Conference Speeches: Lynne Featherstone: I have been able to do über-Liberal things in Government

Lynne FEatherstone 2007 Brighton conference by Liberal DemocratsConference may have been a week or so ago but we still have some keynote speeches to post. Lynne Featherstone spoke about the work she had done to help the most vulnerable people across the world with great humility. She said she had been able to introduce über-liberal policies but was also keen to pay  tribute to Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg for getting the economy on track.

She spoke powerfully about what she’s dong to protect women and girls around the globe and talked with great humility, saying that whenever she meets people in desperate circumstances she’s very aware that that could have been her. “I didn’t choose where I was born” she said. Here is the video and the text is below:

Good afternoon, Conference.

I’ve been thinking about those five extraordinary days in May – and our decision to go into government – to form a Coalition.
Even though it has been tough, and it still is tough, I know it has been worthwhile.

Never forget – that by forming this government, we put our country first. And we should be proud. It is this government – with Liberal Democrats in it – that delivered us from the brink of disaster and got us on the road to recovery. And our recovering economy is just as much down to us as it is the Conservatives. And, you know, Conference, I have been able to do uber liberal things in this government. From equal marriage to tackling Female Genital Mutilation But before I tell you more about that, I want pay credit to Nick and Danny. They really have done the tough stuff, and it is their resolve and rigour that is getting this country out of the mess it was in.

It hasn’t been an easy ride. And it won’t be an easy election. But two things are for sure. On their own, a Labour government
will bankrupt this country again – it is the one and only consistent feature of Labour governments. On their own, the Conservatives will only lurch further to the right. Goodbye Europe. Goodbye human rights. Fairness on the back burner. Only Liberal Democrats can deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society. And I am so glad that I am a Liberal. You know, it’s good being a well balanced and developed human being. It’s good to believe in ‘live and let live’. It’s good to want to protect the environment. And it’s right to care about the rest of the world.

Of course, since we last met, it seems our world has become an ever more dangerous and unstable place, with news from abroad dominating the headlines. Iraq, Syria, Libya, Gaza, Ukraine – so much suffering to wrap our heads round. But there are other harrowing circumstances that barely get mentioned. South Sudan with tens of thousands dead and a million and a half displaced, teetering on the edge of famine – mostly unnoticed. The missing girls in Nigeria – long gone from the headlines.
Afghanistan – barely a word.
Mali – forgotten.

But DFID is still there. And it is DFID who responded to the plight of the Yezides on Mount Sinjar. Only hours afterthe COBRA meeting, we worked with the RAF and air dropped clean water, solar lights and shelter on that mountain. And in Syria – we made the biggest humanitarian donation in our history – £700 million tothe displaced peoples. Some of this money is especially to help the children of Syria, so that we have no lost generation. We’ve also seen the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This is a crisis that has ravaged entire communities, claiming over 3000 lives. The UK is taking steps to contain the outbreak and prevent more infections, committing £125 million to date. This makes us one of the world leaders in addressing the crisis, but we’re nowhere near out of the danger zone yet.In my two years as a minister in the Department for International Development, I guess I’ve travelled to Africa around 30 times now. And do you know the thought that haunts me most?

Every time I meet a girl who is desperate just to go to school…
Every time I meet a women fighting to keep her daughters from becoming child brides…
Every time I meet a refugee torn from his home and struggling just to keep his family alive…
I think – this could have been me.
I didn’t choose where I was born, my parents or how I started out my life – none of us did.

But of course you know that, Conference. We Liberal Democrats understand this better than anyone else.
We believe that everyone deserves a fair start. That everyone should be empowered to realise their own potential.Here in the UK, we have delivered the Pupil Premium, provided more childcare and cut taxfor the lowest earners.But our commitment to fairness doesn’t stop there -and it doesn’t stop here at home. We are committed to empowering the most vulnerable wherever they may be. This compassion – this commitment to the rights and dignity of all people – is the root ofour internationalism. And, Conference, our internationalism is just as important now as it ever was. Perhaps even more so.

I am the UK’s Minister for tackling violence against women and girls across the world.Violence against women is endemic and epidemic – and it is a continuum – a spectrum. Here in the UK two women a week are killed by their partner or ex-partner, and one in fou women experiences domestic violence. As you go across the world it gets worse: rape as a weapon of war, child brides, breast-ironing.
So many women who have no voice, no choice and no control over their lives. So in DFID I work to give women and girls that control to change their lives. First and foremost, we’re educating girls. Because for each year you keep a girl in school, she’s less likely to marry early, more likely to earn higher wages and more likely to choose if and when she has babies. And we work on access to justice and training of police. Can you imagine what it is like to be raped or sexually assaulted and know that there’s no
point going to the police? At best they won’t care. At worst, they can be just as likely to abuse, harass or rape you. Go to your village chief instead? I met a woman in Darfur who went to her Chief to tell him of her husband’s brutality. His ruling was she should go back to her husband and be a better wife.

But tackling one issue above all – because it is totemic – It is a symbol of the oppression and suppression of women – is my priority. And that is ending Female Genital Mutilation. FGM – cutting off female genitalia – is one of the most severe forms of gender-based violence there is. It is violence against women. And it is a problem we in Britain share with many countries around the world. 130,000 British women have been cut and another 20,000 of our girls are at risk each year. Thirty million more girls in Africa alone are at risk of being cut over the next decade. This is despite the fact that twenty-five African countries have already made FGM illegal, and despite the African Union taking a resolution to the United Nations which passed – banning
the practice worldwide in December 2012.

So I decided that we in the UK needed to support this African-led movement. And ending FGM within a generation has become a mission – to support the brave and amazing women champions who have spoken out and broken the silence. Women like Nimco Ali, Layla Hussein and many many others.Just six months in to my time at DFID, I announced a £35million programme to support this movement for change – it’s the biggest single investment any country has ever made to end FGM worldwide. And I kicked off a national campaign too, helped by The Sunday Times, Times, Evening Standard, Guardian and Channel 4 all giving fantastic coverage to this issue. Thank you media!

Conference, from Burkina Faso and Kenya to Cardiff and Bristol, I’ve seen firsthand why this investment is so important. And we are making progress. Prevalence rates are falling in parts of Africa. The UK’s first prosecution is underway. And FGM has quickly made its way up the international agenda. I spoke at the United Nations in March and found myself surrounded by ministers, NGOs and
young people from across the world, all of us discussing how to end FGM. And I wasso delighted that my mission and campaign became so popular that the Prime Minister himself decided to join me and focus this summer’s Girl Summit on ending FGM, as well as Child, Early and Forced Marriage. Liberal Democrats, where we lead David Cameron can’t help but follow!

At the Girl Summit, Nick Clegg announced that all frontline workers in the public sector- teachers, social workers, health workers, police – will have compulsory training on FGM, and on how to protect and prevent.This Liberal Democrat initiative is a huge step forward, and for so long has been the missing link when trying to tackle FGM in this country. Frontline workers need this confidence in order to be able to walk all over the cultural eggshells that have kept them from protecting the girls who need them so desperately.onference, ending FGM – once and for all – is our promise for the next general election and beyond.

Of course, there are many other so-called traditions that keep people locked in oppression. After all, it is not only your gender that the power-hungry find threatening, but also who you love. LGBT persecution is about power – about keeping people in their place.
At home we’ve made incredible progress. Words cannot describe the overwhelming joy I felt attending two beautiful wedding ceremonies
on that historic day in March when finally, love became equal before the law. And now, whenever I speak at an event, someone, usually a young man, approaches me at the end and says thank you for what you did. It’s emotional – I cry, he cries – and we both know that our country is a better place thanit was, now marriage is equal. This was the culmination of a long journey in the UK. But as we celebrate our victory, we mustn’t forget those LGBT campaigners around the world whose journey is still desperate.From day 1 in my role as DFID minister, strengthening the department’s LGBT rights strategy has been one of my top priorities. DFID’s approach has rightly been led by local gay campaigners in each country, and they’ve asked that we take a subtle approach.So, respecting their wishes, that’s what I’ve done – raised my concerns in private with African ministers and prime ministers, and met privately with local LGBT groups in country.

But we can do more.I instructed every DFID country office in Africa to report back to me with details of what they’re doing, and what more they will do, for LGBT rights. And now DFID is going further. In Africa, as the freedom to love who you wish sadly comes under greater and greater threat, DFID will do more to connect campaigners across the world – from South America to Africa to Asia – so that they can share their techniques and learn from each other. We can help be the catalysts for their change. We will help defend and promote human rights everywhere. Because that is what this is about. I meet inspiring campaigners everywhere I go. All any of them want is human dignity – that the universal values of tolerance, love and mutual respect are upheld. And it is our duty to support them. That’s why Liberal Democrats will always be committed internationalists. That’s why we’ve kept our promise to reach the UN’s target of dedicating 0.7 per cent of national income to international aid.And because of Mike Moore’s private members bill, we are finally close to enshrining this in law.

Conference, because of the Millennium Development Goals, we’ve seen the greatest progress in human history to lift people out of poverty and give a voice to the powerless. But the job’s not done. The MDGs expire next year and the international community has a once in a generation opportunity to finish it. More so – I believe we have a dutyto finish it.Especially for people like Dorothy – a young girl in Uganda, who is blind and unable to walk. For years her father carried her two and a half kilometres to school and back every day. Once at school, she was bullied, especially when she had to use the general latrine. Because of DFID and support from NGOs like WaterAid,Dorothy now has a wheelchair and her school has an accessible toilet.This small contribution from us makes a world of difference to children like Dorothy everywhere. And in DFID, I am making sure children like Dorothy are never again an after-thought.
I have announced that all school construction directly funded by DFID will have universal access.

And I have used the influence I have to ensure that global funds like the Global Partnership for Education also put disability at the heart of their programs too. I want everyone on board with this. I want the World Bank, the African Bank, the private sector and the NGOs to make sure that whatever they do – they include disability rights in their programs.If we don’t do this – who will?

So as the international community agrees a new framework to replace the MDGs, I believe the principle that must underpin all our future work is ‘Leave No One Behind’. No one – regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, race, sexuality, disability or station
in life. This is the principle that binds us too, Conference. No matter what the aid sceptics say, there really is no ‘them and us’. There are many foreign languages are spoken here in Glasgow. There are over 180 languages spoken in my London constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green. We’re all connected – to events around the world and to each other. We all want a better future for our children and grandchildren, and a chance to get on in life. And that’s exactly what Liberal Democrats work hard to secure.

Remember that over the next seven months.
Remember it when you’re delivering door to door in the rain;
remember it when you’re stuffing your ten-thousandth envelope;
remember it when you’re talking to voters on the doorstep day in, day out.

Liberal Democrats stand for fairness, for justice – for empowerment – both at home and abroad.

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  • Eddie Sammon 18th Oct '14 - 4:22pm

    A very good speech! Can we get Lynne Featherstone in a leadership position? I think the Lib Dem women problem is becoming an emergency. We need to push competent female MPs into the limelight. All of them. Lynne, Jo, Lorely, Jenny, Sarah is leaving, but perhaps she can be won back around, I don’t know much about Tessa Munt, but I’m sure she can do a good job. Catherine Bearder should also play a big part.

    Where I will differ with a lot in the party is I think a message needs to be sent to both men and women to up their game. Just telling the men to up their game isn’t going to be good enough.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Oct '14 - 4:24pm

    Sorry I forgot Annette Brooke! If possible all of these should be provided with lots of opportunities in the election campaign. The candidates too, otherwise the message that the Lib Dems have a women problem is going to start to get mainstream currency.

  • Tsar Nicolas 18th Oct '14 - 4:59pm

    @Eddie Sammon

    They will both lose their seats in May.

  • Well done to LDV for featuring a woman MP, and a more than capable minister whose achievements speak volumes for her skills.
    So much better than promoting those empty suits and old school ties.. Some of the male Liberal Democrat ministers have been either anonymous or incompetent, and none of us can recall anything particularly Liberal Democrat in what they have done.. I realise that in a party of only 56 MPs some people who would be great backbenchers find themselves as ministers when they are not really up to the job. Clegg does not have a good record on team selection.

    Lynne Featherstone has real achievements to her name which Liberals will be able to point to and take pride in for years to come.

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