Amber Rudd: Women helping women, wherever they are
Amber Rudd, candidate for Hastings & Rye, reviews this year's CWO conference.
The Conservative Women’s Organisation (CWO) met for its annual conference on November 12th at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster. The theme was billed as “creating a better world for future generations”. The theme that I took away was that women in the Conservative Party can and should focus their attention on helping other women at home and abroad. This was not about bread- making or child-care, but about the relevance and importance of women’s roles and skills in our world.
The Chairman of the Organisation, Fiona Hodgson, opened the day with a frank speech about what unites women and what the challenges are. Sometimes politicians duck the differences, not the CWO – the key one that Fiona highlighted was that women as mothers, mostly have the responsibility of a family. This inevitably colours their careers, their priorities and in distressing cases that we heard about, their vulnerability in war zones. The point about the CWO she emphasised is that the women do so much more than make the sandwiches in the local Associations. The sandwiches still need making, but our sights are set much higher as well.
The first theme was about Africa. Chaired by Baroness Chalker we heard about cases of survival, desperation and successful aid. The Conference heard about success stories (Botswana, Mauritius) and the countries where families still live in desperate poverty. Most distressing was the personal story by Mary Blewitt, a Rwandan who lost 50 of her family to the slaughter that took place in 1994. She founded the SURF (the Surivivor’s Fund) in England to aid and support survivors of the genocide.
This theme tied up well with the session chaired by Caroline Spelman that afternoon on Women as Peacemakers. Here we heard inspiring stories not just of survival but of activism and protest, where women are helping other women. I was particularly moved by Zainab Salwi who grew up in Iraq and has formd a charity “Women for Women International”. This organisation pairs women to help other women with financial support when their lives have been blighted by war. They are helping women, one at a time, and lifting them out of poverty with training and support. Women thoughout the conference were taking down her details – I hope she is experiencing a surge of support right now. William Hague, adored by the crowd, spoke passionately about the international community’s need to tackle head on the particular war crime of rape against women. He described this as a “monstrous crime” and highlighted our need to make sure that even the peace-makers are thoroughly vetted to make sure that they never perpetrate this crime – as has happened before.
Finally, David Cameron joined us to a standing ovation. He spoke about the need for consent to sex to be taught as part of sex education in schools. He quoted some terrible statistics from Amnesty about young men’s understanding of consent – for instance that one in two (of those questioned) thought it was sometimes “ok” to force a women to have sex.
The Conference covered more than war, rape, peace and activism – but these were the dominant themes that took the attention of the women there. Last year the CWO was sold out in a smaller hall with 300 delegates. This year it was also a sell out with 740 attending. This is indicative, not only of the growing popularity of the Conservative party, but of the fact that the Conservative party is determined to treat issues that effect families and women as absolutely central to national and international policy. That is something to celebrate.