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Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

Volume 754: debated on Tuesday 17 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have nominated any women for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women Committee to replace those members whose terms of office are due to expire in December.

My Lords, we remain strongly committed to the protection and promotion of women’s rights. We engage closely with the CEDAW committee. The UK has never nominated a candidate to this committee; however we welcome the positive contribution that other members make. We continue to ensure that we put women at the heart of our domestic and international policies, as shown last week when we hosted the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

I congratulate the Government on all they are doing to lead on women’s empowerment and gender equality around the world. However, as my noble friend the Minister has said, the UK has never put a name forward to the CEDAW committee. This is such an important and renowned body around the world. Please could my noble friend give me an assurance that in the next round of nominations in 2016, the UK Government will put a name forward?

We have no plans to put forward a candidate for the next round of elections in 2016. We look at all UN bodies very carefully and we do not rule out nominating a UK expert in the future, but as the previous Government also concluded, ensuring that such a UK expert is elected is resource intensive. As the noble Baroness knows, we liaise very closely with CEDAW, we put huge efforts into the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women and we put major funding and other support into UN Women, currently standing at £12.5 million a year.

My Lords, in the past the Women’s National Commission, which represented millions of women across the UK—and which was abolished by this Government in their first year in office—ensured that UK women’s voices were heard as part of the CEDAW process. Those were independent voices, not always comfortable for the UK Government because they were independent, which spoke about how the UK was progressing in its elimination of discrimination against women. Who represents UK women’s voices in this process, how are they being represented and how are we ensuring that women’s voices are being heard in this process—not just the Government’s voice on their progress on the elimination of discrimination?

There has been a huge amount of engagement. My honourable friends Jo Swinson and Jenny Willott, who is currently covering for Jo, have engaged with a number of NGOs. We have provided funding to the Women’s Resource Centre to enable it to launch its shadow report to the committee—that is, of course, an independent voice; we have provided the Equality and Human Rights Commission funding and other funding to enable people to feed into CEDAW and to report back on what CEDAW has said about the United Kingdom Government.

My Lords, the Government are to be congratulated on last week’s successful global summit and on working and leading on the elimination of sexual violence against women in war. Listening to my noble friend’s reply, I am disappointed that the Government will not nominate somebody for 2016. However, can the Minister say how the important work of CEDAW will be best promoted within the United Kingdom Parliament?

Some of the answers I have just given are relevant here. I point out that we agree with the strategy of the previous Government. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, spoke in answer to my noble friend Lord Lester in 2010, pointing out the resources required to get such an expert in place and the need to prioritise. Meg Munn MP said that sometimes you need to make,

“difficult decisions about which bodies to seek election for”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/4/08; col. 375W.]

We agree. The important thing here is the promotion of women’s rights, which we are doing at a number of different levels in the way the noble Baroness experienced last week at the summit.

My Lords, last week’s summit was very successful and very welcome. However, the Foreign Secretary was challenged about what some argue is the hypocrisy in the treatment of women asylum seekers who have suffered sexual violence in this country. The Foreign Secretary said that he would look into it. Can the Minister say what steps are now being taken?

There were some very curious comments regarding last week’s summit. The noble Baroness is quite right to make sure that what we do in the United Kingdom as well as what we do internationally is consistent and to the highest standards. From answers I have been briefed on for other issues, I know that the Home Office takes extremely seriously treating sensitively and appropriately those who come to seek asylum who have suffered sexual violence overseas. I am happy to write to her with further details. However, what I found astonishing were some of the comments in the press on last week’s summit, which I thought was groundbreaking.

Does the noble Baroness regret that the coalition’s austerity measures have been disproportionately damaging to the employment and incomes of women?

There are, in fact, record numbers of women in employment; the figure has now reached 67.9%, the highest point it has ever reached in the United Kingdom. I therefore dispute what the noble Lord says, and point out, for example, that raising the tax threshold disproportionately affected women, because they tended to be in poorer-paying occupations. We are doing our best to ensure that there is equality in the economy, so that women are employed at all levels in the same way as men.