Lynne Featherstone

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

my blog
Lynne's Parliament and Haringey Diary, established 2003

Ben Summerskill couldn’t be more wrong

Ex CEO of Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, is in the news for calling Liberal Democrats ‘cynical’ in our initiation and championing of same sex marriage. He says it was all because this was to put clear water between ourselves and the Conservatives.

As the instigator and architect of same sex marriage  – I can say that Summerskill could not be more wrong.

In fact – the opposite is true. One of the key factors in making me think I could get same sex marriage on the statute books was the very fact that the Conservatives were desperate to leave their poor track record on matters homosexual behind. I thought they would be keen to prove this. I was right – both Theresa May and David Cameron were staunch in their support. What I had not predicted (and I suspect David Cameron had not predicted) was the huge rift within the Conservative ranks which ensued.

Mr Summerskill’s comments almost certainly have more to do with his misery at this most recent step coming from the Liberal Democrats than anything else. It has now been well-documented by Peter Tatchell and many others – that Stonewall under Ben’s stewardship was against same sex marriage.

However, when I had Ben in to see me when I started on my mission, to ask for his support. He did in the end change Stonewall’s position . I am extremely glad he did change his position – but reading all the recent comments it would seem that was because he had no alternative.

I met with all the key stakeholders, campaigners and activists in the early days to ask for support. Everyone put their egos aside and we all worked together to deliver what now is the law.

Stonewall does a huge amount of excellent work – and it is a great pity that Summerskill has damaged the brand by his comments. The acting CEO Ruth Hunt is great – and I have no doubt will take Stonewall forward in a much better way than before.

In terms of same sex marriage I lay the credit at the doors of those who suffered and those who fought this battle over the years. Moreover, without civil partnerships and all the campaigners who have fought over the years for equality and came together in the same sex marriage campaign  – this most recent and significant step forward could not have taken place.

But equality is part of the Liberal Democrat DNA – and we have our rightful place among these campaigners. And for me it is probably one of the best things I will ever do as a politician.

Currently I am a Minister in DFID with Africa in my patch. As you can imagine – in terms of LGBT issues – there is so much work to be done. See my recent blog on this here. And there is still much to do on our own streets and in our own schools. Same sex marriage is certainly a great step forward – but quite frankly – this is no time to let up.

 

 

Tue 18 March 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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Ending violence against women and girls – the missing target in the MDGs

Here’s my final blog from New York, where I represented the UK at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Also available here.

As I’m sure you know by now, I am passionately committed to tackling violence against women and girls wherever it occurs, and this issue was the theme of my last speaking event at CSW before heading back home.

The Millennium Development Goals have led to remarkable achievements in poverty alleviation over the last 15 years. But for all their good, the MDGs omitted a crucial element – a target for ending gender-based violence.

I’m proud that the Coalition Government is absolutely committed to the principle that every woman and girl has the right to live free from violence or the threat of violence. And that every women and girl should be empowered to take control over her own life.

So in the post-2015 international development framework discussions, we are focused on pushing for a stand-alone goal to empower girls and women and achieve gender equality, and mainstream gender across the whole framework. Within this, we are pushing for a target on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

Over the last year, I have spearheaded a new multi-million pound programme to tackle one of the most extreme manifestations of gender-based violence – Female Genital Mutilation. And because of this solid foundation of work and momentum, this July the Prime Minister will host a major summit to tackle FGM as well as early and forced marriage – both domestically and internationally. Our aim is to galvanise political and popular support to end early and forced marriage and FGM within a generation. An ambitious goal, but women’s rights campaigners have always been ambitious! And I believe this goal is achievable – but only if we work together and ramp up our efforts to support this African-led movement.

Ending gender-based violence has been and will continue to be a long-fought struggle. And research shows we need to use a whole range of approaches and work across multiple sectors.  This includes addressing the entrenched social norms and gender inequalities that drive violence against women and girls.

There is a great need for more robust evaluations of initiatives that engage men and boys as partners and that create new social norms. Men and boys are crucial – we’ll get nowhere if women continue just to talk amongst ourselves.

So we need to invest in evidence to understand the causes of violence against women and girls, so that it can be effectively prevented.

That is why I was delighted to announce today that DFID is investing £25m in a new research and innovation programme called What Works to Prevent Violence led by the South African Medical Research Council. This flagship programme will support national governments and the international community to understand better what works in preventing violence against women and girls. It will also fund innovation grants for new interventions that have the potential to be taken to scale.

This research will take time. And we’ve got a long road ahead. But I believe if we all, men and women, work hard enough together we really can create a world where women and girls no longer live in fear of violence.

 

Wed 12 March 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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FGM event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

If I needed any reminder of the degree to which female genital mutilation (FGM) has shot up the international agenda in the last couple of years, the scrum to attend this morning’s FGM event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women did the job. I was speaking alongside the First Lady of Burkina Faso, who I met on my recent visit there, ministers from Italy and Somalia, the head of UNESCO, NGOs and, most importantly, young people from across the world to discuss how to empower youths to end FGM. The energy in the room was palpable, and the panel represented some of the strongest commitment in the world to ending FGM.

Lynne Featherstone at the "Empowering Young People to End FGM" event at #CSW58

FGM is one of the most extreme manifestations of discrimination against women and girls. It is violence against women and girls. I am very sure if we were talking cutting off men’s penises, this issue would be a priority – and it would have ended centuries ago! But FGM has carried on for thousands of years, and still goes on today.

That is why, as a DFID minister, I began my campaign to end FGM – a mission that fits well with my role as ministerial champion for tackling violence against women overseas. I have learnt from some of the most inspirational women – campaigners, activists, leaders – many of whom were in the room today. Bold, ambitious women who believed that change could happen. And I was told by African women and leaders that they wanted support. Now, I have heard some amazing young people add their voices to that call – including a young brother and sister duo who both spoke passionately about ridding the world of this abuse.

The young people who spoke today told us that they have been desperately trying to get leaders to listen to their calls to tackle FGM for years – and that finally they are in the room, and telling us not to ignore them any longer. They have felt the fear as they or their friends or sisters have been carried away to be cut. They know the feelings of sadness and shame and fury that their bodies no longer belong to them. They asked for our support to help them end this violence.

I will rise to that challenge and support these brilliant young people, who are the agents of change. I hope you will join me to end FGM in a generation.

 

Wed 12 March 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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Clean energy access for women and girls

Here’s my fifth blog from New York – this time on clean energy access for women and girls. Also available here.

There’s a key ingredient to women’s equality that just hasn’t made it far enough up the agenda, yet could literally power development: energy access for women and girls.

So, this morning, I spoke at a meeting hosted by the Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves, of which I am a leadership council member, and Energia. I was also joined by Cathy Russell, US Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues. We were there to work out how to get clean energy access for women and girls firmly on the development agenda.

Women and girls’ limited access to clean energy has extremely negative consequences on their quality of life, as I’ve written before.  Put simply, without energy access, women and girls in the developing world are even more time-poor – time spent collecting fuel and water is time not spent on education or on paid work. They are least safe when they are out collecting fuel and water. And smoke-related illnesses are one of the greatest causes of ill-health for women and children.

That is why I have launched a DFID campaign to improve the economic opportunities, safety and health of girls and women through clean and affordable energy. I am working closely with the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative – which took up my suggestion to focus the first two years of the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All on women and girls. And I am working to raise the profile of the women and girls’ limited access to clean energy, and to advocate for the international community to do more.

Research is an important first step to demonstrating the extent of the issue and developing and scaling up practical solutions. In May, DFID will be co-hosting a conference in London with the World Health Organisation and the Global Alliance of Clean Cookstoves to bring together research on clean cooking. Just last week, research that DFID and the Alliance jointly conducted was commended by the UK Climate Week awards. This research supports the Alliance’s target to enable 100 million households to adopt clean and efficient cooking practices by 2020.

The energy and development communities are finally beginning to understand and respond to the gravity of this issue and the need for action. But there is a need to improve awareness and action more broadly, and to push the international community to recognise that energy is a critical element in building gender equality and improving women’s health and economic opportunities – one that really can power progress on development.

Wed 12 March 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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UN Commission on the Status of Women – part 4

Here’s my fourth blog from my recent visit to New York for the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Also available here.

As long as there is gender-based violence, we will never achieve gender equality.  The Prime Minister appointed me as Ministerial Champion for Tackling Violence against Women and Girls Overseas in 2010 for exactly that reason.  And today Poland organised their first ever high-level conference on women’s equality, which I have just attended and which focused on this issue.

67% of women will experience gender-based violence at least once in their lives.  This doesn’t just cause short-term damage.  It can silence women’s voices, stop them from accessing work and economic opportunities, and prevent them from making choices about their lives.  It closes down women’s freedom and opportunities, but it also has a knock-on impact on families, societies and countries as a whole.  This makes combating gender-based violence a prerequisite for achieving gender equality and reducing poverty.

This afternoon I had the chance to share the UK’s experience on tackling gender-based violence.

In 2010 the Coalition Government published its Call to End Violence against Women and Girls strategy.  This strategy is a public declaration by the government that violence against women and girls is unacceptable and is an issue that we are committed to tackling together – in the UK and overseas.  We launched our latest National Action Plan to deliver this strategy on 8March to mark International Women’s Day.

The UK government announced this weekend that we will hold a summit this year on FGM and early and forced marriage – two examples of gender-based violence that we are committed to eradicating, and that link the domestic picture in the UK with our work in developing countries.

In the UK, our Forced Marriage Unit provides assistance to victims as well as reaching out to practitioners and communities to ensure that people working with victims are fully informed of how they can help.  Overseas, the unit provides consular assistance to victims prior to or after a forced marriage to secure their return to the UK.

In 2012, the Prime Minister announced that the Government will make forcing someone to marry a criminal offence.  In doing so, we are sending out a clear message that this brutal practice is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the UK.  That legislation is currently being progressed.

Internationally, the UK government is driving change throughout the humanitarian system to ensure that girls and women are protected from violence during an emergency; leading the way on tackling sexual violence in conflict through our Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative; leading a flagship programme on female genital mutilation (FGM) at ending the practice within a generation; and investing in evidence of what works to prevent violence against women and girls in the first place. DFID supports programmes to address violence against girls and women in over 20 countries.

We believe that our approach and actions in the UK are making a difference, as well as making a strong contribution to our international work – and in turn our international work is intrinsically linked to how we make progress here in the UK.  But we are not complacent – there is much more to be done.  We will never stop our efforts to tackle violence against women and girls until we have achieved our ambition that women across the world can live productive and happy lives, safe from violence and abuse.

Wed 12 March 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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Changes to the 263 Bus – have your say

Lynne with approaching W7 busTfL are planning to extend the 263 route which currently runs between Chambers Road and Barnet Hospital. I am aware that many constituents use this service, which stops at Highgate, Muswell Hill, and Fortis Green on its way to Barnet.

The plan is to extend the route along Holloway Road, stopping at Highbury and Islington station and terminating at Highbury Barn. This will mean a more frequent service along Holloway Road, but three current stops will no longer be used.

TfL are consulting on this to establish how local people feel this will affect them, and so please do let them know what you think. The consultation closes on 11th April – more details and the survey can be found at https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/buses/bus-route-263.

Tue 11 March 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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Everyday sexism

Here’s my third blog from New York – where I am representing the UK at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Also available here.

There is immense power in the act of naming. Naming something so widespread that is passes almost without comment, like breathing or gravity, or the colour of the sky. And yet, for women everywhere, it has a huge impact on our lives.

Such is everyday sexism, the topic of a UK-Denmark panel event I just participated in at the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

I pay tribute to the work of the Everyday Sexism Project, which has collected thousands of testimonies from across the world. Some of them are really chilling, others more banal. But of course the crux of the issue is the banality of the evil: that any one catcall can be shrugged off. But the cumulative impact of the drip drip drip of unwelcome sexual advances and unrelenting critiques of women’s bodies and abilities have a corrosive effect upon all of us – men and women – and on the societies in which we live.

From a very young age, most girls learn to mentally brace themselves before they walk out the door each day. Women and girls develop coping strategies – smile nicely, find a cheeky riposte, get angry, pretend not to hear, put our heads down and quickly hurry past. Frankly, we’re expected to be big girls about it and lighten up. Well, I’m not lightening up.

And don’t think women politicians are immune from this treatment. We experience everyday sexism and then some. The online trolling some of my colleagues have suffered is disgusting. And in the House of Commons itself, if ever a female MP makes a pertinent point, it’s not uncommon for her to be told “calm down, dear”.

Everyday sexism is not inevitable, it is not harmless, it does matter, and it can and must stop.

It matters because it drives girls and women into a crippling self-consciousness and self-objectification. When the world tells you how you look and what you wear are all that matters, it’s no wonder so many girls’ psychological development is damaged.

In the UK, our primary focus has been on creating a supportive framework of equality legislation, and we are world leaders in doing so. There has to be a bottom line that women are entitled to equal treatment and the state will step in to enforce that.

We also have an inspiring campaign to prevent sexual violence among young people, called ‘This Is Abuse’. This year we are particularly focused on reaching boys, encouraging teenagers to re-think their views of violence, abuse, controlling behaviour and what consent means. Men and boys are crucial to this change: we’ll get nowhere if women and girls are just talking amongst ourselves and everyday sexism.

We have also taken action to tackle stalking and harassment, which includes harassment and abuse via social media.

I could go on for sometime outlining all the Coalition Government is doing, but suffice it to say we are enforcing the law and encouraging conversations about gender roles and stereotypes generally. To be clear, it’s not for government to tell parents how to raise their children, or to tell men and women how they should feel about being men and women. But I believe it is entirely appropriate for us to question barriers to an individual’s control over her own life and do all we can to empower that individual – I am a liberal after all! And I’m grateful that countries like Denmark are helping us spread this work internationally.

Tue 11 March 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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UN Commission on the Status of Women – girls and disability

Here’s my second blog from the UN Commission on the Status of Women, where I am representing the UK as International Development minister. Also available here.

The world has been guilty of turning a blind eye to the challenges, discrimination and abuse people with disabilities – especially women and girls – can face every day. They are disproportionately some of the poorest and most marginalised in the world, meaning there is a direct link between gender, disability and poverty.

This was the theme of the first event I participated in just now at the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Being a woman or girl with a disability often also brings the risk of violence and abuse – anecdotal evidence suggests even twice as much. And this abuse comes even, sometimes especially, from their closest family members.

As the DFID minister responsible for disability and as the UK’s ministerial champion for tackling violence against women overseas, I have made it my mission to ensure both disability and violence against women become key priorities in international development.

Although DFID is already doing some great work on disability - particularly around inclusive education, water and sanitation, and social protection – I felt this work was not mainstreamed enough. That’s why I announced new DFID commitments last year: that all schools directly funded by DFID will be fully accessible and to improve the data on disability which is so essential to understanding where and what the exact challenges are. And I’m working on more new commitments, so watch this space over the coming months!

But this is a global challenge and it needs a global effort to tackle it.

We now have a once-in-a-generation chance to finally put disability high up on the global agenda. Over the next 18 months the world’s leaders will negotiate the post-2015 development framework, and I’m going to be doing everything I can to make sure that no one is left behind.

Tue 11 March 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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UN Commission on the Status of Women

I am currently in New York representing the UK at the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women. Here’s a short blog from day 1 – also available here.

I’ve always said that, as great as ‘international days’ are at galvanising action on an issue, when it comes to women and girls we need to take action on the other 364 days too.

That’s why I’m so pleased that the Prime Minister will host a summit in July to tackle Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Early and Forced Marriage (EFM).  I’ve been spearheading the Coalition Government’s work on tackling FGM at home and abroad over the last year and the Prime Minister’s summit will send a clear signal of just how seriously we take this issue.

And that’s why, hot on the heels of attending the brilliant Women of the World event at the Southbank Centre for International Women’s Day on Saturday, I’m here in New York for the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

I’ll be attending a whole load of events as well as talking to my counterparts from around the world to ensure the CSW negotiations lead to a commitment to finish the job of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to support the inclusion of a stand-alone goal on women and girls in the development framework that replaces the MDGs when they finish in 2015.

I’ll be posting short blogs over the two days I’ll be here on a range of themes – and I invite you all to join the conversation on women and girls that the UK government is leading in 2014.

Mon 10 March 2014 Comments on this post (2)
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Join our call for urgent repairs to the Noel Park estate

Here’s my weekly Ham and High column – this time on the urgent need for repairs to the Noel Park estate – which the local Council are ignoring. 

Last week I held a public meeting in a part of my constituency which has been neglected by Haringey Council for decades.

Council properties on the Noel Park estate have not had any substantial repairs or ‘decent homes’ work for over 30 years now. Week in, week out, residents contact me in despair about the state of their homes – and express their frustration at the lack of repairs.

I’ve heard horror stories about individuals and families living with extreme mould and damp, broken windows, and faulty appliances. Yet Labour-run Haringey Council and their housing contractor Homes for Haringey seem unable to complete basic repairs in an efficient and timely manner – let alone organise ‘decent homes’ work, which would see bathrooms and kitchens replaced.

It’s particularly bad for residents on the Noel Park estate, who have seen the council spend the government’s ‘decent homes’ fund on other local estates and blocks – sometimes twice over – while they are ignored.

And to make matters even worse – it was revealed last year that the Labour-run Council allowed £3.7 million to be spent on bonuses for Homes for Haringey repairs staff. That’s £3.7million that could have been spent in Noel Park.

One local resident said: “Residents on the Noel Park estate need urgent repairs, but the council and Homes for Haringey have not taken action.

“It’s not fair for the council to spend so much money on other places, and waste money on botched repairs, when the Noel Park estate is in such desperate need.”

The local Noel Park Liberal Democrat team and I decided enough was enough. Over the last year, we’ve run a petition calling on the council to make vital repairs to the estate, and to spend money on buildings, not bonuses. We’ve done hundreds of pieces of casework on behalf of residents, to try and get them vital repairs.

More recently, we met with housing chiefs from both Homes for Haringey and Haringey Council. At the meeting, they committed to make urgent repairs to Noel Park properties and consult residents about more substantive repairs – but we have heard this before.

That’s why I called the public meeting – to finally give residents the chance to have their voices heard.

The meeting was absolutely packed full of local residents, who were very angry about the status quo. They shared stories about the troubles they face on a day to day basis.

This time, the council and Homes for Haringey made the promises about repairs directly to the residents.

I will keep a close eye on this – and ask the residents whether repairs have been made. If they have not – I will have no qualms about publicising the further failure on my website.

These residents have been ignored for too long. I hope, as a result of the Lib Dem campaign and the public meeting, the residents will finally get the repairs and living conditions they deserve.

You can sign the petition, calling on the Council to spend money on homes, rather than bonuses, here.

Mon 3 March 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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