Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece writes: 117 years is too long to wait for gender parity

This week we marked International Women’s Day, the theme of which was ‘Pledge for Parity,’ borne of the latest prediction from the World Economic Forum that we won’t achieve global gender parity until 2133. This date is further in the future than the previous prediction, reflecting the fact that progress internationally, is slowing down, not speeding up. We must take action to tackle it, here and abroad.

Although we have made great strides here in the UK, there is still much to do. The gender pay gap is still real; women make up just 29% of House of Commons, we have too few women in leadership roles in the civil service, business, as newspapers editors and in the diplomatic service.

Violence against women domestically and globally is still endemic. I’m a member of the Select Committee on Sexual Violence in Conflict, where we’ve heard some appalling evidence of how in some countries women’s lower status contributes to the violence they face. While there are so few women in positions of power internationally, violence continues to be widely used as a tool to keep women in their place.

According to Rape Crisis, in 2014-15, around 85,000 women were raped in England and Wales. Although prosecution rates are up, conviction rates remain too low (18%).

Women across the world are still discriminated against because they have the HIV virus (indeed LGBT+ women’s health is a much-neglected area that we need to focus). Refugee women fleeing conflict, war, with their children, especially in the Middle East, often face increased disadvantages.

Every year here in the UK, 2,000 women who are seeking asylum in the UK are locked up. Most of them are held in Yarl’s Wood detention centre, many indefinitely, only to be released into the community after months or even longer. For women who have fled rape, trafficking, imprisonment and torture, detention can be a devastating way to be treated, and many self-harm or attempt suicide. We need to get a grip on the Yarl’s Wood situation and, frankly, shut it down — it is a disgrace. We can do much better. We should be leading by example in trying to fight violence against women globally.

For those women who are not facing violence, there are still too many barriers, stopping them playing their full and equal part in society. Working parents need more help with care costs—all the things that make women’s lives easier and help them to participate, particularly in Parliament and in public life. And we need affirmative action to bring about greater representation in all British political parties.

But women from migrant or immigrant backgrounds, particularly those who are Muslim, are under an increasing spotlight, and face discrimination and are seen as an easy target. There is an increase in Islamophobic attacks on women, but on top of that they are held responsible for radicalisation of their children. Many face disadvantages within their own communities, and it is unfair that they are being put under increased scrutiny in this way—they need far more support, and representation in public life.

Women need to be at the table in post – conflict countries, playing a full role in peace-building. We complain that women’s voices are not heard – whether at peace conferences, high-level summits or community meetings. And when they are invited, they often do not participate equally with men. A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman. We need to make sure that more women have a voice and that their voices are heard.

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Mar '16 - 1:05am

    So much that is correct and humane and yet absolutely no positive comments .Why?So much that is being done to advance the cause of women as one half of the cause of humanity itself .Why no mention of it ?

    All the horrors are horrible .Who but the horribly influenced or just horrid, would think otherwise.Baroness Hussein-Ece, is correct to draw attention to that too .But where is the good news of so much progress in attitudes ?

    I am a man in my later forties .I have as many female role models as male .Wonderful women like Audrey Hepburn were taken seriously a quarter of a century ago at diplomatic level , because of her humanity . She was a wonderful example of the positive difference that can be made . She was a wonderful woman.Another of my heroes , Sir Peter Ustinov was , too, and , he was taken no more seriously or less, as UNICEF ambassador, because he was a man.

    Mary Robinson, Golda Mayer, Margaret Thatcher,Benazir Butho,Angela Merkel,Helle Thorning Schmit,etc were they taken less seriously?

    There is an imbalance in power ,still ,around the top table of the world . There is one , too, in favour of negativity.

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