Lynne Featherstone

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

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

Tackling violence against women and girls in India

I’m currently in India – here’s my first blog from the visit, also available here.

Since 2010 I’ve served as the UK’s first ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) overseas, and developing this role has kept me quite busy. From the UN to the UAE, I’ve compared notes with ministers, officials and civil society groups in capital cities and with community groups in the most rural villages on how we can end this global epidemic.

Yesterday I began my final foreign mission on this important agenda – to India and Burma – and it was a long and interesting day. After an arrival briefing from our High Commissioner and senior staff in New Delhi on the key issues related to VAWG in India, I met a group of LGBT activists and campaigners who talked to me about their fight for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. I always find it fascinating how inter-linked gay rights and women’s rights are right across the world. Both issues challenge patriarchal traditions and in many cases across the world, gay rights quickly follow movement on women’s rights.

In the afternoon I flew to Indore in Madhya Pradesh – India’s sixth most populous state with 72 million people – and met with prominent civil society representatives and local government leaders who work on tackling VAWG on a daily basis. It was very encouraging to see NGOs and government officials debating these issues openly together – a good sign that they’re used to working together! And the scale of the problem in Madhya Pradesh will require them to collaborate for a while yet; among women aged 15-49, 45% have experienced physical violence and over 59% of girls in rural areas are married before the legal age of 18.

This is my second visit to India as VAWG champion – the first was in 2011 – and it’s already clear to me that some progress has been made since then. The shocking Delhi bus rape case in 2012 has prompted a national conversation that continues today. It’s no longer just feminists, aid organisations and governments like the UK trying to bring attention to the issue; there is now, finally, a national movement for the protection and empowerment of women.

To be clear, there is a long way to go in India. But I believe India has the political leadership in place to take some great steps forward on this issue.

More updates from Madhya Pradesh tomorrow.

Tue 13 January 2015 Comments on this post (1)
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Campaigning for you in 2015

Here’s an email I sent to my constituents yesterday. If you live in Hornsey and Wood Green – please do fill in the survey!

It’s almost twenty years since I first got involved in local politics here in Haringey. I joined a residents’ group and we protested against an unpopular parking scheme being imposed on us by the Council.
 
We were successful – and it showed how a small group of determined people could make changes, benefitting a huge number of residents. After this, I became a local councillor and then MP for our area.
 
I believe in a fairer society – it’s what I work for day in, day out – in Haringey and in Parliament.
 
That’s why, along with local residents, I launch campaigns to protect and improve our local services: like hospitals, libraries, stations, parcel collection points, bus stops, police front counters and more.
 
It’s also why my local team and I worked so hard to secure fairer education funding for Haringey – and now we’re pushing for fairer funding for our health services too.
 
Creating a strong economy is also important, to support our public services. That’s why my party took the difficult decision to enter into coalition in 2010 – to be part of a stable Government, capable of rebuilding the economy.
 
Now, both the deficit and unemployment are down. Youth unemployment here has halved – giving so many more young people a better opportunity to get on in life. But there is still work to be done.
 
I am standing again to be the MP for our local area at the General Election in May this year. Do I have your support? You can let me know who you’re supporting by replying to this email, or filling in this survey.
 

 
In the survey, you can also let me know of any issues or problems you’d like to raise with me. I’ll get back to you asap.
 
Thank you, and Happy New Year,
  [Lynne Featherstone's signature] 
Lynne Featherstone
Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

Sat 3 January 2015 Comments on this post (0)
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The gender pay gap

Women and men should be paid the same if they do the same job. It sounds obvious, but in reality it doesn’t happen. In 1997, when records began, the difference was a very alarming 17.4%.

Since entering government my Lib Dem colleagues and I have worked hard to reduce the gender pay gap to the lowest ever level (9.4%). This is welcome, but there is much more to do.

The Lib Dems want to close the gap completely, just as we have eliminated other inequalities between men and women.

Our introduction of Shared Parental Leave has made it easier for parents to care for their children. Older men and women will receive the same basic state pension from 2016. There are now many more women on company boards. All Lib Dem commitments, all delivered.

We want to go further – our manifesto for next year includes a roadmap to ending pay inequality completely.

We will make it a legal requirement for companies employing more than 250 people to publish their average pay for male and female workers.

With this simple change, staff will be able to see whether they are treated the same as their colleagues. Shoppers will know whether a company has a pay bias against women.

The pressure from both sides will force employers to account for, and abolish, any gender pay gap. Equal work should mean equal pay.

Tue 9 December 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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Tackling Violence against Women and Girls – Men and Boys must play a part

We spend a lot of time blaming men (not without reason) for violence against women and girls – but they can be agents of change.

The coalition government is determined to tackle violence against women and girls in all its forms. These abhorrent crimes are not a women’s issue – they are everyone’s issue. And men can be central to bringing about cultural change.

In December last year, we re-launched the This is Abuse campaign which aims to prevent teenagers from becoming victims and perpetrators of abuse, encourage them to consider their views of abuse and the meaning of consent within relationships and signpost them to help and advice.

A significant focus of the campaign is targeted at boys and young men to help them identify and challenge abusive behaviour.

Just Google ‘this is abuse’ and you will see the campaigns from the Home Office. They are really potent. A while back I went into Channing School to talk to the sixth form and I asked who in the class had seen the This is Abuse campaign – and nearly the whole class had. It really reaches out to young people negotiating the difficult territory of relationships and what is ok and what is not.

The White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) – which I wrote about yesterday – appeared in 1991 and has become one of the largest men’s anti-violence programs in the world. It has now spread to over 57 countries around the world.

 

Tue 25 November 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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Julien Blanc is a pimple on the ugly face of Violence Against Women

I am glad that the Home Secretary banned Julien Blanc from coming to our shores.

I had made my view (as Ministerial Champion for tackling violence against women) quite clear – he should be banned. His seduction teachings as a ‘pick-up’ coach – including the use of the hashtag ‘chokinggirlsaroundtheworld’ with copious pictures of him with his hands on girls throats – crossed the line. This wasn’t about free speech. This was incitement to violence – against our laws – that is why the Home Secretary banned him.

But Julien Blanc is just a pimple on the ugly face of Violence against Women and Girls.

Tomorrow is the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – which kicks of the 16 days of activism. Events are held right around the world – to raise awareness of the dreadful and all-pervasive violence that women and girls endure. Right across the world there is a living and horrifying living tableau of what women and girls suffer.

In the UK we have two women a week killed by their husband or ex partner. One in four women experiences domestic violence in her lifetime. As you go across the world – and as the UK Government’s Ministerial Champion for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Overseas I have seen first hand – how that violence worsens. Whether it is rape as a weapon of war, breast ironing, acid attacks, defilement, rape, sexual harassment or just brute violence – where women have no rights, no voice and no power – they are brutalised. And as DFID Minister for two years – giving women voice, choice and control over their own lives was my mission.

Now at the Home Office - it still is my mission. And tomorrow I am focusing this world day on ‘Men as Agents of Change’. I am going to King’s College with the White Ribbon Campaign for an event focusing on men.

The White Ribbon Campaign is the UK branch of a male led, global campaign to make sure men take more responsibility for reducing the level of violence against women. They ask men to make a personal pledge to take a stand against violence and pledge never to commute, condone or remain silent about men’s violence against women. Organisations such as councils, police forces and towns are able to apply for White Ribbon Status.

The event has been arranged with the help of the National Union of Students who recently published a survey called Lad Culture and Sexism in September 2014 which found that one in four students have suffered unwelcome sexual advances, defined as inappropriate touching and groping in universities.

Misogyny, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, domestic violence, stalking, grooming,  trolling, everydaysexism –  this is not OK. Everyone needs to stand up against this tide of violence against women.

We have one world – and we need to share it equally, peacefully and with respect.

 

 

 

Mon 24 November 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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Strikes at our local schools

I’ve sent the following email about the NUT strikes in Haringey to local residents. Any residents who want to let me know their opinions on the strike can do so here

Strikes at our local schools are the last thing we want. Our local children miss out on learning opportunities, and parents have to arrange urgent childcare or take time off work.
 
This is exactly what is happening in Haringey at the moment.
 
The strikes follow the suspension of Julie Davies – Haringey’s National Union of Teachers (NUT) representative. Ms Davies was suspended months ago by the local authority, Labour-run Haringey Council, and a dispute has followed.
 
For a long time, local head teachers expressed concerns about Ms Davies. A week after tensions reached boiling point, Haringey Council suspended her – on grounds of gross misconduct.
 
Haringey Council should have stepped in much earlier and handled this better. 
 
Haringey’s own report (published nearly 2 years ago) said that a large proportion of primary head teachers and all secondary head teachers were deeply concerned about the “unconstructive role played by the main teaching union” and recommended an “urgent need to reconfigure union facilities time to ensure it supports the best interests of children.”
 
This should have been dealt with long before.
 
Instead, the situation has escalated following Julie Davies’ suspension. The NUT has called local strikes, which have already disrupted over 3000 local pupils. This also seems vastly disproportionate, and head teachers are livid.
 
That’s why I have contacted Haringey Council’s Chief Executive to ask for his direct intervention in finding a resolution – in what seems to now be a dispute between the Labour-run council and the Union.
 
Ultimately – I’m sure we all agree – it’s vital that the situation is resolved, and that no more teaching time is lost.
 
If you would like to let me know what you think – please do fill in this survey. I’m keen to hear as many opinions as possible.

 

 

Mon 17 November 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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Remembering the journey to equal marriage

Here’s a copy of an article I’ve written for Left Foot Forward on Equal Marriage – the journey to it and what comes next.

On Saturday the 29 March, I went to two fantastic weddings.

On that historic day when all love finally become equal before the law, same-sex couples were able to get married – and hundreds did!

At the second wedding I went to, which had a musical theme, a very poignant video was played before the ceremony. It showed a timeline of the steps towards securing rights for the LGBT+ community in the UK.

It included the marches in the 50’s, 60’s and 70s, the decriminalization of homosexuality and the lowering of the age of consent, and then moved on to adoption rights, civil partnerships and equal marriage.

The video also included some of the setbacks which occurred along the way. The awful Section 28 legislation was introduced by the Conservative government in 1988 and shockingly prohibited “the intentional promotion of homosexuality” by any local authority, as well as “the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”

Among other examples, this was a reminder that the journey for LGBT+ rights has not been an easy one – not without setbacks, not without opposition, and not without discrimination and oppression.

But sitting in the theatre in Alexandra Palace (where the wedding was held) surrounded by LGBT+ activists, the very happy couple and their families and friends, it was easy to see how far we have come in the UK.

Marriage is now well and truly equal – open to all couples regardless of their gender.

And that day, 29 March, was a landmark day for me too. It was a long journey, starting when I marched into the Home Office and said to my civil servants ‘’I am going to deliver same sex marriage – and I know it’s not in the Coalition agreement – but it needs doing.’

And the rest is history – literally.

One day, when I am no longer a minister, I will be able to tell the whole story of how the law came to be. But for now I can publically thank the activists, the LGBT+ community, the cross-party group of MPs, the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and others for the support they gave.

And the effect of the change in law goes beyond the ability of same sex couples to marry. The legal change has also, I hope, gone some way into changing attitudes towards homosexuality. The more progress we make on LGBT+ rights, the more equal and tolerant our society will become, as no-one is treated like a second class citizen by the law.

I hope that, as a result of equal marriage law, the young LGBT+ community do not feel that they have to keep their sexuality a secret, or try to hide it – as people in previous generations often felt they had to.

It’s heartwarming now, whenever I speak at an event, when someone (usually a young man) approaches me at the end and says ‘thank you for what you did.’ It’s emotional – I cry, he cries – and we both know that our country is a better place than it was, now that marriage is equal.

And it was of course fantastic on a personal level to recently receive awards from both Pink News and Stonewall, in recognition of the work on equal marriage.

Ben and Jerrys also said thank you by sending me an ice-cream tub with my name and picture on it – one of the most random but wonderful gifts I have received for my work in politics!

But the work certainly doesn’t stop here. While we’ve made huge progress in this country, it was a culmination of a long journey, and there is still a way to go to fully stamp out discrimination.

As we celebrate our victories in the UK we mustn’t forget those LGBT+ campaigners around the world whose situations are still desperate.

From day one of my role as a minister in the Department of International Development (DFID), strengthening the department’s LGBT+ rights strategy was one of my top priorities.

DFID’s strategy has rightly been led by local LGBT+ campaigners in each country, and they asked that we take a subtle approach.

So, respecting their wishes, that’s what I did – I raised my concerns in private with African ministers and prime ministers, and met privately with local LGBT+ groups in country.

The new strategy is about to be signed off to extend this work further. I hope that the UK’s equal marriage law, and our ongoing commitment to LGBT+ rights, will also set a good example for other countries, who are at a much earlier stage in their journeys towards equality.

Fri 14 November 2014 Comments on this post (1)
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Minister of State for Crime Prevention

Today, I was appointed as Minister of State for Crime Prevention at the Home Office. You can read more about the changes here.

I am of course sad to leave the Department of International Development – but I also look forward to returning to the Home Office, with a portfolio that covers tackling violence against women and girls and preventing FGM here in the UK.

In my previous role as a junior minister at the Home Office, I led efforts to introduce equal marriage, end the fingerprinting of children and ban wheel clamping on private land.

I have already emailed my constituents to let them know about the change. I’ll continue to update them on the work I’m doing in Government in this new role.

Finally – thank you so much for all the positive comments I’ve received on twitter, facebook and email – very heart-warming!

Tue 4 November 2014 Comments on this post (3)
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Breaking the silence: violence against women in Somalia and beyond

Here’s a blog from my recent visit to Somalia. I went in my capacity as Minister for International Development, and UK Ministerial Champion for tackling violence against women and girls abroad. 

When you think of Somalia, you probably think of Black Hawk Down, Al Shabaab terrorism and piracy. But if you’re born a girl in Somalia, you face so many other risks, both severe and everyday.

Decades of war and humanitarian crises have given Somalia a reputation as one of the worst places to be woman or a child in the world. Girls and women suffer disproportionately from violence and instability. One in 16 women will die during childbirth, and 1 in 10 will die during her reproductive years. Whilst data is scarce, it is thought that 98% of Somali women have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM).

Last week I became the first DFID minister to spend a night in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. I was there in my capacity as the UK’s ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas, as part of a fact-finding and awareness-raising tour to break the silence on an issue that can no longer be taboo. So far my tour has taken me to the United Arab Emirates to tackle the issue of gender-based violence in refugee camps, and I am now in Bangladesh, where two-thirds of girls are married before their eighteenth birthday. All countries suffer from violence against women and girls. We’re all located on a spectrum of violence, and we must help and learn from each other to end it.

Lynne Featherstone with the Somali minister of Women and Human Rights. Picture: DFID Somalia
Lynne Featherstone with the Somali minister of Women and Human Rights

Back to Somalia. There is a nascent movement in Somalia to end FGM, and the Federal Government of Somalia as well as the governments of Somaliland and Puntland, committed to eliminate the practice at the Girl Summit the coalition government hosted in London in July. But new research suggests that while there is widespread support in Somalia for ending the most extreme and medically egregious form of FGM, known as ‘pharaonic’ ‘type III’ or infibulation, the majority of Somalis still supports ‘sunna’, which can involve anything from a small nick to the full removal of the clitoris, removal of flesh, or stitching. People are also now going to medical facilities to undergo FGM, with the help of health professionals, in the belief it is more hygienic. So we’ve got a long way to go.

Lynne Featherstone with the Somali minister of Women and Human Rights and the Gender Based Violence Working Group. Picture: DFID Somalia
Lynne Featherstone with the Somali minister of Women and Human Rights 

But my visit confirmed that there is reason for hope. I met ministers, religious leaders, NGOs, men, women and girls who were all committed to ending FGM. Every one of them had the same message: ‘sunna’ is not OK, and they will not have won until they have eliminated all forms of FGM.

I talked to girls from an amazing girls’ club in Somaliland. Formed to provide vocational training and address gender-based violence issues in their community, its members were eloquent and open. They had succeeded in breaking the taboo of talking about FGM – even with the men in their families and communities.

And I heard about Somalia’s efforts to tackle gender-based violence in conflict, including the development of a sexual offences bill.

But one particular issue seems hardest to tackle, and that is domestic violence. It affects so many women across the world: 2 women a week are killed by their partners or ex-partners in the UK, and 1 in 4 women in the UK suffers domestic violence at some point in her life. In Somalia, there are no data on domestic violence, but in a place where the prevalence of FGM is so high, we can assume that domestic violence is happening in everyday life.

Lynne Featherstone visits the Girls' Club which works to increase awareness of the health impacts of female genital mutilation. Picture: Health Poverty Action
Lynne Featherstone visits the Girls’ Club which works to increase awareness of the health impacts of female genital mutilation. Picture: Health Poverty Action

I asked a group of women at a maternal health clinic whether they had suffered domestic violence. Silence. But when I asked whether they knew any women who had been beaten by their husbands, every one of them put up their hand.

The girls’ club told me that the right to beat one’s wife was a widely accepted social norm. But when I asked whether they felt it was a good social norm, they were vehement in their answer: absolutely not.

It’s through young leaders such as these girls that we can really change the future. If these girls refuse to cut their daughters, the cycle ends. If these girls speak out against domestic violence, it can end too.

Through them, we can break the silence, and stop violence before it starts.

Mon 27 October 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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A Tribute to Efua Dorkenoo

Here’s a statement from Jane Ellison MP and me, following the sad passing of Efua Dorkenoo. Also available on Huffington Post.

We learned with very great sadness of the passing of Efua Dorkenoo OBE on Saturday 14 October.

We had the honour of working closely with Efua for some years, and she was deservingly known as ‘Mama Efua’, the mother of the movement against FGM. Efua worked tirelessly for many decades, most recently as Programme Director for the International Social Change campaign, The Girl Generation’.

But Efua’s pioneering work began in the early 1980s and since then, she dedicated her career to the cause, and was a powerful voice for the rights of women and girls, ensuring that FGM survivors and girls who need protection remained at the heart of her life’s work to eradicate FGM.

Her vision and leadership has brought us all to the position today where FGM is recognised as a grave violation of human rights, as well as a health issue with devastating consequences.

Thankfully she lived to see her dream of an African-led global campaign realised.

Efua enjoyed a long and varied career, including working as an adviser to the World Health Organisation. In 1983, her services to women and girls were recognised when she received an OBE (Order of the British Empire). She of course also authored the groundbreaking publication ‘Cutting the Rose: Female Genital Mutilation’ (1996).

Efua was a truly inspirational woman, and it was a great honour to work with her.

We will continue to remember her, in our work to achieve her vision to end FGM in a generation.

Surely there can be no greater tribute to her than this – that we work tirelessly to protect future generations of the girls she cared so deeply about.

Our thoughts are with her husband Freddie and her family at this very difficult time.

Tue 21 October 2014 Comments on this post (0)
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