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  • The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)

  • My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to open this International Women’s Day debatefor

  • the fourth year running, I think. International Women’s Day provides us with the perfect

  • opportunity to come together, to celebrate the remarkable achievements of women and to

  • commemorate the great progress we have made and continue to make. Around the world today,

  • women and men will be marking this celebratory occasion in various ways. There will be events

  • in local communities, discussions in places of work, arts performances in schools and

  • debates across countries, much like the one taking place today in your LordshipsHouse,

  • and it is a privilege to be just one part of these celebrations.

  • We have come a long way in a short time and we should celebrate all that we have accomplished.

  • Last year, in particular, was an outstanding year for women’s progress, and I want to

  • highlight some of our incredible achievements. We allocated £5 million of funding to mark

  • the centenary of voting rights for women. This money funded over 300 projects that raised

  • awareness of this crucial milestone and encouraged more women, in particular, to participate

  • in democracy, building a diverse political system that reflects the nation it serves.

  • For example, the Courage Calls event built on the Ask Her to Stand model, featuring workshops

  • hosted by parliamentary experts and discussions with serving MPs, and providing help and guidance

  • for 350 women to get on that crucial first rung of the political ladder. I hope to see

  • some of the women who participated enter Parliament as sitting MPs one day.

  • There was the Centenary Cities fund, allocated to seven towns and cities to celebrate their

  • suffrage history. These cities hosted a range of exciting projects to celebrate as well

  • as remember those individuals who helped to make votes for women a reality. Let me give

  • your Lordships a taste of what was on offer. In Manchester, we had cycle rides through

  • history, touching on the lives of some of the women who made important contributions

  • to the cause of women’s suffrage. In Nottingham we had banner-making workshops, encouraging

  • people of all ages to celebrate the anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918.

  • In Bristol we had the Black Women 100 event, which unearthed stories about the incredible

  • women of colour who fought for the right to vote in the early 20th century. This is just

  • the tip of the iceberg. I know that in Leeds, Bolton, Leicester and London there were hundreds,

  • if not thousands, of other events, which took place as part of the celebrations.

  • Of course, we had the statue of Millicent Fawcettthe first statue of a woman to stand

  • in Parliament Squareand the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in my home city of Manchester. It

  • was a huge privilege to be part of the unveiling, and what made it so special and so significant

  • for me was the fact that my daughter was watching from the building opposite, where she works.

  • I know she wished to work for her employer due to its proven track record on gender equality,

  • which makes me incredibly proud of her. I am certain that all these statues will serve

  • as a reminder to all us of the courage of our foremothers, and will inspire future generations

  • of women and girls to come.

  • In November, we hosted Women MPs of the World. More than 100 female MPs from across the world

  • participated, and we witnessed history as the House of Commons Chamber, for the first

  • time ever, was filled solely with women. It was a herculean task to pull it off. I must

  • pay tribute to the right honourable Member for Camberwell and Peckham. It started as

  • her idea and evolved into a collaborative effort of two political parties, three government

  • departments and three arm’s-length bodies to fly in around 100 female MPs from around

  • the world to participate in receptions, plenary sessions and workshops here in Westminster.

  • It demonstrated the power the House has when we all pull together.

  • Last year’s work has left a lasting legacy that will undoubtedly provide greater opportunities

  • and influence for women in our society. But the fight for equality did not stop last year.

  • We need to carry forward the momentum from the centenary year to make sure that our progress

  • towards gender equality does not stall.

  • We know that inequality still persists across the world. Globally, one in three girls or

  • women has been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. Every two minutes a woman dies

  • in pregnancy or childbirth. Over 200 million women living in 30 countries have undergone

  • female genital mutilation. In the UK, we know that women are much more likely to have time

  • out for caring, with lasting impacts on pay and progression. Nearly 90% of those not working

  • due to caring for home and family are women. The gender pay gap still stands at 17.9%.

  • Until we have true economic, social and gender parity, we will never be equal.

  • This year’s theme for International Women’s Day isBalance for Better”. With that

  • in mind, I want to look to the future. I want to talk about what the Government are doing

  • to ensure we have better balance in our society and how we are delivering for women and girls.

  • Yesterday, the Government published the refreshed violence against women and girls strategy,

  • which sets out how we are going further and faster in our response to these terrible crimes.

  • Much has changed in the three years since the Ending Violence against Women and Girls

  • strategy was published. We have a better understanding of the effects on victims and have seen increased

  • public awareness through the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns, which is welcome.

  • The refreshed strategy will implement a review of the criminal justice response to rape and

  • serious sexual violence, which is crucial to ensuring that victims and survivors see

  • the justice they so desperately need. I welcome increased reporting of these crimes, which

  • shows that more victims have the confidence to come forward, but we must ensure that the

  • police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the response through the courts are as robust

  • and effective as can be. We will also develop guidance for providers and commissioners on

  • best practice in supporting LGBT victims of VAWG, as well as reviewing our national statement

  • of expectations to ensure that VAWG services delivered locally are as effective as they

  • can be. Sadly, violence is something that touches many of our lives. We must do all

  • we can across government, working with statutory agencies and specialist third-sector organisations,

  • to support victims and bring perpetrators to justice.

  • Later this spring, we will publish our gender equality and economic empowerment strategy,

  • setting out our plans to address the persistent gender-based barriers that womenand menface

  • across the country at every stage of their lives. The strategy will focus on four key

  • themes: entry and progression in the workplace, especially for those far from the labour market

  • or in low-paid, low-skilled work; optimal choice over parental leave and childcare;

  • economic well-being in later life; and attitudes and social norms about the roles that men

  • and women play.

  • My right honourable friend the Minister for Women and Equalities shared her emerging thinking

  • about the strategy with a wide range of stakeholders on Monday this week. She set out that a key

  • theme will be tackling the financial fragility that impacts on some vulnerable women and

  • girls. As a compelling example of this, she announced that she will be convening an expert

  • cross-sectoral task force to find sustainable ways to address period poverty in the UK,

  • along with UK aid support for projects tackling period poverty and stigma globally.

  • The gender pay gap reporting deadline for year two is less than a month away. Our world-leading

  • legislation meant that, for the first time last year, over 10,000 employers reported

  • their gender pay gap, providing an unprecedented level of transparency, driving board-level

  • discussions and pushing employers to take real action to close the gap. In fact, Bloomberg

  • liked our model so much it has integrated our key measures into its gender equality

  • index for investors.

  • Reporting is just the start; it is crucial that employers use their gender pay gap data

  • to identify the barriers to women’s recruitment and progression, and take action to break

  • down these barriers. We had 100% compliance last year and we expect the same this year.

  • We saw the gender pay gap fall to its lowest level ever of 17.9%, but it will take until

  • 2052 at this rate

  • Baroness Thornton (Lab) We will not be here any more.

  • Baroness Williams of Trafford No, we will notto eradicate it completely

  • in the UK, and much longer globally. We have to do better.

  • We have committed £5 million in funding to help people return to work after time out

  • for caring and to find jobs that use their valuable skills and experience. In addition

  • to the initial £5 million fund we established for returners in 2017, a further £500,000

  • has been provided to support those with additional barriers to participating in the labour market.

  • This may include people with complex needs or multiple barriers, such as substance abuse

  • or homelessness. We have gone even further, and an additional £100,000 of funding has

  • been announced to support those people with little or no work history. We have also launched

  • best practice guidance and a toolkit to help employers run effective returner programmes.

  • We urge them to make the most of these publicly available resources.

  • Gender equality is a global issue. I recently attended a gathering in Spain of Ministers

  • from across Europe. While we are leaving the European Union, we are clear that we will

  • continue to work with partners in Europe and across the world to ensure that women and

  • girls have the same rights and opportunities as their male counterparts.

  • I conclude by saying again that I am proud to participate in today’s debate with so

  • many staunch advocates of gender equality. I am proud to be part of this Government,

  • and it is an honour to be part of the work we are doing and will continue to do to fight

  • for gender equality across the UK and the world. We are making great progress and it

  • is only right that we celebrate how far we have come. Now, all I ask of you is to keep

  • working together, especially in these challenging times, to think about how we can balance for

  • better, and how we can ensure that gender equality becomes a reality sooner rather than

  • later. I beg to move.

  • Baroness Gale (Lab) My Lordsand Baronesses—I thank the Minister

  • for bringing this debate before us. It is as she feels: it is a privilege to be speaking

  • in this debate, albeit late on a Thursday afternoon as last business. Perhaps we could

  • have a much better time for our debate next year. This year’s theme isBalance for

  • Betterand as we consider the UK’s role in advancing gender equality globally, we

  • must face up to the challenges that remain so as to tip the scales, which are currently

  • weighted towards men. Whether it is about intimidation in public life, gender-based

  • violence or equal pay, only by tackling those issues can a truly better balance be found.

  • Increasing the number of women in public life is about improving decisions and outcomesand,

  • more importantly, having our elected institutions look like the people they represent. According

  • to the United Nations, only 24% of all national parliamentarians are women. In the UK, for

  • example, 32% of the Members of the House of Commons are women, while the figure for the

  • House of Lords is 26%, for the Welsh Assembly 47%, for the Scottish Parliament 35% and,

  • in Northern Ireland, 32%. I am proud to say that the Welsh Assembly is the best in the

  • United Kingdom, and that if we can do it in Wales we can do it anywhere. That is a challenge

  • to the rest of the country.

  • The voice of women in the UK was lost when the coalition Government disbanded the Women’s

  • National Commission in 2010. Although the Government said at that time that its work

  • would be taken in house, with the Government Equalities Office having the responsibility,

  • nothing is now heard from it. It cannot possibly be doing the work that the WNC was carrying

  • out. Can the Minister tell the House what is happening in this field? The WNC was an

  • asset to the United Kingdom, comprising over 650 women’s organisations and providing

  • different Governments over a 40-year period with a great link to women. If this Government

  • are not prepared to establish a new WNC, I can guarantee that the next Labour Government

  • will do so. We will provide a strong, independent voice for women’s organisations in the United

  • Kingdom; it will be women’s voice to Government on a whole range of issues.

  • Women in politics face an extraordinary amount of abuse online and offline, partly because

  • they speak up but also simply because they are women. Online abuse can affect women’s

  • human rights to safety and freedom of expression. Social media companies must do more to protect

  • female users, but this abuse undoubtedly comes from the sexism that still exists in our society

  • and that can manifest in even more violent ways. Sadly, many women in public life have

  • been victims of this violence. I pay tribute to my former colleague, Jo Cox, who was killed

  • just because she was serving the people of her constituency. We think of her today. As

  • we call for more women to enter public li