Deidre Brock MP

Member of Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith

International Women's Day 2016

My speech for International Women's Day Debate 2016.

You can watch my contribution - and the rest of the debate - here: http://goo.gl/C4IHcr

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY 2016

We are just less than one month short of the one hundred and fifth anniversary of Emily Wilding Davison's night in the undercroft here.

In and of itself that action was not a turning point but it was part of a larger movement and societal change that has at least made strides in the right direction.

Emily Davison is a fine example of how it often takes straightforward thinking and direct action to make the changes that later generations come to see as normal.

Changing the normal view of things is what drives society forward and it's very seldom easy – especially for women.

I suggest, then, that it is the responsibility of every decent government in every civilised nation on this earth to help advance the rights of women.

Less than two weeks ago the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom boasted about how his Government had helped arms manufacturers from the UK to sell arms to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is a country where a woman cannot open a bank account without her husband's permission.

Nor can she try on clothes in a shop – the thought of an undressed woman behind a door, it seems, would be too much for Saudi men.

It's a place where a woman cannot drive a car and I think I'm right in saying that it is the only country in the world where it is illegal for a woman to drive.

When a teenage girl was gang-raped in 2006 the courts sentenced her to corporal punishment for being out of the house without a chaperone.

90 lashes for getting raped.

Just last year Souad Al-Shammary, a Saudi women's rights activist and the first female lawyer to appear before a Saudi court was released from prison where she'd been detained for three months without trial for advocating women's issues.

She'd been interrogated after a complaint was filed that referred to her "calls for women's liberation"; "demanding the separation of society from religion"; and "demanding the end of male guardianship over women".

She was released when she promised to reduce her activism.

This is the nation which the Prime Minister feels it is appropriate to boast of doing business with.

In the House of Lords yesterday the Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Anelay of St Johns, answered a written question saying "We regularly raise our concerns over human rights in Saudi Arabia with the Saudi Arabian government, and did so most recently on 22 February."

So it seems that the Prime Minister raised his concerns about the way Saudi Arabia treats people just two days before he celebrated taking their cash for providing weapons.

Human rights are women's rights and the rights of the women of Saudi Arabia should be at the top of the agenda for inter-Governmental relations.

International Women's Day has to be about more than the gender pay gap and tax on sanitary products; it has to be about promoting the rights and freedoms of women across the world.

It has to be about women being equal to men.

It has to be about ending repression, engendering respect, and about parity of esteem between women and men.

The Government of the UK should be crowing when it makes advances in those areas rather than being smug about providing more weapons to what is, essentially, a repressive regime if you are a woman.

In the face of all of that, women in Saudi Arabia are changing the face of their country.

Despite the roadblocks put in their way we see ground-breaking women like Haifaa al-Mansour who wrote and directed the first feature film to be shot there Saudi scientists like Samera Ibrahim Islam and Hayat Sindi are proving that Saudi women can match men in science.

Using humour to chip away at the patriarchy is female Saudi comedian 'Amy Roko'.

They are transforming their lives and making the changers which will create a new normal for future generations of Saudi women but they need the help and support of the international community if they are to succeed.

There was a Foreign Secretary who stood in this chamber once and promised an ethical foreign policy.

He has gone and so has any semblance of an ethical foreign policy – it left here before he did – but the civilisation we so readily pretend to or aspire to demands that just such a policy be the guiding light of our international relations.

On International Women's Day let each Member here pledge that the rights and protection of women should be uppermost in their thinking about international relations.


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