International Women's Day 2016 came to the House of Commons with a backbench business debate where all members of the house could come together to discuss women's issues. I was fortunate enough to be able to make the closing remarks in the debate and round off a very moving day. A transcript of my contribution as well as a video is below.
Dawn Butler : I thank all the participants in the debate and the Backbench Business Committee for the time that it allocated. The right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) touched on the battle—it was a bit of battle, I must say—that we had to ensure that the debate was held in the Chamber. I took a deep breath when it was suggested that we hold the debate in Westminster Hall, although the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) was a little more generous than me—subtlety was never one of my strong points. The number of Members from both sides of the House who have spoken today, on International Women’s Day 2016, in this passionate debate showed that we were right to hold the debate here in the Chamber.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) highlighted the women who have been killed by men since International Women’s Day 2015, reading out 121 names. Internationally, five women are killed every hour, so during this debate 15 women have been murdered. That is a sobering thought. The hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) talked about Boko Haram and the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, and said that there would be a renewed emphasis on that issue. We must never forget the women and girls who have been murdered, killed or kidnapped, or who are still missing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) highlighted the gender differentials. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned the Yazidi women who have been captured and raped. My right hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) mentioned prostitution and trafficked women, and she talked about the motion. The motion took a while to write, because so many issues could have been included that it was difficult to know what to focus on. A common theme that has come out of the debate is that the abuse of women is always used as a weapon of war. Whether it be in gangs, wars or other violence, women and young girls are always used and raped. We must never, ever forget that.
I have a little bit of a confession to make. Last night, I was thinking about the Chancellor in bed—[Laughter.] It is true. I was thinking that he has a deleterious effect on women, and I am fearful about next week’s Budget.
Mr Jim Cunningham: On that subject, surely the Chancellor could take a step in the right direction on International Women’s Day by looking at transitional arrangements for women who were born after 1951.
Dawn Butler: Absolutely. We have to do more on the transitional arrangements for women. The situation is not fair and it is just not right. As I say, I worry about the Budget next week. It sometimes seems as though revenge is being taken against women, because 81% of the cuts made in this Parliament will affect women. In UK households, 744,000 individuals are on zero-hours contracts, and the majority of those people are women. In 2007, 62,700 equal pay claims were made. We all know, as has been said in the debate, that women are not being treated better at work, but only 9,621 equal pay claims were made in 2014-15, because of the changes that have been made to the law.
Twenty per cent. of small and medium-sized enterprises are led by women. Women often start their own businesses to ensure that their worth is acknowledged, and the number who do so increases every single year. Forty-nine per cent. of lone parents are on prepayment meters, which means that they pay more, and that contributes to household debt. Guess what? The majority of lone parents are women. As I have said, 744,000 people are on zero-hours contracts, and the majority of them are women. Would it not be great if we could outlaw zero-hours contracts in this Parliament?
We in this House have a duty to ensure that we make laws that are not harmful to women. We have to empower women in this place; that is our duty. As has been mentioned, PSHE is an important part of education. It sets the foundation in schools, from a very early age, for constructive relationships. In my opinion, it should be compulsory.
I thank the House for the way in which the debate has been conducted, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee again for granting it.
That this House expresses its solidarity with International Women’s Day; notes with concern that, despite women making up 51 per cent of society as a whole, more progress needs to be made in electing women to Parliament, as well as in establishing equal pay and parity between men and women in positions of leadership; and calls for greater action against FGM and other practices that are harmful to women.