board of which my wife sits. It was set up in 1993 by a woman called Zainab Salbi, who was an Iraqi living in Baghdad and whose father was Saddam Hussein’s pilot. I think that it got too hot for everyone at that time and her parents moved to the United States. During the conflict in Bosnia she was smuggled into that country, went to Sarajevo and saw what was happening there. She became very interested in the whole concept of women in post-conflict zones, as Bosnia eventually became.

Today Women for Women International is located in both Washington and London and has helped 350,000 women, which I shall discuss in a moment. It operates in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan and Nigeria—all pretty tough countries. The ethos of this organisation is that stronger women build stronger nations and that, through access to know-how and resources, socially excluded women can change their countries and build peaceful and stable communities. The organisation creates awareness and behavioural change and organises year-long curriculums in which women are taught economic, social and civic rights, health awareness, decision-making, negotiating civic participation, business and vocational skills, how to access income-generating activities and, most importantly, economic self-sufficiency. A KPMG study of this body’s activities in the DRC and Rwanda states that Women

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for Women International’s programme is having a significant economic ripple effect, as other women in the community are learning from Women for Women graduates who are now viewed as role models in the community.

I want to say a little about my experiences. Three years ago I went to Bosnia for the first time and saw horrific things. I went to Srebrenica, of course. I am Jewish by background, and when you go to those memorials and see the names of the people who died, comprising family name after family name, it is very reminiscent of some of the memorials in eastern Europe to the dead of World War 2. Bosnia was the country that gave us such charming expressions as “ethnic cleansing” and “rape as a weapon of war”.

The Serbs took part in a particularly gruesome activity. In the Muslim community, a dead body has to be buried whole. When Muslim men were killed, the Serbs mixed up their bones so that it would be impossible to find whole bodies. However, since then and with the advent of DNA, the slow process of matching these bones has begun so that bodies can be buried whole. I saw mothers and wives eventually finding some form of closure following the deaths of their loved ones. I know that this is not a political debate but I find it impossible to accept that Serbia could ever become a member of the EU, given that there is so much for which it has not atoned in that awful situation. However, I shall leave that alone. We have a house in Italy that is 200 miles away from Bosnia as the crow flies. However, these activities have occurred in our lifetime and women have suffered as a result.

I have also visited Kosovo and Rwanda. The latter has experienced terrible genocide. Nevertheless, it is one of the happiest countries that I have ever been to. It is an amazing place. In 1945 the world said “never again”, but the fact is that it never stops. However, there is some good news. Women for Women International staff are teaching women in Bosnia to carry out important jobs. I have visited those activities. I went to a chicken farm, a mushroom farm and a tomato farm and saw women who produced embroidery and supplied it to a leading brand in the United States. In Kosovo we met a female beekeeper who had started with two hives, obtained with a microloan. She grew the business to 40 hives and was generating €5,000 a year for her family and teaching more women how to keep bees and make honey.

In Rwanda, which, as I say, is one of the happiest places I have even been to, a group of white women and I weeded and harvested in the fields under the noonday sun with machetes in our hands, although it was horrible to hold a machete in that country. Thank God, after 20 minutes they called it a day. We spoke to the women in that place and one of them asked me the question that throughout my life I have found the hardest to answer—namely, how many litres of milk does my cow provide? That was a tough question to answer.

I end with a few statistics that I think are terribly impressive. The average daily income of women trebles when women attend courses run by Women for Women International. The same is true of savings: 27% of the women are now saving. Knowledge of good nutrition

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has gone up from 20% to 85%. Knowledge of civil rights has gone up from 16% to 90%, and participating in social work has gone up similarly from 36% to 80%. The two most important statistics reveal that participating in community activities has gone up to 70% and voting up to 75%. I know that my time is up. I would just like to say that this is an amazing organisation, and I ask noble Lords to look it up on the website.

2 pm

Baroness Nye: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, for her introduction to this debate. I also congratulate her friend, Julie, who I think will give the Co-op a run for its money.

As has been said, International Women’s Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on progress made and to call for change. To reflect on progress made, it is perhaps best to begin here in Parliament and in government. There are now 20 countries in which a woman is head of state or government or both, which is a small but upward trend, but fewer than one in five parliamentarians in the world are women. As someone has already said, at the current rate of progress a child born today will draw her pension before she has any chance of being equally represented in the parliament of her country.

In an IPU survey of women in parliaments in 190 countries, the UK has fallen from last year to joint 57th with Pakistan, even though the largest ever number of women candidates were elected in 2010, albeit only a 4% increase since 2000. There are currently only 22 women out of 122 government Ministers, four of whom are full Cabinet members. A third of those are actually in this House, and believe it or not I would like to see more of you here, albeit while we are still unelected.

The Minister mentioned the Prime Minister’s pledge to have a third of ministerial positions occupied by women by 2015, but sadly it looks as though that is not going to be met. It seems a distant time ago when there were eight Labour women around the Cabinet table. Sadly, this has not been the year when there might have been the possibility of change on the Bishops’ Benches. However, after the wonderful maiden speech by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry, I hope we will not be waiting too long.

With selections happening now for parliamentary constituencies, we must all work even harder to improve the momentum for political parties to improve the numbers of women represented in Parliament. Women in parliaments everywhere can make a difference. Two weeks ago, on Valentine’s Day, parliamentarians from all parties joined the One Billion Rising campaign, which had organised a coalition of women around the world to sing and dance to stop violence against women. The theme of International Women’s Day this year is “A promise is a promise: time for action to end violence against women”.

Worldwide, 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16. Over 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime. Up to 70% of women in the world report having experienced physical and/or sexual

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violence at some point in their lifetime, and over 60 million girls are child brides before they are 18. The One Billion Rising campaign in the UK ran workshops to find out what would make the biggest difference in addressing domestic violence. The overwhelming majority thought that a change in attitude had to start with education to prevent it happening in the first place and that sex and relationship education should be statutory in all schools. I would include free schools and academies in that as well. They are not alone. Most of the agencies that work in this field, including the PSHE Association, have also been campaigning for this.

I know that the Government have conducted a review of PSHE, and I hope the Minister will assure us that they have taken note of these informed voices and will indicate when the outcome of that review will be published. We need to move away from sex education that focuses exclusively on the reproductive aspects of adolescent sexuality and recognise that sexually active and sexually abstinent young people need information in order to be able to make informed choices. Currently, parents can withdraw their children from sex education up to the age of 19, even though the legal age of consent is 16. Horses and stable doors come to mind.

Schools have a vital role to play in helping young people develop healthy attitudes and behaviour, especially when figures show just how routine sexual bullying and harassment are in schools. One in three 16 to 18 year-old girls say they have been groped or have experienced unwanted touching. One in three teenage girls have experienced sexual violence from their boyfriends. We need specialist staff who are committed, experienced, mature and comfortable with this obviously sensitive issue. A recent survey by Brook showed that more than a quarter of secondary school pupils received no sex and relationship education and over a quarter of those who did reported that the teacher was unable to teach it well, so a greater emphasis on PSHE education in initial teacher training and in qualification programmes for head teachers is also needed.