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Women: Discrimination

Volume 769: debated on Tuesday 8 March 2016

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the United Nations framework launched in November 2015 with the aim of preventing violence against women, gender inequality, discriminatory practices and harmful cultural and social norms.

My Lords, the UK championed the global goal on gender equality, and we will demonstrate the same leadership at the Commission on the Status of Women next week. The UK has scaled up its efforts to tackle violence against women and girls worldwide, with a 63% increase in our programmes since 2012. I welcome the new framework as the first UN-wide approach to the prevention of violence. It is a significant step in fostering greater co-ordination across the UN family.

I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. Does she agree that the United Nations framework provides the basis for worldwide action in pursuit of justice and equality for women, including on global gender-based violence? Will our Government give a clear and increased priority to education for girls and women, universal provision of sanitation and access to employment? Across the world, these are exactly what determine whether women are free of oppression, want and violence.

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a number of very important areas on which the Government are working very hard with the United Nations. The noble Baroness will also be aware of the high-level panel that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is a founding member of and which has economic empowerment at the heart of its strategy. We want to make sure, going forward, not only that women’s need for water, sanitation and hygiene are addressed but that women are able to access economic opportunities.

My Lords, I support the emphasis the Government are giving to preventing sexual violence in conflict alongside supporting the UN framework. Will my noble friend acknowledge that the rise of Daesh has opened a new and grotesque chapter in systematic violence against women? Will the Government work at the UN and with our allies to communicate more effectively to the world the extent of those crimes, to care for survivors of those crimes and to train armed forces in the Middle East in their detection and prevention?

My noble friend raises some very important issues concerning the protection of women and the rise of Daesh, and I take this opportunity to congratulate him on all the work he did as Foreign Secretary. My noble friend will support what the Government are doing in working with our MoD colleagues and with the Foreign Office to ensure a co-ordinated approach across government. He is absolutely right that we need to do more, and we need to encourage our partners to do the same.

African Union peacekeepers in Somalia have been accused of rape. Does the noble Baroness agree that it is welcome that the AU has conducted an investigation into this? What are the UK Government doing to support the AU to ensure that it takes the conclusions of that investigation through and holds its troops to account?

Again, the noble Baroness has raised a serious issue that women face in these particularly fragile conflict areas. We need to praise the AU for the leadership it is showing, including in trying to tackle FGM and child and early forced marriage. The AU has taken a step forward, and we will be doing our level best, with other donors, to ensure that it receives the support it needs. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that we need to make sure that the perpetrators are brought to book.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Kinnock for a lifetime’s work promoting gender equality. On the subject of harmful cultural and social norms, is it not strange that here in Britain, we persist in paying women less than men? At the current rate, it will take us 47 years to close the gender pay gap. I know that we take a long view in this House, but does the Minister think that that is too long? If so, will she go further than the Government’s current position on pay transparency and legislate for equal pay audits? She would be surprised by what she would find. Is she aware that the government department responsible for ending the gender pay gap pays its women £2 an hour less than its men?

My Lords, closing the pay gap between men and women is a really important question, and one that this Government have been very committed to addressing. The noble Baroness will be aware of the work of the noble Lord, Lord Davies. We must ensure that companies are held to account. That is why my right honourable friend Nicky Morgan, the Minister for Equalities, is pressing hard for companies employing more than 250 people to publish what they pay to men and women.

Does the Minister agree with the Sikh teaching that in conflict, enemy women should be regarded as mother, sister or daughter?

My Lords, across any teachings, we need to ensure that the basic human rights of all people are supported and protected.

My Lords, widows and wives of the disappeared are at particular risk in conflict in developing countries. Does DfID have a specific focus on them, because they really need our protection?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her question on widows. We fought hard to have a stand-alone gender goal at the UN General Assembly last year so that we could have a life-cycle approach, which included widows. We are doing a lot to help vulnerable groups in society who are susceptible to violence, including widows.

My Lords, the Minister will have seen the pledge by more than 100 women, including noble Baronesses from all sides of the House and Members of the other place, to stand with the women of Burma to end rape and sexual violence in that country. Will the British Government support their call for an investigation into rape and sexual violence by the Burmese military against ethnic women and girls?

My Lords, we have to stand up and fight all abuses from all countries by all military personnel. That is why we insist on working with partners to ensure that countries respect the role and place of women in their communities.