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The Girls Breaking Barriers debate

The House of Lords chamber has thrown open its doors today to around two hundred young people to debate the question: Girls Breaking Barriers: How can we ensure that girls and young women are able to achieve their potential in the UK and around the world?

The topic for debate has been inspired by the 60th anniversary of the passing of the Life Peerages Act 1958, which enabled women to be members of the House of Lords for the first time, and the centenary of some women first achieving the vote in 1918. Several women peers will also join the debate, which will recognise girls' power to create lasting change in their lives and in the world around them and support their right to have a voice in the country's most historic parliamentary space.

The House of Lords is partnering with Plan International UK, a charity working to end inequality for girls and young women around the world, the English-Speaking Union and nine schools across the UK to give a variety of young people an opportunity to have their voices heard in the chamber. Young women from Ghana and Rwanda will also be participating in the debate.

Participants will spend the afternoon in the chamber debating the following four barriers faced by young women today:

  1. Girls face stereotypes in schools – assumptions about their capabilities and potential.
  2. Girls do not see themselves reflected in public and political life. Positions of power tend to be held by men.
  3. Girls face harassment on the streets on a daily basis.
  4. Girls do not have enough information about their bodies, healthy relationships and sexual health.

Each barrier will be debated and the proposed solutions voted on in turn. The debates will be opened by a young participant and summarised by a woman peer. Two female Lords Deputy Speakers, Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall and Baroness Pitkeathley, will preside over the debates.

Ahead of the debate Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall, said:

“The debate topic, which directly affects the lives of 3.7 billion girls and women around the world, is of great importance and particularly relevant in the context of the #metoo movement.”

Baroness Pitkeathley, added:

“We hope that the opportunity to debate in the Houses of Parliament will inspire all the young people participating and encourage them to think about a career in public service.”

Tanya Barron, Chief Executive of Plan International UK's, said:

“This debate marks a significant step towards tackling the many barriers to success that girls experience from a young age. Our research has found that, in schools and public spaces, girls face discrimination tied to their gender - whether that's the embarrassment and stigma that still surrounds periods, daily harassment on the way to school or gendered expectations of the subjects they study. Action is needed to tackle the entrenched attitudes that maintain these barriers, and we must listen to girls in order to create effective solutions to the problems they face.”

Duncan Partridge, Director of Education at the English-Speaking Union, said

“The English-Speaking Union is delighted to work with the House of Lords to both promote the profile of public debate and to broaden access to it. If girls are to achieve their potential it is vital they are more fully represented in public life, and by empowering young people through oracy we can help make this a reality.”

The debate will follow a number of sessions where participants will meet with inspiring women, from both inside and outside the House of Lords. These sessions will involve the participants listening to and questioning the women they meet in order to gather different opinions and information which will be helpful to their future aspirations, and which will also inform their contributions to the debate in the afternoon.

As part of its public engagement and outreach programme, the House of Lords opens its chamber once a year to non-members for debate. This year's event will be the twelfth of its kind.

Pupils from the following schools are taking part in the debate:

  • Deans Community High School – Midlothian
  • Isca Academy – Devon
  • Liverpool College – Merseyside
  • Salendine Nook High School Academy – West Yorkshire
  • Saxmundham Free School – Suffolk
  • Strathearn School – Belfast
  • The Royal High School – Midlothian
  • The Sandon School – Essex
  • Woodside High School – London.

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