Bishop of Wakefield calls for close links with civil society to end violence against women

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, on securing this debate. I reassure noble Lords that I am not speaking simply to bring a modicum of gender balance to the Chamber.

Many years ago now, when we were living in the East Midlands, my wife was a volunteer at a women’s refuge. She was scrupulous in maintaining confidentiality about those who used the refuge. None the less, on occasion, she would return home shocked and distressed at the violence that women had experienced, even here in our own country. It was a phenomenon that did not relate to just one stratum of society.

More widely, my own experience internationally as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s International Secretary in the 1990s and, more recently, with the international links that I have nurtured since being a diocesan bishop, I have been appalled by many of the stories of violence and abuse of women across the world. From widespread genital mutilation in Ethiopia to violence against women employed in gold-mining ventures by unscrupulous individuals in Tanzania, the stories continued to be manifold. Also included was violence against women in the terrible civil war at the end of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia.

The churches have played a key part in addressing all these horrors, particularly the issue of genital mutilation. In the continuing conflicts in both the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, each tells its own horrific tale.

I was fortunate enough to secure a debate in this Chamber last March on just this subject. In that debate I paid tribute to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for his very important initiative on sexual violence in conflict, which has already been mentioned on a number of occasions. As we all know, the first National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security finished last year. Noble Lords have already heard, most notably from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, of the patchiness of plans across different nations on women, peace and security. As plans advance for the next stage of the national action plan, I ask Her Majesty’s Government: will they conduct in-country consultations with civil society organisations, including faith leaders and churches, in each of the priority countries, before the development of the next UK national action plan?

Baroness Thornton: The right reverend Prelate was quite right in his question about the importance of consultation with civil society organisations. I, too, seek reassurance about that and on whether the Government are incorporating commitments to ongoing engagement and consultation with civil society organisations, particularly those to do with women’s rights, into the UK NAP to monitor and review its implementation and impact.


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