On 10th March 2020 the House of Lords held a debate to mark International Women’s Day, on a motion from Baroness Berridge, “That this House takes note of International Women’s Day and the United Kingdom’s role in advancing equalities for women everywhere.” The Bishop of Gloucester, Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, spoke in the debate, highlighting the issues of global education, violence against women and women’s treatment in the criminal justice system:
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, it is a privilege to participate in this debate, although I am disappointed not to be in New York at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which was cancelled last week. This event was to celebrate the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, published 25 years ago, which saw countries agree to dedicate themselves unreservedly to addressing constraints and obstacles to gender equality, thus enhancing the empowerment of women and girls all over the world. There is still much to do.
Our Government’s commitment to advancing equalities for women and girls worldwide is laudable, and I too want to welcome the new role of the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg. The UK has a strong role to play, not least regarding the vital issue of girls’ education. Last year I had the privilege of visiting Egypt with the charity Embrace the Middle East. I visited some inspiring community projects, enabling women and girls— Christian and Muslim—to be educated, not only in literacy but on issues of health, including the prevention of FGM. Girls’ access to education is crucial and empowers women and girls to be agents of change in their communities, which benefits everyone.
Women and girls are also agents of peace across our world; again, there are many examples. Last summer I visited a project in Israel, where Jewish and Arab women are working together to produce olive oil and other products. They demonstrate that business and relational concerns enable people, often led by women, to rise above division amid political negotiations.
When we consider advancing equality, it is not only about women achieving positions in institutions designed by and for men, but about wider society being shaped by women’s voices and experiences. It is also about men and women working together as equals, with every person having equal value and the opportunity to achieve their full potential; this benefits everyone. This commitment to justice and human becoming is core to Christian belief and faith. However, sadly this is not reflected in the continued prevalence of domestic abuse across our world, here in the UK and, indeed, among people of faith and no faith. It is abhorrent, and I declare an interest as an ambassador of Restored, a charity that campaigns against violence towards women.
Violence against women affects every sphere of life, as we have heard. There are many groups, across different faiths and around the world, committed to gender justice and using their voices to be part of the solution, such as Side by Side, a growing global movement. Just last week, I was delighted to be alongside a passionate group of women—including Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner—at the launch of the Faith and Violence against Women and Girls Coalition, here in the UK. I am looking forward to the introduction of the Domestic Abuse Bill in your Lordships’ House, and to constructive discussions about that legislation, including proper intervention support for children of domestic abuse and migrant women. Anyone of any age and in any circumstances suffering domestic abuse deserves appropriate support and a path to safety. Much of what we are talking about today is rooted in women and girls being valued and being able to value themselves.
Before I finish, I want to touch on one final area: women in the criminal justice system. A high percentage of these women have experienced some form of abuse themselves. Self-esteem is usually very low, and we know that for many of these women, specific provision in the community—particularly in women’s centres—is far more effective in the transformation of lives and reducing crime.
As I have said in your Lordships’ House before, I serve as bishop to women’s prisons and am president of the Nelson Trust. I welcome the Government’s production of a female offender strategy in June 2018, which encouraged trauma-informed and gender-sensitive provision. None the less, the strategy is grossly under- funded and the £5 million of funding for community provision over two years will run out in June. I hope the spending review takes account of the potential financial benefits of community alternatives to custody for women, notwithstanding their effectiveness for rehabilitation and wider society.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us celebrate the progress made but not lose sight of the work still to be done. That takes me back to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years ago.
I look forward now to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ranger.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development (Baroness Sugg) (Con):..Domestic abuse is also linked to female offenders, an issue that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester raised. As we know, almost 60% of female offenders have experienced domestic abuse, and more than a third of them have a problem with a current partner. We are committed to doing all we can to address the issues around female offending, so that we can better protect the public and deliver more effective rehabilitation…
…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester highlighted the issue of domestic abuse across the world. We are a global leader in ending violence against women and girls in all its forms, including domestic violence, sexual violence, female genital mutilation, child, early and forced marriage, and sexual violence in conflict. In November, we announced the largest-ever investment by a single-donor Government to prevent violence against women and girls globally. This builds on DfID’s brilliant What Works to Prevent Violence programme, which has done incredible investigation. We know that violence is preventable and we know how to prevent it; now it is about using that global good to scale up our investment and that of others too.