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Women: Developing Countries

Volume 746: debated on Thursday 27 June 2013

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That this House takes note of the challenges faced by women across the globe, particularly those in developing countries.

My Lords, it is a privilege to stand here today and see so many of my colleagues keen to contribute to this debate. However, when I look around me day to day, I am more struck by who is not here. In our lifetimes, we have seen such radical change to the opportunities open to women and to their legal status in the UK that it can be tempting to rest on our laurels and feel that we can lecture other countries about removing obstacles to women’s participation in public life.

However, the figures tell a very different story—422 women missing from our own Parliament. Where are the women who ought to be here contributing their expertise and their scrutiny? World wide, 80% of politicians are men—even now, when women’s representation is at a record high. With some exceptions—the right reverend Prelates will understand what I mean—politics is open to women in this country. However, like a shop that is open for business but forgets to turn on the light and flip over the “Closed” sign on the door, it is not doing very well.

The title of this debate speaks of the challenges facing women. It is time that we, as a Parliament, challenged ourselves to develop a zero tolerance to sexist attitudes and comments, to promote and encourage women, and to show the country and the international community that women’s voices must be heard. Achieving this may involve asking tough questions about how we challenge entrenched attitudes. The Hansard Society issued a report last year that said:

“Without special measures across all parties there will always be a risk of constant ‘boom and bust’ in women’s representation. But a backlash against positive action is now rife in all the parties. There remains a stubborn insistence that selection has to be ‘on merit’ as if no mediocre men had ever been selected in the past”.

The three main parties are committed to bringing more women into politics but we often hear the excuse that women are just not interested in participating. Why would that be? Reports of sexual harassment, patronising attitudes—for example, a female Member being told to, “Calm down, dear” by our own Prime Minister—and intense media scrutiny of parliamentarians from their hair to their shoes, are all looked on as separate issues to the underrepresentation of women in politics.

Too often the emphasis is put in the wrong place. A recent report noted that events aimed at improving the prospects of women within my own party were almost all aimed at the women themselves. I have attended more events than I can count that attempt to solve the problem of underrepresentation of ethnic minorities. The solution cannot be looked for only among those who suffer from the problem; you have to look at those who are causing it or choose to ignore it. Asking women and those from ethnic minorities to solve the problems caused by sexism and racism is like trying to help someone trapped under a car by suggesting that they lift it off themselves.

It is not just the political world that should be asking itself where the women are. No one wants to see future generations miss out on a cure for cancer, a new source of clean energy or an inspirational advocate for peace because these solutions are germinating in the mind of a girl who will never have the chance to fulfil her potential. The millennium development goals have been a powerful means of pressurising countries into ensuring better access to education, and the charity ActionAid reports that there is now parity in girls’ enrolment in primary schools. However, we still have a long road to travel before we can get to the stage where every female child can hope to contribute on an equal level with her brothers.

In Liberia, for example, the success of bringing girls into education is marred by barriers that are not accounted for in the current MDGs. Violence at school and while travelling to and from home, child marriage and the pressure to help with domestic work all mean that girls across the developing world are still far less likely than boys to complete their education and gain qualifications. I am sure that no one will need reminding of the example of Malala Yousafzai, one of a huge number of children targeted with violence for the crime of going to school while female. A girl growing up in South Africa is still more likely to be raped than to learn to read. Perhaps it is not surprising that even today twice as many women as men are illiterate.

This is why it is so crucial that the next series of MDGs looks at the obstacles to equality far more comprehensively. It is encouraging that the 12 goals proposed by the high-level panel include a stand-alone goal to empower girls and women and achieve gender equality. This reflects the priorities of DfID and the inspiring work done by my noble friend Lady Northover. This specific and wide-ranging goal must be protected. The advantage it creates will stimulate Governments to look at the whole experience of women and girls, and open up funding streams to projects where women are leading the way in creating societies that are more equal.

This on its own is not enough. It is vital that we retain the current commitment to integrate gender equality into all the goals. Considering the experiences of women and girls cannot be an optional extra when trying to reach targets that include ending poverty and creating sustainable livelihoods. Some 70% of the world’s poor are women. Ending poverty without tackling the inequalities that make it difficult for women to study, gain properly paid employment, own and inherit property and retain access to their earnings is impossible.

I declare my interest. My own organisation, the Loomba Foundation, is funding UN women in Guatemala, Malawi and India to end violence against widows and support them socially, economically and politically. Too often, certain practices are glossed over under the guise of cultural sensitivity. Culture is not set in stone, and it should never trump basic human rights. When I started out in business in the early 1960s, it was the culture in the UK to pay women less than men for doing the same work. Legislation that came into force in 1975, alongside societal changes, makes that completely unacceptable, even unimaginable, for young people entering the workforce today.

When one race restricts the economic and social opportunities of another, we call it apartheid. When, in some countries, men do the same to women, we call it culture. Ending poverty means agreeing, as a global community, to eradicate cultural attitudes and practices that restrict women’s rights. We cannot hope to reach the goal of ensuring healthy lives without taking into account the unique impact of inequality and gender-based violence towards women and girls.

Just last week the World Health Organisation reported that more than a third of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence. The same report puts the proportion of female murder victims who died at the hands of a husband or partner at 38%—a “conservative estimate”, the authors say. With a corresponding figure of 41.2%, high-income countries, including England, were above the global average, demonstrating that so-called developed countries still too often let down women by failing to protect them from violence.

Ensuring safe access to sexual health and maternity services is a key factor in ensuring women stay safe from disease, as well as empowering them to safeguard their own health by allowing them to plan how many children to have and when. Child marriage brings with it health risks, with the likelihood of maternal death and complications greatly increased for girls in their early teens where pregnancy puts too great a strain on a body that is still developing.

It is important to acknowledge how far we have come. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on her landmark statement earlier this year that helped ensure access to life-saving abortions for women and girls raped in conflict. This was a huge step forward in recognising that women’s health is an absolute right, regardless of national law.

In recent years, FGM has become a topic of mainstream political debate, and is the subject of Lynne Featherstone’s current campaign. Opening up discussion and raising awareness of research about the mental and physical risks of such practices is a key to bringing about the legal and cultural changes that will end them. It is crucial to remember that women in developing countries do not need or want Britain or other rich nations to be a knight in shining armour. Every country has determined women and men who see injustice and want social and political change. The campaign against FGM would never have happened without leadership from brave women taking a stand against cutting in their own communities.

Our role is to give the financial, political and moral support that people need to effect changes that will end gender inequality. We must also ensure that our own Government create situations that make women’s lives better rather than worse. One of the most prominent stated aims of the conflict in Afghanistan was ending the horrific treatment of women by the Taliban. Yet successive UK and US Governments have failed to ensure that fair representation of women and the criminalisation of violence against women, including child marriage and marital rape, are integrated into the new administration.

Withdrawing aid to India on the grounds that the country is a net donor ignores the fact that the aid we give goes to help many women’s organisations working to achieve equality and fight the endemic gender violence which has come to global attention in recent months.

The great activist Martin Luther King once said:

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”.

Recognising the challenges facing women worldwide is a huge task, but recognising that women’s equality is something we all need to aim towards is an easy one. Mitigating those challenges is sometimes seen as women’s work, as I am sure many of my female colleagues would testify. It should, however, be all of our work, as legislators and as champions for human rights. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am delighted to participate in this important and far-reaching debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for introducing it so ably, and for the wonderful work that his foundation does for women.

Honestly, where does one start? I will start with a topical event which I sponsored this week in this building. Along with a number of other noble Baronesses, who I thank for their interest, I was filmed this week for a project called What I See—a global initiative that explores the similarities and differences of women’s experiences, perception and self-expression. It reminds us how fascinating, strong and extraordinarily original women are, but also that their voice and perspectives are too often missing from public discourse, including in this country. I welcome the What I See project, and all other efforts like it, that give women an opportunity to express themselves without bias, judgment or agenda. It will also, I hope, give encouragement to women and girls who lack self-confidence and self-esteem, and I look forward to supporting the project as it develops and goes live online in March 2014.

Before I travel across to the developing world, I will briefly mention domestic violence. I am sure that other noble Lords will expand on this particular challenge to women both in this country and, of course, throughout much of the rest of the world. We had a very constructive debate on this earlier in the year and I was privileged to participate in it. I only reiterate that domestic violence is a hidden scourge. We all know someone, however unlikely, who suffers from it. I was struck by a recent people’s panel blog on the Guardian website and the more than 400 responses to the four women who had described their struggles with domestic violence. If nothing else, people are now far more aware of the issue and discussing it openly in a way they would not have done previously.

To put this debate in context, two-thirds of the world’s poor are women, as the noble Lord said, but they have the least say about what needs to be done to tackle poverty. So where should we start in the developing world—in Afghanistan, as the noble Lord said, with the problems that women and children will face when our troops leave next year; in the DRC, known as the rape capital of the world and the worst place on earth to be a woman; or in Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive and have no right to vote? I was struck by a photograph I saw yesterday of a conference about women without a single woman present. As Bill Gates put it, when asked whether he thought Saudi Arabia could become one of the top 10 tech nations in the world:

“Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you’re not going to get too close to the Top 10”.

Along with the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, and others, I will travel to Burma next month with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health. I therefore turn my remarks to that area of policy, which is so crucial for women and girls in the developing world. I start by thanking the Secretary of State for her commitment to women and girls in development and to the UK Government’s support for family planning in particular.

Healthy women and girls ensure social and economic development for families, communities and states. Having women at the forefront of building strong economies can happen only if women are able to control their own fertility and destiny. We are all too well aware that the world’s population is growing rapidly. I remind the House that in 1927 it was 2 billion, in 1975 4 billion, in 1999 6 billion, in 2011 7 billion, and it is projected to reach 9.2 billion in 2050, with ever increasing demands for food, clean water, schools, housing, et cetera. This makes little sense when there are many millions of women with an unmet need for family planning, and 30% of 287,000 maternal deaths could be averted with the provision of family planning services alone.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to DfID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UNFPA for last year’s family planning summit and the commitments made at that summit. The UK Government are committed to providing an additional 24 million girls and women in the world’s poorest countries with family planning services between now and 2020, which will prevent the deaths of 42,000 girls and women, for whom an unintended pregnancy carries the risk of fatal consequences.

Earlier this month, ahead of the G8 and G20 summits, we had a global summit of parliamentarians entitled—not very snappily, I fear—We Need a Decade of Family Planning: the Vital Factor for Global Development and Women’s Reproductive Health and Rights. I am really pleased to note that the G8 leaders’ communiqué refers to maternal health and identifies that more action is required to deliver on promises in some areas. I also welcome the reference to preventing sexual violence in conflict adopted by the G8 Foreign Ministers, and pay particular tribute to the Foreign Secretary’s leadership in this area.

The High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development released an important report entitled A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development, setting out the universal agenda to eradicate extreme poverty from the face of the earth by 2030 and to deliver on the promise of sustainable development. I draw the House’s attention in particular to goal 4, which makes explicit reference to decreasing maternal mortality and ensuring universal sexual and reproductive health and rights.

To quote briefly from the report:

“Women continue to die unnecessarily in childbirth. The World Health Organization estimates that every minute and a half, a woman dies from complications of pregnancy or childbirth. Women living in poverty, in rural areas, and adolescents are especially at risk. Timely access to well-equipped facilities and skilled birth attendants will drastically reduce this risk. Universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is an essential component of a healthy society. There are still 222 million women in the world who want to prevent pregnancy but are not using effective, modern methods of contraception. This results in 80 million unplanned pregnancies, 30 million unplanned births and 20 million unsafe abortions every year. About 340 million people a year are infected by sexually-transmitted disease. Every $1 spent on modern contraception would save $1.40 in maternal and newborn health care. But access to SRHR, especially by adolescents, is low. The quality of such services is generally poor. The public health case is clear—ensuring these rights benefits not only individuals, but broader communities”.

Empowering women to make their own choices about pregnancy and birth spacing is critical and essential to reducing gender inequality and poverty.

A woman’s ability to control her own fertility is something that we take completely for granted in this country. When I became sexually active—please do not show this debate to my mother—all I did was go along to the Marie Stopes clinic and it was all available; those of us who are in the post-pill generation sometimes take for granted how incredibly lucky we are. A woman’s ability to control her own fertility is an effective way of positively influencing all other parts of her life and the lives of her family. Fulfilling women’s rights to contraception can play a key role in extending birth intervals, which in turn promotes maternal and child survival.

Women around the world are calling for sexual and reproductive health rights to become a reality, and we need to help deliver reproductive health for all those women by ensuring that reproductive health is front and centre of the agenda for the post-2015 framework and our Government’s priorities, to close the gap in unmet need for family planning, to eliminate unsafe abortion and to ensure universal access to reproductive health services. We need to ensure that all pledges made at last year’s family planning summit are realised and for national Governments to remove unnecessary barriers that prevent access to reproductive healthcare, choices and information.

Let us return to this country with a plug for my honourable friend Bill Cash’s Private Member’s Bill, which is to be read a second time in another place on 13 September. The Bill is,

“to promote gender equality in the provision by the Government of development assistance and humanitarian assistance to countries outside the United Kingdom”.

I, for one, hope that it makes some progress through Parliament.

I will end where the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, started, with the perennial problem of women in Parliament. As he pointed out, across the world the average percentage of women in Parliament is 20% and we are not doing much better here. As co-chair of Women2Win, which campaigns to get more Conservative women into Parliament, I fear that the experience of Julia Gillard in Australia may well provide another excuse, another reason, why women will not want to put themselves forward or to start the journey towards a parliamentary career. But the point is that every woman and every girl in Australia now knows what we in this country already know—that a woman can make it to the top.

I appeal to any woman who may stumble across this debate: if you think you have the guts, the determination and, most of all, the resilience to sustain you in a political career, come and find me or any of my colleagues around the Chamber and talk to us. We all want you to succeed. As Julia Gillard said in her final press conference yesterday:

“it will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that”.

My Lords, I am somewhat out of my comfort zone in speaking on this subject, but I should not complain, considering how important it is. I put my name down partly because at that point, apart from my noble friend on the Front Bench, only men had put their names down to speak, but also out of a sense of responsibility, guilt and appreciation of the privilege that I have had throughout my life, and as a tribute to my noble friend Lord Loomba, who has made such a wide-ranging and riveting speech, which will certainly bear re-reading.

As for privilege, I had a secondary education which never suggested to me or my classmates that there was anything at all that we could not do. I was one of seven women on a course of 200 people at Cambridge. I do not know what the statistics are which lead to two of the seven speaking today. I am doubly fortunate in that I am not where my grandparents were born—in Aleppo.

The messages from me have been slightly mixed because my family’s religion, Orthodox Judaism, firmly placed women in a subservient position. I have never entirely understood that. We are necessary both for reproduction and for chicken soup. Things have moved on, but not everywhere. Even where they have moved on, traces of those attitudes inevitably linger a little. In some places, of course, there has been no change.

I hope it will not offend sensitivities if, in thinking about my own experience, I wonder aloud about the impact of religions and strands of religions which place women in second place—if as high as that—around the world. Perhaps because of that, I particularly want to mention the role of men. We are all aware of rape as a weapon of war and the considerable difficulties in prosecuting rape, despite its recognition as a war crime and a crime against humanity. I must say here that I acknowledge that men are raped too.

In Bosnia there have been around 30 convictions for what are thought to be something of the order of 50,000 rapes. The difficulties include getting evidence and supporting the victims so that they can be witnesses. We know that it is has happened in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Rwanda and of course it is going on in Syria. Rape within the refugee camps is particularly corrosive because it means that women are vulnerable to those running the camps.

Women who are raped suffer terrible stigma. So too do their children. They are outcasts and they are denied very necessary treatment. The very deeply held attitudes, which are incomprehensible to me, mean that abuse is piled on abuse. I have heard it said, “Destroy one woman and you destroy the next generation”. They become less than second-class citizens. I heard today that the Save the Children Fund is talking of a lost generation in Syria because of the deaths. The rapes too contribute to that.

There is a responsibility on men who are part of this culture. It has to be men who educate and persuade other men—members of their own community and their own religion—not just that rape is wrong, but crucially that women who are victims of rape are just that. They are victims. They are not to be shunned. They are not in any way different as human beings, except that they are survivors. Documenting the accounts of atrocities with a view to prosecution and redress is essential. I wonder whether noble Lords are familiar with the website Women Under Siege. It has digital media recording of reports of rape in real time. It is sobering to look at the crowd map of sexualised violence and to read individual reports. I will share a few points from one of the reports that I have read on that website. This is from Syria where women are,

“terrified to talk about the brutality forced upon them … doubted, ignored, and made invisible through shame … they only speak about their ‘neighbour’ or ‘friend’ who was raped”.

One rape survivor told a woman doctor working in Amman:

“I’m sure if my husband knows he will divorce me the same day, the same hour”.

Her experience was having been raped in her own home in front of her children. Of course, she felt responsible; responsible for her own rape. The writer of the report stated:

“In a society, as in Syria, that places their purity in their physical bodies, when women are no longer thought to be virgins, they are discarded like dirty tissues”.

The writer continued:

“Beyond divorce, I’ve heard multiple stories that detail honor killings after women have been raped in Syria—a survivor is shot by her own brother/husband/whoever in the family. Social workers and doctors who have interviewed rape survivors from Syria have told me that women believe that speaking about their rapes will end their lives … The concept of purity, and honor, kills women”.

I applaud the Government’s preventing sexual violence initiative and the work particularly of the Foreign Secretary. He said very recently in a speech at a meeting of the UN Security Council that he paid tribute to,

“the organisations and individuals who have worked for years so that the world knows and understands the scale of rape and sexual violence in conflict, and have helped persuade Governments to take it seriously as many of us are now doing”.

He referred to grassroots organisations. They are often led by women who do so much to respond to sexual violence. We should remember that very small amounts of funding produce often disproportionately very significant results when spent by such organisations.

UN Security Council Resolution 2106, which has just been adopted, emphasises the,

“important role that can be played by women, civil society, including women’s organisations … in exerting influence over parties to armed conflict with respect to addressing sexual violence”.

Secondly, it mandates envoys and peace mediators to engage with women’s organisations and survivors of sexual violence, and crucially to include their concerns in all peace provisions. Thirdly, it highlights the roles of local level women’s rights organisations in providing community-level protection against sexual violence. I urge the Government to continue what I would describe as recognising that peacebuilding goes on outside conference halls and that women are essential to peacebuilding.

I asked some Questions about this a few months ago. They were printed in Hansard under the same headings as questions from my noble friend Lady Tonge. The Questions were about the proportion of aid spent on peacebuilding. The Answers were that the format uses codes which allow DfID to report how much funding goes to gender issues, but does not allow funding for peacebuilding to be disaggregated. There are always more data that one might hope to see. Those data are important.

I return to the men. For the cultural change that is needed, both to tackle the prevalence of rape as a weapon of war and to treat its victims humanely, men have a pivotal role. As my noble friend Lord Loomba said, no culture is set in stone. The challenges to which he referred in the title to his debate are challenges for men too.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, on securing this debate, but congratulate him even more on the topic he has chosen—and indeed on his excellent speech which drew out the issues that we are debating. It is absolutely crucial that these issues are raised here and everywhere; and raised with the force and vigour which the speakers in this debate have shown.

I will concentrate on health and disabilities in developing countries, but I will take in a bit about the bigger picture. At the beginning, I declare two interests. First, my wife is a member of the International Gender Studies Centre at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and, secondly, I chair Sightsavers.

In the wider picture to which noble Lords have already referred, there are so many issues to discuss, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, mentioned, such as violence against women, their lack of representation, issues of access to employment, the fact that so many of the poorest people in the world are women, and access to all kinds of rights such as property and health. All are connected and will be anatomised by others in this debate. Essentially, however, they are all about power, position, mindsets, traditions and, of course, economics.

There is another part of that wider picture which I will draw out. It was mentioned in the House of Lords Library briefing for this debate in the form of a quotation of Kofi Annan, saying that women are the most important actors in development. It also made the point that the empowerment of women, the equality agenda, is right in itself but is also an instrument for progress in the world. We can all think of positive examples; I will mention just two. The first, well cited in health circles, is that if a girl in India has five years of education, her child is 40% more likely to reach the age of five. It is that simple. Education of girls is probably the most effective intervention in healthcare. The second is of course microfinance. The story is well told there as well, of how women have been able to revitalise communities and save their families from difficult situations through the application of microfinance. These issues are not just about women as victims; they are also about releasing the potential of women world wide.

On health more specifically, I start with a wider point about gender and the importance of disaggregating data—which I know is an issue close to the heart of DfID—and knowing the facts. An important paper by Sarah Hawkes and Kent Buse appeared in the Lancet on 18 May entitled Gender and Global Health: evidence, policy, and inconvenient truths. The inconvenient truth that it brings out is that—obviously leaving aside reproductive and sexual health—men have the bigger problems in terms of the global burden of disease and shorter lives. I am not going to talk about men, but the point here is that gender is not just a women’s issue. We need to disaggregate our data much more clearly if we are to have a real impact on health for everyone in the world. We need to think about gender as a key factor in that.

On women and health, all the issues are linked to the wider picture I mentioned earlier. I suspect that we are going to hear lots of numbers on pregnancy-related mortality today. The numbers I have are that 287,000 women died from pregnancy-related issues in 2010—that figure may have halved in 20 years but it is still extraordinarily high—and 99% of those women lived in developing countries. Again, as I suspect we will hear today, it is not just about mortality; it is also about morbidity. I have seen estimates varying from six times to 30 times as many women being affected as result of pregnancy-related complications or injuries.

The issues here are in part about how you get healthcare and proper health provision to people. They are partly about money, and ensuring that there are facilities to which women can get, but they are also fundamentally about society. They are about, as has already been said, unwanted pregnancies. They are about girl brides whose bodies are too small to bear the pregnancy which they have had inflicted upon them. It is about how men handle that. It is interesting to see a number of interesting projects around Africa where male, often traditional, leaders have been encouraged to develop programmes to ensure that their wives and women actually get access to hospitals and facilities when they need them. For example, there is an interesting project in Zambia where traditional leaders in some parts of the country inflict punishment on the men if their wives do not attend antenatal care four times. There is scope within these communities to make serious change.

Linked to that is sexual health. It is not surprising when one thinks of powerlessness and violence that more than half the people affected by HIV/AIDS in the world are women. They are often powerless on contraception. I was staggered to hear that some surveys indicate that men in developing countries understand the importance of contraception and the relevance of using a condom more than women do; that says something about education. Of course, we have already heard about child marriages and the fact that, according to the latest figures, something like a third of girls in developing countries, excluding China, will be married by the time that they are 18. The other aspect of health is that most carers and informal carers are women, a point to which I will come back.

Let me move on from health to disability. Women have higher rates of disability; perhaps that is connected with longer lives. To take the area of disability in which I am particularly interested through Sightsavers—eyes—some two-thirds of people who are blind are women; the ratio is almost 2:1. Blinding trachoma is caused by dirty water. Women are clearly much more vulnerable to it: they are dealing with the children and dirty water. It is not surprising that this infection carried in dirty water affects women far more than it does men.

Disabled women have a double disadvantage: the disadvantage of disability and the disadvantage of being women. That is borne out through all the statistics, which is another important argument for disaggregating the data. Disabled women are twice as likely to have AIDS as the general population. They have much poorer access to education and jobs. More of them are in poverty.

My final point about the challenges facing women is to recognise that it is often the women who pick up the pieces. In the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, the principal carers of dying people are their female relatives. They are in a difficult position. There is some interesting research on this from the Commonwealth Secretariat which shows that, because of the stigma of HIV/AIDS in many countries and the weakness and poverty of the people involved, they are working in the most desperate conditions. The people bearing that burden are highly disproportionately women relatives.

In other research, I note that in Tanzania, for example, women are literally left holding the baby when their husbands have gone off to be miners elsewhere. They therefore figure among the poorest people in the country. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, has done his own work to address the disadvantages that widows have faced.

Women face all these challenges. What is the way forward? Some of these are societal and cultural issues, as I have already said, although I was struck by the opening words of the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, who said that when people discriminate on the grounds of race we talk about apartheid, but when they discriminate on the grounds of gender we talk about culture. Culture needs to be handled sensitively; I speak as the husband of an anthropologist, and I understand that. Changes have to happen within societies, and to come from a society’s own leaders. We need the skills of the anthropologist as well as those of the legislator and project manager. However, there is much that we can do as a legislative body, and as part of so many international bodies, as we are.

It is good that the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, has raised this issue here. As my friends in IGS have told me, we must continue to break the silence around violence towards women across all communities and nation states. There can be no well-being and good health without freedom from fear. I urge that the international focus on development, going beyond the millennium development goals, continues to address the silence that perpetuates this violence, whether it is state-sponsored violence towards women in conflict, or within the apparently safer environment of the home.

I am delighted that the millennium development goals and the high-level panel that has recently reported have focused on gender issues. We have fewer than 1,000 days to achieve the millennium development goals, and it is clear that the central role of health and education in empowering women and encouraging greater action to ensure the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and their educational needs needs to be sustained. I encourage the British Government to continue to do so, although they need no encouragement from me.

There is, however, more to say to persuade the Government on disability. I was delighted that the high-level panel on replacing the millennium development goals talked about disability and the disaggregation of data to ensure that disabled people were properly treated. This needs to be maintained. I am much more fearful here, so my only question for the Minister is: will this emphasis on disability be maintained in whatever replaces the millennium development goals, and will there be a continuing emphasis on the double disadvantage faced by disabled women? We need to make sure that we leave no one behind.

Finally, it is easy to talk about large-scale policy in terms of millions, and so on. Ultimately, this is personal; it is about individuals. So I will end on a personal note. I well remember, some years ago, my mother holding my daughter—her granddaughter—when she was just born and saying, “What a different life she is going to have from me”. She said it both with sadness and with confidence. This surprised me, coming from somebody who had more advantages than many of her generation, having graduated from one of our top universities almost 80 years ago; but she spoke with confidence. Are we holding out the same promise for today’s daughters and granddaughters? Can a woman anywhere in the world hold her granddaughter or, even better, her daughter, and see her future getting better equally confidently?

My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, on securing this debate. It is important to bear in mind, when we talk about developing societies and developed societies, that the picture is quite complex. It is never the case that developed societies have been able to achieve equality for women or that the women’s status in all areas is necessarily better. After all, it is striking that, for example, the first woman Prime Minister was in a developing country and not in ours; and that at one time India had far more women ambassadors than we had.

It is also very striking that, if you look at religion, in many developing societies the tribal religions based on fertility cults tend to be far more sympathetic to women than many of the organised religions in developed countries. It is also very striking that when Christianity and other great religions travelled to developing countries, they were suitably interpreted so as to support the position of women. I say this simply to make it clear that not all developing societies are necessarily places where women are always in an inferior position; nor are developed countries necessarily free from the problems that women face.

Having said that just as a point of clarification and qualification, I move on to developing countries, because they are the main subject of our debate. The question is: what are the major challenges that women face in those countries? I want to highlight five. The first challenge is the question of personal insecurity. In developing countries, women generally tend not to enjoy the same degree of physical security, at home or outside, as do men. Rape and sexual harassment are fairly common, and this tends to be particularly acute during situations of civil war. For example, in the Bosnian war, between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped, and some 400,000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. It is not just a question of rape and the brutality; violence and humiliation also go with it. Rape also becomes a political weapon, forcing women indoors, making sure that they do not come out into the street or the public square and making them suffer from acute isolation and depression.

The second challenge has to do with education. In many developing societies, the literacy rate among women is rather poor. Among men, it generally tends to be around 60%; for women it tends to be between 30% and 45%. Although it is widely realised that better education for women generally means faster economic development, less sexual violence, later marriages, fewer children and better health, education for women is by and large neglected in many developing countries. In order to deal with this situation, sometimes female education is made compulsory—and rightly so—and this is imposed by law. However, some countries have tried an experiment that has been extremely successful and is worth thinking about: cash transfer, conditional on school attendance. This has been tried very successfully in Mexico, Turkey and Pakistan, and has delivered very good results.

The third challenge facing women in developing societies has to do with the economy. A large number of them are not allowed to go out to work or, when they do, they are subject to discrimination, and promotion prospects for many of them are inevitably limited. Very few of them engage in independent business. It is striking, for example, that, in developing countries as a whole, only between 2% and 4% of the women are in independent business and function as employers. Furthermore, they have no control over household resources, although it is generally known that, when women do have control over household resources, they tend to spend the money much more sensibly than men, especially on the health and education of their children.

The fourth challenge has to do with their lack of power, not just in politics, with the qualification that I mentioned earlier. Women are not very widely represented in Parliament or in positions of power. It is also very striking that in many of the senior positions in civil society and elsewhere female representation tends to be rather poor. One way to deal with that has been to guarantee not so much a quota system but some kind of positive action, to ensure that a certain percentage of positions are filled by women. It is such positive action that partly explains why Rwanda, for example, a country where one would not have expected an excellent record, has more female MPs than we have. Sweden also has a better record in women’s representation than some other countries because it has followed a policy of positive action.

The fifth challenge goes much deeper. It is not institutional, and it has to do with the prevalence and domination of patriarchal culture. Women are treated as inferior. They are sexualised and largely treated as objects of sexual gratification, and are sometimes expected to meet impossible standards of beauty and therefore suffer from all kinds of physical ill health. They lack autonomy and control over their lives, which very often results in forced marriages. Female foeticide tends to be quite common, which partly creates a certain amount of stigma associated with the female gender. All this results in poor ambition in women, living not their lives but somebody else’s and modelling themselves, not according to their norms but on somebody else’s. It is important to bear in mind that in all developing societies there is an important sociological tension, which aggravates the situation in the short term, although it improves it in the long run. The tension is that there is a still residual patriarchal culture—even more than residual—but at the same time there is a greater awareness of rights for women and a greater assertion of equality. What you therefore have is a legacy of patriarchal culture, confronted by women asserting their equality, which men are not ready to accept, with the result that men strike out in whatever ways they can. Therefore, in the transitional period, you see more domestic violence than you did before. You also see more cases of rape, as a kind of punishment for women’s insubordination or getting too big for their boots.

It is not just in developing countries that this happens. Many sociologists have pointed out that this also tends to happen in developed countries, where there is still a patriarchal culture, although much attenuated, and on the other hand there are men who are used to thinking of themselves and of women in a certain way being confronted by women who have a great sense of their own dignity and equality. That confrontation results in men not wanting to give up their power, and therefore results in acts of rape, domestic violence and other situations.

These are some of the challenges that women face in developing countries. If we are content not just to debate but to do something about it, we will have to think not merely in terms of new ideas and policies, but also about perhaps being more generous with the aid that we give to those countries for specific women and children-related projects.

My Lords, I have visited Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia in the last few months, or within the past year. I have come to share some of the findings about what women face in those countries. I will start with the example of Sudan.

Sudan is a developing nation that faces many challenges in regard to gender inequality. Freedom House gave Sudan the lowest possible ranking among repressive regimes during 2012. South Sudan received a slightly higher rating, but it was also rated as “not free”. In the 2013 report of the 2012 data, Sudan ranked 171st out of 186 countries on the Human Development Index. It is also one of the very few countries that are not signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Despite all this, there have been positive changes in regard to gender equality in Sudan. As of 2012, women comprise 24.1% of the National Assembly of Sudan. Sudan’s women comprise a larger percentage of the national parliament than in many westernised nations. However, gender inequalities in Sudan, particularly pertaining to female genital cutting and the disparity of women to men in the labour market, have received attention from the international community.

The difference in education between boys and girls is one of the most obvious and critical inequalities in Sudan. In general, girls just learn how to read and write and some simple arithmetic, then exit school when they reach puberty, which coincides with six years of primary school. The female population with at least a secondary education in 2010 was 12.8% for females compared with 18.2% for males. Although both these figures are very low, males have a statistically more significant opportunity to obtain a secondary education.

On health, women in Sudan do not have the same access to healthcare as men do. A critical measure of the access to basic healthcare services is the maternal mortality rate. This defines the rate of deaths of pregnant women and is directly related to the levels of available healthcare services. In 2008 the maternal mortality rate in Sudan was 750 per 100,000 live births. Comparatively, the rate for a developed nation such as the United States is 9.1 per 100,000 live births. The adolescent fertility rate—the measurement of adolescent births per 1,000 women—is part of the millennium development goals and a general indicator of the burden of fertility on young women in a country. The rate for Sudan in 2011 was 61.9 per 1,000.

I will now move from Sudan to South Sudan. The International Rescue Committee reports:

“Violence against women and girls is both a feature of today’s escalating humanitarian crisis, and a persistent feature of daily life across South Sudan. It is a deeply entrenched problem that has a severe impact on the health, well-being and opportunities of generations of women.

The IRC recently conducted an assessment in Yida, an informal camp of some 25,000 refugees who have fled the Nuba Mountains, across the border in Sudan. Women and girls reported that rape, domestic violence and forced early marriage were common, both during their flight and in the camp. Afraid to speak out, women and girls were often cut off from help, including health care, and other basic services …

While figures are unreliable, we know that violence against women and girls is an endemic problem in South Sudan. Services for survivors of violence are severely lacking, women and girls have few ways to report violence, and even fewer options for care. Women and girls tell the IRC that violence is one of the most significant problems they face and that it limits their ability to benefit from or participate meaningfully in the country’s development. The issue is surrounded by silence and denial”.

Can the Minister say whether DfID will prioritise services in border areas and areas of return? Insecurity and displacement exacerbates risks for women and girls. Additional investment must be made in prevention, without sacrificing programmes that provide essential services to survivors. DfID should develop longer-term initiatives that address deep-seated power inequalities in Sudan and South Sudan. Such programmes should include livelihoods programming that is designed to reduce women’s vulnerability to violence, as well as to cope with the social and economic consequences of such violence.

In most families in Ethiopia the female is of lower status from birth and commands little respect relative to her brother and male counterparts. As soon as she is able she starts caring for younger siblings, helps in food preparation and spends long hours hauling water and fetching firewood. As she grows older she is valued for the role she will play in establishing kinship bonds through marriage to another family, thereby strengthening the community status of her family. She is told to be subservient, as a disobedient daughter is an embarrassment to her family.

Low status characterises virtually every aspect of girls and women in life. Given the heavy workload imposed on them at an early age, early marriage without choice and a subservient role to both husband and mother-in-law, girls and women are left with few opportunities to make and act on their own decisions. In Ethiopia, women traditionally enjoy little independent decision-making on most individual and family issues, including the option to choose whether to give birth in a health facility, or seek the assistance of a trained provider.

Harmful traditional practices, including female genital cutting, early marriage and child bearing, gender-based violence, forced marriage, wife inheritance and a high value given to large families all impose huge negative impacts on women’s reproductive health. Today Ethiopia has the second largest population in sub-Saharan Africa and every woman bears, on average, 5.4 children, placing an insupportable burden on families, communities and a country that faces chronic food shortages and environmental degradation. High maternal and infant mortality rates are inevitable results.

The National Committee on Traditional Practices of Ethiopia identified 120 harmful traditional practices—HTPs—including female genital cutting, early and enforced marriages, rape and wife inheritance. More than 85% of Ethiopians live in rural areas and 48% of women are married before the age of 15, with the highest early marriage rates in the country. The average Ethiopian woman bears 5.4 children during her lifetime. Those who marry very young are likely to bear more children. A pregnancy out of wedlock, whether consensual or by rape, is deeply shameful to the entire family. For many families, marrying a daughter at a young age is understood to be the best way to protect her from sexual advances and unwanted pregnancy.

Women in Ethiopia are subject to a variety of HTPs, including female genital cutting, that qualify as serious abuse. More than 74% of Ethiopian women of all ages have been subject to female genital cutting, a practice that is centuries-old. The health risks associated with FGCs are considerable. The good news is that women held 28% of the seats in the national parliament in Ethiopia in 2011. I hope that this may help in empowering Ethiopian women more and that effective steps will be taken to eliminate practices such as FGC.

TB, HIV and malaria are common in Ethiopia. DfID support in eliminating or reducing some of these problems is essential and I have seen some of the facilities that DfID has funded. They were excellent and many people were using them and were highly appreciative of DfID’s support. I hope that the Minister will assure us that this support will continue.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Loomba on bringing this topic before the House. I am sad that so few people are here, because from my point of view this is a far more important subject than how many injuries there will be at Wimbledon today.

While I was ruminating early this morning about how I would begin my speech, I decided to glance at my e-mails first. You know how it is: you cannot quite get down to composing, so you think: “I will do my e-mails first”. There was a message from a Kevin Rudd. Did other noble Lords receive one? It was quite extraordinary. I do not know why I was singled out for this honour, and it caught my eye. I know some Australian MPs, so that is probably the reason. After pledging to stop the “negative personal politics” of recent years, he said:

“I want to acknowledge the achievements of my predecessor, Julia Gillard. She is a woman of extraordinary intelligence, of great strength and energy. She has achieved much under the difficult circumstances of minority government”.

I have it here. If noble Lords would like a copy, I can send it to them. Yes, it was the new Prime Minister of Australia trying to wipe out a year of insults and abuse that have been hurled at a woman Prime Minister by Members of Parliament in a developed country—one of our own. What example is that to male politicians all over the world, particularly in developing countries: that it is okay to be macho, abusive and insulting to women? Australia is not alone. I still could not settle and found another e-mail, asking me to support an Early Day Motion, which of course I cannot, to call yet again for the banning of topless girls on page 3 of the Sun.

We are ashamed of the violence against women in this country and the way in which so many are portrayed as sex objects. We are appalled by the number of girls who will be taken abroad during the summer holidays to undergo female genital mutilation, and by the number of women who are still silent victims of domestic violence and rape, but all these things have their roots in the general attitude to women that still persists in this and other countries, despite the huge progress that we have made.

Female Members of this House have had free healthcare and every educational opportunity, although I never learnt to make chicken soup. However, apart from that, I had lots of opportunities. I hope that most of us have used those gifts to be useful to our communities and country. In this place, at least, the vast majority of us are free from sexual harassment and denigration, even though we are sorely underrepresented. However, we must always use every opportunity to remind men in this country and abroad that having healthy women and girls will ensure social and economic development for families, communities and, ultimately, whole countries. In other words, it will make them richer and their wallets will be fatter. We must convince them of this—the figures are there. Having women help build strong economies can happen only if they receive maternal healthcare, for all the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and are able to control their fertility and destiny.

Countries in the Middle East and north Africa in particular need reminding of this as the so-called Arab spring evolves. Two decades of advances in women’s health and reproductive rights are coming under threat in some areas by conservative religious forces. This was highlighted this week at a UNFPA conference in Cairo, where the executive director Babatunde—I am sorry, I will use his Christian name, as he knows that I cannot pronounce his surname—called for better access to healthcare, particularly family planning, as a way to resolve region-wide economic problems.

I also need to remind the House that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, pointed out, world population is growing rapidly, causing more and more shortages of food, water and infrastructure, which makes little sense when 222 million women in the world want family planning but cannot access it. I was a family planning doctor and ran women’s health services in a health authority before entering Parliament. I know that it is a funny old title and perhaps not as prestigious as being a brain surgeon. My children used to call me “bare foot doc”. My husband, being a man, was, of course, “high tech doc”. However, I was passionate about my craft and had plenty of work to do among many sorts and conditions of women from many different ethnic groups. I felt then, as I feel now, that the single most important thing we can offer women is control over their fertility.

I am no fan of the coalition Government, as I think most people know. However, like the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, I am a fan of their superb international development policy. Their explicit commitment to women, and support for family planning in particular, is such that I dream about it at night. The apotheosis has happened at last. I applaud the Gates foundation and the UNFPA for the FP summit held in Westminster last year, which was followed up by the pre-G8 conference that the all-party group and the European parliamentary forum hosted here in Westminster. We were pleased to see that the leaders’ communiqué from the G8 referred, I think for the first time ever, to maternal health—Hoorah! We are getting places, even if they could not bring themselves to utter the words “family planning”, but we will forgive them that.

I have one more body to congratulate, which again was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin. One of the goals of the panel looking at the post-2015 MDG agenda makes explicit reference to maternal health and universal sexual and reproductive rights. This really is good news and it has come from this Government, I am very happy to say. However, there is a “but”. I hope that the Minister can update us on whether the pledges made at last year’s conference funded by the Gates foundation and UNFPA have been realised and what progress has been made in getting family planning to the millions of women who need it.

There is one aspect of women’s health that is probably the most disturbing of all, and that is the plight of women in conflict. They are driven from their homes, starved and raped and often have no access to healthcare even though they are entitled to it, as we heard from my noble friend Lady Hamwee. If they become pregnant as a result of rape in conflict, there is still confusion about whether abortion services are accessible and whether access is sometimes prevented because of pooled funding, including funding from countries such as the USA, which will not allow abortion services in its aid agenda. We still need to push on this and to keep on mentioning it, as it is still not clear whether those services are there.

This month, the Select Committee on International Development published a report on ending violence against women. It highlights, yet again, the way in which any nation treats its women holds the key to its economic and social development. I quote the chairman, my right honourable friend Sir Malcolm Bruce, who said:

“When you treat women as chattels—when you mutilate them, abuse them, force them to marry early, lock them out of school or stop them entering the work force—you fail to function as a society”.

He put it as bluntly as that. The All-Party Group on Population Development has produced a brilliant report called, A Childhood Lost, on early marriage, and I urge noble Lords to read it. Despite the best efforts of the UK Government in the international community, that remains the lot of millions of our sisters around the world and we must never forget them.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Loomba for instigating this debate and I congratulate him on the marvellous work that he does through the Loomba Foundation.

UN figures suggest that on average women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food, but earn only 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property. That comes from a report by the UNDP in July 2011. That is a dreadful situation and it is the fault of men. We should be ashamed and should work relentlessly to change society to ensure that women are properly appreciated and rewarded for the work that they do.

Lack of proper pay is only one of the challenges that women face. Unequal access to education limits the ability of women to develop their skills so that they can enter the workplace, improve the lot of their families and contribute to the wealth of their country. Two years ago, I visited Sierra Leone and Cameroon on parliamentary strengthening visits organised by the CPA. Sierra Leone is a tough place where all the indicators for women and children are at or near the bottom of world league tables: death in childbirth, maternal health, child mortality and educational opportunities. Cameroon is slightly better but in both countries the attitudes to women are unacceptable.

In both countries we were given a briefing on gender issues that described an uncomfortably grim picture. In Sierra Leone, one MP told us that there was a real problem with witches. I thought he was talking about the punishments that were meted out to supposed witches by lynch mobs, but no, he actually believed that there really were witches causing trouble in the country. I am sure that he and other MPs thought I was mad when I told them that witches do not exist and that they must stamp out this belief. Fortunately, members of the Sierra Leone diaspora who left the country during the long civil war are slowly returning, bringing some capable women and men who are determined to bring about improvements. I wish them well.

In Cameroon, one MP, who was also a chief, told us that he did not understand why every time anyone speaks about gender issues they always talk about women. In his view, there were male issues too. It was right, he said, that boys should go to school and be educated because they needed to work, but he was not sure that it was worth doing the same for girls, because it was their job to help their mothers at home and anyway they would soon have children and be unable to work. He regarded girls as second class citizens. He was equally strident about violence. He told us that men had to keep their womenfolk under control. He also astonished us by saying that what we call female genital mutilation was exactly the same as circumcision for boys. Fortunately, the leader of our delegation, who at that time was a woman Labour MP, rose to give him a good ticking off. After dismantling all the points that he had made she finished by saying: “So let me be clear: girls are equal to boys, women are equal to men, and if you don’t like it we may just have to dominate you”. She was magnificent.

Access to birth control is patchy or non-existent in many countries, leading to women being unable to limit the size of their families. In Sierra Leone, we were proudly told that the abortion law was exactly the same as that in the UK. Unfortunately, that was a reference to the 1837 Act, which decreed that abortion was illegal. The result is that abortions take place in that country but are done illegally in the backstreets, and many women die as a result.

Professor Nynke van den Broek, head of the maternal and newborn health unit at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, tells me that almost 300,000 women—the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said the figure was 270,000—die each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. This equates to a woman dying every two minutes. The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, said that it was every minute and a half. Professor van den Broek added that for each death, 30 women live but suffer life-long morbidity. She said that there are at least 2.6 million stillbirths every year and that 99% of maternal deaths are in developing countries. Most deaths are preventable. Maternal conditions are the second most common cause of death in women of reproductive age, between 15 and 44 years, in low and middle-income countries. In sharp contrast, in high income countries such as ours, maternal death does not feature in the 10 most common causes of death.

Men often desert women who bear their children. The number of children born outside marriage is startling. I have no figures for most African nations or countries at war, because they are not collected, but many places in the Caribbean reveal extraordinary numbers: St Lucia 86%, Dominica 76%, St Vincent 84%, Panama 83%, Seychelles 80%, Guadeloupe 77% and French Guyana 87%. Before we get too smug, let me tell noble Lords that the figure for the United Kingdom is 46.3%, similar to that of Belgium with 47%. The country with the lowest proportion of children born outside marriage is Turkmenistan with 3.8%. Of course, in many developed countries, couples live together without marrying, but that is not the case everywhere. Noble Lords can imagine how the chances of children are affected when they are abandoned by their father and the burden of parenthood is solely on the mother.

The worst challenge to the well-being of women is, of course, violence. I commend Angelina Jolie for appearing this week before a UN committee to campaign against rape in war zones. However, it is not just in war zones where women are abused. Last year, I attended a conference here in Parliament organised by the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The theme was how to encourage more women to become parliamentarians or councillors—to become leaders. There were delegates from developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, alongside those from first-world countries. The most moving session was on domestic violence. I was one of only three men present among 100 women. The atmosphere was electric. We heard from three inspiring keynote speakers: my colleague Lynne Featherstone, a Minister in the Department for International Development; the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, who is passionate about this issue; and Harriet Harman, who did a lot on this issue when she was a Labour Minister in the previous Government. After the presentations, delegates poured their hearts out about the dreadful conditions that women face in their countries, including violence, mental abuse, rape and female genital mutilation. You name the abuse, it got mentioned, and it was happening in their countries.

Things are bad even in Britain. In recent years, the number of women killed in the home has reduced, but it still goes on. My noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich cannot be with us today because he has an appointment with his dentist. He told me yesterday of the lady in Dulwich who wore sunglasses in winter, not because it was sunny but because she had two black eyes from an abusive husband. At least a third of women suffer violence at some time in their lives. Figures released this week suggest it is up to two-thirds. Sometimes physical violence is not involved; it can be mental attacks with constant shouting, undermining a woman’s self-confidence. It is still abuse. The effect on children in households where this abuse takes place is particularly corrosive. In one family that we heard of in the conference last year the children could tell from the sound of the key in the front door what kind of mood the father was in and whether they were going to be beaten up that night.

In this country if you hit someone in the street, that is a crime. If you hit someone at home, that is a crime too. We must end this misery. Parliament must oblige the police and social services to protect the abused. If we suspect abuse each one of us should blow the whistle to prevent another tragedy. Women, children and, yes, men need to be able to say: this is my body and you do not touch it unless I say so.

When she replies to this debate, I hope my noble friend the Minister will tell us what our Government intend to do to help women now and for the new post-2015 millennium development goals framework. ActionAid tells me that this must include eliminating violence against women and girls, reducing women’s and girls’ responsibility for unpaid care work, securing equal access to and control over land and other resources, securing women’s participation, voice and influence in decision-making, the completion of quality secondary education for young women in safe school environments, universal access to sexual and reproductive health rights, and access to decent work on an equal basis to men. In order to make a significant difference to the lives of women around the world, it is vital that women are placed at the heart of the global economic architecture post-2015.

My Lords, in joining the congratulation of the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, not only on this debate but his tireless commitment to the plight in particular of widows across the world, I congratulate him too on provoking a debate that has had some extraordinarily good speeches in the mould of his own. I had not intended to say anything about women in this country, but the noble Baronesses, Lady Jenkin and Lady Hamwee, have provoked me to do so. There is also, not least, my noble friend Lord Crisp, whose question has been concerning me during the debate.

One of the few advantages of getting into one’s anecdotage is that you have a perspective over decades. I share the concern about 22% of parliamentarians in this country being women, but I experienced being one of 4%—that is 27 out of 635—and I know the progress that can been made. At that time I also experienced having to come into the House of Commons two days after leaving hospital after the birth of my first child. Maternity leave was not considered relevant. It is an enormous joy when I now see the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister taking paternity leave. Things have improved since the days when there were seven of us women among 200 studying law at Cambridge. It no longer means that you have to be one of one rather than one of 10 who had access to that university education. I never had daughters and now I have a granddaughter, so I have been worrying away at my noble friend Lord Crisp’s question. I am optimistic as well as joyful when I hold my granddaughter.

The only thing I worry about is something we have discussed in this House before, which is the level of pornography and sexualisation and the diminution of women, in ways which are different from how women were diminished in my experience, by a wave of easily accessible material that is bad for boys, bad for girls and bad for society overall. That is an issue to which we need to turn our attention.

I want to talk today, quite differently, about women in the developing world and to echo some of the things that have already been said about the crucial role—the Kofi Annan line—of women in development overall. It is important to recognise that what we consider as women’s rights—access to education, freedom from violence and forced and early marriage, the right to participate in political and civic life, economic empowerment and the provision of health services for women in the developing world—are not just matters of individual women’s rights. Those rights are also the key to development in the families, communities and countries in which those women live. If those women are not empowered, if they are not allowed to thrive, the countries in which they live will not develop and flourish either. Like others, I was enormously heartened by the work that has been done by the Secretary of State and by the Prime Minister in his role as co-chair of the high level panel on ensuring that a stand-alone goal on gender equality will be taken into account in the post-millennium development goals framework.

Today, I want to address particularly one of the goals in the MDGs up to 2015 that will not be reached, which is reduction in maternal mortality. Before I do so, I should declare my non-financial interests as a trustee of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and the Malaria Consortium and as chair of the advisory group for the Maternal and Newborn Health Unit at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, which has already been mentioned.

The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, quoted the chilling statistic that a girl in South Africa is more likely to be raped than to learn to read. I want to quote an equally chilling statistic: a girl born today in South Sudan—a country to which reference has already been made—is statistically more likely to die in childbirth than to complete her primary school education. I read “education” as meaning secondary school education, but it is her primary school education. That is a terrible statistic, and we have heard about the hundreds of thousands of women who die in childbirth, the widowers who are created by that, the children who are left motherless and the tremendous disease that follows from the morbidity that comes from inadequate care in childbirth.

The most awful thing is that the majority of those deaths are preventable. Some of them are preventable by changes in major structural issues which have already been referred to. We know the effects of early marriage, and we know the effects of excluding girls from education and basic healthcare. In development, I normally speak about neglected tropical diseases. Those diseases in themselves create a high risk of death and morbidity in pregnancy and childbirth. The anaemia that comes with malaria means that women are more prone to die. Access to fundamental healthcare is tremendously important as is, as has been said over and again today, access to family planning and the ability to choose when and whether to have children.

There are specific issues, measures and interventions that we know can be made in antenatal and obstetric care. I want to highlight the work of Professor Van den Broek, who has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jones. I think that the Making It Happen programme that DfID has supported through the Liverpool school is a wonderful example of doing what the World Bank described as,

“closing the deadly gap between what we know and what we do”.

The programme concentrates on looking at the five complications that are well understood and can be readily treated in obstetric care and that account for some 80% of maternal deaths: haemorrhage, sepsis, eclampsia, complications of obstructed labour and abortion. They have devised a programme that is cheap to deliver and sustainable as it involves training trainers within the countries concerned. They are currently working in 11 countries across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia and are achieving tremendous results. Those results are important not only in preventing deaths but also in preventing those terrible conditions, such as prolapse and fistula, that lead to women being not only disabled but also often excluded from their communities.

I think that we know what can be done. We have access to well researched and proven interventions. DfID has been tremendously helpful in supporting that in the past. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some indication that it will continue to be so in the future.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for initiating this debate. Like him and other noble Lords, I believe it is shameful that in the 21st century the proportion of women in Parliament is so low. I too acknowledge the work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin of Kennington, to raise this issue in the Conservative Party. I know from my own experience as general secretary of the Labour Party that progress is made speedily only if we take positive action. I strongly urge that all political parties follow the method of adopting all-women shortlists which guarantee a higher proportion of women in Parliament. We cannot leave it for another 50 years.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, I quote Kofi Annan. In 2005 he said:

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

He also ventured to say that,

“no policy is more important in preventing conflict, or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended”.

Like other noble Lords, I recognise the commitment of the Minister and the department in providing international leadership on improving the lives of women and girls. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I recognise the Prime Minister’s work in the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Its recent report has proposed a standalone goal on gender and a target to eliminate discrimination against women in political, social and economic life. That report will now inform the global conversation that will continue over the next one and a half years and the recommendations will be put forward when the UN General Assembly meets in September. It is vital that the UK Government should ensure that the ambitious aims set out in the report of the high-level panel are not watered down during the intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development process, to which many noble Lords have referred.

I also understand that the Government will soon review their Strategic Vision for Girls and Women. One question that I know other noble Lords have mentioned is whether they will specifically measure change in the social attitudes, norms and behaviours that constrain girls’ and women’s lives, and which perpetuate exclusion and poverty. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, also highlighted, women are estimated to account for two-thirds of the 1.4 billion people globally who are living in extreme poverty. However, women perform two-thirds of the world’s work and produce 50% of the world’s food, but earn 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property.

Those women who are the most affected by poverty have the least access to and influence over the decisions being made to tackle it. After recent events in Bangladesh, we cannot ignore our own responsibility. The Rana Plaza disaster which killed 1,129 people last April is a stark reminder of the human cost behind behind cheap fashion in our high streets. Some 3.6 million women work in Bangladesh’s garment industry, most of them in factories similar to the Rana Plaza. Retailers have now been forced to react, including British companies like Matalan, Bonmarché and Primark, by signing up to a legally binding building safety agreement backed by the international trade union, IndustriALL and the Bangladeshi Government. Under the terms of the deal, brands including H&M and Marks & Spencer, as well as Primark, have each agreed to contribute up to half a million dollars a year towards rigorous and independent factory inspections and the installation of fire safety measures.

However, Governments need to act too. The disaster underlines why we need decent international labour standards. It is essential that the UK Government take the lead in advocating the change needed to protect the lives of workers around the world. With so many major companies that operate globally based in the UK, DfID must start taking decent labour standards seriously. In March, the Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, gave a speech at the London Stock Exchange outlining how her department would work with the private sector to encourage economic growth in developing countries. I would like to ask the Minister what criteria the department uses to determine whether to award a contract to a UK company for work in a developing country. DfID should ensure that companies receiving its support can demonstrate that they do not undermine the tax revenue collection capabilities of developing countries; that they have decent employment practices throughout their supply chain, including acceptable levels of pay to workers in developing countries; that they do not undertake activities that are degrading to the natural environment in which they operate; and that they have competed in a fair and transparent tendering process. When receiving support from the UK Government, companies should demonstrate support for sustainable and inclusive growth with an explicit focus on reducing poverty and inequality, and ensure transparency and accountability throughout their business and supply chain activities.

The private sector has a central role in stimulating jobs and growth in developing countries. Research undertaken by CARE International shows that women reinvest up to 90% of their income in their families compared with 30% to 40% by men. Despite this, and despite being recognised across the world as a better credit risk, women are more likely to be financially excluded than men. In developing countries 46% of men report having an account at a formal financial institution while only 37% of women do.

Banking on Change, an initiative by CARE International in conjunction with Barclays—and I recently attended the launch—is the first partnership between a global bank and an NGO to link informal village savings and loans associations to formal banking services. It is focused on breaking down barriers that prevent poor people accessing financial services and in doing so proves that no one is too poor to save. It has reached 513,000 people in just three years. On average each member saved $58 per year. If you multiply that figure by 2.7 billion—the “unbanked” people—it could represent a total of $157 billion that could be pumped into the formal economy each year.

As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, highlighted, such microfinance initiatives have not only delivered on people’s aspirations for themselves and their families but developed enterprise that has helped transform local economies. The personal stories that I have heard from women in Africa have made me realise just how important breaking the barriers of financial exclusion in this country is to helping transform local economies and people’s lives. As chair of a credit union, I hope that the Government’s initiative in expanding credit unions will work, and I certainly welcome the DWP’s announcement in this regard.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, reminded us, violence against women as a tool of war remains one of the least prosecuted crimes. We have to do better to ensure action against the perpetrators. However, not only must we be tough on the crime, we have to be tough on its causes. Many noble Lords have referred to the need to tackle the underlying problems of lack of empowerment, education and inclusion. If we hope to change the harsh reality that so many women live in, particularly those in conflict zones, we need to properly support organisations like UN Women.

Twelve years ago the unanimous adoption of Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security was a landmark decision. It specifically addressed the situation of women in armed conflict and called for their participation at all levels of decision-making on conflict resolution and peacebuilding. The UN recognised that women’s exclusion from peace processes not only contravened their rights but also weakened the prospects for sustainable peace. Since the adoption of Resolution 1325 we have had four supporting resolutions—1820, 1888, 1889 and 1960. All focus on three key goals: strengthening women’s participation in decision-making, ending sexual violence and impunity, and providing an accountability system. Together the resolutions provide a powerful framework and mandate for implementing and measuring change in the lives of women in conflict-affected countries.

As a member of the UN Women executive, Britain has a responsibility to ensure that UN Women has that commitment both from us and the international community. I hope, as I have asked before, that the Minister can reassure this House that the Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, will make that a priority. UN Women has great potential but that potential will not survive without our support. I hope the Government will continue to lead international action to increase women’s participation and influence in decision-making.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Loomba for securing this important debate and for his absolutely outstanding speech in introducing it. It was an astonishing overview, with such understanding of the situation of women and girls, whether here at home or in developing countries. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, I, too, was struck by my noble friend’s point that racial discrimination can count as apartheid but that gender discrimination counts as culture. I thank my noble friend Lord Loomba for all the remarkable work that he has done through the Loomba Foundation to assist widows who, through the double discrimination of being both women and widows, are often in the most marginal of situations. This week, of course, we marked International Widows Day. The fact that this day is marked in the UN calendar owes a great deal to his efforts and those of his foundation. We have heard many powerful speeches today and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. As I looked across at my noble friend Lady Hamwee during her powerful speech, I noted that we had a class of Muslim girls in our Gallery, and was touched and delighted. It is because of girls such as those that we speak today.

What we have heard bears out why DfID puts the support of women and girls front and centre of its work. In a world where poverty abounds, it is women who are at the very edge. As my noble friend Lord Jones and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, pointed out, women undertake 66% of the world’s work and produce 50% of the food but earn only 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property. We also know that there is much to do in our country. My noble friends Lord Loomba, Lady Jenkin, Lady Hamwee and Lady Tonge, along with other noble Lords, emphasised that there is a lot to do. I note the Private Member’s Bill introduced by Bill Cash and think he should extend it to equality in the United Kingdom as well as in developing countries. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said about the action taken within his own party and commend that party for those actions.

On the issue of women worldwide, we know that two-thirds of the 750 million illiterate people in the developing world are women. Reflecting the secondary status of women, one in three women are beaten or sexually abused by a partner in her lifetime. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, pointed to the use of sexual violence as a method of punishment and control. One in nine girls are forced into marriage before they reach their 14th birthday. Investing in girls and women has a transformative effect on poverty reduction and is critical to building freer and fairer societies and economies. When reading the African Economic Outlook report for the Question earlier today, I noted how greater gender equality went hand in hand with greater economic prosperity. DfID’s strategic vision for girls and women, published in 2011, outlines the department’s commitment to girls and women. It focuses on education, combating violence, trying to improve economic empowerment, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Many of the challenges that we have discussed today are woven through the fabric of our societies, as we know, in social norms and attitudes, legal frameworks and institutions of power such as government and judicial systems. Working with men and boys, enabling greater female political participation and leadership, and improving the legal frameworks for girls and women are fundamental to strengthening this enabling environment.

Internationally, DfID recognises that economic and political empowerment is crucial for the status of women. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and other noble Lords stressed, education is often the critical first step to opening up opportunities for girls and women. More time in education means that girls face a lower risk of sexual violence, marry later, have fewer children and have better health outcomes for the children they do have. As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, put it, the education of girls is one of the best health interventions. DfID’s Girls’ Education Challenge aims to get an extra 1 million of the world’s poorest girls into school by 2016 and give them a better quality education when they are there.

My noble friends Lady Jenkin and Lady Tonge focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights. As they know, medical complications from pregnancy and childbirth are still the leading cause of death among 15 to 19 year-old girls worldwide. In bringing this forward, my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell really understood its significance. The London summit on family planning in 2012 committed to increase access to family planning for an extra 120 million girls and women in the world’s poorest countries. We know that this benefits women, their families, societies and the economies of their countries. I have to say that it is absolutely wonderful to be basking in the approval of my noble friend Lady Tonge; I know it is very hard won.

My noble friends Lady Jenkin and Lady Tonge are right to emphasise the importance of this. As they will know, our commitment to family planning of £180 million per year for the next eight years will enable 24 million women in developing countries to access family planning. Echoing my noble friend Lord Jones, I recall that at that summit last year, a west African leader, clearly expecting much acclaim, noted that his contribution to reproductive rights was that he no longer availed himself of young girls. He was somewhat perplexed by the collective intake of breath.

As I have said, where economic and political empowerment is critical, violence against women and girls reflects their current status. Many noble Lords have emphasised this. That is why DfID now has anti-violence programmes for women and girls in more than 20 countries. We have a £25 million research and innovation fund to find out what works. In March my honourable friend Lynne Featherstone announced a new £35 million programme to support efforts to end female genital mutilation in Africa and beyond. My noble friend Lord Hussain and others referred to this important programme. It is the largest ever donor commitment to this issue, and we hope to see other donors support this African-led movement to end this form of violence.

With the right support, FGM could end within a generation. It has been likened to foot-binding in China. We see embodied in that very act exactly how women are viewed: in a role that is subservient to men. As foot-binding moved into the past, so it is up to all of us to make sure that FGM also becomes a thing of the past.

We are working closely with the FCO over our programmes to combat violence against women and girls. As noble Lords have referred to, in May 2012 my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary launched the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative to end impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict. My noble friend Lady Hamwee and others referred to this.

This newly adopted G8 declaration sets out a further landmark in the international commitment to address violence against women and girls. My noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lady Tonge are right to emphasise girls’ and women’s vulnerability and experience of violence being magnified in conflict. Some 75% of the refugees from Syria are women and children, and they are at particular risk of partner violence, exploitation and forced marriage. We are providing psychosocial care, newborn kits for mothers, reproductive health services and cash assistance for Syrian refugee women in Jordan in Iraq.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee asked me about women and peacebuilding and the disaggregation of data. It is not possible to disaggregate the data on funding in this area, but we recognise that women as peacebuilders are central, as UNSCR 1325 recognises. Recognising women’s unique vulnerabilities and their role as peacebuilders in humanitarian emergencies will be a key theme in the forthcoming call to action on violence against women and girls in humanitarian emergencies, which will be published in the autumn. In this regard, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, of our key support for UN Women.

The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, asked about the disaggregation of data; there was a mini theme there. Our business plan requires DfID to disaggregate all the commitments made under the strategic vision for girls and women where applicable. In the annual report that was published today, he will see that there is close to 100% disaggregation in our targets on education and sexual and reproductive health. I hope that that reassures him on the direction in which we are going.

The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, also asked about the double disadvantage that girls and women face if they live with disability. He will know that we give core funding to various organisations, and we fully understand the situation of those who suffer that double disadvantage.

My noble friend Lord Hussain spoke about Ethiopia. I flag up the programme to end child marriage that we support there, as well as our programme that seeks to change the way in which society views girls—quite a challenge but a very important programme.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked about maternal health. DfID’s strategic vision has a particular focus on that, specifically on trying to ensure that adolescent girls delay marriage. As she knows very well, there are many debilitating complications with adolescents having children, such as fistula, which she referred to.

We have heard a great deal about the challenges that women and girls face, but are there any grounds for optimism? Perhaps we can hope so, and I noted what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said. Examples could include the overwhelming public reaction to the case of the girl who was raped and later died of her injuries in Delhi; the worldwide revulsion at the shooting of Malala, the case that my noble friend Lord Loomba referred to; the outrage at the way in which Julia Gillard has been treated in Australia; or the concern recently expressed about domestic violence very close to home.

In March, when the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the principal global platform for policy-making on women’s rights, met to secure conclusions on violence against women and girls, many felt that the challenges might be too great to overcome. There was a lot of pressure not to agree conclusions, but despite the many differing perspectives, member states reached a consensus on a text that notably did not simply opt for the lowest common denominator but represented real progress for women’s rights.

The UN high-level panel that a number of noble Lords have referred to, which was tasked to propose a new set of development goals for 2015-30, faced similar challenges. Yet the panel delivered an exceptionally strong framework for girls and women in its final report.

My noble friend Lord Jones asked a number of questions. I reiterate that, as I hope he knows, we wish to see a stand-alone goal on gender and mainstreaming throughout and will do all we can to ensure that this is in the final framework. There are a number of targets in what is proposed and our task is to ensure that those are carried through as the proposals are finalised.

This has been a fantastically wide-ranging debate. We referred to the position of women in Britain today. I recall the abuse that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, received when she took her new infant into the Chamber of the Commons, but I also note that my honourable friend Jenny Willott had to be separated from her new infant when voting only very recently because an unelected person, even a minute one, could not go through the voting Lobbies. So we still have things to do.

However, even with many challenges, we have made progress, as some noble Lords emphasised. That is why it is so important, as we seek greater prosperity and development worldwide, that we recognise the huge and particular challenges that face women and girls and that we do not let them continue in the situations in which they often find themselves.

My Lords, this has been an absorbing and hugely important debate and I am very grateful to all Members who have taken part in it. I pay tribute to the efforts of this Government in placing women at the forefront of so much of what they are trying to achieve. Again, I particularly thank my noble friend the Minister for the immense amount of work that she has done in this area. It is thanks to her dedication and passion that there is movement on so many of the issues that have been covered today. It is a real pleasure to be able to work with my noble friend Lady Northover.

As I said in my opening speech, we need to ensure that we continue to see the work of aiming for women’s equality as work that everyone needs to do. In this Chamber we have the opportunity to do something. We must take that opportunity. Now is the time.

I know we will continue to speak about the issues raised today and to work towards making the world an even better place for women to be in. In the mean time, I again thank everyone who took part in this debate.

Motion agreed.