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Rights of Women and Girls

Volume 583: debated on Thursday 3 July 2014

1. What recent discussions she has had with her counterparts overseas on protecting the rights of women and girls internationally. (904633)

The Government are committed to the protection and promotion of women’s rights in the UK and internationally. I met many of my overseas counterparts at the global summit to end sexual violence in conflict last month, which brought together 128 country delegations, UN agencies and civil society. We discussed how best to achieve that aim, including providing opportunities for international collaboration and the exchange of best practices.

I thank the Minister for that answer. What can the Government do to help prevent distressing cases such as that of Mariam Ibrahim which arose simply because she was a Christian?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this case, and pleased that Mariam Ibrahim and her family have now been released. They are currently staying at the US embassy in Khartoum. The British embassy in Khartoum continues to follow the case closely and is in close contact with the defence team. We continue to raise our concerns about this case and the broader human rights situation in Sudan with the Sudanese authorities, including with a recent delegation of Sudanese female MPs whom I met. We will continue to work bilaterally and in international forums such as the UN to tackle violence and all forms of discrimination against women.

Ministers are right to draw attention to the appalling sexual violence faced by women and girls in conflict, but we also have responsibilities when women seek sanctuary in the UK. Will the Minister set out what action is being taken following the serious allegations and concerns about operations at Yarl’s Wood detention centre?

The hon. Lady is right, and it is important and extremely welcome that the Government set up last month’s global summit. Those who seek asylum in the UK need to be offered protection, and the Government are committed to making our asylum system more gender sensitive. We have made significant progress, including putting in place new enhanced guidance supported by high-quality training for all decision makers. Women who seek asylum can request a female interviewing officer and interpreter. They can also bring a friend with them to interviews to provide emotional support if needed.

In last night’s Adjournment debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) talked about the case of the abducted girls in Nigeria. He made the point that the problem is not that those girls were abducted, or that others have been abducted since, but that many are at risk and are no longer going to school. Will the Minister look at that speech and prepare a written statement on behalf of her Department to respond to the points my right hon. Friend made?

I certainly will look at that speech—I am afraid I did not have a chance to read it in full before this morning’s Question Time. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that one of the tragedies of the situation that has evolved in Nigeria is that the girls who were abducted were doing exactly the right thing—they were in school and taking exams. We absolutely do not want to put girls around the world off their education. The UK remains committed to helping to find the schoolgirls. I shall look at the speech and think about how best to respond.