My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to contribute to this important debate, as I believe in gender equality and the empowerment of women in my business, political and social work. International Women’s Day is an important opportunity to highlight the many achievements of women in various fields while paying tribute to the important role they play in society.
I must, however, touch upon some of the challenges still facing women today. A number of experts have stated that the impact of Covid-19 will fall disproportionately on women and the most vulnerable members of our society. The coronavirus pandemic has had an adverse impact on gender equality and threatens to reverse the progress made in this area. Data from the United Nations suggests that approximately 47 million women and girls could fall into poverty as a result of the pandemic. Gender parity is vital to achieving the UN sustainable development goals by 2030. Women are overrepresented in the informal economy, where they tend to have fewer labour rights. Furthermore, mothers and women with caring responsibilities have been disproportionately furloughed or made redundant as a result of the economic downturn.
It is unacceptable that many women in various occupations are still being paid less than their male counterparts. I therefore welcome Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to introducing policies which promote fairness in the workplace and address the gender pay gap.
The importance of addressing the devastating effects of domestic abuse on females in households experiencing prolonged periods of unemployment has become even more urgent. Phone calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline increased by 49% during the first national lockdown last year. There is an unfortunate correlation between economic downturns and increases in domestic abuse. The imminent Domestic Abuse Act sends a clear message that this evil will not be tolerated any more.
The pandemic reminds us all of the debt of gratitude that we owe to the women in our families and communities. Women account for approximately 77% of the NHS workforce and are overrepresented in a number of essential areas, including childcare and nursing homes. It is their strength and resilience that makes women such invaluable members of our communities. Every effort must be taken to empower women and ensure that every female is given the opportunity to reach their full potential.
We know that women in developing countries experience many forms of discrimination. However, in conflict-affected countries, they often face additional risks, in some cases from landmines and ordnance. This issue concerns me a great deal, as I have personally seen mine clearance being carried out effectively in two countries. Can my noble friend the Minister explain how the UK will contribute, through both its diplomatic channels and foreign aid, to reducing the awful damage inflicted by these weapons on women and girls globally?