Lords debates International Women's Day 2013

08 March 2013

Members of the House of Lords debated International Women's Day 2013 yesterday (Thursday 7 March).

Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Conservative), opened the debate and welcomed the ‘chance for us to draw attention to the serious challenges that women still face here and around the world’. In a speech which focused on women and employment, she asked how women can be better supported in the workplace: ‘I will focus on women and their careers, or more specifically on what we are doing to ensure that we better utilise the talents and skills of all women, whoever they are, wherever they come from and whatever they do.’

She continued: ‘It is vital that we have more women in positions of power, whether in business or politics. We want those women on boards. We need more women around the cabinet table, as the Prime Minister said very recently’. However, she also sounded a note of caution, stating that to solely focus on these kind of aspirations can itself be detrimental: ‘By concentrating so much on the high achievers, or telling people to aim for the very top, I worry that sometimes, without meaning to, we diminish other people's achievements and even discourage them from being ambitious at all.’

Baroness Prosser (Labour), deputy chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, spoke specifically about how ‘media images of women still concentrate on a woman’s looks, size and age'. She added: ‘This would not be so irritating if the same criteria were applied to men but, judging by some of the sights we see, this clearly is not the case. There is a big responsibility here for men at the top of TV and radio to recognise that this is not only silly and unfair but presents a skewed image of women and helps to promote the notion of woman as object.’

Baroness Benjamin (Liberal Democrat) addressed a similar theme in her speech, drawing attention to how ‘the globalisation of media and the internet has led to an explosion in the sexual objectification of women.’ She spoke of the challenges involved in reversing this trend: ‘I know that the global and domestic challenge is for women to join together and lead the fight against this, and stop allowing females to be exploited by the culture of sexualisation - for the sake of their daughters and granddaughters.’

The Lord Bishop of Coventry (Non-affiliated) also made his maiden speech during the debate. He spoke about his female colleagues in the clergy, saying: ‘I assure your Lordships that the present House of Bishops is impatient for the collegiality of women as bishops, including their presence in this House. The absence of women on these benches today is, of course, particularly noticeable. We are committed to seeing this happen for the good of Church and nation.’

Equalities minister, Baroness Northover (Conservative) responded to the debate and confirmed the government’s commitment to transforming the opportunities for women: ‘We are investing in education, expanding our apprenticeship programme and improving careers advice to encourage young women to make ambitious choices.’

Addressing the dangers of the sexualisation of girls, she spoke of the recommendations made in the recent  ‘Let Children be Children’ report, saying that: ‘we are using these to work with media, business and regulators to implement... I am sure this is an area we will need to monitor extremely closely.’

Further information

Image: House of Lords 2013/Photography by Roger Harris

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