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International Women’s Day

Volume 729: debated on Thursday 9 March 2023

I beg to move,

That this House has considered International Women’s Day.

May I say how great it is to see you in the Chair for this now annual event on the Floor of the House of Commons, Madam Deputy Speaker? I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting us this time, and also members of the all-party parliamentary group on women in Parliament, who yet again proposed the debate.

It is a great privilege to be able to open today’s debate. I will start by recognising the incredible achievements of every single female Member of Parliament in the House of Commons and every female parliamentarian, not just in this Chamber but at the other end as well. I have been fortunate to have so many women helping me throughout my life: family, friends, work colleagues and fellow parliamentarians. I would particularly like to say how inspired I am by my colleagues on both sides of the House—their tenacity, their ability to make change happen and their resilience, getting anything that gets in their way out of the way so that they can get things done. I salute them all for what they have already achieved, and for what they will go on to achieve in the future.

I pay a particularly fond tribute to two women in my party: my right hon. Friends the Members for Epping Forest (Dame Eleanor Laing) and for Maidenhead (Mrs May). Both have gone out of their way to make sure that they encourage women in my party to be the best they can be. It would not be proper to not also remember the late Cheryll Gillan. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] On the Conservative side of the House, she was the mother of our party, and we miss her greatly. She was an amazing colleague.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) is one of my inspirations in this House, but I think it is really important that we are able to talk openly about how much respect we have for colleagues across the House. I can see a number of women on the Opposition Benches whose work I have followed, not only since I have been in this place, but before I became an MP. I remind everybody that, as much as we see the ding-dongs on the tellybox, a lot of us get on and are trying to make big changes here together.

That is an excellent friend— I mean that is an excellent comment from my hon. Friend, and she is absolutely right. I should at this stage point out that there are a couple of us on the Government Benches who have not slept overnight, so please forgive us, Madam Deputy Speaker, if we stumble over our words. [Interruption.] No, a lot tamer than that; we flew back on the red-eye from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

I am moved to intervene because the right hon. Lady mentioned Cheryll Gillan. While there might have been many things we disagreed on, there were many things we did agree on. She did incredible work on autism and championing neurodiversity. Also, when I joined the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, she was a very supportive member and helped to show me the way. She is much missed across all Benches.

I thank the hon. Lady for those kind comments. It demonstrates how we work together and have shared interests. Just to refer back to our venture to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women earlier this week, I chaired a panel of young women, and they were asking about how we work together, and where the political divides were. I have to say that I used Jo Cox’s words that there is more that unites us than divides us. That is another thing I would like to remember fondly today.

Having women in Parliament and in leadership really matters—we know that—because it changes the conversation, the discussion and, above all, the decisions that are made both here and in organisations across the country and around the world. To mark International Women’s Day, at the start of this week I led one of four delegations of UK parliamentarians to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. My delegation was from the all-party parliamentary group on United Nations women. We thank the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for its support in helping that delegation happen.

At the CSW in New York, thousands of women from around the world met to discuss the status of women, with four delegations from our Parliament. There were 18 hon. and right hon. Members and noble Members of the House of Lords at that global event. The event was at times harrowing, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) will draw later on some of her work while she was there. It was harrowing in particular to hear directly from women from Afghanistan, Ukraine and other parts of the world, including Colombia and Mexico, about their own personal experiences, particularly around sexual harassment and worse. The Afghan women we heard from talked about the brutal beatings, the torture and worse, but they are still there, prepared to protest to regain the hard-won rights of the past two decades. We also heard from women in Iran living with a brutal regime. We must continue to play our part in this Parliament, as we have a proud tradition of doing, in keeping these women’s plight at the fore and ensuring that their need for support and change is never forgotten.

It has been difficult to watch as women’s rights have been stripped away in Afghanistan since the withdrawal of troops. Now, Afghan women who were divorced and able to escape abusive marriages under the previous Government have found those divorces nullified and found themselves at risk under adultery laws. Does the right hon. Member agree that the Government must pick up the pace with the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme to make sure we can offer sanctuary to those women?

In bringing this matter up, the hon. Lady is doing what we all must do, which is to raise these issues in public. That is what the Afghan women I met were pleading for—to make sure that their plight was not forgotten—and they were enormously grateful for hon. and right hon. Members raising these issues, so that not only does the world media not forget, but our colleagues on the Treasury Bench do not forget either.

I commend the right hon. Lady for bringing this debate forward. Unfortunately, I have a meeting today so I cannot make a speech.

This is not just about the politicians across the world; it is also about the likes of my mother, who is 91 years old —soon to be 92—and still gets up to make fresh scones, drives a car and looks after my brother, who is disabled. It is also about my wife who runs the home, volunteers at an animal shelter and cares for the grandchildren, giving childcare to help make ends meet. I am a grandfather of three beautiful and wonderfully sassy granddaughters, who I believe will change the world, and I am the proud employer of six fiercely strong, independent and intelligent women. My point is clear: does the right hon. Lady not agree that on this day, and indeed every day, we have much to be thankful for with all the women in our lives who have shaped us and who continue to shape our world and make it a better place?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He is always a great supporter of women. He raises an important issue, which is that women have many different roles in this country and in our national life, and we should celebrate all those roles in this debate. But, above all, we need to ensure that women have a choice as to what role they take on, and we should never allow barriers to get in the way of them succeeding and reaching their potential in life. I am sure his sassy granddaughters would agree with that.

The Commission on the Status of Women, as well as being harrowing at times, was also enormously uplifting. It was empowering to hear from other female parliamentarians, NGO leaders and activists about how they are working and campaigning for change. I had the great pleasure of meeting the Speaker of the Belize Parliament, the honourable Valerie Woods, who is also deputy chair of Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians. The Inter-Parliamentary Union had many meetings at the CSW, which serves to remind us of the importance of organisations such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the IPU, in the light not only of our Parliament, but of Parliaments around the world. They are incredibly useful organisations for women to be able to drive change and learn from other Parliaments.

As I said, the UK Parliament had four delegations—the biggest group ever to be at the CSW—demonstrating that the significance and importance of women’s rights among colleagues across the House has never been more heightened. At the UN this week, thousands of women from across the world saw laid bare the global erosion of women’s rights since the Beijing declaration was adopted in 1995: the reversal of Roe v. Wade; 4 million women and girls out of education in Afghanistan; women in Ukraine rendered victims of sexual violence at the hands of aggressors. Closer to home, two women are murdered by their partners each week in the UK—I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) will be talking about that in her contribution to the debate.

There is no doubt that in the UK over the past decade a huge amount of progress has been made. I pay tribute to the Minister for Women and her predecessors—of which I am one—for all they have done to ensure that we continue to see momentum in women’s rights. The Minister has done so much, particularly on women’s health, and I pay tribute to her work in that area. Although I will speak about some of the challenges that we have to face, and ways to address them, it is important to keep at the back of our minds that huge progress that we have made as women, and the huge contribution that women make to public life, making this place, and other places, better as a result.

How do I know that this place is better for having women in it, and why it is important that we continue to push for more women to enter public office? True representation is the answer to that question. Representation—good, strong, diverse representation—is vital in political life because it encourages trust in political bodies. Engagement in democracy is stronger when people see themselves in their elected representatives. Representation tends also to result in diversity. That in turn results in a greater range of ideas, which for a deliberative system such as our democracy is hugely important to improve our decision making.

In the business world, research by McKinsey found that, for every 10% increase in gender diversity in senior executive teams in the UK, earnings in that company before interest and tax rose by more than 3%. There is a dividend not just for commercial organisations, but for organisations such as ours in ensuring that that diversity is in place.

The right hon. Lady is generous in giving way. I was at a Balfour Aviation event last week, where it was pointed out that women remain significantly under-represented in more senior roles, with only 6% of pilots being women. The training is incredibly expensive and we have heard about the barriers to becoming a high earner that many women face. Does she agree that the Government could be providing more financial support aimed at encouraging women into industries such as aviation where they are under-represented?

The hon. Lady raises an important point about pilots. I know her point is slightly broader than that, but pilots face issues in staying qualified to fly, if they have children. That is one of the reasons— I met that sector of the industry a number of years ago—it sees such a haemorrhaging of women out of the industry. But she makes a broader point. Over the last decade and a half, we have made some important progress in getting in place the idea and notion that having more women in senior roles in organisations is important. On STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths— I actually think those on the Treasury Bench should be singing much louder than they do on their success in putting STEM first and foremost in young women’s minds. When we compare STEM graduates coming out of our universities now with the graduates who came out of our universities in 2010, there are now more women than men coming out with STEM degrees. We do not shout about that enough, but she is right that those women are still on a junior level. We need to ensure that the barriers have been removed so they do not, as we see in the case of pilots, end up having to move out of the industry because barriers are in the way. She makes an important point.

As I say, in the business world, research from McKinsey found that gender diversity increases earnings and that companies in the top quartile for diversity outperform their industry mediums. McKinsey believes that that is because diverse companies are better able to win talent to improve customer understanding, employee satisfaction and decision making, leading to what it calls a virtuous circle.

If diversity can improve our businesses, it can improve our Parliament, too. Where our performance metrics are not found on balance sheets, they are found in the decisions we make for the future of our country. Diversity and deliberative processes, by which I mean voices from more backgrounds bringing new ideas from different life experiences, are foundational to what we do here. The Center for Talent Innovation identified that 56% of leaders do not value ideas they do not personally see the need for. Given that we know that women have experiences of life that are very different from those of their male counterparts, we can see from that figure how important it is that we have more women not only in this Chamber but at the decision-making table of Government.

What is the solution? We need diversity in leadership, and having women central in our debates adds legitimacy to our democratic process. It means that our work in scrutiny is done in a more rounded and full way, and policy can be made that more fully encompasses the needs and dreams of the people we serve. The UK electorate and all electorates are half women, so representing women’s voices here is directly important to at least half of our constituents. Gender equality in Parliament is all about democracy and improving our democracy. It is clear to see why it is important that we make an ever-increasing effort to ensure that diversity can thrive in this Parliament.

Our Parliament has come a long way and we have a very reforming Speaker, who has put the role of parliamentarians front and centre in this place and picked up some of the issues that are incredibly important to women not only coming into Parliament but staying in Parliament. I am thinking particularly here about personal security. However, our Speaker has also inherited an enormous backlog of issues that have not been tackled for a variety of reasons in recent years. It is my belief that the House of Commons must continue to renew its energies in this area to ensure that it is not only the political parties that are working hard to get more women into the House of Commons, but the House of Commons itself that is appealing and is a place where people want to come and have a career. The women who have the capacity, the capabilities and perhaps even the personality to come into Parliament have a lot of choices and different ways they can use their lives. If we do not make sure that the people who have the best capacity are attracted to come to Parliament, as well as have a vocation, we are going to miss out on the brightest and the best, a phrase that is often mentioned to me by Ministers who are responsible when I talk about this issue.

One of the ways we can ensure that we increase the appeal of our Parliament is through gender-sensitive audits, to ensure that we have an understanding of what makes our Parliament strong, and where we can improve it and make it more appealing for women. I pay tribute to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which developed the concept of gender-sensitive Parliaments in 2010. Since then, multiple Parliaments around the world—including our own—have conducted gender-sensitive audits to see how they fare. That was developed further by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which put together a toolkit to make it easier for all sorts of Parliaments to implement such an audit.

Will the hon. Lady forgive me if I do not? I do not want to incur the wrath of Madam Deputy Speaker.

The point of gender sensitivity is to create environments in which both men and women can operate equally. There are seven key aspects, which include: the numbers and positions of women; the legal and policy framework of the legislature; mainstreaming of gender equality; the culture, environment and policies of Parliament; the role of political parties; and the position of parliamentary staff. All those aspects can tell us a lot about how men and women are faring in their Parliaments. The House of Commons conducted a gender-sensitive audit in 2018, which was welcome, but that feels like a long time ago. Some colleagues were not even here. Our audit of how Parliament works for people today, not three or four years ago, should be foremost in our minds.

It is clear that there is more to do. I refer to the Fawcett Society’s report “A House for Everyone: The Case for Modernising Parliament”, published in December, which I am sure colleagues are familiar with. It brought into focus the problems around retaining female parliamentarians, which I know concerns colleagues on both sides of the House. The number of women in Parliament taken as a snapshot is all well and good, but Fawcett’s work reveals that, because women face disproportionate challenges, they tend to stay in Parliament for one fewer term than men. That means that those women do not get the opportunity to reach the seniority or level of experience of their male counterparts.

On what we do next, the all-party parliamentary group on women in Parliament will produce a workstream to ensure that we have a clear plan to get an equal Parliament by 2028, to coincide with the centenary of the Equal Franchise Act 1928. When that work plan is put into place, I hope that we can share it in Parliament through further debate.

It is a great pleasure to open the debate. On behalf of those colleagues who are still at CSW in New York, I wish a happy International Women’s Day for yesterday to everyone in the Chamber and those who are watching at home. I encourage everyone to ensure that the legacy from our time in Parliament is encouraging and achieving the objective of having more women on the green Benches, to make this place a fairer and even stronger parliamentary democracy.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) for opening the debate and for all her work for women over the years. I share her comments about celebrating our wonderful women parliamentarians and all their achievements. It is very good to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Madam Deputy Speaker, and our excellent female Clerks at the Table, too.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) will read out the list of UK women killed this year, which is truly heartbreaking and a reminder of the dangers that women and girls face in our country. Three years ago, my constituent Libby Squire was on that list. She was a young woman studying at Hull University whose life was taken in 2019 by a predatory man who had been prowling the streets of Hull looking for a victim. But Libby’s murder was not an out-of-the-blue attack: in the 16 months before Libby’s rape and murder, the perpetrator had committed a string of sexually motivated offences, including indecent exposure, masturbating in public, spying on women through their windows and stealing sex toys and underwear.

Very sadly, we know that the behaviour of men who expose themselves is devastatingly everyday, common and normalised. When I asked women MPs earlier this week about their experiences of men indecently exposing themselves, everyone had a story, whether it had happened outside their sixth-form college, on public transport or on the way to school. Just today I received a letter from an 80-year-old woman who recalls being a victim of indecent exposure when she was 18. She still lives, 62 years later, with the impact of that assault.

We found out at Libby’s killer’s trial that many of his earlier crimes had not been reported to the police. Why was that? It was because victims often feel that they will not be taken seriously by the police and that reporting will not actually trigger any action. We know that these crimes are committed by predators and can be a precursor to more extreme violent behaviour. We ignore these warning signs—these red flags—at our peril.

Earlier this week, Wayne Couzens was sentenced to 19 months for indecent exposure, having committed a string of non-contact sexual offences in the years before his arrest. One of those incidents, when he exposed himself to staff at a McDonalds drive-through, happened just days before he kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard. In handing down the sentence, Mrs Justice May reported that Wayne Couzens’s ability to commit these deeds with impunity only

“strengthened…the dangerous belief in his invincibility”.

Very sadly, as with Libby’s murderer, the offences escalated.

A review of evidence from 2014 found that a quarter of men who exposed themselves went on to reoffend, with as many as 10% going on to commit serious sexual offences.

Is it not true that most people underestimate what an assault on a woman is like? It is really only when it happens to you that you understand the impact. It is so important that we listen to the women who have been through an assault and understand the trauma that it has caused them.

Absolutely. I am very grateful for that intervention. I think every woman in this Chamber or watching this debate will fully understand the impact that it can have.

I return to the statistics. Since 2018, almost 250 men found guilty of indecent exposure have subsequently been found guilty of rape. Indecent exposure and non-contact sexual offences are gateway crimes that are still not taken seriously enough. In the years since her daughter’s murder, Libby’s mum, the formidable Lisa Squire, has fought to raise the importance of reporting these “low-level” sexual offences. She has been working with Humberside police on the Libby campaign to urge women always to report them to the police. Her call on women is, “These offences are not trivial. They are not harmless. If you are the victim, please report it to the police. It could save another woman’s life.” She has already managed, alongside Humberside police, to reach 17,000 young people in the Humberside area. She is also working with the Metropolitan police and Thames Valley police. I spoke to Lisa this morning; she is a formidable woman, and I have no doubt at all that we will see change because of the work that she is doing.

Of course, reporting is not the only hurdle. This week, we heard from one of Couzens’s victims, who said in her impact statement:

“Four months after you exposed yourself to me, you raped and murdered an innocent woman. There were opportunities to identify you and they were not taken. I did not feel that, when I reported your crime, it was taken as seriously as I felt that it should have been.”

If women are to report crimes, they must have faith that they will be believed and respected, that action will be taken, and that, most importantly, the police themselves are not a danger.

A recent analysis found that of the 10,000 indecent exposure cases logged by police in 2020, only 600 reached court. That is simply not enough. I have tabled amendments to Home Office Bills to try to tackle the issue, but sadly the Government did not accept them. I met Home Office Ministers, with Lisa Squire, to talk about what more the Government could do. As Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, I raised the issue directly with the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel).

I believe that the Government must do much more about tackling violence against women and girls. The Prime Minister declared this to be a national emergency back in November, but he did not make it one of his top five priorities. Why not make it the sixth priority? If this Government will not accept this as a national emergency, I hope that the next will. Indecent exposure is not a minor crime—we know that it is frequently a stepping stone to escalating violence against women by predatory men—and perpetrators, although pathetic, are not harmless; they are often very dangerous. We must take this issue far more seriously, doing so for Libby, for Sarah, and for all the women taken from us. Just like women down the years fighting for a cause—the suffragettes, the Bow match girls, the Ford Dagenham equal pay strikers, and Hull’s own headscarf revolutionaries—we will persevere and we will see change.

It is absolutely wonderful to be back in the House today—if I am a bit bleary, it is because I have just got off the all-night redeye and have had only a couple of hours’ sleep—and it was wonderful to be present at the annual conference of the Commission on the Status of Women, along with Members in all parts of the House, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller), and to see much joy among so many thousands of women. This was the first time the commission had met in person for four years. There was a particularly moving moment yesterday when a very informal lunch was attended by a handful of British parliamentarians from both Houses, a Canadian senator, two young Mexican Members of Parliament, three Afghan women’s rights champions, and two Ukrainian MPs. Madam Deputy Speaker, the sisterhood is strong.

There is so much that I want to say that I thought I would try to keep myself ordered by giving the House an A to Z, so here it is: some of it happy, and some of it sad.

A is for Afghanistan, with 4 million girls not at school, women not allowed to work, and women subjected to public floggings, rape and torture. It is gender apartheid at its worst. As the Afghan women said to me yesterday, if an Afghan girl cannot go to school and an Afghan woman cannot leave her home, why can the Taliban send their daughters not just out of their homes but out of their country to go to school in other countries? What they ask of the UK Government is that we and our allies impose travel bans on the Taliban, and do more to sanction their assets.

B is for a network of paths in Chelmsford called the “Bunny Walks”. It used to be overcrowded, overgrown, dark and dangerous—a no-go zone for women—but, thanks to the Government’s safer streets fund, it now has lights and CCTV, the undergrowth has been cut back, and it is being enjoyed by women and men and, indeed, people of all ages. I would encourage colleagues, if they have dangerous parts of their constituency, to look at the safer streets funding, because it makes a huge difference.

C is for contraception. Some 257 million women want access to contraception, but cannot get it. If a woman cannot control her own body, she has no control over the rest of her life. Women’s rights to sexual health and reproductive services are being pushed back across the world. Yesterday I visited the United Nations Population Fund, which does amazing work to prevent maternal mortality and to ensure that women have access to contraception. That vital organisation would like to pass its thanks to the UK Government for our leadership in the support that we give it.

D is for domestic abuse, the most hideous of crimes. But there is really good news from Essex, where reports of domestic abuse are down 8% this year. I thank Essex police, under the leadership of our police, fire and crime commissioner, Roger Hirst, for the huge focus they have put on tackling domestic abuse.

E is for education. A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live beyond the age of five, 50% more likely to be immunised, and twice as likely to attend school as the child of a mother who cannot. I thank the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for prioritising girls’ education in the women and girls strategy yesterday.

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Going back to Afghanistan, is it not very short-sighted of the Taliban not to educate girls, considering that an educated mother educates her children, and an educated child then contributes to a very productive society?

This is exactly the point. Educating girls creates benefits for the girls themselves and for the whole society—not just greater economic growth, through women being able to go out and work and create their own incomes, but societal benefits such as the health benefits I have just mentioned.

F is for freedom. Last month I met a survivor of domestic abuse who had just escaped from her violent partner with her three children. As a Member of Parliament, I said to her, “Is there anything more that we could do for you?” She looked me in the eye and said, “No, Vicky —I’ve got everything. I’m free!”, with her arms in the air. May we have more of those free women.

G is for girls. They are our future, but we should not think that the experiences they face today are the same as the experiences we had growing up. Adolescent girls are disproportionately negatively affected by online harassment. We need to listen to them, understand their experiences and let them inform us, especially as we seek to make laws and policies that affect them.

H is for the hijab and headscarves, and for the brave women of Iran who are prepared to risk their own lives because they believe in the right to choose whether they should have to wear one.

I is for impunity. Women as young as four and as old as their 80s have been raped by Russian soldiers in Ukraine—barbaric sexual violence committed by order of military commanders. We must hold the perpetrators to account, take them to court and break the cycle of impunity on conflict-related sexual violence.

J is for Julia Jeapes, my association chairman. None of us would be here without the volunteers in our parties.

K is for Kaja Kallas, the Prime Minister of Estonia. We need more strong women leaders in this world. K is also for Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, where the rains have just failed for the fifth season and more than 20 million people, mostly women and children, are living in extreme food insecurity.

L is for levelling up, which is not just a north-south issue. In Mid Essex from 1 April women will have access to IVF on the NHS for the first time. I thank Health Ministers for ending the postcode lottery of health funding.

M is for marriage; child marriage sometimes sounds as if it could be a romantic and beautiful thing, but it is so far from that. A child entering into marriage often faces rape and a life of slavery. I say thank you and congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham), and the noble Baroness Sugg in the other place on the work that they have done pulling through the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022, to make sure that no person under the age of 18 can get married in this country.

N is for numeracy. I am a mathematician; there are not many mathematicians in this place and certainly not many women mathematicians. We must end the stigma that suggests that girls do not do maths. I am celebrating the fact that year after year we see more and more girls doing maths A-levels; we should encourage them to continue to do more.

O is for online safety. There are some excellent measures in the Online Safety Bill to protect women; the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls gave the UK a shout-out for our legislation in a meeting yesterday, particularly the measures to prevent deepfake porn videos.

P is for pornography. We need to do much more to tackle the online pornography that our children are coming across and watching; often they just stumble across violent pornography, as a result of which, girls are increasingly being subjected to violent sex. I hope the Government will look favourably on the amendments that the noble Lord Bethell will be tabling to the Online Safety Bill in the other place.

Q is for queens. I miss our late Queen deeply. As the Foreign Office Minister at the time, I had the honour of meeting foreign leaders as they came to sign the condolence books, and the deep grief amongst women leaders was huge. The late Queen wrapped her own arm around women leaders across the world, and I wish our new Queen all the best as she prepares for her coronation.

R is for rape. The rate of prosecution for rape is on its way up, but it is still too low and the Government must keep focusing on it. S is for the abhorrent Stephen Bear, a violent, abusive, misogynistic man who has just been sent to jail for revenge pornography—and long may he stay there. So much praise must go to the brave Georgina Harrison, who was determined to see him stand trial for what he has done.

T is for thank you. The late Madeleine Albright said there was a “special place in hell” for a woman who does not support other women, but I think there is a special place in heaven for men who put their own heads above the parapet to defend women’s rights. I thank the Father of the House in particular for being here today.

U is for Ukraine and the women of Ukraine. Despite the rapes, despite the 6,000 children who have been abducted, despite the deaths of children, partners, sons and grandparents, the women of Ukraine continue to stand firm and brave and fight for their freedom. Their fight for freedom is the world’s fight for freedom and we will stand with them, not only on International Women’s Day, but every day for as long as this takes.

V is for violence in politics. Online violence makes women MPs silence our voices and puts women off standing. Too many women in the UK face real threats to their safety. We must stop the hate speech and make it clear that violence will not be tolerated in our politics.

W is for wonderful. We often complain about all the challenges women have, but we often forget to say that being a woman is wonderful and I would not have it any other way. X and Y are chromosomes and Zs are for sleep, so I thank hon. Members for listening and not falling asleep.

I pay huge tribute to Counting Dead Women and the Femicide Census. The first year I read the list of killed women—women who had been killed by men—none of the women’s names sparked a moment of recognition for anyone other than their bereaved loved ones. This year, there will be names on this list we have all heard of—women who, following their brutal killings, have become household names. Were it not for the arduous work, over a decade, of Karen Ingala Smith and, latterly, her work with the Femicide Census to painfully keep the list, and to fight every day for killed women to be an issue of major public concern, working alongside brilliant and crusading bereaved families—mums, dads, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons—the names would be equally anonymous this year.

These amazing campaigners have made sure that killed women are no longer just a name recorded in a local newspaper. They have made sure that the issue of femicide, and all the failings that lead to an increased risk, are a national priority for the people of Britain. Reading this list is the honour of my life. Today, we are joined by families whose loved ones’ names appear on this list, or have been on previous lists. Bearing witness to them matters.

Here is the list from Counting Dead Women and the Femicide Census of women killed, where the primary suspect or named killer is a man, since this time last year: Sabita Thanwani; Yasmin Begum; Shotera Bibi; Sherry Bruce; Helen Lawrie; Emma Baillie; Ramona Stoia; Alyson Nelson; Susan Farrance; Katie Kenyon; Buddug Jones; Inayat Begum; Dolet Hill; Tanysha Ofori-Akuffo; Samantha Drummonds; Diana Gabaliene; Aimee Cannon; Amanda McAlear; Shannon Stanley; Lorraine Cullen; Karen Wheeler; Lisa Fraser; Ania Jedrkowiak; an unnamed women; Mari O’Flynn; Julie Youel; Antonella Castelvedere; Kerry Owen; Saira Ali; Jennifer Andrews; another unnamed woman; Margaret Una Noone; Sakunthala Francis; Sally Turner; Somaiya Begum; Zara Aleena; Wendy Morris; Abi Fisher; Margaret Barnes; Hina Bashir; Samantha Murphy; Madison Wright; Lauren Howe; Becci Rees-Hughes; Mairi Doherty; Kathleen John; Helen Barlow; Mckyla Taylor; Elinor O’Brien; Ashley Dale; Karen Dempsey; Wendy Buckney-Morgan; Lizzie McCann; Margaret Griffiths; Susan Moore; Katie Hurmuz-Irimia; Jacqueline Forrest; Patricia Bitters; Harleen Kaur Satpreet Gandhi; Hollie Thompson; Ruth Stone-Houghton; Jillu Nash; Jill Barclay; Diana Dafter; Hilary Round; Angie White; Yolanda Saldana Feliz; Deborah Gumbrell; Caroline Adeyelu; Keisha Christodoulou; Emma Potter; Alexis Karran; Clair Armstrong; Jacqueline Rutter; Lorraine Mills; Fatoumatta Hydara; Ruta Draudvilaite; Mary Andrews; Michelle Hanson; Maureen Gitau; Cynthia Turner; Anju Asok; Ailish Walsh; Natalie McNally; Sabrina Cooper; Stacey Warnock; Francesca Di Dio; Courtney Boorne; Elle Edwards; Stephanie Hansen; Gabriella Rudin; Beatrice Corry; Jacqueline Kerr; Holly Newton; Anne Woodbridge; Emma Pattison; Valentina Cozma; Erica Parsons; Lorna England; Edna Berry; Darrell Buchanan; Eliza Bibby; Sarah Brierley; Sarah Albone; Sandra Giraldo; Charlotte Wilcock; Jane Collinson; and Helen Harrison, whose name had to be written on as I walked into the Chamber—every year, there is a final name.

This year, we also remember Brianna Ghey, a young woman brutally killed where a young woman and man have been charged. The youngest on the list was 15-year-old Holly Newton and the oldest was 92-year-old Anne Woodbridge.

I want to mention Joanna Simpson, who was killed before the tradition of reading this list began. Her killer, who spent days—if not weeks—digging the grave that he would bury her in, was found guilty not of murder but of manslaughter. Her family are with us today and I join them in their campaign to stop his release from prison just 13 years after her brutal killing.

I also want to mention the women who never get named on the list who are suffering terrible domestic abuse and sexual violence, such as Bianca Thomas, who fell—“fell”—from a tower block window following years of domestic abuse. There are many women who never make it on to this list, because no one is ever charged with their killing.

I have read hundreds of inquest reports and domestic homicide reviews over the years. Everyone pushes for lessons to be learned and tells us that next time it will be different—it never is. This week alone, I have spoken to a woman whose perpetrator turned up at her home while on bail for trying to attack her with a weapon. A call to the police left her waiting seven days for a response.

Femicide is currently not mentioned in the domestic abuse strategy. This is not okay. I urge the Government to hurry up and release the long-overdue sentencing review into domestic homicide. There is no reason why we are still waiting; all these women died in the time that we have been promised this review.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for reading that list. Every year, it is just as powerful, and every year, it is a shocking indictment of our society. This year, the list included my constituent Fatoumatta Hydara. I put on record the names of her two daughters, three-year-old Fatimah and one-year-old Naeemah, who were also killed in the fire started deliberately at their home that claimed Fatoumatta’s life in November.

I thank my hon. Friend. Unfortunately, the list, as it currently stands, does not include the children who are also killed. In lots of these cases, such as the famous case that we all know about in Epsom where a child was killed, many children were also slain by violent men along with their mothers, and we will never ever forget them.

The families and the Killed Women campaign, who join us here today, would want me to make it clear that lessons are not being learned. Warm words are no longer enough. We honour these women not by reading out their names, and not by making any of the promises that happen in this place. We honour them with deeds, not with words.

May I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) for the speech she has just given? I thank her for doing what she has just done each year because, by taking this step, she has drawn a huge amount of attention to this issue, and we are all talking about it a lot more as a consequence. Personally, I am grateful, and women up and down this country should also be grateful.

I am very pleased to see the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) witnessing that speech in his place. I hope he will take this in the spirit in which it is meant when I say that I hope he was listening, because we still have a culture in this country in which our criminal justice system devalues women when it comes to being victims of crime. It is all very well for us to pass these wonderful laws in this place about equality, saying, “We’ve got the Equality Act, isn’t it marvellous”, but behaviourally there is still massive prejudice and discrimination against women, and nowhere is that more clear than with the murder of women. If a man murders his wife, he is treated less severely by the courts. That surely is wrong, and it is something we must absolutely tackle.

It is so depressing that when, over recent months, we have seen higher-profile cases of this nature hit the headlines, it is done in a very voyeuristic way. We still end up talking about these women, who have been victims of terrible violence, as if it is some kind of soap opera, and that just is not good enough.

I thank the hon. Member for her powerful speech on this subject. Does she agree with me about the role of the media in reporting these crimes? This goes back to that tragic murder, but essentially a number of these men are depicted as family men for whom something just went wrong, but they should be viewed as what they are—murderers.

The hon. Lady makes her point very powerfully. The way the media reports these things is like a soap opera, not a crime. It is about creating a story out of someone being the victim of a hideous act of violence. She is quite right to highlight the fact that people say, “Oh, it’s a family man who has done this”, and “Well, they were feeling so diminished because they’d lost their job”. That happens, and at the same time we have female sex workers murdered every week of the year who do not even merit a mention. That just illustrates the pervasiveness of the culture in this country that still treats women as objects, and it is still very much a world that runs according to men.

I am standing here listening to myself, and thinking, “God, what happened to you, Jackie?” When I was growing up in the 1980s, I thought the battles of feminism were won. I never thought I would be standing here banging on about the rights of women, but as time progresses I just think we are going backwards. It is almost as if Parliament has passed these laws to establish equality, and that means it is all right—job done—but the job has not been done at all. In many respects, this has gone backwards. I do not want to be treated like a delicate little flower, but, because we have a law that does not do that and that establishes my rights, that has given a lot of men a behavioural excuse not to treat me with respect and not to recognise the fact that, being a woman, I do have vulnerabilities. I do have vulnerabilities, and I am quite happy to accept that. I know some of my male colleagues think that I do not, but I do.

Does my hon. Friend agree with me that one of the things the Government have done in the last 10 years, by making relationships and sex education mandatory for all school-age children, is to start to embed in the education of all our children in this country what a good relationship looks like, which is going to be very pertinent when it comes to the treatment of women in the future?

I agree with my right hon. Friend, but I have a word of caution on that, because it has to be with the right materials. I am afraid that we have a bit of a wild west out there, because we have had all kinds of organisations bidding for Government money to produce materials for this space, and I certainly feel that some of the materials I have seen are not appropriate to be shared with school-age children.

Would my hon. Friend join me in urging Ofsted to do a deep dive on this issue, so that it can look at exactly the point she has made? It is an issue I have raised with Government Ministers and with Ofsted directly.

I think that point is actually a very good one. To guarantee the quality of these tools and the content there needs to be a degree of inspection. We know we will find bad actors everywhere in society, and perhaps in schools we need to make sure that we do have that protection.

Very briefly, because I know there is a lot of pressure on time, is it not also important that the people who deliver these courses—the teachers in the room—have to be specialist teachers, rather than leaving it to a maths teacher?

I actually have less sympathy with that point. I think we should all understand what standards of good behaviour are, and it should be intrinsic. Frankly, no teacher should be allowed in a classroom if they do not understand respect. It comes down to that ultimately, and I think all teachers should be equipped with that.

If my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend do not mind, I will make some progress, because at the moment my speech has been entirely interventions.

I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) in her place because I want to talk about abortion. It is very important that we in this place—the mother of Parliaments, this advanced democracy—challenge ourselves about whether the laws we have are really fit for purpose, particularly when on things such as abortion we are quite good at lecturing the rest of the world. My fundamental view is that our abortion law is currently not safe. The most important thing we can do in this place is make sure that our laws do no harm. I have said this before in this House, but the law we have regulating abortions—the Abortion Act 1967—is older than me. I have not worn too well, but, frankly, that has worn even worse. It is in desperate need of reform. I am afraid that while we treat this as an issue of conscience, we are failing women, because that law predates medical abortion. It deals with a situation where the only terminations women could have were surgical, which, as we all know, are more dangerous, and the law is drawn up on that basis, which is why it relies on two doctors having to certify that the procedure is necessary. Do we really need two doctors now, when we have the availability of medical abortion? I just do not think it is necessary.

Back in the 1990s, when Kenneth Clarke was Secretary of State for Health—so we are going back a long way—the abortion law was amended at that point to enable abortions to take place in settings different from the licensed establishments that the state approves of. However, it took until the pandemic for that to be made a reality, and the reality made was not the one intended at the time the law was passed in the 1990s. It recognised that we now had medical abortion, which could be administered safely by pill, and the whole idea, when Ken Clarke accepted that amendment, was that we would be able to access abortions in places such as family planning clinics and places of beauty, instead of the stigmatised list of places that have to be regulated by the Secretary of State. That, by the way, has made sure that our abortions are a monopoly service provided by two providers in the independent sector; they are very rarely done by the NHS. Earlier this week, we discussed the Public Order Bill and the whole issue of protest, but would there really be so much protest if abortion services were more embedded in our established national health service, instead of being shunted away into the back streets somewhere, which makes them a target?

It is worth remembering that an early Conservative woman Member of Parliament, Margaret Thatcher, in 1967 both voted to decriminalise male homosexual acts and stayed up all night to help get David Steel’s Abortion Bill through the House of Commons.

Can I put it to my hon. Friend that, given that it is now so common and that there are over 200,000 abortions a year in this country—it takes two to tango, so that is 400,000 people contributing, some perhaps more than once, but not many—we ought to make it easier? People who decide that having an abortion is appropriate, should be able to do it easily and safely, without embarrassment.

That is exactly the point that I was coming on to make. I absolutely respect why Members of this House have ideological objections to abortion and why they will always vote to restrict it. However, the fact is that abortion is an established right in this country, and it is our obligation to ensure that those laws are safe and that women can access abortion as early as possible in their pregnancies. That is actually the most important thing and the safest thing, and that is why they must be much more readily available.

Let me make a point to the Front Bench—which I fear will fall on deaf ears, just because we continue to see this as an issue of conscience, rather than of safety—that this is something that really ought to be reviewed. I would suggest to the Minister that we have, in our women’s health ambassador, Lesley Regan, someone who, as a former head of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, is eminently qualified to undertake a review, perhaps not to make recommendations, but to just highlight how the current abortion law is not fit for purpose, so that we can properly review how we might improve it.

The way in which the Abortion Act is established is not encouraging a healthy debate about the issue either—on both sides, I might add. That is the starting frame of reference, so we end up in this ridiculous debate about time limits. Ultimately, we just need to get away from that and think about it as a health procedure. When that Act was passed back in 1967, it was a radical and empowering measure that advanced women’s rights, but here we are, more than 50 years later, and we need to take a good look at it.

I will give way to the right hon. Lady, because I know that she has very passionate and informed views on this, and has done so much on this issue.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I am so pleased to hear her make this speech. What is even more worrying is that, while the 1967 Act is more than 50 years old, it is of course underpinned by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which is a Victorian piece of legislation that says that abortion is a criminal offence. Really, until we decriminalise abortion and treat it as a healthcare matter, we really will not get rid of the stigma. That seems to be the thing that we need to do in this country—decriminalise it and treat it as a healthcare matter—which I think the hon. Lady is supportive of.

Absolutely. It must be treated as a healthcare matter. However, on the point that the right hon. Lady raises about the 1861 Act, I looked into that when I was a Minister, to see how many convictions there were, and, to be honest, we still need to have some kind of protection maintaining the criminality of abortion where there could be coercion involved. Again, these are issues that are still crimes against the woman.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way again, and I will be very quick, but decriminalisation does not mean deregulation. Of course, all the healthcare laws that apply to our clinicians, nurses and everybody else would still need to apply, so things such as coercion absolutely would be regulated for and treated as an offence. However, the underlying issue of women being criminalised in that Offences Against the Person Act has to go.

I think the fact that the right hon. Lady and I are having a ding-dong about this, while we actually want the same outcome, illustrates just how badly that debate has taken place, because of the bookends of the 1861 Act and the 1967 Act. Again, it comes back to us all wanting better outcomes and a safe system for women. That should be our starting point, not those two pieces of legislation. We can probably strengthen the protections for women regarding coercion if we look at it in that way.

As usual, I like to use this speech to challenge ourselves about what we are not getting right for women. But I have not got until midnight on Sunday, so I will have to be a bit more limited in what I am able to tackle. However, I am pleased to have been able to say what I have about abortion today.

I also want to come back to the point, which the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North made in her speech, about indecent exposure. I absolutely amplify her overall argument. To be honest, flashing is not seen as a crime. It has been totally normalised. I heard on the radio, just this week, that as many as 50% of women have been victims of that crime. I cannot emphasise enough that sexual violence is something that escalates, so the moment that some things are tolerated, that behaviour will only increase. Wayne Couzens is perhaps the best example of that.

This is where I come back to equality laws and advances that are meant to empower women. I want to talk about the whole issue of contraception. Yes, it has given women the opportunity to take control of their fertility and enjoy their sexuality, and all the rest of it, but it has also generated a culture in which men feel even more entitled, and where girls are feeling more and more forced to become sexualised beings, earlier perhaps than they are ready to. That is why I feel very strongly that we need to keep our safe spaces.

I would just like to point out to my hon. Friend—who I really value and who is saying some great things—that I do not think it is contraception that has led to many of the challenges that young women are facing today, especially more violent dangers and sex. The contraceptive pill has been around for 70 years, but the violence that women face today is also linked to pornography and other issues.

Yes—well, she has had no sleep. The point is that we have a culture where girls are expected to be sexualised at an earlier and earlier age, and more and more of that behaviour is being tolerated. We have a situation where we have the growth of gangs, and we talk about boys stabbing each other, but we do not talk about the sexualised sharing behaviour that happens among those gangs.

Going back to my earlier point, that is why we really need to jealously guard our safe spaces. We have had this debate a number of times before, and, similarly to the abortion debate, we end up debating things on a very polarised basis when, actually we are talking about safety.

I was very concerned to read in Parliament’s gender guidance that the advice given to anyone, in regards to gender, is that people should be encouraged to use the facilities that they feel comfortable with. I then went on to read that, as part of the restoration and renewal project, 70% of our toilets will be gender-neutral, and the remaining 30% will be split evenly between males and females, so we will only have 15% of toilets, under that will be female-only.

At the risk of upsetting some of my male colleagues here—actually, I think some of them are not very comfortable with shared-gender spaces either, mainly because they do not find men’s toilets very nice, and are even more embarrassed to have to share them with women, if truth be known—it is important that women have their own spaces, so that we can maintain our privacy and dignity.

Again, that comes back to the point about indecent exposure, because those of us who jealously guard the need for women to have their own toilets and changing facilities are not scared of trans people; we are scared of male sexual predators. The truth of the matter is that a male sexual predator will use every tool at his disposal to get access to his victims.

Ultimately, this is a behaviour that none of us understands, but there are some men who are actually very proud of showing off their penises—God knows why, because they are not the best things to look at at the best of times. They love their penises so much that they want everyone else to see them. Well, we don’t.

For that reason, I will not apologise about continuing to maintain my defence of us having our own facilities that men, for whatever reason, will not have access to. We now have to work hard to establish that proper respect. While more than 50% of women are victims of indecent exposure, we have not reached the level of respect that every woman in this country deserves from their male counterparts. It is incumbent on all of us. I know we are mainly women here today in the Chamber, but I also say to my male colleagues here, thank you for being here, and please do your bit to ensure that we all enjoy that freedom as well.

It is a huge pleasure and privilege to speak in this debate. There have been some fantastic and powerful speeches by right hon. and hon. Members. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller), who opened the debate. I have fond memories of us trekking down the corridor to the former Speaker’s office to advocate for baby and parental leave for Members of this House, to try to take this place forward. It is right, as other Members have said, that female parliamentarians often work cross-party to achieve progress. It is not the Punch and Judy show that folks see on the television week in, week out.

I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) for her incredibly moving speech. It has become a grim tradition, it is fair to say, that every year she discharges her duty of reading the names of women who have been killed by violent men. That is incredibly important.

One of those names was a constituent of mine, Aimee Cannon. Her mother, Wendy Cannon, is here with us today in the Gallery. I want to share the details of what happened to Aimee. I stress that these are Wendy’s own words, and we are privileged that she is willing to share them with us through me, her Member of Parliament.

On 5 May last year, Wendy and her husband were enjoying a Friday night. It felt like any other typical Friday night as they began thinking about the weekend. Wendy had been communicating with their daughter, Aimee, via WhatsApp. Aimee had been telling them how much she was looking forward to work the next day. Aimee worked at a beauty salon. She had plans to celebrate at a birthday party that weekend, and she was also going to help out at a charity fundraising event for a children’s hospice. In spite of her own challenges—anorexia, self-harming, domestic abuse and addiction—she wanted to help others. She had a big heart. That was Aimee.

On Saturday her parents became worried about Aimee’s lack of contact. Aimee’s father went to her house and found her dead with multiple injuries. The police described the attack as a brutal and sustained attack. Aimee would have been frightened, in pain, alone and dying in a place that she should have felt safe in. Aimee was only 26 years old, and she had so much to live for and so much to give.

Aimee’s parents and their grandchildren’s lives will never be the same again. Aimee’s mum Wendy told me that they stagger from day to day in a dark maze of grief, lost in a legal system that they do not understand. They have one question: how many more women have to die before we recognise that gender violence is now becoming an epidemic in our society?

I am incredibly proud of and grateful to Aimee’s parents for their courage and bravery in sharing Aimee’s story, and for allowing me to share it today. When Wendy first came to see us to get support, we sat together and she told me about Aimee. And we cried—a lot. Wendy said to me this morning when she came to Parliament that she had heard the Prime Minister’s legitimate concerns about his daughter’s safety while walking to school. She said that she hears that—but imagine how she feels.

The challenges that Aimee faced in her life are, sadly, shared by many women across the UK. I have spoken before of women from my constituency, Kirsty Maxwell and Julie Pearson, who were both killed abroad at the hands of violent men. It was their untimely and tragic deaths that led my team and me to start our work on deaths abroad and consular assistance. There are so many other women we could talk about, though some are very often missed off our lists, forgotten about or unnamed.

We are privileged to be here and in this position as female parliamentarians. I am in this place because of generations of women who have come before me, who fought for our right to vote, to get paid equally and to get treated fairly, and who fought for real progress at their own expense, both professionally and personally. In fact, yesterday I had the privilege of taking some of the WASPI women—from the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—to the suffragette broom cupboard, a little-known shrine for those feminists among us. On the night of the 1911 census, Emily Wilding Davison hid herself in that cupboard so that she could record it as her address, in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft. Her census form gives the postal address as:

“Found hiding in crypt of Westminster Hall”,

and the pencilled note on the bottom left gives the date, “3/4/11 Since Saturday”. Emily was arrested on nine occasions, went on hunger strike seven times and was force-fed on 49 occasions. She died after being hit by King George V’s horse at the 1913 Derby when she walked on to the track during the race, sacrificing herself so that we can be here today.

There was something almost prophetic about showing those incredible women, who have faced such injustice, that place where another great woman suffered and sacrificed to make her point.

Emily Wilding Davison taught for a time in Worthing, which gives me a constituency link. I think her view was that if she could not vote, she was not a person and therefore she should not be recorded by the census. I do not think that she aimed to be recorded as being in Westminster; she just wanted to hide here.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that providing that incredibly helpful education.

As we walked past the statue of Falkland, to which suffragette and activist Margery Humes chained herself, one of the WASPI women told me that they should have brought their own chains. It is a brutal and harsh reality that more than a century later, we have women facing similar injustice who have to fight way past retirement age and who are dying before they get the justice to which they are entitled.

I am reminded that it is Endometriosis Awareness and Action Month. My co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on endometriosis, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), and I have been to a number of events and briefings this week, as we do throughout the year, to talk about, discuss and campaign for better diagnosis, support and funding for research and treatment for those who suffer from such a brutal and life-limiting disease.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about a reality that blights the lives of many women. Will she also call for similar research and focus to be shone on polycystic ovary syndrome, which is another blight on the lives of many women?

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. So often, women are being left behind by the lack of resource for, research on and understanding of diseases such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.

All over the UK we have incredible groups, such as my local one in Livingston, Endo Warriors, run and managed by Candice and Claire, two remarkable women. I was reminded yesterday that, unlike other diseases, endometriosis and, I believe, polycystic ovary syndrome, still have some of the worst support and understanding by clinicians, and that post-op care comes nowhere close to what people get if they have almost any other injury, disorder or disease.

I want to mention briefly Marie Lyon, who heads up the campaign on Primodos, another scandal of our time. I know that the Minister is familiar with this. We have to pay tribute to those women and parents who have suffered at the hands of Primodos, the hormone pregnancy drug, because they are still fighting for justice decades on from the harm that has been done to them and their children.

Some progress has been made, though—it is not all grim. In Scotland, for example, we have become the first country in the UK to publish a women’s health plan, which is an important first step, and I know that the UK Government are following in our footsteps by focusing on the rights of women and girls in their international development strategy. That is incredibly welcome, but what is not welcome is the cut in international aid, which is going to hit some of the poorest areas in the world the most. It needs to be reversed.

The simple fact is that women today still face vast inequalities. The issues are complex and interlinked, whether they be childcare costs, the cost of living, access to affordable healthcare or traditional stereotypes, many of which we have heard about from Members throughout the Chamber. Women of colour, trans women, women on lower incomes and women across the LGBT community continue to be disproportionately impacted. Not only are this UK Government bringing forward illegal and illiberal policies that will shame us the world over, but having no recourse to public funds has a brutal impact on many women who are seeking refuge and asylum. I have seen that at first hand when constituents come to me.

According to the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report 2022”, it will take another 132 years to close the gender pay gap.

Internationally, we see women striving for the same rights as men. I pay tribute to the incredible women in Iran who have stood up and risen up against an authoritarian Government, and to the women in Afghanistan who are fighting for the right just to retain the ability to be educated, and who face a brutal reality following the departure of the troops. The west has left the women of Afghanistan behind and we must look to what more we can do. And I pay tribute to the women of Ukraine, including my constituent Natalya, who is interning in my constituency office. She had to leave many of her family members behind, as they are fighting in that horrific conflict.

There are many incredibly important women in all our lives. One of them is my mum. She stood for election to this place in 2010. She was unsuccessful but, five years later, I am pleased to say that I beat the man who had beaten her.

I grew up as a child of a single parent. I was born out of wedlock, and I want to say to all the single parents and single mothers how incredible they are, that they are loved, wanted and valued.

One of my favourite stories about my mum is about our dinner traditions. One of our favourite dinners—some may be familiar with this, and some may not—was a pick-and-mix dinner, which often came at the end of the month. It did not dawn on me until adulthood that my mum creatively made up the dinner with whatever was left over at the end of the month because, quite often, there was not much left to spend. Her creativity in presenting us with lots of different wee bits as an entertaining game worked every time. We loved it and I still love it. Her door was always open to anyone, no matter how little we had. We had Christmases with folk who did not have anywhere to go and camping trips with other folk’s kids. Mothers, especially single mothers, are really quite exceptional.

I close by paying tribute to the incredible Emma Ritch. She was the executive director of Engender and passed away suddenly in 2021. She is desperately missed by her family, friends and colleagues, and I was the beneficiary of her excellent advice on more than one occasion. I am so pleased that the Emma Ritch law clinic will shortly open in her memory at the University of Glasgow.

To all the incredible women, to those who identify as women and to women like Aimee who, in spite of all the challenges they face, display enormous kindness and generosity for others, we salute you. I know that my constituent Wendy will continue to fight for women’s equality, in Aimee’s memory, with her army of friends and family, and I look forward to going on that journey with them.

It is a pleasure to speak again in a debate on International Women’s Day. #EmbraceEquity is this year’s hashtag. Although we are approaching equality of resources and opportunities, equity recognises that each person has different circumstances and that we may need to allocate different resources and opportunities to reach an equal outcome.

I thought I would use this debate to highlight the work to promote tech and STEM careers to women and girls, which is one of the themes of International Women’s Day 2023. We keep returning to careers in STEM because we are still not maximising the potential of women in these industries. Even if there is equality in provision and training, it is not being accessed equally, so we need to examine why.

I have several interests, chiefly through the all-party parliamentary group on women and work, which I co-chair with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who has just left the Chamber. As the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) said, we work together across the House in many ways. My interest also comes from my work on university technical colleges, an education model that offers transformational opportunities to young people. Finally, like many others, I have an interest as a mother and grandmother. [Interruption.] Yes, I have three grandchildren.

I have been a strong supporter of UTCs since they were introduced, and I was instrumental in encouraging the establishment of my local UTC in Portsmouth. Every young person interested in a STEM career should have the same chance to have the education that a UTC provides—this should include coding in every school’s core curriculum—but most UTCs are now oversubscribed, and there are sometimes 10 applicants for every place. I am backing the Portsmouth UTC to launch another UTC in the Solent region, as it will help many of my young constituents to access an amazing route into STEM careers.

Last week, I visited the London Design and Engineering UTC, where girls make up 36% of the intake, which is fairly typical of most UTCs. Fifty-one per cent. of UTC teachers are women. I hope the proportion of girls attending UTCs quickly increases to nearer 50%, and 50% of applicants for next year are female, so there is some progress at last.

Those figures are really interesting and obviously a great empirical example, but does my hon. Friend have any thoughts on how we may have achieved 50% of the teachers being female but only a third of the students being female? What is the difference between those two numbers?

Interestingly, I think 65% of secondary schools have women as teachers, so the proportion is slightly less. I have met female UTC teachers, and they are all highly skilled scientists and mathematicians, as is my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby). It is a shame because we are sort of putting them in here and not into the community, where they could be teaching the next generation.

A third of female UTC graduates go on to STEM destinations. Some 70% of girls go into higher education, compared with 55% of boys. Twenty-four per cent. of girls go on to apprenticeships, mostly at level 4 or higher, against just 4% nationally in other schools. The fact that only a third go on to STEM destinations should raise alarms. This year, the APPG on women and work published our report on the cost of being a woman at work. We had a lot of input from the tech industries, including some shocking statistics about women in tech. In 2017, PwC discovered that only 3% of women say that tech would be their first choice, which is shockingly low considering the good salaries and prestige that come with the industry. The five most valuable brands are tech companies—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Meta—yet 78% of students could not name a woman working in technology, which is probably not surprising given that only 26% of the tech workforce are women.

The tech industry has produced awe-inspiring, life-improving inventions, but it has also contributed to growing online misogyny and gadget misuse, including spy cameras and stalking. Surely having more women working in the industry would help lead to tech being better adapted for women and to more work to combat the negative aspects for women.

I am sure my hon. Friend will be interested to know that the theme of this year’s Commission on the Status of Women meeting at the UN was “Women and the impact of technology.” I know she wished to be there herself, but the key issue of trying to make sure technology works for women was the highlight of the global conversation. The point about needing to have more women in the tech sector, working on developing new technologies, was repeatedly reiterated. What she says is spot on.

There is also the impact on education in more remote countries, or even in Afghanistan. We would hope that people could access education through tech. If we can get more women working in tech, education could be provided which perhaps even the Taliban would agree with.

My hon. Friend is being very generous with her time. I agree with her point on Afghanistan, on which I heard some particularly powerful anecdotes from the Street Child charity only last night. Does her APPG, and the other groups with which she is working, have broader thoughts on the future of work? Is there an avenue to have a wider debate about women’s interests in that, not that I believe there is any such thing as a woman’s interest in a ghettoised form? I wonder what her thoughts are on that.

I set up the all-party group in 2015 with that sole purpose of changing policy on the barriers to women in work. Each year, we have produced a report, and I will pass on some copies to my right hon. Friend, because we cover the whole gamut of women in the workplace. This year, we have been focusing on tech, which is why today’s debate is so important.

We need to change the way we use the internet, and having more women at the top will help because we need to be more inclusive. As we have said, that will help in education around the world, too. Careers advice must push tech as an option. Tech companies must link in with schools and provide mentoring. It will take time, commitment and long-term investment, but it will make a massive difference to our productivity. There are mentoring programmes for women already in the tech industry and they are proving successful. Cornell University has estimated that that could lead to a 15% to 38% increase in promotion and retention rates for women. As I have said, there are very few women at the top of tech companies.

It is good to have a day when we can focus on how far women have got in so many areas. We have also heard some harrowing speeches today. It is great that we can encompass every single aspect of what it is like to be a woman. Tech must reduce its barriers to women using it effectively and entering it as a career, and then we can really embrace equity.

When I was a teenager, I used to question why there are so many ways to tell the relationship status of a woman—Mrs, Miss, Ms—but there is just a Mr. I am still wondering that as a grown woman. Articles always include the age of the woman after her name, but only sometimes the age of the man. Why is that? Our laws and language are designed to keep women vulnerable and exposed in a particular way.

I was a secondary school teacher and, although a married woman, with four children, in my middle age, I was always “Miss”, whereas a man was always “Sir”. Is that not bizarre?

The hon. Lady brings up the interesting issue of inequality in titles. I was very fortunate to be able to receive a damehood recently and I am greatly honoured to have it. But I note with interest that the spouses of those of my colleagues who have been knighted have a different title entitlement from that of my husband. Does the hon. Lady agree that her point about titles needs to be looked at on both sides of the coin—for men and for women?

Absolutely. We talk about equality and equity not only in actions, but in language. It all needs to be looked at, because certain systems and structures are designed in a certain way. As I said, it is to keep women exposed and vulnerable. For example, for sex workers, working alone is okay, but working in pairs is illegal. How on earth does that keep women safe? Just this week, during the debate on buffer zones around abortion clinics, many men were telling women how they should think, what they should do and who they should listen to about their bodies. Our structures are riddled with misogyny, racism and so much else, and it is time that we change how women are written about.

I have campaigned for many things in this House. I have campaigned on domestic abuse policy, and trying to allow 10 days’ paid leave for people, particularly women, when they leave abusive relationships. In those 10 days, it could save a life because that is when they are most vulnerable. You are not safe when you leave an abusive relationship; you become more vulnerable.

I have campaigned for changes in the use of language by the Met police, for instance, when they deliver briefings and press releases about missing and murdered women. I have also campaigned for changes in the judiciary, which is filled with many—please do not take offence at this, Mr Deputy Speaker—old white men with outdated views. I need to recognise the work of Judge Anuja Dhir KC, the first person of colour to become an Old Bailey judge. She is doing her very best to change how the judicial system works, but she is just one woman, powerful as she is. Today, I am campaigning for and championing the work of Level Up, and calling for a clause in the Independent Press Standards Organisation editors’ code on reporting fatal domestic abuse. The code needs to be one that journalists are legally bound to, not a voluntary code, and I will tell the House why.

The way in which the press report domestic abuse is often inaccurate and undignified, and prioritises sensationalist headlines over responsible reporting. There is often negative framing of victims, and when this goes viral it is amplified over and over again. That is extremely damaging because it reinforces negative framing around the victims, and what is seen as acceptable or “deserving” behaviour of the woman—as it often is—who is killed. Thus, “sexism”, “misogyny”, “extremism” or “terrorism” are never words used when describing violent men. Why not? We have an epidemic in our country of domestic violence, domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. Level Up introduced the UK’s first guidelines on this and the BBC, The Mirror, The Guardian and the Metro have all taken that on board, but more needs to be done.

The recent coverage of Nicola Bulley, Emma Pattison and Brianna Ghey shows us that the media reporting of women who are violently abused or killed is out of control. Emma Pattison was killed, along with her young daughter, by her violent husband and this was reported with the headline, “Did living in the shadow of his high achieving wife lead to unthinkable tragedy?” Another headline read, “Husband of Epsom College head who ‘killed her and their daughter before turning his gun on himself’ said he was ‘desperate to do more with his days’ after his business failed”. Why on earth would we accept our media reporting the murder of a woman and a young child in that way in our country? It is unacceptable and in this House we should be able to legislate against that, which is why we need a new, enforceable editors code.

It is not an isolated incident when a woman is killed every three days by a man. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) read out those names today and that list never gets shorter. This is an epidemic.

I agree that this must not become an epidemic, so I would like to draw the hon. Lady’s attention to some of the work that has been done in this area in Essex, under our police, fire and crime commissioner and chief of police, particularly to intervene with perpetrators. The change hub works with them and it has resulted in a 95% reduction in violent incidents caused by those perpetrators. A campaign that encouraged people to self-refer led to more than 115 people referring themselves as perpetrators and they were then worked with. May I encourage her to look at the work in Essex to see whether she could get it into her own police area, as this work with perpetrators seems to be helping to reduce domestic violence?

First, let me correct the hon. Lady: this is not becoming an epidemic; it is an epidemic. It is an epidemic when a woman is killed every three days by a man, and we need to start—

I need to finish my point. We need to start referring to it as such. Yes, some good work is being done and there is good practice, such as some police forces having independent domestic violence advisers, but it is still not working because a woman is still killed every three days. So yes, we can acknowledge the good work, but I am not here today to do that; I am here today to push for changes in legislation so that we can save lives.

Women and girls who are victims of abuse are never responsible for the abuse, and we need to start at that point. It is the perpetrator who is responsible, and media reporting must reflect that. Let me read out a few more headlines: “Husband jailed after he snapped and smothered nagging wife to death”, “Henpecked husband killed wife”, “Wife jibes about penis size drove hubby to murder”. These headlines are shocking. There will be people listening to this debate who will say, “Well, Dawn can’t be telling the truth; she must be lying.” I am not lying. Those are actual headlines.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) talked about culture and language, and I must say that this fake culture war going on at the moment is extremely damaging to women and to other minoritised groups in our society. People say, “Why can’t I say what I want to say? Why can’t I do what I want to do?” This sort of language is having a damaging effect, and it is why we will not make progress.

The hon. Lady is making some really important points about how language in the public discourse and in the media is often dehumanising, as we heard in the headlines she just read out. Those women were described in the most ridiculous fashion, considering the context. More broadly, the language of the media is also often very objectifying of women. On all of these fronts, it would be really helpful if one of the takeaways from today was that some of the people who are listening to this debate might think about that and perhaps change some of the ways they describe women.

I agree with my honourable friend. When a woman has been killed or murdered, the media will try to find a picture of her in a nightclub, or holding a drink, or with her hair down, or wearing a short skirt or dress, as if that was the reason she was killed or murdered. The misogyny that exists in our structures must be rooted out.

I do not just talk about these things. I have worked hard on the House of Commons complaints procedure to change how this place works and operates. I am also working with the police. Wayne Couzens and the messages from the WhatsApp group prove exactly what black people have been saying for a really long time: structures built for the promotion of a certain type of white man are riddled with racism, misogyny, homophobia and everything else that tries to belittle others. It is an uncomfortable truth, but it is a truth that must be aired.

When our police forces, jurors and judges are drawn from a society that allows outdated and damaging portrayals of domestic violence, the damage is clear: there is still one woman killed every three days by a man. It is time for us to make this long-overdue change if we are to reduce the number of women killed every year. I recognise that some work has been done, and that some work is being done with the Met police, but it is not enough.

I wondered whether I should read out these WhatsApp messages to the House, and I have decided that I am going to read out a couple. This is a police discussion on domestic violence. The police said that the women who suffer from domestic violence have one thing in common: they are women who do not listen. Wayne Couzens and another police officer had a joke when they saw a young drunk woman on the train. The officer was asked:

“Did you finger her to see if she was ok?”

The officer responded:

“I considered it. But she was a right old lump. So I just raped a bystander instead.”

There is more of that on the police WhatsApp groups. It is absolutely appalling and disgusting. It is time for us to legislate, and to recognise that words have consequences. Domestic terrorist groups in our country are on the rise. We have seen the growth of incels. We have nearly 3,000 incels in our country and they are very much underground, which is concerning. Teachers have been asked in the classroom, “Miss, have you ever been raped?” That is the kind of language that I have been talking about. The incels talk about how they can watch women being murdered. This is really damaging.

I want to end with two well-known sayings:

“A world that does not love, respect and protect its Women is doomed to perish! Because Women are Mother Earth!”

G.D Anderson said:

“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong, it’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength”.

It is a true privilege to speak in today’s debate. This time last year, I could not take part because I had not yet made my maiden speech. It is a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), who made a fascinating speech. I really commend the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who is no longer in her place, for her contribution. Nobody in this place, particularly someone listening to it live for the first time, can fail to be moved by it. It is incumbent on us all to try to eliminate violence against women. I look forward to the day when we can come to this Chamber and have this debate and the hon. Lady does not need to read out that harrowing list.

I wish to start with three words: women, life, freedom. Many Members in this Chamber will know that those words are the strapline for the recent uprising in Iran. Yesterday was the first International Women’s Day since the brutal killing of Mahsa Amini, whose murder by the medieval regime was a lightning flash around the world. She has now become such a symbol of bravery, courage and hope.

The women of Iran have been the victims of systematic oppression for the past 44 years. It is not just about religious dress codes; women are banned from singing in places, from taking part in certain sports, and even from attending certain games in stadiums. In short, they are treated as second-class citizens. However, as we all know, it has become far, far worse than that in the 175 days since the recent uprising. Following the death of Mahsa Amini, 82 Iranian women have been murdered by the regime. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have been disproportionately targeting women—targeting their eyes, targeting their chest and targeting their genitals. Only this week, we heard horrifying reports of several schoolgirls being poisoned in revenge for their role in the recent protests.

I mention all of this because all that it takes for evil to prevail is for good men and women to stay silent. I am proud that, in this place, we are not staying silent about what is going on in Iran. It is a salutary lesson to consider that if any of us were to stand up and say these things in Iran, we would be in mortal danger. I have two young women who encourage me to join these protests. Every time, I think how lucky we all are that we can do this—that we can stand up for women. We could not do any of this if we were living in Iran. It is vital that we keep sending that message to the Iranian women that we stand with them, that this murderous regime has to go and that the eyes of the world are on them.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. It is a point that was made endlessly to me over the past three days in New York at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The women who were there from Iran, from Afghanistan and from Ukraine need to hear vocal support from colleagues in Parliaments such as our own and at events such as the UNCSW. Does my hon. Friend agree that, when it comes to the agreed conclusions of that event, we need to be reflecting just the point that she has made: that the plight of these women cannot be forgotten.

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. It is so encouraging to know that those points have been reiterated in one of the highest commissions on the status of women, and it is extremely good to know that Iran has finally been taken off that commission. No such regime anywhere in the world has a place on any commission concerned with women’s right. I thank her for reminding us of that.

We are so lucky that we can stand for public office. Although I am privileged to be the first woman to have been elected as the MP for Southend West, I am not the first female MP for Southend. Of course, Lady Iveagh represented that seat between 1927 and 1935, so I have a proud tradition behind me. We have so much further to go, as we all know. Just 31% of MPs are women, and since 1918, more than 100 years ago, only 561 women—not even an entire Parliament—have been elected. I say to any women who are thinking of coming into public office, particularly if they are in Southend West: “I want to hear from you, and I would be delighted to speak to you.”

I am delighted that in Southend West, we have plenty of women putting themselves forward for election in May. I wish the very best of luck to Councillor Meg Davidson, Councillor Lesley Salter and—we hope—soon-to-be councillor, Cheryll Gardiner. I will be on the streets of Southend knocking on doors to support them, supported by the indefatigable deputy chairman Judith Suttling, who is still pounding the streets in her 80s and setting me a daunting and energetic example.

I will use the time that I have to celebrate the incredible work that women do in my Southend West community. I, alongside our local paper, the Southend Echo, will soon launch a new community champion scheme in Southend to highlight our unsung and hidden heroes. The first hero is not unsung or hidden, however. She will be none other than our one and only Jill Allen-King OBE, who has spent her life standing up for people who live with blindness and visual impairments.

For those who do not know Jill’s story, she lost her sight on her wedding day, aged just 24. Instead of collapsing in a well of despair, she got out there and has spent her entire life bringing to our community things that we now take for granted. Tactile paving—the little bumps on the pavement that we all see whenever we cross the road—is down to Jill Allen-King, as are the wheelchair-level buttons in buses, and she has done lots to get access to public spaces for therapy dogs. She has attracted the attention of well-known names, including Paul O’Grady and Michael Ball. Of course, she has her OBE, but this year, she has the Pride of Britain lifetime achievement award. Despite her blindness, she has been busy teaching Ashley Banjo from Diversity to do the cha-cha-cha.

Just to demonstrate that I have been around for a time, in 1986, when I became the junior Transport Minister, with responsibility for mobility for disabled people, Jill Allen-King took me for a walk around Westminster, helped to put in the first tactile surfaces just outside the Palace of Westminster, and gave much other good advice. Please give her my best wishes.

I thank my hon. Friend—I will absolutely pass that on.

There are so many wonderful women in Southend West whom I want to celebrate, so—in great Sir David fashion— I will now rattle through a whole list. First, the incredible Riz Awan at Citizens Advice Southend is a support for so many people across our community. She took over as chief executive as the covid pandemic was starting, and she kept the centre open to assist people in one of the most difficult of times. Also at Citizens Advice Southend is the award-winning Emily Coombes, who was recognised as a rising star by the Young Energy Professionals.

I pay tribute to Jackie Mullan, chief executive officer of the SEN Trust Southend. Jackie set up that amazing organisation to support people with learning difficulties throughout our local community, and she is a huge inspiration. I would also like to mention Rachael, a constituent of mine who came to see me in this place only a few weeks ago. She has led an amazing battle to raise awareness of functional neurological disorder.

We also have great role models in our Southend schools. Thirteen of our headteachers are women, showing that woman can, of course, take on such positions of responsibility and leadership.

As a fellow Essex MP, may I also give a shout-out to Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner Jane Gardner, particularly for her work on the Southend, Essex and Thurrock domestic abuse board? That board is commissioning fantastic work from charities—including Compass, Changing Pathways and Next Chapter—supporting victims of domestic abuse, running the perpetrator work that I mentioned earlier, and commissioning a network of independent domestic abuse advisers and independent sexual abuse advisers to work with victims. All that work, run by Jane and her team, is helping to get the numbers down so that fewer women suffer such awful abuse.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention; I am glad that we have also got Jane on the record.

I will next pay tribute to Denise Rossiter, the excellent chair of Essex Chambers of Commerce. Denise is an absolute force and a consummate professional. She champions Essex wherever she goes, and she is a great support to female MPs in Essex.

I must also mention Carla Cressy, who works tirelessly to raise awareness of endometriosis. I was delighted this week to host here in Parliament her event to launch Endometriosis Awareness Month.

Last week, I was privileged to attend the Jubilee Awards at Southend Civic Centre. We celebrated women who have made a huge difference during the jubilee year and beyond. Shirley Massey is the president, and Kim Bones a member, of the Leigh-on-Sea branch of the Royal British Legion. Both are always there, year after year, doing their bit for our veterans.

Ilda Stafa, who runs Welcome to the UK, has given advice, support and sanctuary to all the wonderful Ukrainian families who have come to Southend. Danielle Carbott is a real champion for our local environment, setting up the brilliant Litterless Leigh initiative. I must mention Danielle Bee, the organiser of the Bluetits Chill Swimmers cold-water swimming group—she has taken me out on one of those dips, and I can tell Members that it is an aptly named group. Brenda Knapp was nominated by staff and children because she comes into Leigh North Street Primary School voluntarily almost every day of the week. Staff and students at the school recognise that they simply could not do without her.

Helen Symmons, the female CEO of Leigh-on-Sea Town Council, is doing a great job. The Lady McAdden Breast Screening Trust, which does so much to raise awareness of breast cancer, also has a female CEO.

Karen Packer gives up her own time to volunteer tirelessly to give opportunities to guides and scouts. She is an incredible woman. During Parliament Week, I went to visit her brownie group, and we were challenged to build a Houses of Parliament of biscuits, using icing sugar as glue. It was quite a messy experience.

Finally, I must mention my incredible constituency assistant, Julie Cushion, who won this year’s Parliament’s People constituency assistant of the year award. Quite apart from her help for me, just thinking about her contribution to the community makes me feel exhausted. She is the chair of our Mayor’s charity, raising hundreds if not thousands every year; she chairs the SEN Academy Trust; she is the director of two choirs; and she is a trustee of the YMCA and, of course, of the amazing award-winning Music Man project. Quite apart from that, she helps me almost every day of the week in one respect or another, and I pay tribute to her hard work in keeping me on the road.

Finally, I could not miss out on the opportunity to once again celebrate my own incredible inspiration: my own mother, Dr Margaret Garrett. She has been a huge support to me throughout my life, and is now pretty much in sole care of my lovely dog Lottie while I am up here during the week. To her, I say just one thing: thank you.

It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth). A number of us do hold our mothers dear; I think of my late mother, who was not fortunate enough to see me elected to this place, but I know that she is with me every day. She was my biggest inspiration, and to echo the words of the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell)—who is not in her place—my mother was also a single mother. We have to continue to pay tribute to the role that single mothers up and down the country, especially during this difficult time where a number of those single mothers are navigating the cost of living crisis but are still providing for their children.

There are so many fantastic young women in my constituency of Vauxhall, but there is one young woman who I want to pay special tribute to this afternoon: Ebinehita Iyere, who is the founder of Milk and Honey Bees, a creative space for young black women in south London. She and a number of girls wrote a book last year, “Girlhood Unfiltered”. Milk and Honey Bees is a safe space for young black girls to talk about some of the issues and challenges that they face. The work that Ebinehita has done over the past few years in providing a voice and a space for those young black girls is so inspirational, and I just wanted to make sure that she was mentioned this afternoon.

It is a real pleasure to speak in today’s debate, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to follow so many other inspirational women and their powerful contributions. As MP for Vauxhall, I am proud to represent the Brixton community that I have lived in all my life, but I am not alone in that: Brixton is in the unique position of being represented in this House by not one, not two, but three MPs, and I am proud that since the 2019 election, all three of us are women. Locally, Lambeth Council is led by Councillor Claire Holland. Marina Ahmad AM is my successor as London Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark, and 30 female Lambeth councillors provide strong leadership across our borough. I am delighted that any young girl or woman growing up in Vauxhall today has so many women to look up to, not just in politics but in our local businesses, our schools, our voluntary and community organisations, our wonderful cultural centres and our fantastic Oval Invincibles cricket team, who have won both The Hundred titles on offer since that tournament was launched in 2021.

We should be proud of the progress we have made. We know that representation must be used to improve the rights of women and girls locally, nationally and globally; therefore, International Women’s Day is not just a celebration of our achievements, but a chance for us to recognise how far we must still go to achieve global gender equality. One area in which we still see a marked disparity is between men’s and women’s health outcomes. Women often do not get the treatment they need as quickly as men do, and that problem is driven by the lack of awareness about women’s health and the cultural tendency to view illness through the lens of a man. As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and AIDS, I wish to focus the rest of my remarks on the impact of HIV on women.

Women make up a third of people living with HIV, with an estimated 31,000 women living with HIV in the UK and 20 million worldwide. In 2021, 556 women were newly diagnosed with HIV in England, accounting for 27% of all new diagnoses. The vast majority of those cases were likely due to exposure during heterosexual contact. What is most shocking is that black African women accounted for 38% of all women diagnosed, followed by white women, who accounted for 15%. Of the women diagnosed in 2021—this is a really shocking statistic—35% lived in London, and 47% were diagnosed late. That is a key issue that is highlighted by so many organisations and charities leading the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Last month, we celebrated National HIV Testing Week, and I was proud to join other parliamentary colleagues across the House to demonstrate how quick and easy it is to get tested, but testing is only one tool in the prevention of HIV and AIDS. I put on record the fantastic, formidable women who are leading the fight against HIV and AIDS in the UK: Susan Cole, Deborah Gold, Lisa Power, Sophie Strachan, Angelina Namiba, Amanda Ely, Professor Yvonne Gilleece, Dr Claire Dewsnap, Professor Jane Anderson, Anne Aslett and Dr Laura Waters. Those are just some of the women I have met in my role as co-chair of the APPG on HIV and AIDS who are taking on that fight. If we are really to look at how we deliver services and make sure that we end new HIV transmissions by 2030, we must ensure that we remember women’s voices.

We must have a strategy for tackling the persistent health issues that remain. The stigma, poverty, gender-based violence and immigration problems all intersect, with the result that women living with HIV struggle with not only their physical health, but their emotional wellbeing. To tackle this, we must achieve gender parity in the HIV response. That will involve ensuring equitable investment, priority and attention to women in HIV prevention, research, data and services. We must also ensure that HIV research addresses specific knowledge gaps around HIV in women, which will support the full participation and meaningful involvement of women. Finally, we must allow for better access to pre-exposure prophylaxis and other forms of HIV prevention.

Before my hon. Friend finishes her very powerful speech about the importance of listening to women’s voices in relation to HIV and AIDS, can I ask her whether she agrees that we also need to listen to women’s voices in a whole range of healthcare settings? I am thinking particularly of women harmed by failures in healthcare, including my constituent Sarah Hawkins, whose daughter Harriet was born dead as a result of inadequate maternity care, and whose second daughter Lottie is growing up without her big sister. I am also thinking of my constituent Peggy Gedling, who yesterday laid to rest her son Justin far too young. His life was cut short after she was prescribed the hormone pregnancy test drug Primodos. Does my hon. Friend agree that if women had been listened to, we could have avoided some of that harm?

I thank my hon. Friend for making that powerful intervention. When we look at the health disparities that exist, we see that it is really important that women’s voices are heard in terms of the treatment they are receiving. All of us as MPs will have received emails from female constituents detailing where they have not been listened to or believed; where sometimes, their symptoms have been unrecognised; where they have been told that they need more painkillers and “it will be okay, dear”. We need to make sure that those dedicated doctors and nurses listen to women, and believe women when they raise medical concerns.

My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech. On the subject of women, the NHS and medical interventions, does she agree that structures such as body mass index, which was created to identify the average body of a man, does not relate to women? We have to look at all the systematic, structural misogyny that exists in our systems.

I thank my hon. Friend for making that really important point. In terms of how we identify some of the problems that women face, one of the other issues that we have worked on together is maternal death of black women—the fact that black mothers are more likely to die during childbirth or pregnancy—and some of the issues around their weight and long-term conditions not being taken into account when addressing those health inequalities.

On this International Women’s Day, there is a lot more that we can and should be doing. We should be working together to improve the quality of life for millions of women, not just in the UK, but right across the world, and it is incumbent on us all to work together to say that we can bring the epidemic that started 40 years ago to an end by including women’s voices.

International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate, and there is much to celebrate about being a woman in 2023. I always think at this time of my friends, many now spread across the country and some across the world, who I have spent time with in the past. They are now too busy with children, grandchildren, older parents and their own jobs to get together, but I know that they are always there for me, I know they are really proud of me being here, and I know that I would never have made it here without them.

This weekend, I am looking forward to joining Bristol Women’s Voice for a fantastic programme of events, in particular discussing social care and the role it could play in the Bristol economy if only it was run better. It will be chaired by my friend Diane Bunyan, who was Bristol’s first female Labour leader of the council only about 20 years ago. Many women have been at the forefront of Bristol’s long, radical history. I think of Dorothy Hodgkin, who was chancellor of the University of Bristol, Elizabeth Blackwell, who was the first woman to qualify as a medical doctor, the trade union activist Jessie Stephen and Mary Carpenter and Hannah More, who were involved in social programmes. Lady Apsley was Bristol’s first woman Member of Parliament. She was a Conservative who, after the death of her husband in 1943, won the seat. Three out of four of Bristol’s MPs are women. We allowed one man to take one of the positions, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who are supportive colleagues.

The reality is that, like the rest of the country, we are nowhere near economic or political parity. Often we hear about the challenges, and I will move between the challenges and the opportunities. We remember that some good historic achievements have been made recently, whether that is the Lionesses’ incredible success last summer, the next generation of young women and girls getting into sport, or Kamala Harris being the first female vice-president in US history. We await the first woman US president.

Women are redefining culture with historic firsts in film, television, comedy and sport. Taylor Swift became the first woman to win a Grammy for best music video with sole directing credit, and films and shows are demonstrating the varied and multiple lives that women can lead, including “Am I Being Unreasonable?”, which was filmed in my constituency of Bristol South. Labour has led the way in women’s equality since 1923, when Margaret Bondfield became the first female Cabinet Minister. It is important that we celebrate the centenary of that accomplishment and the legacy that Margaret left for all women who have followed in her footsteps.

I am appalled by the pictures, even in 2023, of international summits and events in the UK full of men with very little female representation. If we think about the women leading political movements—as we have heard again today, we think particularly of those women in Iran, and in Afghanistan and Ukraine, too—women have always been at the vanguard of social change. However, quickly, as that change starts to happen, we become relegated to a back room—often back to the home—and are rarely represented in those photographs or at those summits.

This week, I was proud to chair a session of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which we held in Stormont on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. I was able to chair a session with some of the founding members of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition. Kate Fearon, Bronagh Hinds, Dr Avila Kilmurray and Jane Morrice were amazing activists well before the GFA, and they remain so today, many using that experience across the world. Women need to be represented in all aspects of politics, wherever and whenever. We are fed up with doing that service role and then not appearing in those photographs and leadership positions.

As chair of the women’s parliamentary Labour party, which makes up more than 50% of Labour MPs, I am proud to see the successes that Labour Governments have made in promoting equality, from introducing the Equality Act 2010 to championing all-women shortlists to increase female representation. Labour is the party of women and for women. I gently say to the hon. Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), who spoke about how lucky we are to be here and able to speak, that luck has had absolutely nothing to do with it. I take her point about recognising that privilege, but none of it has been luck; it has all been power that we have taken, and it always has to be underpinned by legislation, and I am afraid it is only Labour in government that has enacted that legislation.

The hon. Lady is rightly talking up her party’s role in all these issues, and I would expect her to do nothing less, but surely she would agree that this Government have done an enormous amount—more than any other—on the issues of domestic abuse and domestic violence and making women safer online, and I do not think she can simply ignore that. These are the issues of today, and this Government are tackling them.

I am not ignoring it, and I pay tribute particularly to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) for the work she led in government, but we need to continue to use legislation to underpin, and it should be good legislation. I am not sure that in this week of all weeks we can be proud of what this Government have done. If we think about the trafficked women who are coming forward, that is deeply problematic, and it would be good if we could all work together to help those women.

People outside might not know this, but even on a very busy Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday in Portcullis House and so on, this place is overwhelmingly male. Although some great strides have been made in all these professions, we see that with journalists, lobbyists and even with the third sector people who come to see us. I think the environmental movement is overwhelmingly dominated by men. The camera people and the staff in most places are generally male. I had a message as we were sitting here today from my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) pointing out that yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions, all four leaders are of course male, but there were two questions from men for every one from a woman. That is the stark reality. As others have said, this place still remains 30% women.

We are celebrating how far we have come, but we recognise that more needs to be done. It is 52 years since that first women’s refuge was set up in Chiswick, and the issue of domestic abuse and violence, as we have heard again today, is still all too prevalent. Marital rape was only made illegal in the early 2000s, and the Office for National Statistics estimates that 1.6 million women experience domestic abuse in England and Wales in any given year. We know that, faced with the cost of living crisis and severe lack of funding, the number of refuge spaces in England is falling desperately short. Why, when this issue is affecting so many, is so little progress being made?

We need to work harder on this issue, and talking last week with those women from the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition was certainly instructive. They were clear that they could only come forward, and that women in any conflict situation can only come forward, if there is an ecosystem of support that they can use, both statutory and non-statutory, operating behind the scenes, and that is sadly missing in many places today. We need to help fund those refuges, and they need to be places of safety for women to seek refuge.

We recognise the resilience and strength from women today, and we are so proud to be able to voice, on behalf of all those women, what they bring to us in our constituencies. To close, it is often our friendships with one another that prove to be our biggest strength. Outwith the fact that we disagree across the House, as is necessary, we are strong political women and we work together. It is a pleasure to be a part of this debate today, and when I look around the Chamber and up to the Gallery, I see the bonds of friendship that are made between colleagues who share the desire to make life better for women. Parliament will be safe in our hands.

It is an honour to speak in this debate that has ranged widely from local to national to global women’s issues. We have heard some powerful speeches and contributions. International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the progress that we women have made, while recognising how far away we are from true equality and true recognition of women in law.

The most powerful speech every year is the one from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). She makes us all sit here for many minutes in silence to reflect on the terrible stories that we hear each year of women who suffer domestic abuse and violence. I agree that we are still very far from making real progress. I thank the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller), who always ensures that we have these discussions every year on International Women’s Day. It is important that we continue to have that debate in the House.

Disrespect for women remains endemic across society. Half of British women have been sexually harassed at work or their place of study. Women are 27 times more likely to face online abuse than men. Nearly a quarter of women have experienced sexual assault or attempted sexual assault since they were 16, and one in 14 women have experienced rape or attempted rape. These are more than just statistics—these are women, these are lives and every story is a story of trauma and hurt. We all need to recognise that for what it is. They are not statistics, they are lives, and that reflects everyday reality for women and girls across the UK.

My Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill aims to protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace. Too many people are suffering silently because they feel unable to report that, or because their concerns are not taken seriously—we have heard many examples of that today. My Bill strengthens protections for those women by imposing a new duty on employers to prevent their employees from experiencing workplace sexual harassment. The Bill would also make employers liable for the harassment of their staff by third parties, where they have failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent such harassment from happening. I have been pleased to see such cross-party support for my Bill, but legislation is only part of the solution. To fight misogyny, a root and branch culture change is needed.

Last Friday marked two years since the brutal murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer. Wayne Couzens exposed himself to women just four days before her murder. His victims have argued that, if their reports had been taken seriously by the police, Sarah might still be alive. The terrible story of Sarah’s murder, and the police failings that have been identified subsequently, are still difficult to come to terms with. The first report of Operation Soteria Bluestone found that some serving officers do not think that sexual offences should be a priority for policing. It quoted one officer who believed that cases of rape and sexual offences were “pink and fluffy”. That officer openly admitted to avoiding such cases in favour of burglary and robbery. The new Metropolitan Police Commissioner has said that they are investigating 1,000 sexual and domestic abuse claims involving 100 of its officers. Those are more than just bad apples; they are part of the rotten culture of misogyny.

Police in England and Wales are recording record numbers of rape offences, but rape prosecutions are down by 70% over the past four years. Last year, charges were brought in only 4% of recorded rape cases. This is a national scandal. We say these things again and again, every year on International Women’s Day we point out that we need to make progress, and we do not make progress. The Government need to listen up, because only with a momentous culture shift can we begin to address the concerns and fears that so many women have about engaging with policing and the justice system.

In my constituency, Avon and Somerset police—I want to give them credit—have shown what can be done with a dedicated, well-resourced team and the right leadership. I hope they will lead by example and take other police forces along. Their team have tripled charge rates and brought more cases to the Crown Prosecution Service. However, much more needs to be done across the country. Nearly half of women have said that their trust in the police has declined following Sarah Everard’s murder, and the Government must focus on rebuilding that trust. Liberal Democrats are calling for immediate action to ensure that police vetting procedures are fit for purpose to start rebuilding that trust.

Violence against women and girls is a global threat. During war and natural disasters, women face unique dangers. In Turkey and Syria, humanitarian groups have warned that women are finding it harder to access aid, and are at severe risk of exploitation. Conflict-related sexual violence is one of the oldest weapons known to people— I give credit to the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), who has raised this issue in Parliament many times and is working hard on it. He has my full support. Such violence destroys bodies and communities, and its impact is felt long after the fighting has finished. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office has identified 171 victims of sexual violence by Russian troops, 119 of whom are women. I am sure that many colleagues across the House share my admiration for the bravery of the women of Ukraine—indeed, they have already been mentioned today. We should not underestimate the substantial trauma that women and children are suffering, especially if they have experienced sexual violence.

I also want to remember the women of Afghanistan. In January, Mursal Nabizada, a female MP who remained in Kabul, was killed. Just four of the 1,500 Afghan citizens who were eligible for the UK resettlement scheme because they were at high risk after the Taliban takeover have now arrived in the UK. Women and girls were meant to be a priority, but they have been left without a specific route to apply for safety. That is a shameful Government record and nobody can walk away from that. Women all over the world are leading movements against authoritarianism.

Many constituents have contacted me to express their solidarity with the women of Iran. I echo that and pay tribute to their courage in the face of atrocious human rights abuses. Many have reported sexual assault. Let us not forget those women, because it is very hard to take on those regimes, which are all led by men. Women’s voices have been ignored for centuries, and in many parts of the world they still are; 2023 must be the year that Governments around the world listen up and hear us.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse), and I thank the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) for securing this debate. Let me begin by paying tribute to Lady Betty Boothroyd. She was a force of nature in this place, and a great female trailblazer to us all when, in 1992, she overturned more than 700 years of parliamentary tradition and became the first woman to be elected Speaker in this place.

I also pay tribute to some fabulous and successful women in my constituency: Deborah Frimpong is chair of Moorings Neighbourhood Forum and a formidable community activist; Councillor Averil Lekau, deputy leader of Greenwich Council, is doing great things at a local level to support women and champion their inclusion; Hend Kheiralla is the host of the Ladies of the Lake podcast, which amplifies the voices of women who have grown up, worked, and lived in Thamesmead; Debbie McFaul, is director of Crumbs Bakery, a business that truly brings in and supports the community; Karen Saunders from Greenwich Centre of Mission does a lot to support young people in our community, particularly bringing us together when two young boys, Kearne and Charlie, were murdered in my constituency; Claire Hallinan from Hawksmoor Youth Club has delivered fantastic services to young people and the wider community of Thamesmead, but has also faced considerable challenges with the state of its facilities; finally, Catherine Molnar, founder of CC Events, hosts a market in Abbey Wood and Thamesmead and has won awards for the role they play in the community.

Let me now turn to some issues closer to home. I am concerned by the rise of misogynistic influencers such as Andrew Tate, whose content sends a troubling message to men and young boys about how they treat women. I am particularly concerned that we may see a backsliding on progress that has been made in schools to tackle misogynistic attitudes, if men such as Andrew Tate are allowed to spread their hate online. Misogyny should be a hate crime, and I am proud that the Labour party has championed that. There should be no place for toxic influencers such as Andrew Tate to spread their hate and encourage violence against women and girls.

I have argued for making misogyny a hate crime for so long, and yesterday I was again given the reply that that would just be gesture politics. Does the hon. Lady agree that, if misogyny is a hate crime, we will give a powerful signal that all crimes will be investigated properly and not just brushed away, as we have seen? Making misogyny a hate crime would be a big signal, not just political gesturing.

The hon. Lady could not have put it better. Misogyny should be a hate crime, and I hope the Government take on board what I and the hon. Lady have said.

I am proud to chair the Labour Women’s Network, which supports women standing for election and advocates for greater female representation within our party and beyond. It is 35 years old this year. In those three and a half decades, LWN has trained thousands of women for public office, outlawed all-male panels at Labour party events, fought for tougher action on sexual harassment, made Labour’s selection process shorter and cheaper, improved parental leave arrangements for councillors, and seen the proportion of women in the parliamentary Labour party increase from 9% in 1987 to a proud 52% today.

Hundreds of women have contributed their time, skills, energy and occasional rage to our movement over those 35 years, but it would not exist at all without four women who turned their frustration into organisation: Barbara Follett, Hilary De Lyon, Barbara Roche and the late Jean Black. Every day, we are thankful for their determination to level the playing field for women. Every day, we look forward to the day when our work is no longer necessary because women have equal representation, power, agency and visibility inside the Labour party and beyond.

In the last 12 months, LWN is proud to have grown in numbers and roar. We are delighted we now have more members than ever before. We are also proud to have trained more women than ever before. Through the LWN Political School and the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Scheme, we support women to serve and lead as feminist changemakers at all levels. Our graduates include my right hon. Friends the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) and for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), my hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) and for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), and many more, as well as our councillors, police and crime commissioners, and the UK’s only woman Metro Mayor, Tracy Brabin. More than 54% of the women selected to fight seats for Labour at the next general election are also graduates of the LWN training programme. With the greatest respect to my colleagues across the Floor, I am looking forward to seeing Conservative men replaced by talented and diverse Labour women.

The architect of our training schemes is the one and only Nan Sloane, whose good advice to stand firm, take up your space and never apologise for yourself rings in the ears of many Labour women during the critical moments in their political journeys. I would also like to pay tribute to our director Claire Reynolds for her strong leadership and drive for positive change, alongside Jane Heggie and Cat Price.

Another absolute powerhouse of the Labour Women’s Network is my good friend, the right hon. Jacqui Smith, the first ever female Home Secretary. We are immensely proud that Jacqui has served on the LWN executive committee for over a decade. As she prepares to move on to fresh challenges, from NHS leadership to broadcasting to ably chairing the Jo Cox Foundation and championing its commission into civility in public life, I wanted to say a huge thank you. Thank you for showing us what resilience in public life looks like. Thank you for smashing glass ceilings and supporting others to. And thank you for never kicking down the ladder and always finding time to encourage your sisters.

As well as LWN turning 35 this year, we have another important anniversary to celebrate: 2023 marks 100 years since the first three women Labour MPs ever were elected: Susan Lawrence, Dorothy Jewson and Margaret Bondfield. Margaret, a working-class trade unionist and universal suffrage campaigner, went on to become the first ever woman Cabinet Minister and first female Privy Counsellor. Largely written out of history since, the centenary of her election provides a welcome opportunity to correct that, as well as to run commemorative events with Labour Women’s Network. I join the calls led by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) to see a portrait of Margaret installed in the House of Commons where it belongs.

While the LWN has been busy sorting out women’s rights within the Labour party, the Labour party has been readying itself to sort out women’s rights within the country. Labour is ready to close the gender pay gap. Labour is ready to deliver a revolution in affordable quality childcare. Labour is ready to support women entrepreneurs. Labour is ready to help employers to support staff through the menopause. Labour is ready to end the black maternal mortality gap. Labour is ready to ensure that rapists meet justice. With due respect to my hard-working sisters across the House, Labour is ready to clear up the mess the Conservative Government have made of women’s rights. It is time for a Labour Government.

I wish all sisters across the House and beyond a happy International Women’s Day. I hope we can work together in co-operation to protect women’s rights. I end by echoing the comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley: we need deeds, not words.

I am very grateful to follow the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), with whom I always enjoy working. She is always worth listening to.

I also want to reflect on the speech made by the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) at the beginning of the debate. I was not sure how I was going to begin my contribution because, to be honest, I am a bit scunnered—probably more than a bit—but she set a positive example so, before I get on to my scunner, I will follow on from what she said and reflect on the fact that women across the House can and do work together positively. Although I have significant political differences with her, with women on the Labour Benches and with others, I am really grateful for the focus that all these strong, powerful women have on issues to do with women. I put on the record my great appreciation for colleagues cross party and for the work they do.

I note the exceptional speech given by my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell). It was a powerful contribution. She talked about her constituent and her lovely mum. It has been nice to hear the reflections of others about their mums, too. Again, that is something we can all agree on.

I think we all want to be very clear in our appreciation for what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) does. It really matters. I am sure it is very difficult, but these women matter and the difficulty their families are facing should never happen. It should never be experienced by any family. We need to reflect on that and on the headlines, as others have commented, that follow these tragic incidents about “family men” and so on. The hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) made some very powerful comments in that regard.

My hon. Friend speaks of the families of the women whose names the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) read out. I have just had the pleasure of spending some time with them, and what was palpable was not just the tragedy they have experienced, but their resilience. Does she share my view that they should never have had to face this and, as we have heard across the House today, we need to do so much more to ensure there are no lists of dead women to read out?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for what she says. I cannot add to that. What she describes is a reality and we have a responsibility to ensure that we do everything we can. The reality is not great. Too many families know all too well the gaping holes that are left because of male violence against women, so we will keep talking. We have a responsibility to do that. As the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) said, we need to use our privileged platform here as parliamentarians to raise this issue time and again.

The right hon. Member for Basingstoke spoke powerfully about the value and importance of women in public life, and the consequent improvements they bring. An increase in the number of women in public life ties together to bring women’s situations more broadly into a better place. She is 100% correct in what she says. We have many more women in public life now and I very much welcome that, but I also reflect that, certainly in the time since I was first elected in 2015, public life has become increasingly polarised. There are challenges over and above those that we would have identified in 2015.

The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) was correct to be concerned about the damage that influencers such as Andrew Tate inflict on wider society. Obviously, that has a profound effect on women. We also heard that culture wars, which we hear too much about, are not without an impact on women—that is absolutely right. All those who engage in that kind of behaviour should be ashamed of themselves, because they do down and cause detriment not only to women but to everyone in our society.

Last year I was struck by hearing Members express those kinds of concerns—they were fed up and worn down by the toxic climate that they were working in. The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) reflected that it is increasing. Can we, in good conscience, not point that out? I do not think so. We should call it out for what it is: damaging our democracy and women. Can we, in good conscience, ask young women to come forward into what is often a toxic soup of threats, abuse and misinformation? I ask myself that. However, perhaps there is a bit more of the glass half full about me after all. I think that we can and we do ask young women to do that—I think of the strong and powerful young women I know, who will always stand up for women’s rights and equality.

My reflection on equality is that if someone is coming after my rights as a woman, it is clear that the rights of every other group will be next on the agenda. I am aware that I perhaps sound a bit crabbit, as I would be described at home. Perhaps I am an increasingly crabbit middle-aged feminist, but I am happy to point out that my rights as a woman and my feminism are not at all imperilled—in fact, they are more than likely strengthened —by my making sure that I stand up for the rights of other groups.

I am grateful that hon. Members have reflected on the situation of women across the world whose rights are imperilled. We need to be clear that rights are not carved in stone forever, as we have seen tellingly in the US. We have seen grave and terrible situations for women in Afghanistan and Iran, and they need not only our solidarity but our practical support and assistance. That is our job. We need to take practical steps and stand with them. Uyghur Muslim women are forced into sterilisations and labour camps. Women across the world are in difficult situations, and I include women in small boats.

Closer to home, there are policies that cause detriment to women. I was pleased to hear the right hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) and the hon. Member for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond) speak about the future of work and supporting women in work. We need to do that, but the reality is that there is a 15% pay gap, and warm words will not deal with that. It will take concerted action, and the strong WASPI women who I spoke to yesterday know that there is a problem. The situation is not fair for them as older women, and nor will it be for younger women. It will take decades for that issue to correct itself, if it ever does. We need to accept that reality.

I am always happy to talk at length about the positive policy in Scotland, as hon. Members will be aware. It is important that much of that policy focuses on gender and women. I would like to focus on one particular woman, as she stands down as the first female First Minister of Scotland and the first woman to lead the Scottish National party. I pay tribute to Nicola Sturgeon, a politician who has inspired me greatly and influenced many others. Many women and girls will be interested and engaged in politics and public life because of her consistent and solid support for women’s rights and making lives better.

I will close by mentioning some other women who inspire me, because we need to finish on a positive note. East Renfrewshire councillors Caroline Bamforth, Angela Convery and Annette Ireland day and daily work hard to make lives better for women. They champion women and girls in all they do, and I am very proud to have them as my colleagues.

Laura Young is a young influencer who is campaigning hard on environmental issues, including to get rid of disposable vapes, which cause problems for both the environment and young people. For her pains, she too is involved in the horrible, toxic morass of online abuse. Shame on all the people who deal with her like that. She is a young woman making a difference to the world, and she does not have to do that. Women such as her will continue to make a difference. None of the online abuse will make a difference—she is going nowhere.

Rahima Mahmut is a Uyghur human rights activist who, despite the challenges she faces, stands up day and daily for the rights of Uyghur women. Hon. Members will not have heard of Rena McGuire, but they will all be the better for knowing her. Rena is a woman from Barrhead whose community activism spans decades. She has made every effort at every point to make life better for women in her community. Although we have many challenges and we should not minimise them, there is a space for us to appreciate the sterling and tireless work of women such as Rena, who make all our lives better.

It is always an honour to speak in this debate and celebrate the wonderful achievements of women. I thank the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) for proposing the debate and the Backbench Business Committee for securing it. I associate myself with her remarks celebrating women in this place for all of their achievements. So many trailblazers have been mentioned: Betty Boothroyd, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), Barbara Castle, Maureen Colquhoun and many more. But we need many more. As my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) said, on the Opposition Benches we are proud of the fact that more than half of our representation is female. We need to see that change across all parties and extending away from this place into local government. It was wonderful to hear many Bristolian examples from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), and from right across the country, of women in local government, but we need many more.

I thank everyone who has spoken in this debate, and above all my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). She delivered, yet again, her powerful memorialisation of the women killed over the past year. It was an honour, yet again, to have some members of the families of those individuals join us in the Public Gallery. There can be no starker or more sobering illustration that so many women still lose their lives to male violence and far too many others are still living in fear of it. Let us compare our situation in safety here to the situation that those women remain in right now, in our country, in their homes, in their workplaces and on the street.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for speaking so authoritatively about the behaviour of male perpetrators and the need to end their impunity, including when they commit gateway offences such as exposure. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), who was absolutely right that we should call a spade a spade, and a murderer a murderer. As the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) rightly said, these are not soap operas but despicable crimes and despicable criminals. That must always be the case in the broadcast and print media, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) so powerfully set out in her contribution. That must also be the case on social media, and I associate myself with the remarks from my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead.

We need stronger action against violent misogyny online. I am afraid that the Online Safety Bill is simply not tough enough to deal with that cancer in our society. We need more action on policing and in other areas on criminal justice, too. Police-recorded rape and sexual offences are at record highs, but just 1.5% of recorded rapes lead to convictions. More than two thirds of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space, and 86% of 18 to 24-year-olds.

The criminal justice system is in disarray, I am afraid to say; we all know that, because as constituency MPs we see it in our casework every single day. Women’s refuges—those that are still open—are full. Women and girls are being put at risk. Many of us will question, as hon. Members have done today, why there was no mention of making Britain safer for all in the Prime Minister’s five key priorities.

No one believes that ending violence against women and girls will be easy, but we certainly cannot do it with short-term, sticking-plaster solutions. We need a comprehensive approach. That is why Labour’s cross-cutting Green Paper “Ending Violence Against Women and Girls” sets out our plan to embed action across every Department. It includes proposals for a new street harassment law, tougher sentences for rapists and whole-life tariffs for those who rape, abduct and murder. It includes having domestic violence specialists in every 999 control centre. It includes making misogyny a hate crime. It would ensure the compulsory vetting of police officers in every police force. We would give victims access to the justice that they deserve. We really cannot delay.

Nor can we delay in other areas that are critical to women’s lives. Previous Labour Governments did not delay: they introduced the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and of course the Equality Act 2010. We are determined to go further. We will match that record and go beyond it by putting women’s equality at the heart of everything we do, and we will start by taking action on the gender pay gap. It is disturbing that that gap has increased by 12% in the past two years alone.

Those are ONS statistics. We need proper action to eliminate that inequality for women, so I am delighted to be working with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) and with Frances O’Grady to review how we can go further and faster to close the gap. We also need action so that flexibility for women in the workplace is not just in the hands of employers. We need equal pay comparisons between employers, not just within a single employer. We need a modern childcare system, as my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) has ably set out.

As I have the floor for a few more moments, I want to talk about a group of women who rarely get a hearing in this place. I am talking about midlife women: women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. They experience a series of immense pressures—they are often expected to hold down a job, care for elderly parents and support older children—but when we look at how they are faring economically, we can see that over recent years things have moved backwards for them. In the past decade, women in their 40s and 50s have seen their real wages fall by almost £1,000 a year. Since the pandemic, 185,000 women between 50 and 64 have left the workforce at a cost of up to £7 billion to the British economy.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent point. Does she agree that it is astonishing that the Government are not looking at the issue in the way that we have done? They are concerned about growth in the economy and particularly about the loss of women from the workforce, but they are not looking at social care or childcare. Does she agree that if they want to steal our plans, they are welcome to do so and we will cheer them on?

I would be delighted if the Government stole those plans. I would also be delighted if they looked at Labour’s measures for the NHS, because a fifth of the women I spoke about are on an NHS waiting list. I have been up and down the country talking to women on gynaecology waiting lists, women who are not getting breast cancer referrals on time and women who have not been able to access cervical cancer screening, for which rates have been falling. We can see how big a problem there is and we can see how our plan for the workforce is so urgently needed.

We would also love the Government to steal Labour’s plan for larger employers to have menopause action plans. Many businesses have welcomed that measure, but so far the Government have not yet adopted it, although the nodding of the Minister on the Front Bench leads me to hope that they may do so. We need action on that, and we need greater action for women.

Women need answers to these questions because, sadly, too many women will feel that they have little to celebrate on this International Women’s Day in our country. Sadly, that applies even more in many other countries, as hon. Members have discussed throughout this debate. Earlier this week, I had the immense privilege of taking part in a roundtable with women activists from Iran and Kurdish women. Their strength is inspiring, but what they have been through is horrendous. We must stand with them, as has been said. We must also stand with the women of the United States, following the attacks on their bodily autonomy. We must stand with the women of Afghanistan and of Ukraine. We must stand with women in countries subject to appallingly high rates of femicide, such as El Salvador. We must stand with women from all nations in which women’s lives are devalued.

My mission as shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities is to ensure that every woman is recognised, valued and empowered to reach their full potential. I want us to be able to look forward to a future in which our debates in the week of International Women’s Day can focus solely on the brilliant achievements of women and girls in all their diversity—those women and girls who make this country great—rather than on having to detail so many barriers holding them back.

May I thank right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions this afternoon? I particularly thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) for securing this debate and for her work every day of the year on championing women’s rights. I thank all hon. Members who have spoken so passionately today about the issues on which they are campaigning on behalf of women up and down the country.

As my right hon. Friend pointed out, many women who have gone before us have led the way to our being here today. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) mentioned Baroness Boothroyd, but there have also been women such as Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister, who broke that glass ceiling. Unlike the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), I am not afraid to compliment and pay tribute to female Members on the other side of the House. A personal heroine for me was Mo Mowlam. The hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) spoke about how women have been erased from photos and others have often taken the credit for their hard work; Mo Mowlam was instrumental in delivering peace for Northern Ireland, but she is very often forgotten when we talk about issues around the Northern Ireland protocol. However, she is very much remembered for the work that she did.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) said that there is a special place in heaven for men who stand up for women. Today I want to remember Sir David Amess, who usually spoke in these debates; I think particularly of his work on endometriosis. I am sure that he would be very pleased to see his successor, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth), taking part in this debate. It has also been great to see my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) spending most of the afternoon in this Chamber to listen to women speak about the issues that we face. We are very lucky to have such a Father of the House who respects female Members.

On International Women’s Day yesterday, I was particularly pleased that so many Departments were able to showcase the work that has been done and make announcements on tackling the issues that women face, many of which have been raised today. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office launched its first international women and girls strategy yesterday, which highlights the work being done globally to tackle threats to gender equality across the world. From climate change and crisis to conflicts and coronavirus, those threats disproportionately affect many women in certain countries; hon. Members have spoken particularly about Iran and Afghanistan today. Significant work is going on to support women across the world.

I want to touch in particular on the issues facing the women of Ukraine. I had the great pleasure and honour of meeting the First Lady, Mrs Zelenska, this year. While of course planes, weapons and resources are important, her plea to us in this place was to make people aware of how rape is being used as a weapon of war against women in Ukraine—there are young girls, women, older women and elderly women who are being raped as part of the war against Ukraine.

I am pleased that the UK has cemented its position as a leading global actor standing up for women who are under attack. We know the scale and severity of gender-based violence at times of conflict and insecurity. I am proud that the UK is recognised internationally for the preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative, committing £60 million to preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence since 2012. Last November the UK hosted the PSVI international conference in London, with more than 1,000 delegates, and secured new political declarations with 53 countries and 40 national communities. That is incredible work.

However, this debate has mainly focused on the domestic issue of the gender-based violence that women and girls are experiencing up and down the country. We heard a very moving speech from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who highlighted the sheer scale of the women who have been murdered in the past year. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) described the terrible, tragic case of Libby Squire, and the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) told us Wendy’s story about her daughter Aimee. Members cannot have failed to be moved by that.

Of course we are doing great work in improving the experience of women. We have announced the awarding of grants to rape crisis centres in England and Wales to set up a national telephone support line, open 24/7, which was launched on 7 December, and we are providing £27 million to recruit more independent sexual and domestic violence advisers. Despite all that, however, there is clearly a significant problem. Violence against women and girls was included in the women’s health strategy because it is not just a criminal issue or a justice issue. I was pleased to see both my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), the Minister for Victims and Sentencing, and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Miss Dines), in the Chamber earlier to hear about this staggering problem.

I have listened intently to the debate, and it is an honour to be able serve alongside such fantastic female representatives on both sides of the House. The Minister is talking about eradicating sexual and domestic violence from society. Does she agree that we should not be rewarding, in any way, any perpetrators of that sort of abuse and violence?

I absolutely agree. As I have said, that is why we included violence against women and girls in the women’s health strategy, and as we approach the first anniversary of the strategy, I am keen for us to move towards making that our priority for the second year, working across Government. I am happy to work across parties as well, because this is such an important issue. Despite all the strategies, plans and—let us be fair—significant funding, we are still not making progress in the areas in which we want to make it. We have been presented with many images, but I was particularly struck by what was said by the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) about the way in which language is used to describe both female victims and their perpetrators, which suggests that an offence of that kind can be justified—that it simply happened, that it was a mistake, and that it was not all that significant. That has to change, which means changing the culture as well as creating the infrastructure to support it. I am keen for us to make progress on that in the next 12 months.

I am very interested by what my hon. Friend has just said. She referred earlier to putting violence against women and girls at the heart of the health strategy. If we are serious about increasing the rate of convictions for rape and sexual violence, and indeed domestic violence, we should bear in mind that women report being treated like pieces of evidence. What we need is wraparound therapeutic support for victims, so they are not re-traumatised every time they try to obtain justice. Will that be a large part of what my hon. Friend is doing?

Absolutely. We do need to look at how we support women, and that includes female MPs. I am thinking of Rosie Cooper, who simply left the House of Commons because of what she had experienced. She has gone on record as saying that she did not feel safe continuing.

I will be very quick. The police are saying that they need to move away from viewing the victim as a credible witness, and move on to the perpetrator. Too often, the perpetrator gets away while the police are investigating the victim.

I entirely agree. This is about changing culture as much as about changing the structure of services: we have seen plenty of evidence of that. Let me also pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her private Member’s Bill, which will tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. She has done tremendous work on the Bill, and we hope that it will make swift progress in the other place.

The issue of spiking has, unfortunately, been coming up in my constituency. If the perpetrators are to be caught, it is important for victims to come forward quickly and provide physical evidence, such as a urine sample, within 24 hours. I wonder whether there is more that my hon. Friend could do, using her own voice, to get that message out to victims.

Yes, absolutely. That is why we need a cross-Government approach. We need to work with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice team so that we have a united voice.

I appreciate the Minister’s generosity. I just want to put on record the work that Sistah Space has done—particularly in relation to Valerie’s law—for victims of abuse, especially black victims. The Minister’s predecessor started to do some work with me and with Sistah Space before the change of Government. Will she please continue that work?

I shall be happy to do that, and we can certainly arrange to meet following this debate.

The shadow Minister was slightly dismissive of the groundbreaking Online Safety Bill. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford has reported that the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls has described it as world- leading. Many other countries are following our progress, and, indeed, may adopt similar legislation. The Bill will tackle criminal activity online. It will protect children from harmful and inappropriate content, and it aims to stop the rise of online misogyny. Several Members have mentioned the importance of that.

Let me say something about business. The UK is now successfully including gender provision in all the free trade agreements that we have made since leaving the EU. Our trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand, for instance, contain dedicated trade and gender equality chapters. That too is groundbreaking work. As for our domestic business focus, our taskforce on women-led high- growth enterprise was established last summer. I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (Mrs Drummond) for her work in the all-party parliamentary group on women and work, not just her work in pushing science, technology, engineering and maths for women, but the high-growth sector work she is doing. If we deliver more women with ambition, we will improve growth in our economy and also improve the outcome for those women as they thrive in the workplace.

We know that childcare is an issue. That is why we have spent more than £3.5 billion over the last three years on early education entitlement, and have increased the funding for local authorities to £160 million this year, £180 million next year and £170 million thereafter, to allow them to increase their payments to local childcare providers. I recognise the challenges and the cost that childcare imposes on families, but I also know how difficult it is for the providers to sustain their business model.

Turning briefly to women’s health, I am proud that in the past year we have published the first women’s health strategy for England. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) mentioned that in particular, and I am very keen that we make progress in that space, especially on maternity disparities. We have appointed Dame Lesley Regan as the first women’s health ambassador to lead that work. We announced yesterday that we are investing £25 million to roll out women’s health hubs across the country, providing a one-stop shop for women’s healthcare needs.

We will also level up IVF access to same-sex couples and across the board, ensuring consistent provision across the country, which does not currently exist. The HRT prepayment certificate will be launched from 1 April, cutting the cost of HRT by hundreds of pounds. We also aim to announce our pregnancy loss certificate later this summer, so that babies born before 24 weeks can be registered—an important issue for those parents who have lost babies. The major conditions strategy will look at long-term conditions such as heart disease, musculoskeletal conditions and dementia, the leading cause of death in women, which for too long have been ignored.

Finally, I want to touch on girls’ education, which it is a top priority for us in both our international commitment—we want 12 years of quality education for every girl, which is the best way to get girls and women out of poverty—and our domestic commitments. The Prime Minister in his first speech set out his ambition to ensure that all school pupils in England study some form of maths to the age of 18. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) raised the issue of teaching materials in schools; the Prime Minister yesterday committed to a review of those and we will look forward to what that shows.

We need to get more women and girls into science, because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke said, despite getting more girls into STEM A-levels and on to undergraduate courses, we only see women making up 29.4% of the STEM workforce. That is why we are running our STEM Returners pilot; there are 75,000 people, mainly women, with experience and qualifications in STEM who are not working in the sector and who we want to see return to practice.

I hope that that showcases some of the work we are doing across the board. There are many challenges—we do not deny or shirk that fact—but we are making significant progress. In particular, domestically, on violence against women and girls, I hope that this time next year we will have a better story to tell.

I say an enormous thank you to everybody who has taken part in the debate. This debate always demonstrates how much agreement there is across the House; I always see more heads nodding on the Opposition side and the Government side in this debate than in any other. My final comment, therefore, is, “Let us not allow party politics to get too involved in some of these issues.” They are not about party politics; they are about changing the culture of our country, to make sure that women have the same opportunities and the same barriers as men—not different ones, but not bigger ones. The more we can keep the politics out of this, the more progress we make in that culture change. I think the vast majority of this debate has demonstrated how much agreement there is. I applaud that, and thank colleagues for taking that approach.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered International Women’s Day.