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House of Lords

Thursday, 5 March 2015.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Gender Equality: Developing Nations


11.06 am

Asked by Lord Loomba

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote the education of girls and young women and gender equality in developing nations.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for International Development (Baroness Northover): My Lords, the United Kingdom has prioritised girls’ education as one of the four pillars of our strategic vision for women and girls. Since 2010 the UK has supported more than 10 million girls and boys in primary and lower secondary schools. We are working to ensure that gender equality is central to the post-2015 development framework, with a dedicated gender goal, targets throughout the framework and data broken down by sex and age.

Lord Loomba (LD): I thank my noble friend for that Answer. The education of girls and young women and their equality is linked in one way or another to the welfare of widows and how societies around the world treat them. I declare an interest as founder and chairman of the Loomba Foundation.

An estimated 245 million widows and 500 million children around the world suffer injustice in silence. More than 100 million widows live in poverty, struggling to survive, and 1.5 million widows’ children die before their fifth birthday.

Due to conflict, war, poverty, lack of adequate living standards, nutritious food, clean drinking water and healthcare, the number of widows is increasing in the developing world. How will the Minister ensure that the importance of the plight of widows is included in the framework of the UN millennium development goals for 2015-30?

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I commend my noble friend on his work in this extremely important area. DFID supports a range of projects to assist widows—for example in Bangladesh and Pakistan. We recognise how especially vulnerable widows can be. As my noble friend knows, we place great importance on gender equality and on the principle of leaving no one behind in the new framework which it is hoped will be agreed at the UN in September. This is clearly vital in seeking to eradicate extreme poverty.

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Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab): My Lords, as the Minister knows, millions of marginalised girls are literally risking their lives to get a safe, high-quality education. In Pakistan, the schooling of girls has been outlawed by the Taliban. In Afghanistan, girls have been attacked in their classroom and a schoolgirls’ bus was bombed. In Congo, girls have been raped by soldiers on their way to school and, as we know, 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria were abducted by Boko Haram.

Will the Minister tell the House how DfID is supporting the efforts of UNESCO and UNICEF to focus more effectively on marginalised girls, in line with the aim that she just mentioned of leaving no one behind?

Baroness Northover: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right about the risks girls often take in seeking an education. I hope that I can reassure her by saying that one of our focuses now is to try to ensure that the most vulnerable girls and boys are able to get into school safely, and not only to primary school but to progress on to secondary school. The very fact that they can get there is an indication that they have actually succeeded in primary school.

Baroness Hayman (CB): My Lords, I have recently returned from Sierra Leone where all the schools have been closed for almost nine months. This has had a devastating effect on the education of girls in particular, many of whom will never return to school now and among whom there are very disturbing reports of increased rates of sexual exploitation, early marriage and teenage pregnancy. Can the Minister assure me that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to support the outstanding efforts on the part of both UK government bodies and NGOs, which I was privileged to witness in that country, not only right until the end of the Ebola outbreak, which is far from finished, but also in the longer term for rebuilding education and health in that very needy country?

Baroness Northover: I thank the noble Baroness for her tribute to the work that we are doing in Sierra Leone, and I also pay tribute to that work, which has been outstanding. We are trying to get Ebola down to zero cases because that is crucial. We want to see the schools reopen, and at the moment we are focused on how to rebuild within Sierra Leone. However, she is quite right to talk about the special vulnerability of women and girls. We are seeking to protect them and ensure that the risks that she has talked about do not come to fruition.

Baroness Jenkin of Kennington (Con): My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on getting these 5 million girls educated. Andrew Mitchell was the first Secretary of State to focus on it, along with Justine Greening and the rest of the DfID team, and it has been so effective. What are the Government doing on early and forced marriage, one of the related topics here and which came up at the very successful Girl Summit that took place in London last year?

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Baroness Northover: Again, I thank my noble friend for her tribute to the work that has been done within DfID. As she has said, last year we had the Girl Summit which focused on both FGM and early and forced marriage. These are clear abuses of girls’ rights. We have already invested significantly in both areas and I trust that that will continue in the future.

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister confirm that in the forthcoming negotiations on the SDGs in New York, the UK will resist attempts to weaken the draft standalone goal on gender equality? Does she share the view that it is vital that it should include strong language on women’s rights and be underpinned by progressive targets that tackle discriminatory social norms?

Baroness Northover: I fully agree.

Baroness Manzoor (LD): My Lords, the law is unequally applied in Bahrain between Sunni women and Shia women in areas such as inheritance, divorce, child custody and domestic disputes. What are the Government doing to address these issues with the Bahraini Government, and if they have had any discussions, what are the timescales for addressing these terrible injustices and inequalities?

Baroness Northover: There is inequality for women everywhere. The Foreign Office, as part of its work particularly on International Women’s Day, is engaging with those countries where these problems are particularly acute. In the case of Bahrain, the ambassador is holding a round table with a number of Bahraini women from all walks of life to discuss these issues.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords—

Noble Lords: Eight minutes.

Sexual Violence against Girls and Women


11.15 am

Asked by Baroness Hussein-Ece

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to foster greater public understanding about the prevention of sexual violence against girls and women in the light of the publication of the What is Consent? toolkit by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, the new consent guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service supports the Government’s aims that every report of rape be taken seriously, every investigation conducted professionally and every victim given access to the support they need. It complements the Home Office’s teenage relationship abuse and prevention campaign,

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“This is Abuse”, and the materials developed to support better teaching of sex and relationship education in schools.

Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD): My Lords, I commend the Government for introducing these new guidelines, on the back of some very high-profile and unpleasant cases. Does the Minister agree with me that there are some very depressing surveys that show that one in three boys still think it is okay to hit a girl and to force her to have sex? Even more revealingly, a student survey in the colleges of Cambridge showed that 77% of students there had experienced sexual harassment and violence. Is it not time to have a consistent approach to educating boys and girls in what the law is and what is acceptable behaviour, and to try to combat sexual violence against women and girls in this country?

Lord Bates: My noble friend is absolutely right in that regard. Of course, that is the purpose of the website, “This is Abuse”, which is targeted at young people. It has been viewed by some 2 million young people. That is the purpose behind the new campaign, What is Consent?, which sets out what is involved: the capacity to consent, the freedom to consent and the steps taken to obtain consent, which must be present in all relations of a sexual nature. The noble Baroness is also absolutely right that more needs to be done.

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): My Lords, part of the problem is that young girls who are manipulated and sexually abused have been groomed to believe that they are in a consensual relationship. While there can be legal arguments about what consent is when a case gets to court, surely it is even more important to protect those young girls before any such abuse takes place. Let me press the Government again: given that the value of sex and relationship education is widely understood and known to be effective, why are the Government refusing to ensure that it is compulsory in all schools?

Lord Bates: I think that best practice is happening in most schools. It is certainly compulsory in all state schools. There was a case related to certain freedoms being given to academies, which covered this. However, the expectation is not that academies can somehow disregard this, but that they will use their freedom to improve on the minimum standards for the teaching of sex and relationship education that were set out by the Secretary of State in 2001.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland (CB): My Lords, what are the Government doing to develop programmes for parents? One issue I have come across in my work in this area is that parents are very confused about what their children can and cannot do and what kind of advice they themselves should be giving. Do the Government want, or does the Minister know of any, support programmes from which parents can get help and education in this area?

Lord Bates: There is a range of helplines and support services, as well as rape help centres, but I totally accept that the role for parents is very strong and profound and that parents need to be aware. As the

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noble Baroness said earlier, much of this grooming takes place online. That is something that parents need to be especially vigilant about, not just in the context of rape but of all kinds of child sexual exploitation.

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, will my noble friend accept on behalf of the Government the recommendation made by two all-party groups on refugees and migration, under the chairmanship of Sarah Teather MP, that women who are victims of rape and sexual violence should not be held in immigration detention?

Lord Bates: The Home Secretary is looking at very closely at that very important report, which came out just two days ago, particularly in the context of the very disturbing allegations made about Yarl’s Wood. We take that very seriously and will be responding.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister undertake to talk to his noble friend Lord Nash about what I believe is a widespread concern that this is treated as a freedom in some schools? Does he not agree that the time has come to ensure that all girls are protected and all boys receive the proper education to help prevent violence?

Lord Bates: That is something that should be done. Of course, the quality of that education is monitored by Ofsted as well. It is something that should happen in all schools. It is a crucial part of this, and schools, along with parents and the wider community, have a vital role to play in making sure that young boys in particular are educated about the limits and the need to obtain consent.

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): My Lords, perhaps I might raise a matter that is, in many respects, a background to this Question. Will the Minister tell the House, with regard to the last available period for which data are kept, first, what percentage of complaints of rape actually led to trial in court and, secondly, what percentage of those trials ended in conviction?

Lord Bates: I am very happy to set those details out. Up to September 2014, there were 72,977 recorded criminal offences. The number of rape prosecutions was 3,891 in the same period. There is a lot of detail behind that. I do not have the time to go into it at this point but I am happy to write to the noble Lord.

Lord Elton (Con): My Lords, several of your Lordships have drawn attention to the importance of early education in sex. Will my noble friend tell us what the arrangements are for the initial training of teachers in this subject, how consensus on what is appropriate at different ages is identified, and what INSET—in-service training—is also available in this?

Lord Bates: The guidance issued by the Secretary of State for Education sets out that age-appropriate education must be provided to young people. There are steps that could be taken to improve on that. There are a lot of examples of best practice around the country, which schools have to draw on.

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Women in Sport


11.22 am

Asked by Baroness Parminter

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to encourage women to participate in sports on a professional basis.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con): My Lords, the Minister for Sport has made the participation of women in sport one of her top priorities, along with raising its profile. Last year the Government hosted their first national women’s sport conference, where Sport England launched the campaign This Girl Can. We wish to inspire women at all levels of ability and we seek increased media coverage, sponsorship and participation at professional level.

Baroness Parminter (LD): I thank my noble friend for that reply and celebrate the fact that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and Royal St George’s Golf Club have at last opened their doors to women members. What are the Government doing to encourage more participation in women’s golf so that we can have more 18 year-old women like Charley Hull competing for the world’s biggest prizes in women’s golf?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, at grass-roots level Sport England is investing £13 million in the England Golf Partnership to get more people playing golf. The partnership has also launched specific programmes to attract new participants, such as Get into golf, and the reports are that 45% of participants in the starter programme are women. There has just been a BBC documentary about Charley Hull, the extraordinary golf player.

Baroness Grey-Thompson (CB): My Lords, it is wonderful to see in the modern era of sport that governing bodies such as cricket’s have finally issued real contracts to women, but in other sports such as football there is huge disparity between the men’s and the women’s game. We only have to see the recent England v Germany match at Wembley to see that the public embrace women’s football. I pay tribute to the tireless work of Kelly Simmons at the FA. In the USA some of this inequality has been tackled by the Title IX legislation. Is it not time that we had our own version in Britain?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, first I think that the noble Baroness has been an extraordinary inspiration for sport and women in sport. The Americans have had that experience in the higher education sector. In this country, participation rates for men and women in higher education are 61% and 53% respectively, so the gap is less than in other sectors. We wish to concentrate our efforts on ensuring that a much broader cross-section is able to enjoy sport.

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Baroness Nye (Lab): Following on from the noble Baroness’s previous question, I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing the England football team well as they prepare for the World Cup in Canada in July. However, have the Government made any representations to FIFA about the fact that they will play on artificial pitches? That would never be contemplated for their male counterparts. In this instance, it is not a case of wanting a level playing field, but the same playing field.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I will certainly take up the point. I am not aware of the different playing pitches. I think grass is a very good surface to play on. I wish the football team extremely well. They are currently ranked sixth in the world. I hope that they win.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): Will my noble friend bear in mind that the Commonwealth Games gives enormous encouragement worldwide to the full participation of women professionally in all sports? Of course, that is a reflection of the wider fact that the Commonwealth, as a total system covering almost a third of humankind, places absolute gender equality at the very top of its priorities.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I thoroughly endorse that. The Commonwealth Games is a great celebration of countries and sport. Interestingly, at the last Winter Olympics, 58% of medallists were women, and 66% of the Sochi Paralympic medallists were women. I have not got the figures for the Commonwealth Games, but I hope that they were equally encouraging.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister join me in congratulating the Birmingham City Ladies professional football team on their great exploits, in contrast, perhaps, to the men’s team? Coming back to my noble friend’s comments about a level playing field, the Minister will note that the Premier League has concluded an extraordinarily lucrative agreement with the TV companies for the next period of agreement. The Premier League has shown great reluctance in, shall we say, helping other parts of football from that largesse. Would he meet the Premier League to encourage it to give more resources to women’s professional teams?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I would be very pleased to arrange such a meeting. But it is important to say that the Chancellor announced a new £50 million package of government money for improvements in grass-roots football. That will include, for instance, further money for new coach educators, which will be important for women. As part of what the government investment is doing, Premier League and Football League clubs are also sharing an ambition for about £200 million of total funding. But I do think that, across a range of subjects, professional football could do a lot better for women and some spectators.

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Baroness Seccombe (Con): My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that it is probably the right day to congratulate the England women’s cricket team? It is probably best not to mention the men’s cricket team, save only to wish them well on Monday.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I certainly wish them extremely well. The women’s cricket team are currently ranked second; they won the last two Ashes, so they are a great team. Increasing sponsorship is also an important part of how we raise the profile of women’s sport. Kia Motors has sponsored women’s cricket, which is an example of what we need to do. Newton Investment Management is going to sponsor the women’s boat race. Some very important innovations are coming forward.

Lord Storey (LD): My noble friend the Minister will know that the English women’s football team beat Finland 3-1 last night, yet if you look at the sports pages of our national newspapers, you will find no mention of it in the Times, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Express or the Mirror. There was a tiny piece in the Guardian and a tiny piece in the Independent. If you look at the sports pages on a daily basis, hardly ever will you find a mention of women’s sport. For women to be empowered in sport, they need to have coverage. Will the Minister agree perhaps either to write to or meet our newspaper editors to suggest that they cover women’s sports?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My noble friend makes a very important point. Improving the media profile of women’s sports is one of the five key goals of the Women and Sport Advisory Board, set up by the Government. The broadcasting companies—BT Sport, BBC Sport and Sky Sport—are getting much better, but I certainly think that the broadsheet newspapers need to up their game.

Lake District National Park Authority


11.30 am

Asked by The Earl of Clancarty

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the intention of the Lake District National Park Authority to sell areas of land in the Lake District.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley) (Con): My Lords, national park authorities are independent bodies and, as part of their responsibilities to review their services and assets, it is right that they consider the sale of land, enabling the proceeds to be reinvested to enhance the national park. The Lake District National Park Authority owns less than 4% of land within the national park. As with all our national parks, who owns the land is not the determining factor in its beauty or value to the public.

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The Earl of Clancarty (CB): My Lords, Stickle Tarn, Coniston Water, the River Derwent. Are we really selling off treasured public spaces—some of the most beautiful land in Britain—to fund the building of visitors’ centres? Will not the Government intervene to stop this?

Lord De Mauley: As the noble Earl knows, the Government have no powers to direct national park authorities to dispose or not to dispose of a particular piece of land. Furthermore, it would not be right to intervene, because they must be allowed—and, indeed, encouraged—to take responsibility for their own affairs. To put it in context, the eight sites offered for sale total 59 hectares, equivalent to 0.6% of the Lake District National Park Authority’s land holdings.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords—

Lord Dubs (Lab): My Lords, it is the turn of this side; I live there. Is it not shocking that parts of the national park—one of the most beautiful national parks—have to be sold off as a result of government cuts? Is there not a problem that, in a further sale of the land, the Lake District planning people might well give a more relaxed permission in order to get half the money? Is it not rather unhappy that we are doing this at all? Surely we should adamantly say that the Lake District is not for sale to the highest bidder.

Lord De Mauley: I agree with much of the sentiment behind the noble Lord’s point, but the national park has assured me that this is not about cuts. It routinely reviews its assets and makes disposals where appropriate so that the proceeds can be reinvested into the acquisition, improvement or maintenance of other properties. It is worth saying that between 2007 and 2010—three years during which the noble Lord’s party was in government—it made sales totalling £1.9 million. In the five years from then, sales have totalled £1.8 million.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, I am sure that we all wish the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, many more happy years in one of the most glorious parts of England. However, is not what really matters here the integrity of the landscape and that there are no further incursions into its tranquillity? Can my noble friend assure us that whatever transactions take place, both the integrity of the landscape and its tranquillity will be preserved?

Lord De Mauley: Yes, my Lords, I absolutely agree with my noble friend. I can confirm that none of the protections afforded to the land by virtue of being in a national park is affected by a sale.

Lord Greaves (LD): My Lords, there has not been a very satisfactory process here. The national park authority made the decision to sell these pieces of land in secret. People discovered it only when an advertisement appeared in the Westmoreland Gazette, giving them precisely one month to make bids. Surely there should be public debate about which of the 168 pieces of land owned by the national park authority should be sold if it has to sell any. Once it decides to put some forward, there

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should be consultation of a sufficient length of time to allow community groups—such as the Langdale Valley Association, which wants to register Stickle Tarn as a community asset—to be consulted. This takes time. Will the Minister have words with the national park authority to ask it to withdraw these proposals for the moment, to give time for public consultation and for the Langdale Valley Association to prepare its bid?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I know that my noble friend is intimately involved in these matters. I assure him that I have obtained confirmation from the Lake District National Park Authority that it recognises the legitimate interests of stakeholders. It has consulted and continues to consult widely in a number of ways ahead of any final decisions. That includes liaison with parish councils, public notices advertising its intention to invite offers for some of the properties, direct consultation with a number of neighbouring landowners and so on.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, I have spent most of my life living in the Lake District National Park, which formed the greater part of my former constituency. Can we have an assurance that there will be no interference at all with existing rights of way? What is the position on the maintenance of those rights of way and bridleways which the national park carried out previously? Can we be assured that the new private owners will maintain them to the previous standards?

Lord De Mauley: I can absolutely assure the noble Lord that there will be no lessening of rights of way. Indeed, in one instance, there will be an improvement in rights of way as a result of these sales.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): My Lords, I find this whole process and practice deeply shocking. I was not aware until quite recently that this could be done. As has been said, the Lake District is a glorious part of our country. These public spaces are for all the people of our country. I understand that the Lake District National Park has cash-flow problems but I baulk at the idea that this land can be sold, notwithstanding what has happened in the past. What would happen in the case of this land being sold, then resold at a profit? Would the Lake District National Park get any of the benefit? Secondly, I again ask the noble Lord for an assurance to this House that this plan will not—indeed, cannot—lead to any change in the planning restrictions on the land. Such a special area must be protected.

Lord De Mauley: I can assure the noble Baroness on her latter point that there will be no change to the planning restrictions on that land. On her former point, I hope that noble Lords heard what I said earlier. The Government have no powers to intervene over disposal or otherwise of land. It is not for central government to know about retained rights over the land going forward.

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Women: Economic Empowerment

Motion to Take Note

11.37 am

Moved by Baroness Jolly

That this House takes note of women’s economic empowerment and the progress in achieving it that has been made in the United Kingdom and internationally.

Baroness Jolly (LD): My Lords, it is a pleasure to address the House today in celebration of International Women’s Day. My noble friend Lady Garden and I started the day at a reception for British businesswomen at the British Library. The list of speakers today is really impressive, with a fine record in women’s rights and achievement over the years, following the record of many Members of this House—too many to mention —who have campaigned hard and achieved so much for the rights of women.

Today we should remember two noble Lords who died over the past year. They both, in their time and in their fields, played a key role in women’s rights. Baroness Miller of Hendon was a stalwart member of this House who received an honour for her services to women’s rights. She was an entrepreneur and a campaigner for more women MPs. Baroness Platt of Writtle was a trailblazing aviation engineer. I read that when she completed her engineering studies at Cambridge in 1943, women did not receive the same honours as their male counterparts. As such, she was not awarded a degree, only a “title of degree”. I am in no doubt that it was this injustice that propelled the noble Baroness to dedicate her life to the advancement of women in science and technology careers.

These two women fought in the hope that their work could be the spark for the aspirations of women and girls today and future generations. It is because of women like them that the journey of gender equality in this country has ultimately been one of progress. Nowhere is this journey of progress more evident than in the theme of today’s debate—women’s economic empowerment, at home and abroad.

The breakthroughs that we have achieved since International Women’s Day first came into being over a century ago are nothing short of remarkable, but the coalition has also made quite a few significant breakthroughs in recent years as well. On coming into office five years ago, one of the first commitments that we made as a Government was to put women at the heart of our economic recovery and long-term plan for growth. We made this our priority because promoting equality of opportunity and equal treatment is not just the right thing to do—it is the key to promoting growth. Five years later, our plan is working. Today there are more women in work than ever before. There are more women running their own businesses than ever before. There are record numbers of women at higher levels of management. Indeed, thanks to the tremendous work of my noble friend Lord Davies, for the first time in the history of our country we have a woman on every single FTSE 100 board. On top of this, the latest ONS statistics show that, for both

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full-time workers and overall, the gender pay gap is at its lowest point in history. All around the UK, women are breaking new ground and succeeding in careers previous generations could only dream about.

There is a consensus in the country which certainly was not there when I was growing up; and if you should ask any number of men and women whether they believe that their daughters should have the same opportunities as their sons, the resounding answer you would get is “of course”. These parents will be the gender equality ambassadors for a whole new generation of girls and their impact should be seen right across the economy. Our challenge today is that, in spite of the progress I have talked about, this consensus is still yet to be fully grounded in the running and practices of our economy and places of work. As a result, many women continue to face barriers at every stage and at all levels of their economic life—barriers around pay, promotion, choice, and work-life balance.

It is particularly fitting that we are having this debate as the 59th UN Commission on the Status of Women is about to get underway in New York and as we mark the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action. Written in 1995 at the historic UN Fourth World Conference on Women, it was signed by 189 Governments from across the world, all pledging to end gender inequality across 15 different areas, including economic empowerment. While we have much to celebrate, we cannot ignore the fact that there is not one country in the world that can say that it has achieved this ambition. It is a reminder of how pertinent it is that we push for real change so that we do not find ourselves uttering that infamous phrase “We’ve made progress, but” in 20 years to come.

We in Government remain more focused on this task and the progress we have made over the past five years gives us a strong platform to work from. We know that if we are to fulfil our ambition of creating an economy that creates opportunities for everyone, then we need fundamentally to rebalance it. It means a paradigm shift around how men and women operate their lives, how businesses invest and how workplaces operate. Above all, it means focusing our efforts not just on professional women and the few near the top, but to make sure we give all women, regardless of their age, background or stage they are at in their career, the opportunities to pursue their own choices and happiness in life.

Our ambition starts with sweeping away the archaic rules and assumptions that can make it near impossible for women to balance work and family life. Last year, we extended the right to request flexible working to all employees and next month will see the introduction of shared parental leave so mothers and fathers can decide for themselves how to balance their family and work life. But even with these changes, we know that we will still continue to see women drop from the labour market unless we do more to make work pay. So we are expanding the amount of free childcare available to make it easier for people to take time off to look after their babies and then return to work. From next month, we are investing an extra £750 million in tax-free childcare worth up to £2,000 per year for each child. This is in addition to our offer of 15 hours

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a week of free early years education for every three and four year-old as well as for two year-olds in those families most feeling the squeeze. This comes on top of a raft of measures, such as raising the personal allowance threshold and increasing the national minimum wage to its highest ever rate, to ensure that women on low and middle incomes can keep more of the money that they earn.

Women should not have to choose between their job and their families, and all these changes will help them to find a balance that works for them. Supporting more women to set up their businesses is another way in which we can help them to achieve greater flexibility between work and family life. We are stepping up our efforts to invest record amounts in support and training for female business mentors and to encourage greater female take-up of the Business Bank’s Start Up Loans programme. We also want to make sure that starting a business is an option for everyone, so we have introduced a new enterprise allowance, offering expert business mentoring and financial support to people living on benefits. Our message is simple: if you have drive, determination and a good idea, we will do everything we can to help you get that idea off the ground.

We are also determined to tackle the ongoing injustice of gender pay and doing all that we can to reduce the pay gap further and faster. It is, however, a complex problem to solve. It is not as simple as demanding that women be paid the same as men for equal work. Thankfully, the Equal Pay Act 1975 means that cases of outright discriminatory practices are illegal and few and far between. When they happen, we have been very clear that these employers should be dealt with through the full force of the law. Reforms we brought in last year will now mean that companies found guilty of pay discrimination will be required to produce pay audits, to give greater confidence that such discrimination will not happen again.

However, the causes of the gender pay gap are multiple and far more deeply embedded in our culture and in our labour market for them to be solved by changing laws alone. A major factor can be explained by career choices, which remain strongly gender-biased. More women than men choose to work in the caring professions of social work, nursing and teaching, which historically have had lower rates of pay. This gender bias starts early. A 2013 report showed that half of state coeducational schools did not see a single girl progress to A-level physics. That is scandalous. That is why we are pouring our efforts into working with schools and parents to open up young women’s eyes to a much wider range of careers—hence our support for fantastic schemes such as the Your Life campaign to encourage more girls to study subjects in traditionally male-dominated and higher-paid areas like science and engineering.

Of course, that cultural change we are looking for in the classroom also needs to happen in our places of work. Many companies are doing fantastic work to support their female employees, but the fact remains that this kind of corporate support is still not translating into the wholesale shift in attitudes that we need. Institutional discrimination, the old boys’ club and unconscious bias are still in full swing in many places

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of work. We are working hard to promote greater pay transparency and introducing measures and guidance to help companies to identify and tackle their own pay gaps. For example, through our Think, Act, Report initiative, we are encouraging firms actively to look at how their female employees are faring, take action to address any issues and report publicly on their progress. More than 270 companies have signed up so far, including major employers such as BT, Tesco, Specsavers, Unilever and BAE Systems. That means that more than 2.5 million employees are working in organisations signed up to Think, Act, Report. In December we announced a range of additional measures to ensure that we keep up this momentum. These include free pay analysis software and new simplified guidance that will shortly be available to employers to make calculating their gender pay gap easier and quicker. There is also £2 million of funding towards helping women move from low-paid, low-skill work to higher-paid, higher-skill work.

These are just some of the measures we are taking across Government to improve the prospects of women and girls at every level and in every field. But that work does not begin and end at home. We know how important it is that we use the UK’s position as a leader in development to improve the lives of women and girls across the globe as well. I recently read that a girl in South Sudan is more likely to die in childbirth than to complete primary school. No other fact could so eloquently underline the responsibility that we have to take action, but, as well as there being a strong moral imperative, experience has shown time and again that in development there are few better options than investing in women.

We know that in the Ivory Coast alone an increase of just $10 in women’s income achieves the same nutritional and health outcomes for children as an increase of $110 in men’s income. That is exactly why we have put girls and women at the centre of our development efforts and our engagement with the world. Through the Girls’ Education Challenge Fund, we have raised £355 million with the aim of getting up to a million girls into school in some of the most difficult parts of the world. We have provided nearly 27 million women with access to financial services, such as savings, credit and insurance.

We are helping more women find work through skills and leadership training and business development. For example, our Zardozi project in Afghanistan—“zardozi” means “embroidery”—has created jobs for 6,500 women in the handicraft and textile sector and supported them to set up their own businesses and to become entrepreneurs. I could go on providing hundreds more examples and statistics but I am sure your Lordships have your own to bring to the debate. You may, however, be asking yourselves, “What does all this actually mean for the lives of women and girls?” so I will end by giving examples of two exceptional women our programmes have supported.

The first is a young girl, Immaculate, from Uganda who was forced to leave school after her father died. Determined not to give up, she heard about one of our programmes and walked for three days in a bid to win a scholarship to go back to school. Her efforts paid off

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and she ended up winning that support to return to education. A few years later, she is now a highly articulate woman determined to become a teacher and to put back into her society what she herself had been able to draw from. The second is a 28 year-old woman, Angelique, from Rwanda. Like most Rwandans, she makes her living from cultivating land, but she has less than a quarter of a hectare of farmland to support her family of three. However, thanks to UK support, she found employment and opened her first savings account. With her first salary, she bought school uniforms for her children, and with her second and third salaries she bought a goat so that her children would not have to go hungry again, and she is now planning to use her savings to build a house for her family. These women are symbols of everything we are trying to achieve and our reason for doing more.

This House has been at the forefront of the journey that women’s rights has taken in this country and across the world, and we look to noble Lords to help us continue that journey.

11.54 am

Baroness Gould of Potternewton (Lab): My Lords, I fully agree with so many of the principles that the Minister has talked about. Of course, we have all been fighting, arguing and campaigning for women’s equality for so many years, but I want to talk not about the women she has talked about but about those who have really suffered because of the Government’s recession and austerity programme. In spite of the Minister’s words, that programme has seen a widening of the gender pay gap in the UK, which has gone down to 26th in the world from 13th, according to the World Economic Forum gender gap analysis, perhaps because of the increase in the cost of childcare, which interestingly points to the future—over the past five years the cost of childcare has gone up enormously, and many women are having to give up work because they cannot afford it—discrimination because of pregnancy, and perhaps the attack on access to justice, which undermines the rights that have underpinned much of women’s progress in the workplace over many years.

I want to mention in particular a group of women we never talk about, or very rarely talk about: women who, for many reasons beyond their control, find themselves vulnerable and homeless—women who have been overlooked for far too long, who have become marginalised people in society, not from choice but because of circumstance, and who find themselves in a downward spiral of chaos and exclusion, and get little help.

Homelessness is a growing problem in the UK. Government figures show that the number of people sleeping rough has risen by 55% since 2012. Perhaps we could find out why that is the situation. There are currently over 10,000 women in homeless services, and many thousands more who are hidden homeless and are on the streets, at risk. Homeless women who are roofless and with few belongings will not often show up in a headcount of rough sleepers. The hidden homeless may be sofa-surfing, staying with family or friends, or trapped in abusive relationships because they have nowhere else to go. Others may be squatting,

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living in crack houses, and some unfortunately engage in prostitution. St Mungo’s, the homeless charity, feels that unless urgent action is taken now, the numbers are likely to increase, and too many women will not get the right help to escape homelessness for good—a situation not assisted by the cuts to public services, restrictions on welfare, rising housing costs, or a lack of housing supply.

Women’s homelessness can occur after prolonged experience of trauma, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse. It can follow a cycle of mental health and substance use, and myriad other problems. Half have experienced domestic violence, 70% have mental health needs, and 27% have a combination of mental and physical health problems and problems with substance misuse.

A classic example comes in evidence from a St Mungo’s client, who I will call Ann. She said: “I became homeless because I got pregnant at 14, mum threw me out and after that I got married. My husband raped me and beat me up. So I ran to London to escape him and have been on the streets ever since”. She fled and has been on the streets because her local refuge had to close down through lack of funding. No doubt we will hear from the Minister that £10 million has been put into refuges for the next two years. The problem for Ann and her refuge is that the money comes far too late.

In my own area of Brighton and Hove, evidence from the Brighton Women’s Centre—I declare an interest as a patron—shows that almost half of its clients are mothers, and of those, 67% have had their children taken into care or adopted. So not only are they grieving for their lost children, but in many cases they are also grieving for their own lost childhood. Much of the complexity of homeless women’s needs is rooted in histories of violence and abuse stemming from childhood. These problems are intergenerational. We have to make sure, and work has to be done to make sure, that they are not passed on to the next generation.

So much hurt could be prevented by ensuring that the troubled families programme addresses the risk factors that increase the likelihood of girls becoming homeless in adulthood. Research by Crisis found that many of those homeless women are marginalised in labour markets, and there are examples of women losing their jobs once they have no registered place of abode. None of the women Crisis interviewed were in full-time employment, and only 3% were working part time. But its research goes on to show that the majority of these women wanted to work; they wanted a job. The potential for meaningful occupation, training and employment to boost self-esteem and help recovery from homelessness cannot be underestimated.

Making matters worse for many of these women is the fact that they experience stigma and shame because they are homeless and are judged by societal expectations of women to be good mothers and maintaining good homes. A perceived failure to live up to those expectations and not having a job and not being part of society can be significant barriers to recovery. Unfortunately, the histories of far too many of these women are full of missed opportunities for getting the right help at the right time due to insufficient co-ordination and inappropriate and erratic interventions that leave needs unaddressed and recovery unachieved.

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The building of trust and relationships is at the heart of creating a change to empower these women to maintain control over important decisions. However, both national and local government too often fail to understand this. To achieve that trust there has to be a co-ordinated response across the various departments that respond to the relevant challenges, be they drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, mental health services or children’s and adult services. This interrelated challenge means that it is difficult for women to progress in one area without the others being addressed. Co-commissioning across a local authority is key to better co-ordination and the provision of services that can have a positive impact on these women’s lives. Responding to women with vulnerabilities can, if it is done in this way, make real financial savings.

Commissioners should invest in cost-benefit analysis of services to prevent or resolve homelessness. They should look at the savings that can be made by recognising women’s organisations as partners in meeting local needs and should engage and involve them from the very beginning in the commissioning process and early interventions for families in need. Organisations that deliver a range of social and economic benefits over the short and long term to vulnerable and marginalised women and girls, such as my local women’s centre, have proved that every pound they invest in support and care saves more than three and a half times that amount in real terms. We ought to spend much more on the whole question of prevention.

In conclusion, holistic, gender-sensitive support needs to be provided, staff need to be better trained to enable them to provide gendered responses and we need to engage in innovative approaches, partnership working, multi-agency case management and cross-boundary initiatives working with peer support groups to address past and current trauma by providing access to counselling in a safe and secure environment. But most of all there has to be preventive support in advising women on how to avoid homelessness, as I said. The longer a woman sleeps rough, the worse her problems become and the more costly it becomes to help her off the streets and to make her life worth while so that she can contribute to the economy of this country.

12.03 pm

Baroness Brinton (LD): My Lords, I declare my interests as a trustee of UNICEF UK and a patron of Christian Blind Mission.

Five years of coalition government has meant that 2.3 million women overseas have been helped to get jobs and more than 5 million girls have been helped to attend school. As we know, education levels are a key indicator of the ability to obtain self-sustaining jobs and careers. Those statistics show our commitment to and responsibility for the most vulnerable women and girls in the world. It is not by chance that we have committed 0.7% of GDP to international development. That is part of our achievement in this area and it is important that it continues.

I shall focus my speech on the subject of women’s position in the international economy. Kofi Annan, the former secretary-general of the UN, said:

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“There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”.

This rings true in so many parts of society but is particularly apt for today’s debate. Many studies on economic development have found what Annan put so succinctly to be the truth—namely, where women succeed and are given economic opportunity, society succeeds. Today, I want to recognise how far women have come, but discuss equally how far we have to go.

As my noble friend Lady Jolly said, the world truly has changed for women, especially working women, even within the past few years. The PricewaterhouseCoopers 2015 Female Millennial report notes that women today are more educated than ever before: they earn more bachelor’s degrees and tertiary degrees than men. They are more confident than ever before, too: just under half of all women beginning their careers believe that they can rise to the top with their employers. They are more able to choose from a wide range of opportunities than their predecessors. However, while we should celebrate their successes, it is important to hold them under scrutiny.

Companies today are more aware and place a higher importance on recruiting women than they did even just a few years ago. Another international study conducted by PwC found that 64% of CEOs have and utilise strategies to increase diversity and inclusiveness in their businesses, and a further 13% plan to form such a strategy. This is a significant improvement on a similar survey conducted four years ago, in which only 1/10th of CEOs voiced plans to change their companies’ recruitment and retention policies to increase women’s presence in their companies.

Yet, we are not seeing results from these initiatives. Improvement to the wage gap has been stagnant across OECD countries, and although more women than ever before serve as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, they still stand as just 4.8% among the body of their peers. Women continue to face difficulty in advancing their careers. In a separate international study of “millennial working women”, it was found that nearly three-quarters of women feel that companies are “all talk” when it comes to equality. They felt that although their companies speak about diversity and inclusion, access to opportunities is not yet equal for women. More than that, it was found that women grow increasingly discouraged about their chances of promotion or of furthering their careers as they progress in them. The percentage of women who believe they are capable of rising to a senior level with their current employer falls by 10 points in just a seven-year period. When the level of talent of the women in today’s economic market is so high—higher than ever before—these statistics are disappointing, to say the least. I do not mention this to temper excitement over the gains that women have made in economic empowerment, but merely to insist that we can and must do better.

I turn now to the economic advancement of women in much different circumstances—women who are not trying to advance professional careers but simply trying to survive and support themselves and their families. For the poorest women in the world, economic empowerment is often just a dream. Up to 45% of women living in the poorest parts of the world have absolutely no say in how their household income is

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spent, even when it includes their own income. In Bangladesh—a country in which almost half the population survives on $1.25 a day, and in which the disparity of treatment and status between men and women is astounding—situations like this are not uncommon.

However, we should note the groups of organisations that are trying to combat this—the microfinance service providers, in particular the Grameen Bank, which is a microfinance titan and the originator of the micro- financing scheme. Grameen began its operations in Bangladesh just over 30 years ago and exists because, in the words of its founder, Muhammad Yunus,

“the financial system … only serves the top one-third of the world; two-thirds are left out”.

Grameen holds particular significance in our debate today, as nearly all of its 8.4 million clients are women, and women make up the majority of the bank’s management board. Through its microfinancing program, Grameen empowers women to start and sustain small businesses, to support themselves and their families. The benefit of this is felt especially by widows, many of whom are left without resource or recourse after the passing of their spouse.

A recent study by the World Bank found that microfinance, especially microfinancing for women, is beneficial in alleviating poverty and raising income and education levels. With only a 10% increase in women’s borrowing, household spending and women’s participation in the labour force both improve—and improve at higher rates than with a similar increase in men’s borrowing. My hope is that the Grameen Bank continues on this path of achievement and sees similar success in Glasgow, where Grameen UK has opened its first branch. We need microfinancing projects for women here in the UK too.

The final group of women I would like to highlight today is women with disabilities, who face even greater hurdles when seeking economic empowerment. A recent survey by the World Health Organization found that, across the 50 countries studied, only one-fifth of disabled women were employed, compared with one-third of women without disabilities. Many factors contribute to this disparity, but inaccessibility of workplaces, transportation to workplaces, discrimination and lack of education are prime concerns. These factors are amplified in developing countries, where disabled women’s inaccess to accommodation for their disability can severely restrict their ability to receive education, hold a job and participate in society.

To illustrate these key points, I want to share with noble Lords the story of Abena, a Ghanaian woman living with a disability as a result of a childhood bout of polio. She was supported by Christian Blind Mission: given a tricycle that transformed her life and the lives of those around her. CBM is the major disability charity in the world. It runs this initiative aimed at raising awareness of the link between disability and poverty. Abena says:

“I realised that I could not walk. But I was so serious to go to school because the children would go to school and come with their books and be reading. So I would crawl to school. Sometimes at the school the children were playing, jumping and I will be sitting down looking at them. I felt like I am alone. So I decided to stop the school. I said, ‘This one is a waste.’”.

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She later reflected:

“I was feeling like I’m not a human being. I felt frustrated and lonely. But when I received the tricycle it was better. I decided to go into trading. I used the small capital I had and bought some groundnuts, biscuits, and I sell pure water. I will use the profit and buy the things again I had. So I think this one is very good”.

Abena has now become a disabled women’s organiser for the Disabled Society in Builsa South district, her area of Ghana, and works to inspire and encourage other disabled women to take on work and lead their lives normally. Abena’s case so aptly shows us how, with a little bit of empowerment, a woman’s life can improve drastically.

John Stuart Mill, in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton in 1869, said:

“The most important thing women have to do is to stir up the zeal of women themselves”.

Abena is testimony to that.

12.12 pm

Baroness Greenfield (CB): My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on bringing attention to this urgent and wide-ranging issue. As a research scientist at Oxford University, and now founder and CEO of a biotech company, I focus on just one aspect: the importance of science for women’s economic empowerment in both private and public sectors.

At a national level, graduates of both genders in the so-called STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—are perhaps unsurprisingly on higher starting salaries. However, there is a clear gender discrepancy. Just over 10% of science-based business owners are women, compared to 33% for other types of businesses. Of the FTSE 100 companies in STEM sectors, 13% of board directors are female, compared to 17% in non-science-based organisations, while fewer than one in 10 of STEM managers is female.

When it comes to apprenticeships, the gender disparity is particularly stark. In IT and telecommunications roughly 10% are taken by women, in engineering less than 4% and in construction just 1.4%. So in the private sector, whether it be founding a company, sitting on a board or taking up an apprenticeship, women are woefully underrepresented in the very occupations that in general would be among the most economically empowering.

The public sector, too, presents problems. While sexist views may be suspected but hard to prove in the corporate world, overt prejudice against women has been explicit in academia, sadly. Back in 1997 a report was published in the high-impact journal Nature from the Swedish Medical Research Council. This clearly demonstrated a gender bias in peer review of grant applications. Astonishingly, women with the highest scores on their objectively measured publication record were judged subjectively to be about as good as a low-average man.

Meanwhile, in January 2005, the then president of Harvard, Larry Summers, sparked uproar at an academic conference when he said that “innate differences between men and women” might be one reason why fewer women succeed in science and maths. Sadly, the situation has not improved. In a paper published more recently, in 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, there was still an objectively demonstrable

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bias, this time by the faculty, in both the biological and the physical sciences in terms of perceived competence and hireability of men over women.

Another major hurdle for women in the academic science sector in particular is the lack of any type of structure in the first stages of their career. This will have devastating implications for having children. Typically, a research scientist in a university will gain tenure, and hence any kind of job security and structure, only when they are in their mid-30s. Those women wishing to start a family, as might be expected, in their 20s are therefore faced with an unpalatable set of options.

This is an important thing to grasp about science research: it is at this stage that a young post-doc scientist, having become finally independent of their thesis supervisor, now needs to be maximally productive in publishing their own all-important peer-reviewed papers, which will in turn serve as the gold standard for obtaining a lectureship. Therefore, the choices would be: first, have no children; secondly, defer having children beyond your biological optimum; thirdly, have a child and give up research science altogether; or fourthly, have a child and inevitably take time out just as your male competitors are forging ahead with their publications. Very rarely would a man have to make these choices.

In addition, the situation is not helped by the meagre and often prohibitively expensive childcare facilities available in universities. Moreover, a frequent complaint is that in the national audit of science research in universities—the so-called REF—the one-year dispensation allocated against your track record for having a child is just not enough. One rising star in her 30s, who has a toddler, summed it up:

“Quite frankly it is exhausting and I am not surprised that many women decide to quit science … I don’t feel anywhere near as competitive or productive as my peers can be or I used to be. It does make you wonder if it is all worthwhile”.

It is no surprise, then, that women are once again underrepresented in senior science university posts. I first flagged this issue back in 2002 when, as requested by the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I prepared a report on the recruitment and retention of women in science, published as the SET Fair report. Looking back at data from that time to the most recent statistics published in 2012-13, there has been some improvement. Across all STEM areas the percentage of female academic staff has increased from 35% in 2002 to 42% some 10 years later. However, currently just over 2% of all women academics are professors, compared with almost three times as many males, so the situation is still not good enough.

In general, women hoping to flourish in science-based careers face a wide range of difficulties. In a survey of more than 100 employees in the science-related public and private sectors, an astonishing 70% of women stated that they had experienced personal and professional barriers to entry and progression in science. These barriers varied; while some that the survey flagged cannot be readily addressed, such as the need to live in geographical proximity to their partner, others can, including the lack of resources and funding—particularly for childcare—institutional sexism and male-dominated informal networks.

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A big problem often is lack of awareness of current initiatives that would help to combat these problems. One example that includes both university and industry is so-called WISE—Women in to Science and Engineering —which aims to improve the gender balance in the UK’s workforce, pushing the presence of female employees to 30% by 2020. WISE launched an ambitious, industry-led campaign in September 2014 to ensure that women in science, technology, engineering and manufacturing have the same opportunities to progress in their career as their male counterparts. They invited a cross-section of businesses to tell them what had made the most difference to the retention and progression of women in their organisation. The result has been 10 recommended steps, which, interestingly enough, all relate to mindset and the need for changing attitudes, particularly in the corporate world.

Meanwhile, for women in science-based academia, the Athena SWAN programme addresses gender equality in UK universities. Athena SWAN has been developed to encourage and recognise commitment to combating this underrepresentation and to advancing the careers of women in science-based research and academia.

In addition, Sheffield Hallam runs Women in Science, Engineering and Technology—WiSET—based within the Centre for Science Education. This aims to widen the participation of underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, maths and the built environment. It has developed and delivered a wide range of innovative projects, resources, schemes and activities for more than 10 years now, based on gender and occupational segregation at all levels of education and employment. It works from a local to an international level and provides resources and runs events to encourage participation in science, as well as supporting those already working in the STEM subjects.

Sheffield Hallam was also one of the universities involved at the start of Aurora. This is a national scheme aimed at developing future leaders for higher education. It was launched in 2013 as a women-only leadership development programme. Aurora aims to encourage a wide range of women in academic and professional roles to think of themselves as leaders, to develop leadership skills, and to help institutions maximise the potential of these women. These are innovative development processes for women up to senior lecturer level or professional services equivalent.

These are all really impressive initiatives that could change the prospects for women in science since I published SET Fair in 2002. So why is there still a problem? Why is it not unusual to read in the press of a “female scientist” but not of a “female politician” or “female lawyer”? It is as though the fact that a woman is a scientist is still unusual and worthy of note. Perhaps that is at the heart of the problem. Clearly, for the real economic empowerment of women in science, attitudes still need to change. I recommend the following initiatives.

The excellent schemes just mentioned for helping women in science need much more publicity and co-ordination. Presumably this could best be achieved by central government. Moreover, it is surely only the Government who could bankroll a sufficiently well resourced scheme for funding a truly realistic—not

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just a token effort—large number of ring-fenced fellowships and/or return-to-work allowances for pump-priming a career for those returning from childcare. The same benefits currently available to women should be extended to men if they choose to share the burden of maternity leave traditionally taken by women—for example, the allowances in REF and in fellowship applications. This might encourage male scientists to share parental responsibilities more, as they could be less concerned about the long-term effect on their career, and we could move towards an equal future where both male and female scientists were competing on equal grounds.

Within the private sector, the L’Oreal Women in Science awards have shown how awareness can be raised of the achievements of individual women in their research, but we now need other companies, particularly those in science and technology, as well as smaller biotech companies, to take up the challenge of new initiatives for promoting the appeal of science to women as well as celebrating the benefits that they bring. For example, only last week I attended a gender-diversity summit in Luxembourg, organised by KPMG, where the advantages of female representation in the corporate world were stressed over and over by the men attending as well as the women. It would be wonderful if science and tech-based companies were to organise similar events, and from them develop constructive programmes.

Finally, none of these initiatives—neither those already in train nor those just suggested—will have any effect at all without one single, essential ingredient, which has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. That is the essential ingredient of a woman who chooses to do a degree in science. Schoolgirls need to be aware not only of the thrill of doing research at the bench but of the wide variety of career options that will open up to them with a science background, even beyond the lab bench, such as patent law, media, politics and teaching. What a shame it would be if they were deterred from such exciting prospects by the perception—indeed the reality—that a major obstacle to realising their true potential in science was their gender.

12.24 pm

Baroness Brady (Con): My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to this debate regarding the significant role that women’s economic empowerment has both nationally and internationally. Women’s economic empowerment is often talked about in terms of quotas or targets, but this is the language of charity, of welfare and of equality for equality’s sake. As someone who did not need a quota or a target to get on in the business world, I can assure the House that it is not, and should not be, about those things.

When I became the CEO of Birmingham City Football Club, people thought it was tokenistic, that I was window dressing and that hiring a woman was a gimmick. It was only once they realised that I had a serious plan to turn around a failing business and put that into practice that attitudes changed and people understood that I was there because I was qualified, up to the job and could do it well. After all, that is

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what they would assume about any man who was taking over. If I had my time again, people might still ask whether I had enough experience to do the job but, if they did not feel the need to ask about my gender, that would be progress. Let me be clear: we are on the path to progress. My mother’s generation did not even enjoy equal rights before the law. Some professions and institutions were completely closed to her. We now need to move on from changing the law to changing perceptions, attitudes and culture.

This debate is important for women but it should be important for everyone interested in the success of our country. Women’s economic empowerment is about success, not just for us but, more importantly, for UK plc. It is about not missing out on half the talent pool which is available to do the top jobs in this country, to lead our companies in the global economy and to start new ones and grow them too. It is about diversity of thinking, different perspectives on the same issues, new skills, new mindsets and new ideas. We need to challenge existing ways of doing things, and empowering women is a great way of achieving this. A good board should have a variety of executives with different backgrounds and bodies of expertise. A starting point should be more women. Boards are there to challenge the executives, to ask the difficult questions and to hold them to account.

So how do we get half of our companies, our boards and even our Governments to be run by women? First, I want to say that I am proud to be a Conservative Peer because I am proud of my party’s record on women’s economic empowerment. Under the previous Government, there were 21 all-male boards in the FTSE 100. Now there are none. In 2010, women made up only 12.5% of the members of corporate boards of the FTSE 100; this figure is now 22.8% and I want to see it increased further. I am not saying that boards with no women should be made to appoint some on the spot, but they should at least be made to answer why they do not have any.

I am also pleased to say that there is a record number of women in work. Our long-term economic plan has helped to increase the number of women in work to record highs—with 14.4 million now in employment, an increase of 796,000 since 2010. As an active business mentor and as this party’s Small Business Ambassador, I am pleased that there are also more women-led businesses than ever before.

On our journey into the world of work, women and their employers need to know that any career door can be open to them, as they start to move away from thinking of certain industries as male-oriented. I know how necessary this is, coming from a background in football. That is why I am pleased that we are increasing the number of women who take up careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. The “Your Life” campaign is working with businesses to support more women in these industries—for example, Airbus is committed to recruiting 25% women engineers. We are also providing a £10 million fund to help women progress as engineers.

It is not all down to government policy. Some of it is down to culture and attitudes—even the attitudes of women themselves. As Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg said, women systematically underestimate their own

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abilities. If and when they succeed, they typically do not attribute that success to themselves. This needs to change and I hope that I, and many others, can be an example to other women. I have been lucky enough to work with boards which have looked at what I have done, not at my gender. This is the attitude that we need to foster. We do not need to stack the deck in favour of women; we just need to tell them—and tell the world—that women can do anything they want. Where they lack the tools, Governments should provide them.

Someone said to me recently that, in society today, it is not okay to be a bit racist or a bit homophobic, but it is still okay to be a bit sexist. I am delighted that this debate is taking place as a means to stamping that out.

12.28 pm

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde (Lab): My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate. It has become a set piece each year and it is important that we have it. It reminds me how privileged all the speakers in this Chamber are in that we have a voice. With that, comes a responsibility to speak for the women who do not have a voice at any level in our community and our society today. I think that we will see a concordat across the Chamber, as we usually do, about the principles and the purpose of this event, but that we will disagree on how we achieve it. It is important to air and discuss that disagreement. The theme for International Women’s Day this year is “Make it happen”. That is a very profound theme because we can talk all we like, but making it happen is more difficult and challenging, and we have to do it.

This week we will also have the Women of the World Festival on the South Bank, a marvellous festival that has grown in size since it began. I should like to congratulate the BBC “Woman’s Hour” programme on transferring itself to the festival and broadcasting from it each day. If we have seen any steadfast support for women over the years, it has come from Jenni Murray and her team at “Woman’s Hour”.

Some 20 years ago—it does not seem like it, but it is—as a young and new Member of this House, I asked this question: when will women achieve equal pay? We had Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act, which is 40 years old this year, and we have still not achieved equal pay. Without that Act, I wonder where we would be—probably in an even more inferior position than we are today. I am reminded, too, that in the other place the majority of Members on the opposite Benches to the Labour Government of the day opposed both of those Acts, as indeed they opposed the 1997 Labour Government’s National Minimum Wage Act 1998. All three of these Acts have been a big help, not for women like us in this Chamber, who have enjoyed enormous opportunity and privilege, but for the women who do not have a voice.

The noble Baroness, in introducing the debate in such an interesting, wide-ranging and enjoyable way, referred to the fact that there is now a woman on the board of every company in the FTSE 100. The instigator of the policy on that was a Labour Peer, my noble

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friend Lord Davies of Abersoch, and all credit to him. But going back to the theme of my contribution to this debate, I will say that one swallow does not make a summer. This annual debate really gets my juices going and reminds me of years ago, when I was a bit more of a firebrand than I am today.

In 2010, we were concerned about the gender pay gap. We called for a requirement to be put on medium-sized and large companies—not small ones—to publish information about average wages based on gender in their companies. The coalition decided that they did not want any legislation or regulation, but to encourage companies to take up a voluntary code. Although we tried to get that changed, the Government did not accept it, but we have made progress: four companies are now doing it. That is an average of one a year since the year we tried to introduce the requirement. I raise this, perhaps a bit unfairly on the Minister who is to reply to the debate, to ask whether, when an amendment is tabled next week asking companies employing more than 250 people to publish their average wages based on gender, the Government will accept it. Remember that the theme for International Women’s Day this year is “Make it happen”; that would help to make it happen. The pay, opportunity and empowerment gap needs a whole range of initiatives—legislation and regulation, yes, but also a lot of others. I am not stupid enough to think that legislation is the whole answer; it is not.

I have the huge privilege of being president of the charity the Abbeyfield Society. Indeed, one of its former presidents is in the Chamber and will speak later in the debate: the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley of Nettlestone. She did a wonderful job as president and I look forward to her contribution. The charity provides housing and accommodation for older members of our community.

Over the past week, in the lead-up to this debate, a Resolution Foundation survey has revealed that 930,000 care workers are paid less than the living wage. I have chosen this theme for the debate because it is an area that is in the public eye, it is an area that will grow, and it is one of the last big areas of employment where employees are undervalued and underpaid. We read in the press only about the abuse that takes place in a minority of cases. As I say, it is an enormous area of employment. I never thought that I would thank the Times, but let me put this on the record. Last year the Times chose the Abbeyfield Society as one of its Christmas charities of the year, and the Telegraph followed that up. I thank both those newspapers for showing the work that these underpaid and undervalued members of society provide.

The Alzheimer’s Society says that 670,000 unpaid carers are women working for people with dementia. Some 82% of older people’s care home managers are women. It is the biggest area of women’s employment that I can think of. In Abbeyfield, 85% of our staff are women, of whom 26% are in senior management roles. The average number of women working in the care sector is much higher than in most other areas of employment in Britain, so it is a very important area for us to get right. Our first woman CEO, Natasha Singarayer, is an inspirational leader. Under her leadership, in only the last 12 months or so, this smallish charity

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provided 8,000 older people with homes. Of our 9,000 staff and volunteers, over 80% are women. We have a responsibility for them and we have a responsibility for the people that we care for.

Last year I was proud—as I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, will be—that we were the first national care organisation to pay the living wage. Our 1,500 directly employed staff are now all on the living wage. Of course, some asked why, because in some cases it meant a pay increase of over 20%. But we asked: why not? We expect our staff to give first-class care to our people; we expect them to respect them. How can we expect that if we do not respect our staff in their own right? It was the right thing to do. We have gone a bit further than that; we have said that by March 2017 all our direct staff must be on the living wage and all our suppliers must pay their staff the living wage, too. I give this example because we will not be required to do it by legislation or, probably, by regulation. Depending on the outcome of the election, if it was the coalition’s policy, it will not be government policy either. This is where an organisation has taken responsibility itself, and it is where companies must take responsibility.

I said that today was a day of celebration: it is. In particular, I celebrate and congratulate a Peer on our own Benches—my noble friend Lord Soley. Why him? He is making it happen for women. He is the chairman of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal, which he helped to establish. A 15-foot statue will be erected right opposite Parliament, in the grounds of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital. Mary Seacole was the daughter of a Scottish father and a Creole mother, born in Jamaica. In 2004, she was voted the greatest black Briton. The location of that statue is important and the work of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is also important. The statue has a disc behind it that comes from the very site of a British hotel in the Crimea where Mary Seacole set up her nursing station. She applied to the British authorities five times to go there and they refused, so she made her own way, as women with determination will. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, and his colleagues managed to get the team of artists building the statue into the Crimea just two months before the Russians went in. The disc will come from the site of the British Hotel, as she called it—from the site that overlooks the valley where the charge of the Light Brigade actually happened. Although she was not born in Britain, in my view Mary Seacole is one of the great Britons.

It reminded me that we had a debate some time ago about a statue of Sylvia Pankhurst. It is still a dream of mine that we should have that, as well as a statue of the Special Operations Executive women, which we do not have in Britain. We have too few statues and commemorations of women. That is my dream—to commemorate the women who have gone. But the biggest legacy that we could have in commemoration of those women is making sure that the thousands of women in Britain today who do not have a voice are treated fairly and that the Government—whatever Government—stand up and make sure that they are treated fairly and that equal pay is not still a factor in Britain 40 years hence.

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12.40 pm

Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD): My Lords, it is a privilege to follow so many excellent speeches by so many strong and experienced women.

The evidence is overwhelming: when more women are in work, economies grow. An increase in female labour force participation and a reduction in the gap between women’s and men’s labour participation result in faster economic growth. Evidence from a wide range of countries shows that increasing the share of household income controlled by women through their own earnings impacts positively on their families and children.

My own maternal grandmother was a very poor woman. She had no education. She had seven children to feed and clothe. She baked bread every day in her village and took in laundry just so that she made enough money—a small amount but it was enough—to feed her seven children. That was in the early part of the previous century, but there are still millions of women like my grandmother all around the world today, who take part in what is called informal employment and do not have the privileges that we enjoy. In south Asia, for example, over 80% of women in non-agricultural jobs are in informal employment; in sub-Saharan Africa it is 74%. Women comprise an average of 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries; this varies considerably across the regions from 20% or less in Latin America to 50% or more in parts of Asia and Africa. That is the reality today.

We know that women and children also bear the main negative impacts of collecting and transporting fuel and water. According to the UN Women figures, women in many developing countries spend more than one to four hours each day collecting biomass for fuel. Another study of water poverty in 25 sub-Saharan African countries estimates that women spend at least 16 million hours a day collecting drinking water; men spend 6 million hours a day and children 4 million hours.

Like many noble Lords, I go into a lot of schools, speaking mainly to girls who come from deprived backgrounds. They are very interested in talking about the sorts of issues that impact on women and girls around the world. We also have problems in this country with young girls who come from different backgrounds who are not encouraged to go into further education and reach their full potential. One thing I always tell these girls when I go into schools and colleges is, “Do not let anyone tell you what you cannot do”. Many of us, including me, had it drummed into us what was not appropriate for a girl to do, but I always tell them, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, said earlier, “There is nothing you cannot do. If you focus, get the right education and are determined, there is nothing you cannot achieve”. We need far more positive messages like that for young girls in this country from all backgrounds.

We know that social institutions, as I have mentioned, affect female participation in economic life. A more proactive approach from donor countries such as ours is needed to address the roots of gender inequality. It is entirely right that the approach by donors has been to improve women’s access to education and health—as

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we heard from my noble friend Lady Jolly—including birth control. That is very important, but it is not sufficient. The root causes of gender discrimination in some of the countries I have mentioned, with very strong social and cultural institutions, also need to be addressed. For example, the enrolment of girls in primary schools can rise without it ultimately increasing female participation in the labour market if traditional customs forbid women from working outside the home. Where such customs go against women being in authority, the enrolment rate in universities may rise without that having any effect on the number of female managers or women starting up businesses outside traditional roles. It is therefore important to increase the effectiveness of country and donor policies. Measures to address institutional inequalities must be put in place.

Even when there are strong customs influenced by culture and religion that have adverse effects, positive changes in favour of women are possible. In Turkey, a country that has seen huge economic development and success, a recent project had the motto, “We Are Equal and We Are Together At Work, At Home, Everywhere”, which was very ambitious. The project aims to create decent work opportunities for women and the development of inclusive and coherent policies to promote women’s employment in Turkey. The UN Women’s regional office for Europe and Central Asia signed a partnership with one of the country’s largest industrial conglomerates, Koç Holding, a significant holding in Turkey that manages companies involved in finance, energy, tourism, food and IT. These types of initiatives are beginning to break down customs and traditions in encouraging women to play a full role in the economic development of their country. Increasing numbers of women are now active in the workforce, bringing greater prosperity not only to their families but to the country. As a footnote, I say that this is by no means widespread. It is a great start, but there are still traditions that have not been broken down that prevent women going out to work, particularly once they are married.

I am going to talk about violence against women, because it has a huge impact on the ability of women to participate in the workforce and community. This is one of the most widespread abuses of human rights worldwide, affecting a staggering one-third of all women. The effects go way beyond individual women to negatively impact across whole communities. Action Aid reports that violence against women and girls is one of the biggest barriers to ending poverty and inequality. It maintains and reinforces women’s unequal status and is really so disempowering, making women more vulnerable to future violence and driving increased inequality and poverty.

Before I came into your Lordships’ House over 25 years ago, I had experience of establishing the first domestic violence project and refuge for women from a Turkish and Kurdish background. In those days, one felt insecure talking about violence against women in the community of which I am part. It was not recognised; it was not addressed; and to talk about it was seen as taking women away from their husbands—I was accused of that many times and faced threats for doing it. Establishing the project, which is still going strong after more than 25 years, is one of my proudest achievements.

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It has brought huge success and educated a whole community. Sadly, it is still needed, but it has become quite entrenched and well respected. IMECE, the Turkish-speaking women’s group based in north London, is still there and has been doing fantastic work for more than 25 years—it celebrated its 25th year last year.

This debate marking International Women’s Day provides us with an opportunity to ensure that women’s rights are high on the agenda of global leaders. I commend this Government on keeping this issue high on the international agenda and hope that whoever is in the next Government—I am not going to be party political, because I think that we all want the same thing and are all committed, which is why we are taking part today—will do the same.

Later this year, world leaders will agree on a set of sustainable development goals. Key charities are urging the United Kingdom Government to ensure that, for the first time, a globally agreed target on addressing all forms of violence against women and girls is secured, with a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Will the UK Government commit to an ambitious action plan to meet this goal? As one of the major donors in the world, we need to lead by example on this. I would like to see a greater focus on women’s economic equality, with SDG targets to recognise, reduce and redistribute women’s unpaid care work and to secure equal rights to economic resources and assets and access to decent work and a living wage. There should be equal pay for work of equal value to ensure women’s full and equal participation and influence at all levels of decision-making.

Each day around the world, hundreds of millions of women collect firewood and water for their families. They cook, do the chores and take care of the elderly, the young and the sick; and all the time, they try to scrape a living from the poorest paid and most precarious jobs. Women’s labour is vital to sustainable development both within the home and outside it, and for the well-being of their own society. Women make up roughly 60% of the world’s working poor, despite their low rates of participation in the labour force overall, but their work is undervalued and mostly invisible. On a global level, we urgently need an agreement to guarantee women’s access to decent work opportunities and to reduce and redistribute unpaid care responsibilities that fall disproportionately on women, just as they do here in the United Kingdom. We need to ensure that economic policies work for women, not against them.

We are already doing a lot of promotion, but we need far more of it to promote women’s voices and leadership at all levels. There should really be no more summits: we see these summits when countries are in conflict or when we are trying to nation-build. There are always these summits, but women have to be there. How many summits have we witnessed where women were just not at the table? How on earth is this going to work when half the population is excluded? As I mentioned, violence against women and girls works against these goals, so will the Minister tell me whether the Government will champion these goals in the way that I have described?

I also make a plea for refugee women. Will the Government please continue to prioritise survivors of sexual violence through the Syrian vulnerable persons

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relocation scheme? Will they significantly increase the number of resettlement places in the United Kingdom made available to Syrian refugees? We were told that this number is still several hundred. We know the scale of the refugee crisis for the Syrian people; thousands have been taken in by other wealthy countries while we have only taken in hundreds. This is surely not the right way to go: we should be leading by example.

Violence against women and girls is still endemic in Afghanistan, affecting women across Afghan society. A report just last month from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission showed that it is increasing, with 4,250 cases of abuse reported to the commission in nine months. The report followed numerous cases of violence against women making headlines in the country, including, among other practices, beheading, gang rape, execution and the exchanging of women and girls to settle disputes. A significant feature of violence against women and girls in Afghanistan is the violence and threats faced by women human rights defenders. These women in civil society surely need greater support and protection. We have a responsibility, as one of the largest donors to the countries that I have mentioned to ensure that we attach serious conditions of greater equality and power for women, and that we do not simply allow aid to be received without the acceptance of these key principles respecting the human rights of women and girls.

In conclusion, I commend the BBC for screening “India’s Daughter” last night in face of pressure by the Indian Government, which have banned it. The film exposed the horrific attitudes towards rape and violence in that country. Surely the best way to combat such violence is to shine a light and hold Governments to account. Will the Minister tell us whether, as a major donor to India, the Government are doing this?

12.53 pm

Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone (Con): My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend. I was looking at her maiden speech again only recently in preparing for today, and she has a track record of supporting women in particular who need economic empowerment, have mental health problems or are in prison. I applaud her comments. Speaking about Turkey, she will be concerned, as I am, about Safak Pavey, one of the bravest MPs from the Republican People’s Party in Turkey. She is an LSE graduate, like me, a human rights campaigner and the first disabled woman to become a Member of Parliament in Turkey. She is a reminder, as has previously been said, of the huge privilege that we, as a generation, have of being able to speak freely and openly; we constantly have to remember that life is very different in other parts of the world.

On the first International Women’s Day, a hundred years ago, life expectancy for a woman in this country was about 55. Today it is about 83—a dramatic, life-changing experience for all of us. Of course, in Swaziland life expectancy is 51, in Somalia 52 and in Sierra Leone 39. In our debates, we must constantly be mindful about the paradox and contrast with other parts of the world. Some 774 million adults cannot read or write, 493 million of them women. Sixty per cent of women in the Arab states, south and west Asia

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and sub-Saharan Africa are illiterate. In Mali the figure is 29% and in Pakistan 40%, while Afghanistan has equally appalling figures. We all know that newly literate women have a positive ripple effect on all development indicators. Literacy does not save lives or fill hungry mouths, but it is a central component in women’s empowerment. A woman who is able to keep her own business records is more likely to be able to manage her income and expenditure, and to manage her family size. The children of a literate mother are more likely to complete their education, all the more so in a technology-driven world where smartphones are ubiquitous. Illiteracy limits women to only basic levels of engagement. The disparity is growing greater, all the more so for women with disability—and I endorse the comments made on that by my noble friend Lady Brinton.

I warmly applaud the leadership from our Secretary of State for DfID, Justine Greening, and the work she had done consistently to focus on girls’ and women’s rights. Having a woman in that role, to me, is extraordinarily important. When my noble friend Lady Chalker held that office, it was the same. The redoubtable Clare Short, as many on the Benches opposite will know, relentlessly campaigned for women and children. The Secretary of State has consistently highlighted the targets, and reported back on progress; women should have control over their own bodies and a voice in their community and country, they should live free from the fear of violence, marry who they wish and when, receive an education and a job, and choose how they spend the money they earn—and how strongly I agree with those points about microfinance and women having control over their budgeting. The recent Girl Summit on female genital mutilation and the work that the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has done with Angelina Jolie on putting an end to sexual violence in conflict are, again, examples of how giving a focus and a profile together with a determined programme backed by resources is critical. That would not be possible without that 0.7% commitment of GDP to aid.

From talking about the parts of the world where there are deep concerns, I will just say a little more about the other end of economic opportunity. I am hesitant to speak at all in this debate without the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, being here. She came into the Chamber briefly and I wonder whether she has lost her voice, as I cannot recall a debate on this subject without her contribution. Although the noble Lord, Lord Davies, has done a lot on this, I do not think he would say that the campaign for female empowerment started with him—although, my goodness, the way he has brought forces together to achieve change is quite remarkable. As has been said, in 2010 12.5% of board members were female. The figure is now 23%. The changes are remarkable. The last FTSE 100 company without a woman on the board was named and shamed and now they all have one. Some have several. In our own House, we have my impressive noble friend Lady Harding, who is one of those leading figures. The first female CEO of a FTSE 100 company was not until 1997, but we now have three. The first female FTSE 100 chair was in 2002 and we now have three. We now have 22 female heads of state in different fields, including Angela Merkel in Germany.

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In our lifetime we have seen these dramatic changes. In my lifetime I never thought there would be a woman Prime Minister. We have had a woman Prime Minister, we have had women Leaders of the Lords and the Commons, and we have had women Speakers in the Lords and the Commons. These are all achievements that I doubted would ever be reached. We have a great deal to be excited about, but none more so, at long last, than the church that I belong to, which has overcome all the obstacles to women bishops—and how wonderful that is. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will speak about this at greater length, and I do not mean to steal his thunder, but the installation of Reverend Libby Lane last month as Bishop of Stockport is absolutely splendid. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this time next year when we have this debate, we might even have a bishop of our own in the Lords, although my campaign now is to get the bishops to remove their white dresses and just have the splendid purple, but I do not want to lead the House down a false avenue in this particular regard.

Women have done well, I believe, under this Government. There is always more to do. The gender gap is closing. There are record numbers of women in employment—numbers that are very favourable compared with anywhere else in the European Union. The tax cuts, the help with childcare, and more to come, all mean that this is a good time to be a woman in the United Kingdom. It is splendid to hear from a great role model, my noble friend Baroness Brady, who shows what can be done with energy, ability and a positive attitude.

There are always going to be areas where women’s interests need to be properly considered. I have been thinking about the effect of policies to increase employment into the late 60s and how that may exacerbate gender income and class disadvantages for women. Professor Sara Arber at the University of Surrey has recently been writing in a very earnest way about this, and the noble Baroness’s points about the Abbeyfield Society and the vast number of carers are equally important.

Let me just finish on a topic which the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, has covered far better than I ever could. With all the concentration on the number of women in boards, I have long been far more concerned about the inadequate number of female vice-chancellors. I want the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and anybody else who wants to join him, to focus their efforts on working out why we cannot have more women vice-chancellors and what the obstacles, hidden pressures and prejudice are against this progress. My excellent noble friend Lady Perry might well be able to tell us the answer to all these matters later on.

I always regard this debate as enjoyable and enlightening. I think we are privileged, as I say, to be in this House, but we know that our job is to make life so much better for other women, not only in this country—a liberal and civilised country—but in so many other disadvantaged and very often very disagreeable countries around the world.

1.03 pm

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab): My Lords, it is a real pleasure to take part in this debate. I remember when we had to argue very hard to have a debate on

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International Women’s Day and to persuade the usual channels—of, I have to say, the party of the noble Baroness—that this was a noble topic to take up. I am thrilled that now we all take it for granted but it was a real struggle in those early days. Given that the previous Government had women as Chief Whips for such a long time, we were able to establish it without any discussion at all. This has followed what the other House is doing in simply having a debate every year, so we can all bring to it the things that really matter to us as women. It is good that the men also contribute.

As a woman in politics, I go back to what it is that has given me all the privileges and opportunities that I have had. A lot of it was my family, but for two years after my degree I went with Voluntary Service Overseas to work in Kenya and that changed my life. It made me see that I had a responsibility to make a difference—and that I could do that. There were things that I could do that I had never dreamed of doing, certainly not growing up in Sunderland. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, who will speak later, did as well. In my cohort, I was one of only 6% who went on to higher education. I went to Kenya soon after that. There was no internet in those days so you could not keep referring to what was going on back at home. My father by then was a Member at the other end, and he used to send me the Guardian Weekly, so that I could keep some basic sense of was going on in the West, but actually I was taken over by what was going on in developing countries and what our role was.

I am giving this long account to explain why today I will speak about international development and what is going on in the developing world; I will not be tempted by the things that I have heard from colleagues speaking about this country. I have the enormous privilege of having kept in contact with VSO throughout my life and of now being involved with it again in governance. VSO now works in around 30 countries in the world. From that, we have learnt, taken evidence and built up a good means of understanding what is happening in communities in the developing world and of knowing—not guessing—that women’s economic empowerment has such a major effect on families and, of course, on local communities. The whole community benefits. This is particularly true for women in communities where men are absent or are unable to work, particularly in places where men are travelling to work in southern Africa. I will say a little about Mozambique shortly.

I want to say something about Kenya where I keep going back. I met some women’s groups that a volunteer was working with. The first group that she took me to see was able, through microfinance, to buy some goats. At first, they bought about half a dozen goats but by the time I went, there were about 200—goats are good at reproducing. Those goats were now supporting the women to care for more than 200 children in the village who were orphaned through HIV/AIDS. They were remarkably strong women—they simply accepted this was their responsibility and they got on with it. With the volunteer, they had been able to find the means of doing that in an effective way with regular meat and regular milk and then selling some of the goats so that they could financially sustain their responsibilities.

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In the next village we went to, the women’s group with the volunteer had begun planting a whole range of seeds that they had not planted much before. They were all seeds that could be milled, so, again with microfinance help, they bought a small mill. They were milling different sorts of flour which they were able to use themselves—so their families were better fed—but they were also able to sell to others. They were making enough money to pay school fees and to do things that otherwise they would not have been able to do.

In Mozambique, VSO is working with the Association for Mozambiquan Miners and has been supporting migrant workers and their families. Many of the men work in the mines in South Africa, which is very difficult and dangerous employment, so many of the women have to bring their families up in the absence of the men, and of course many of the men die early. VSO has been providing support and training to help widows in particular to build a business and move themselves out of poverty and, again, make a huge difference in their local community and in their families. I could read noble Lords testimony from some of the men who are now too old to work but are being cared for because there are these real changes in women’s activity.

I know that empowering women economically really makes a difference to families and communities, but we have to accept that it is not enough. We all talk about the importance of women in development, but we do not take it sufficiently on to the next stage. This is essentially about how to enable women to ensure that these changes are sustainable and that their societies are organised in ways that enable their economic empowerment to be sustainable. However, we know that that bit is not yet working. Why do women still struggle so much for economic equality and work equality? In the world of work, 60% of the world’s working poor are women. Other speakers have given the figures around the challenges that women are facing, such as the lack of literacy. That traps too many of them with insufficient means to be involved in their communities in the way that they should be. So VSO now has a campaign, which I am part of, looking at how to ensure greater equality around the world for women, and that means getting many more women into decision-making positions.

We have begun doing that in this country but we are not there; however, in many developing countries it has hardly even begun. Some of them are doing better than us in terms of the numbers of women in their parliaments, but we really need to move this agenda on. Evidence is clear that where women are participating in and influencing decision-making, it is leading to a more efficient, effective and responsive set of decisions for communities. It helps progress towards gender equality, and helps to transform the deep-rooted social norms and attitudes that act as barriers. It also seems clear to me, however, that it is by tackling the barriers to women’s equality that we will take the massive steps that we need to in order to render the changes that aid is making around the world sustainable. Unless our aid leads to long-lasting change it will continue to be under attack, and that threat is continual.

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Decisions this year by the international community are therefore critical. At the meeting later this year to agree the new development goals, those attending—largely men, I am afraid to say—will have a real opportunity to change the position for women and actually develop goals that will enable women to take more part in the decisions around their country, their community and the world. We simply have to say to them that this is an opportunity they have to face up to. They are the people who this year will have to listen and ensure that women’s voices are heard, and face these challenges in the way that they take their decisions. This is a huge opportunity and we will all be watching closely to make sure that this group, largely consisting of men, takes the right decision.

1.14 pm

The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I rise with some trepidation to be the first man to speak in this debate, particularly having been gently chided by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, about wearing a dress. Still, perhaps that is suitable bridging attire at this moment in the debate. I am also very conscious that the church could be seen to be behind the curve on this issue, as has been mentioned, and I hope that noble Lords can see that we are trying very hard to catch up and make proper progress. I want to do three things in this short address. I want to take up the theme that the noble Baronesses have talked about, the international perspective; look at some issues in the UK; and say what we might learn in terms of policy priorities.

A number of speakers, especially the noble Baronesses, Lady Bottomley and Lady Armstrong, have mentioned the importance of an international perspective. I declare an interest as a director and trustee of Christian Aid. It is axiomatic in the developing world, as we have heard, that if you invest in women you invest in an advance for the economy. In western Afghanistan, for example, Christian Aid has been working for over 30 years with partners. There are more and more women-headed households because of all the conflict. We have pioneered a new form of silk production and offer training in technology, with 1,400 women in those businesses. That is producing income that is now being diversified into other sectors such as clothing manufacture, and it is women who have the drive and commitment to make that happen. In Mali, Christian Aid, with partners, has helped 4,000 women to gain access to land. As a result, vegetable production increased by 50%, with women leading and directing the businesses. So it is axiomatic that this is a sensible thing to do.

If noble Lords want more scientific evidence, some might know about Goldman Sachs’s 10,000 Women initiative. In 2008, Goldman Sachs set up this initiative to provide business education, mentors, networks and links to capital. By 2013, it had enrolled its 10,000 women across the world, and of course it does a scientific analysis of the programme’s effectiveness. It shows very clearly that revenues have been increased, jobs have been created and there has been an expansion of women’s contribution to their communities. There is a very clear message, as we have heard: if you invest in women for development, the whole of society benefits.

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I want to remind us of some of the factors in our own context, if we accept the principle of investing in women for economic and social development. The Fawcett Society has done some interesting research to show a number of factors that I invite us to think about and the Minister perhaps to comment on. There has been a very welcome growth in jobs in the private sector since 2010, much trumpeted and very valuable. Some 59% of those jobs have gone to men and 41% to women, so we have to think about how we are proactive in giving women equal opportunities.

Further research shows that many women work well below their qualification level in the labour market. We have heard some speeches about getting behind through taking time out for child-rearing, but another factor that might be important is that the jobseeker’s allowance has a strong emphasis on getting people into work; that is understandable, but it can have the effect of getting people into work so quickly that they have to take work that is below their level of ability and skill and therefore not fulfilling their potential. Those people are mainly women, who end up working below their qualification level. We need to take some kind of look at the jobseeker’s allowance strategy.

A final bit of research about our own context is that 85% of the money saved from tax and benefit changes has come from the pockets of women. I invite the Minister to comment on that. The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, said that women need to keep more of what they earn, but 85% of the money saved from tax and benefit changes has come from the pockets of women.

I raise the issues, finally, of policy direction and policy priority. Goldman Sachs has done a very interesting study of Japan which I think can put alongside our own context some markers about policy issues. It has shown that the amazing progress of Japanese culture and economics in involving women has been made through a series of targets: targeting female representation in various fields, as we have heard other speakers mention; targeting lifting female labour participation in particular age groups through a reading of the economy and its potential; targeting the boost of the supply of childcare; targeting an increase in the percentage of fathers who take up paternity leave, which is a shift towards equality; and targeting the issue of companies making disclosures about gender policy and gender practice.

From that research, Goldman Sachs highlights three sectors and a number of issues that we might consider for our own policies with our Government and our business practice. On government, the research says that we need to encourage gender diversity target setting, and the Government need to lead the way. We need to boost female representation in government. That is a very important sign. We need to promote, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, said, female entrepreneurship. We need to encourage retraining opportunities, and we need to invest in childcare. They are issues of policy priority for Government.

In the private sector, the research shows that we need to stress the business case for diversity. There are plenty of studies which show that. We need to create a more flexible working environment. In particular, schemes

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for evaluating performance and ensuring promotion need to be much more targeted towards embracing women, including women coming at different speeds into the labour market.

We need, in the private sector, to set clear diversity targets. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, talked about the danger of “all talk”. How are we going to encourage the private sector to set clear diversity targets? How are we going to introduce more flexible employment contracts? What is very interesting in the private sector is the Australian model, which you may know about. In Australia they realise you have got to do what they call “engage the majority” in terms of the workplace and the economy, and therefore you need male diversity champions. In Australia the effect has been very significant of male diversity champions acting in this field, especially in the private sector.

Finally, in society we have to challenge the myth that women taking jobs will displace men. In fact, as we have heard, when women take jobs, the whole economy and culture benefit. In society, we have to tackle the mindset that we have heard about violence against women and girls, which is the substructure of discrimination and not taking rights and opportunities seriously. This is the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, spoke about.

I think there is great encouragement of the general principle of women being at the forefront of economic development and its well-being for society in terms of our experience in an international context. There are serious issues we have to face about women having the right opportunities in the UK. There are some important policy issues for Government, the private sector and society that we may do well to take seriously if we really want to make some progress in this area.

1.23 pm

Lord Graham of Edmonton (Lab): My Lords, it is a pleasure once more to participate in what I call the Thursday debates. I have listened to all of them, and they all inspire me because I am old enough to look back over the years when the situation of recognition of women in any shape or form in running things in the country was far worse than it is now. I am one of those members of society who started to work before the war, and I mean the 1939 war. I was 14. I passed my 11-plus exam, but I could not go because dad was on the dole for the whole of the 1930s. It was not until I got the opportunity given to me by the Open University many years later that I gained a bachelor of arts degree and then was awarded an honorary master’s degree. I knew that I had the degree in me somewhere. The trouble was that it did not come out, or the opportunity did not come out.

I think we should be patient, but we should proud of the progress that has been made, and a lot of progress has been made. During the war, I was in the Royal Marines. I was badly wounded. In May 1944, I was preparing for 6 June in the same year when things went wrong on a certain exercise, and I finished up on a hillside with my guts in my hand and my legs damaged. When the nurse said to me, “The man who did the operation on you is coming round today”, I said, “I’d like to see him”. I said to him, “Mr Anderson,

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I understand you saved my life”. He said, “Well, put it like this: if I’d got to you 20 minutes later, you would have been dead because of the loss of blood”.

Now, 70 years later, I am still standing here, and therefore I have faith in longevity, and I intend to keep going as long as I can. One of the great things that I can recall of the period is the extent to which this Chamber has changed. I have been here 30 years and in Westminster 40 years. A great change has taken place in the population of both Chambers. The background of this House has radically changed since I first came here. I look across at the Bishops’ Benches, and of course they have changed as well. The change is coming. One has to be patient and not too peremptory in criticising the progress that has been made because I am convinced that the whole of society wills and wants the changes that many of us have wanted. There needs, however, to be a right moment. There needs to be a right happening. There needs to be an event which tips the balance.

One can argue politically, “Well, you could have produced legislation under Labour”, but it would not have got through then because the mood of the country was not there. I believe that the changes that have taken place which demonstrate that both Houses have what I call ordinary men and women who have an extraordinary background of achievement are beginning to tell.

When one looks at sport, the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, who was of course the captain of women’s cricket for many years, is a Member of this House. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, the great wheelchair athlete, has been marvellous. One realises that women have a contribution to make, and they make it very well. When I got my degree, it opened a world for me which I knew was there but the key was given to me through the Open University. I will always be grateful to it.

I am completely on the side of those who want to see progress along the lines described by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. She was a marvellous opener of this debate, and she must be very proud that the debate itself has attracted so many people from so many aspects of the matter. It is a privilege to be here in this House. It is a privilege to be able to get to one’s feet and to speak on topics like this with a modicum of experience from outside this place. I believe that all we want to achieve is coming. The disappointment, of course, is that at the end of the day it is the politicians who will decide because this will be changed only by legislation, and that legislation needs to be tempered and put forward at the right time. I hope I am still here to support it when it does.

1.29 pm

Baroness Jenkin of Kennington (Con): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Graham. All these issues we have been discussing today will change only if we get buy-in from men, because men are still in the driving seat in so many countries, so it is a very great pleasure to have his support. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, for so

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ably introducing the debate, and I very much look forward to hearing the response of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden.

I had planned to talk about entrepreneurialism, although, interestingly, women entrepreneurs do not like to refer to themselves as such; according to recent polling, they prefer to be called “business founders”. Having reread the Women’s Business Council report and the Government’s response in preparing for this debate, I was encouraged by how much good stuff there was in it. I will share with the House a very short preview of research by the Centre for Entrepreneurs, which, together with the Legatum Institute, it will launch next month. It has been drawn from polling and interviews with focus groups, 500 entrepreneurs and C-suite executives. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if later on I move on to the topic of women in politics; I quite accept that that does not fit quite so neatly into this year’s topic as it has done in previous years.

On that research, the headline findings are that women are just as interested as men in growing their business. They take a different approach to risk—a more calculated approach. They perceive their growth trajectories to be steady and think of male entrepreneurs as more concerned with fast growth and quick sell. The research shows that they care more about their workforce, few are willing to risk staff for the sake of growth, and many focus strongly on corporate responsibility and their contribution to society and their local area. They spoke of turning to family and close networks for funding, and the exit stage is just not on their radar. Instead they talk about planning, managing and controlling growth. I do not think that any of that will surprise us, as it probably confirms our existing suspicions, but I for one look forward to reading much more when the report is published in April.

In previous years I have discussed the international aspects as co-chair of the Conservative Friends of International Development. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, is unable to join us today and as an officer of the APPG on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, I must make the obvious point that, without access to modern family planning, no woman anywhere across the world can become economically empowered. Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth, and that puts our debate today in context.

However, as I say, I hope that this close to the election and with most of the seats selected, I will return to the subject which is so close to my heart—most noble Lords will know that women in Parliament is one of my things—and was at the heart of my own maiden speech, which I made in this same debate four years ago. An awful lot of us were making maiden speeches in that debate. I talked about my grandmother, who was the only Conservative woman MP in 1945, and her father—my great-grandfather—who was a Liberal MP and subsequently a Labour MP, who introduced the first Women’s Suffrage Bill in 1907, and how proud he must have been to see his daughter take her seat in 1937, and how astonished the two of them would be, having sat on the green Benches there, to see me here now.

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I also talked about Women2Win, which is the organisation the Home Secretary and I set up nearly 10 years ago, and how after the last election we went from 17 to 49 MPs—which is not great, but a huge improvement. I am sorry that my noble friend Lady Bottomley is not in her place, but I think that when she was in the House of Commons the number of women MPs was considerably lower than 17.

Over the past four years, as Members of Parliament have announced that they are retiring, and those seats have been selected, I have been rather gently teased by Members opposite about how we are not making enough progress and how all-women shortlists is the only solution. I have lost my nerve on the journey and have thought that maybe that was the only solution. Indeed I caused some kerfuffle by saying that, if we go backwards at the next election, all options should be on the table. However, I am delighted to be able to say that I do not think we will go backwards. We have had a very good run, and I will update noble Lords on where we are.

I will take this opportunity to congratulate a number of people who have been involved in making that happen. We all know that going into politics is not an easy career choice or option, and women in particular need to be encouraged to come forward and need to be supported on their journey, from their first interview right through to the green Benches. That is what Women2Win is there for; I know that the Labour Party has a similar organisation, as do the Lib Dems. I therefore congratulate those who have been involved in making sure that the selections that have taken place have, to start with, had a balanced list; almost every interview selection panel has had at least as many women as men. We have voluntarily had 10 all- women finals—those constituencies have chosen to do that—and only four all-male finals. That is significant progress. We have ended up with 33%—one in three across the board—which includes the seats we are not likely to win, and of the retirement seats the figures are nine out of 27, or 12 out of 33 if you count the ones that might be in the margins of error. That excludes the ones that I hope we will gain next time. There was also a bit of a hoo-hah about a number of Conservative women retiring. In fact only three retired, out of 33 retirement seats, and they did the responsible thing, which was to retire early to provide an opportunity for their successors to get in place. Therefore, although the situation post-election is not clear, I am very pleased to be able to report significant progress. I have to say that two of those very good seats selected last week, and I might not have chosen this theme had they not done the right thing and chosen excellent women.

If I may stray a little further from the topic before noble Lords, I also welcome the number of BME candidates who will be joining the green Benches next time, which includes candidates for Fareham, Braintree, Richmond (Yorks), Havant, North East Hampshire, Wealden, and South Ribble—not natural Conservative BME territory. I congratulate those on the selection panel on having gone outside their comfort zone in selecting candidates who might not necessarily fit into those constituencies.

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Part of what we have been working on is the next generation. That first step—that first seat—is a challenge, as any of us who have done it will know. I fought a Glasgow seat in 1987 and it put me off—I did not want to do it again. It is lonely, boring and difficult. We have also been raising money for the candidates the first time round. Only yesterday I was speaking at a fundraiser for a highly capable 25 year-old Indian girl who is fighting Dulwich and West Norwood this time; I would love it if she won, but I very much want her to be there in the next generation, and I am delighted that we at Women2Win—the Home Secretary was also there last night—are able to support them, encourage them to come forward, and keep them there.

I take this opportunity to congratulate CCHQ on achieving that considerable success without a row. My noble friend Lady Chisholm is a big part of that. I congratulate Conservative members on selecting outside their comfort zones, and most of all, I congratulate those candidates who are stepping up to the plate. People often say to me, “Why does it matter?”. It matters because women’s life experiences are different to men’s. They are not inferior or superior, but different, and that difference has to be better reflected, whether in the Chamber next door, this Chamber, the boardrooms or the judiciary. Every sector in this country is not doing well enough. None of us in this Chamber, nor the men who understand how important all this is, can afford to be complacent or take our foot off the pedal.

1.39 pm

Lord Boateng (Lab): My Lords, there is an old African proverb in the Akan tradition of west Africa, where I was brought up, which says in translation, “Men tend not to listen to women until it is too late”. Bearing in mind all that is to happen this year in New York and Paris in relation to the sustainable development goals and climate change, we men had better listen to women or it will be too late. So many remarkable contributions have been made, and are to be made, in this debate from so many remarkable women that there is much that we need to heed.

I want to concentrate on Africa and development. Bearing in mind that this is a day of international celebration, I mention two remarkable west African women—my grandmother, an entrepreneurial, innovative medium-sized cassava and cocoa farmer in the Akyem region of the Gold Coast, as it was—Ghana, as is—and Bertha Conton, a renowned educator who taught me to read, was the inspiration for a book club in my primary school and is well into her nineties, but to this day is a teacher presiding over a school in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

I shall concentrate my remarks on Sierra Leone. Ebola has had a devastating impact not simply on the economy of Sierra Leone but also, significantly, on the real progress that had been made in the advancement and empowerment of women. I am afraid that Ebola is not an equal opportunity virus: it discriminates against women. Why is that? It is because women have caring responsibilities. Traditionally in west Africa and, indeed, globally, at times of death or sickness,

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women are always to be found in the front line either domestically or professionally as nurses and clinicians. The result of that in Sierra Leone is that more women than men have died tending to the bodies and to the sick. However, the consequences go beyond that as the not insignificant gains that had been made in education, which started from a very low base, have been set back markedly. With the closure of schools, girls have been sent home in circumstances which make it very unlikely that they will ever return even when the schools reopen. There has been a huge rise in teenage pregnancies in Sierra Leone and a rise in sexual assaults on girls as men have preyed on the increased vulnerability of these young women who are now often the sole providers in these circumstances.

Sierra Leone is not a poor country but it is an impoverished one. It is rich in minerals, agriculture and human potential but it is impoverished as a result of greed, avarice and exploitation, quite apart from the sister evils of ignorance and neglect. It is an impoverished country where more than half the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. One of the key causes of the civil war, which ended only just over a decade ago, was the unequal distribution of power, the consequences of which were felt significantly by women. Women were effectively prevented from accessing the sources of either traditional power in the chieftaincy or power through democratic institutions. The good news is that prior to the outbreak of Ebola that situation was being reversed. Sierra Leone had one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, as I saw for myself when I had the privilege to visit that country last year shortly before the outbreak. During that visit I met the Parliamentary Women’s Caucus and an inspirational group of women brought together by Christian Aid with their local partners in that country. I met women who were empowered through being able to hold local budget holders to account for the money that was being spent on health and education through a project supported by the European Union, DfID, Christian congregations and others the length and breadth of this country. Women were being empowered through their activity on the ground. The danger is that all that will now be set back and will not produce the real economic gains that were beginning to come on stream.

Therefore, I ask for two things. First, even as we debate what is to happen post-Ebola, we must ensure that we learn from the experience of those women and that we listen to their voices. When you ask women what they want in Sierra Leone and, indeed, in many other places in Africa, they tell you that they do not want massive spending on tertiary hospitals but rather a focus on community and public health. They want girls to attend primary schools but they also want to see them enrolled in secondary and tertiary education because, although real advances have been made in primary education, girls are not advancing in secondary and tertiary education. Even as we advance the cause of primary education on that continent, we must take care not to forget secondary and tertiary education because African women want to be scientists too. They believe that the future of their continent and of Sierra Leone depends on the capacity of African

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women to become scientists and to take up roles in the health infrastructure. That involves training women nurses and doctors and training women to work in scientific laboratories. Strengthening the healthcare system demands the involvement and engagement of women.

We should not lose sight of that or of the fact that more than 60% of women in Sierra Leone are engaged in agriculture, which is key to the future of that economy and of Africa as a whole. My paternal grandmother—this innovative cassava and cocoa grower—knew the value of agricultural extension officers, who, interestingly enough, were more prevalent in colonial times than they are across Africa today. My grandmother knew the importance of research and development in agriculture. She knew the importance of being able to link, and her produce being linked, to global markets. We therefore have to make sure that we do not neglect agriculture, the role of women entrepreneurs and, importantly, thinking beyond subsistence to the creation of wealth and linking women to global markets.

We have an opportunity on this International Women’s Day to celebrate the achievements of the many great women who have gone before and those who work and are activists now—north, south, east and west and on all sides of the political spectrum. We have the opportunity to celebrate their work and to rededicate ourselves to a future that they are enabled to shape. We need to heed. It is not too late and the best may yet be to come.

1.51 pm

Baroness Nye (Lab): My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Baroness for initiating this debate and perhaps continue the theme started by the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin.

It has been 112 years since the Women’s Social and Political Union was formed. Eight years later came the first International Women’s Day. History—even familiar history—can be illuminating, so I looked up the Encyclopaedia Britannica for that year, 1911. It described a woman as meaning a wife, and women as,

“the wife division of the human race”.

We have come on a little since then but perhaps not as far as we would have liked. The “wife division” of the human race then was not economically empowered; nor did it have a right to vote or hold public office. It was also that year Sylvia Pankhurst—I share the view of my noble friend Lady Dean that Sylvia Pankhurst should have some recognition—founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes because she wanted a movement that included women from all backgrounds, especially those from working-class backgrounds, because they had the greatest need of emancipation. The suffragettes wanted to “Make it Happen”—which is the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day. However, apart from proving their worth as war workers, little happened for them until the Representation of the People Act 1918 gave propertied women aged over 30 the right to vote. We had to wait another 10 years before women over 21 achieved equality. I mention this because, in election year, we all have reason to remember those women and to honour their bravery and sacrifice by encouraging maximum use of the precious vote.

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I am proud that my party will build on our record of women’s representation in this Parliament because we have more than 50% female candidates standing in our target seats, although there is always more to do. But we have to work hard to find ways in which to engage with the 9 million women who did not vote in the last election and to ask them to not give up on democratic politics. We know that women are worried about the cost of living, the NHS, exploitative zero-hours contracts and the future of their Sure Start, but we have to emphasise that voting is vital to those and other basic concerns.

In doing that, we must never of course forget our sisters who are not properly enfranchised still. In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah declared that women will be able to vote and run in this year’s local elections for the very first time—although, sadly, they will not be able to drive to the polling stations. In Burma, where elections are expected later this year, it is unlikely that Aung San Suu Kyi will be able to stand for President, because the constitutional clause banning anyone with foreign partners or children will not be amended by the quasi-civilian Government. It is hard to see how the elections can be seen as credible and fair without reform of the eligibility clause.

While it was a step forward that President Thein Sein endorsed the Preventing Sexual Violence initiative last year, the military Government continue to stand by while the violence perpetrated by the Burmese army continues with impunity. The Women’s League of Burma and the UN special rapporteur have been documenting rape and sexual violence by the Burmese army for decades. There was one such case in January this year, when two young Kachin female teachers—Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin—were brutally raped and murdered in Shan State. They had been working in the village for about eight months as volunteer teachers for the Kachin Baptist Convention. The Burmese army arrived in the village two days before the murders, posted guards around it but then left shortly before the bodies were discovered. Burma Campaign UK, in which I declare an interest as a trustee, has called upon the British Government to implement provisions in their Preventing Sexual Violence initiative and dispatch a team of experts to Burma to investigate the case. I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments on why this has not happened. What are the criteria for making such a decision? The international community, including the UN, has repeatedly called on the Burmese Government to investigate such cases fully. They have repeatedly failed to do so. Those 20 year-old women had left the relative safety of their homes to teach children in an area of ethnic conflict.

In Burma, as elsewhere, there is an urgent need for education, not only for children but adults, if the demand for teachers, health workers and better living standards is to be met. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, mentioned, Kofi Annan has said that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women, and that empowerment must include access to education. Educating girls has enormous benefits for their families, communities and countries. The millennium development goal to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education has been nearly achieved in primary education but progress

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has stalled. The higher the level of education there is, the higher the prevalence of gender disparity, even for girls living in higher-income households. There are ways to make things better, such as making the school environment more conducive to girls by improving the sanitation facilities, making roads and transport safer, and having more female teachers as role models. It has been estimated that an extra year of primary schooling for girls increases their wages by up to 20%. Mothers with even a few years of education are more likely to send their children to school and have healthier babies with lower levels of child mortality.

The sustainable development goals to be finalised this year include inclusive and equitable quality education, and lifelong learning opportunities for all. I heard the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, asked the Minister about whether there will be a stand-alone goal. However, as Julia Gillard, the chair of the Global Partnership for Education and former Australian Prime Minister has pointed out, aid to education has fallen by almost 10% since 2010, compared with just over 1% in overall development assistance worldwide. She calls for the sharp decline in global aid to education to be reversed and for there to be the political will to reprioritise education aid.

As part of that campaign, the charity A World at School has teamed up with campaigners all over the world to call for every girl and boy, wherever they are born, to have the chance to go to school and get a full education. Tomorrow, the A World at School youth ambassadors, Shazia and Kainat, the teenagers injured alongside Malala on their school bus in Pakistan, will share their courageous story and help launch the Stand #UpForSchool campaign to secure a future where every girl around the world is educated and empowered to reach their potential. As part of that campaign, there is a Throwback Thursday campaign, with which noble Lords can join in by posting an old school picture on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to promote girls’ education and get more people to sign the petition calling on all Governments to keep the promise made 15 years ago. With 31 million girls denied their right to education and more than 500 million girls dropping out before completing their basic education, there cannot be progress on economic empowerment until no child is left behind.

1.58 pm

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): My Lords, we have heard much today about the crucial role that women play in our economy. More than 14 million are in full-time or part-time work, 1.4 million are self-employed, and there are now more women than ever on FTSE 100 boards. However, despite the progress made, there remain great challenges. To ensure that future generations of women are able to access the jobs that will power our economy and continue to improve their economic position, it is critical that our education system helps them develop the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. It is here that I declare my interest as director of New Schools Network.

It is no surprise that as girls’ academic achievements have grown, at both school and university, so their success in the job market has increased and their

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employment options have expanded. Last year again saw girls outperforming boys at GCSE in every mainstream subject except maths. At A-level, although the gap between them is much smaller, girls continue to outperform boys. While overall the picture of attainment is positive, women remain underrepresented in some subjects, particularly at A-level and then at university.

As noble Lords will know, at A-level boys are twice as likely as girls to study maths, three times as likely to study further maths and four times as likely to study physics. At degree level, fewer than a quarter of maths undergraduates are women, as are fewer than 20% of computer science undergraduates and just 16% of those studying engineering. Yet these are the very subjects that can open the door to some of our fastest-growing sectors, where many of the high-value jobs of the future are likely to lie. While women are well represented in many sectors of our economy, such as the service industries and across the public sector, it is important that they have access to jobs in other leading industries, such as the creative industries, pharmaceuticals and high-value manufacturing.

With education being such an important foundation for increasing women’s economic empowerment, it is little surprise that they have been an important driver for change and improvement in the system over the past few years. The opportunity to set up new schools has been enthusiastically seized by women around the country—by mothers who want a new option for their children in their community, and by teachers, who see them as a chance to raise standards in their area and ensure that all children have access to a good education.

Education is an area dominated by women. More than 70% of teachers are female. As in many sectors, however, they are underrepresented in leadership positions. The free school policy is providing a new opportunity for women to unleash their entrepreneurial spirit and help shape educational provision in their area—women such as Charlotte Warner and Katy Parlett, who both have autistic children and have drawn on their own experiences to establish new special schools in London and Leeds. Another example is Sarah Counter, a determined head teacher who has set up Canary Wharf College, now an outstanding primary school, and is setting up a further two schools to offer high-quality education to young people in one of the poorest boroughs in the country. A group of mothers are setting up a primary school in Crystal Palace to help tackle the acute shortage of school places in the area.

As well as being a driving force behind their creation, we are seeing outstanding female leaders in many free schools, from Sasha Corcoran at Big Creative Academy to Angela Reynolds at Corby Technical School and Sue Attard at Hatfield Community Free School. Furthermore, we are seeing free schools set up with specialisms to help ensure that girls as well as boys have the skills desired by employers of the future. King’s College London and the University of Exeter have set up England’s first two specialist maths sixth forms. North Somerset Enterprise and Technical College is developing its curriculum with local employers to address the STEM skills gap in the area, while students at Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form in Norwich have

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regular sessions with leaders from STEM-based industries and leading academics to gain a better understanding of the employment opportunities open to them.

In conclusion, as in so many fields, given a new opportunity, women are rising to the challenge. However, if we are to ensure that they continue to play a growing role in our economy, we have to start early—and that means ensuring that every young woman has access to a high-quality education that helps her develop the character, confidence and skills she needs to do whatever she wishes.

2.03 pm

Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill (Lab): My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to debate women’s economic empowerment as it allows me to highlight the means to prevent so many women entering prison in this country. Economic empowerment of women who have been imprisoned, or are in danger of entering the criminal justice system, is key to their positive participation in society.

In January this year there were 3,807 women in prison in England and Wales. More than eight in 10 sentenced women entering prison had committed non-violent crimes. Most of these sentences were short. Around 60% of women entering custody each year have been sentenced to six months or less. In addition, in a 12-month period around 4,000 women will be sent to prison on remand. The majority of these women spend only around four weeks in custody. Yet any time spent in prison has a devastating effect on women’s lives, often resulting in the loss of their homes, employment and, most importantly, their children.

Financial concerns are a driver to women’s offending according to a Cabinet Office study which found that 28% of women’s crimes were financially motivated, compared with 20% of men’s. Not surprisingly, earlier research on mothers in custody found that 38% attributed offending to a need to support their children, single mothers being more likely to cite a lack of money as the cause of their offending than those who were married.

Theft and handling offences are the biggest single driver to custody for women. In 2013, theft from a shop accounted for more than a third of all custodial sentences given to women, with the average sentence length being 1.9 months. Between October and December 2013 more women entered prison on remand awaiting trial for this offence than for any other. Shoplifting was one of the few offences to increase in the 12 months to June 2014. I fear that with the increase in the number of those on benefit being sanctioned, some will have to turn increasingly to this form of petty crime. The Fawcett Society recently found that,

“particular groups of women … including single mothers, women facing sexual and domestic violence … are exceptionally vulnerable to sanctions through no fault of their own”.

Many women entering prison are in debt and imprisonment exacerbates their financial situation, making it difficult for them to access housing and benefits on release and to be reunited with their children. The Prison Reform Trust has recommended that the time limit for eligibility for housing benefit for sentenced

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prisoners be extended from 13 weeks to six months to prevent short-sentenced women from losing their homes.

A recent survey of women in HMP Holloway found that benefits were the main source of income for more than half of those surveyed, and 43% admitted that they were currently in debt. Women are more likely than men to have claimed out-of-work benefits prior to, and post, time in custody.

Employment outcomes for women leaving prison are three times worse than for men. Women were more likely than men to worry about housing debts, which is linked to the need for suitable housing prior to regaining custody of their children. Fewer women than men had bank accounts. More women than men said that they felt unsure about managing money. Fewer than one in five women interviewed were offered financial advice while in prison. According to the Prison Reform Trust in its recent and excellent report, Working It Out:

“Former offenders, both male and female, face a number of barriers to employment. A combination of factors including mental health problems, low self-esteem and educational gaps, as well as the legal requirement to declare unspent (and sometimes spent) convictions if asked by employers, can make it extremely difficult for people with a criminal conviction to find work”.