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9 November 2012
Yesterday, the International Parliamentary Conference on Gender and Politics drew to a close in a session featuring robust calls for action against gender-based violence from four senior British women parliamentarians. Rt Hon. Baroness Hayman GBE, former Lord Speaker, Lynne Featherstone MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Rt Hon. Harriet Harman QC MP, and Rt Hon. Baroness Scotland QC, former Attorney General, used the opportunity to call attention to the priority theme of the 2013 UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), ‘elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.
Ms Featherstone, discussed her international work to combat gender-based violence, outlining her ‘multiplier’ system by which any UK Minister travelling abroad goes with a brief to raise the issue with international colleagues. She also highlighted her Department’s policy of ‘putting women and girls at the heart of development.’
During her session, Ms Harman debunked several myths surrounding domestic and sexual violence, unequivocally stating: that it can happen to anyone, regardless of nationality, race, or class; that it is never justified, and that there can be no place for a culture of excuses; that it is never a private matter, where the state has no right to intervene; and it does affect others – notably children whose suffering should also be acknowledged. Baroness Hayman echoed this, stressing that the responsibility for upholding women’s fundamental rights lies with the state.
The session marked the end of the conference, which took place in Westminster 6-8 November 2012 hosted by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK and British Group of the IPU, and brought together nearly 60 international parliamentarians, representing legislatures from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and 50 others. Other key meetings explored subjects such as use of quotas to increase representation, women members’ relationship with the media, and women’s economic empowerment.
House of Commons Speaker, Rt Hon. John Bercow MP, speaking in a session on parliamentarians’ role in making public life appeal to women, discussed the specific measures taken in the Westminster Parliament, including the establishment of a nursery and the recent change in parliamentary sitting times. Baroness (Shirley) Williams voiced optimism for future developments, making the point that
the female electorate had in large part secured President Barack Obama’s victory on Tuesday night in the US Presidential Election and that this would make the worlds media shift further towards the view that women's voices matter.
A key priority for both delegates and organisers was the conference’s legacy, and how best to ensure that the impassioned, informative and engaged discussions would have a lasting impact in all the legislatures they represented. As well as agreeing a strong communiqué, available shortly, delegates were encouraged to join an online forum to enable them to continue to share experiences, challenges and successes on all fronts. The first issue on which delegates are encouraged to contribute, is on priority theme for 2013 CSW the Elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls; and following the Conference Closing Plenary, there is unlikely to be a shortage of ideas.