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Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women

Volume 801: debated on Thursday 16 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, what plans they have, if any, to put forward a representative to the Committee.

My Lords, the UK is fully committed to fulfilling its obligations under CEDAW and the Government recognise the important role played by CEDAW in holding state parties to account in implementing the convention. As with all UN bodies, the Government consider a range of factors in deciding whether to propose a UK representative formally and will continue to consider future vacancies that arise.

My Lords, Mrs Thatcher herself ratified CEDAW 40 years ago but we have not sent a representative since 1982. This deprives other members of our input and deprives us of our ability to offer our expertise towards resolving challenges, such as the amicus brief submitted by the BackTo60 campaign for pensions justice for women born in the 1950s. The Government have until 6 March to nominate someone. Will the Minister do all she can to ensure that we fulfil this right and obligation?

I fully support what the noble Baroness outlines. It might give her comfort that the FCO has prioritised support for the UK nominations to the Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court in 2020. She will also know that the chances of success are low without a significant campaign, particularly as CEDAW vacancies tend to be oversubscribed. All that said, the FCO has committed to support the GEO in backing a UK nomination for the 2022 CEDAW elections.

I thank the Minister for her replies, but I do not think it is very encouraging. Is the Minister aware that UK women’s NGOs have lobbied for the development of a shortlist of suitably qualified women who could be nominated by the FCO to such bodies as CEDAW? Can she say whether that list has been drawn up and, if so, how these women have been nominated? Can she do all in her power to rectify the problem of not nominating—although she has indicated that we could do so by 2022—so that in future we can ensure that the UK will be represented at international bodies such as CEDAW, bearing in mind that to date we have never nominated and it was signed by the UK in 1981? I am sure she agrees with me that there are many suitable, qualified women in the UK who could be nominated.

My Lords, there are so many suitable women in the UK—not least the talent in your Lordships’ House—that I think we would struggle to come up with a shortlist. While I completely support the tenor of what the noble Baroness says, it is important to point out that CEDAW members serve in their personal capacity and do not represent the member states that nominate them. I still take her point completely on board.

My Lords, I served for many years as the British member on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. It is very important that we continue to be represented there, as we have not always been able to, because we were the first country to bring up violence against women. Since we brought that to the agenda, it has been continued and carried on. Without our input, the smaller countries would not have felt that they wanted to admit to this, which later they did. Have we continued to press to be represented on the commission?

I hope my noble friend will be pleased to note that in 2018 I attended the Commission on the Status of Women. I found it incredibly useful, and our voice was very influential with a number of states.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness’s question. If and when our Government decide that we should have representation on the committee or on any other international bodies, will she and her Government make sure that it reflects the diversity of women in our country?

As I said, we have so many women to choose from, not least from your Lordships’ House. I am sure that the woman chosen will be the best woman for the job.

My Lords, the United Nations recommended that the UK should take steps to promote positive diversity and gender diversity in public campaigns and particularly in the media. What steps might the Government be taking to address the overt racism and misogyny present in our increasingly toxic tabloid media and online, as we have seen in recent weeks towards a woman of colour who had the temerity to marry into the Royal Family?

Go online and see the comments referring to “monkeys” and overt racism. It is shameful and embarrassing for our country that we have a media that is allowed to get away with such racism in this way. What are the Government doing to address this?

I agree that there is increasingly co-ordinated and effective opposition to women’s rights generally. It is something that I discussed while I was at the UN commission. As for growing racism in the media towards a member of the Royal Family, I am aware of one or two comments, but I am not aware of a mass of racial opposition to any members of the Royal Family.

Does the Minister know that there is a petition by women’s NGOs, which over 10,000 people have signed, for us to have representation on CEDAW from 2020? Does she agree that it is very important that we increase our influence at the UN while we are losing it at the EU?

I was not aware of the petition but, as I said, just because you are nominated does not mean that you are nominated for your country. You are nominated as an individual. Our influence is quite significant, even without the nomination, but I take on board that helpful comment about the petition.