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Maria Miller MP: What this Government is doing to help and protect women – starting with mending the economy

Maria MillerMaria Miller is Conservative MP for Basingstoke, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and also Minister for Women and Equalities. Follow Maria on Twitter.

On 8 March 1913 – the first year that 8 March became International Women’s Day after its inauguration two years earlier – the vote for women and permission to stand as an MP were still five years away. It was six years before the first female MP, the Conservative Nancy Astor, took her seat in Parliament. It would then be another 60 years until the country voted in our first female, Conservative Prime Minister.

The last hundred years have been revolutionary for women. In Britain today, parents know their sons and daughters will grow up in a society where we all agree that there should be equal opportunities, regardless of gender.

Of course there is always more we must do. Women in the UK, and around the world, still find themselves vulnerable to exploitation.

That is why our announcements this week have been so important. My colleague Justine Greening, Secretary of State for DfID, has announced initiatives including tackling violence against women and girls in Afghanistan and delivering contraceptive devices to 20 million women.

Our Foreign Secretary has also used International Women’s Day as a platform to speak out powerfully against sexual violence in conflict, with events conducted by our embassies around the world spreading this campaign.

Here in the UK, our Home Secretary, Theresa May, is publishing the ‘2013 Action Plan’ to tackle domestic violence against women and girls.

We want to punish the people that abuse others in the home, which is why we have widened the definition of domestic violence to include both verbal and physical abuse. We have launched a campaign to increase recognition of domestic violence, and invested £40 million in services for victims. We are introducing two new criminal offences of stalking, we are piloting ‘Clare’s Law’, and we have made forced marriage a criminal offence.

We should not tolerate women feeling victimised, abandoned or alone and we are bringing in measures that confront this where we can. I welcome International Women’s Day as a chance to stand up and make this argument – and we will carry on making the argument until women no longer face these problems either at home or around the world.

But International Women’s Day is also a time to reflect on our approach to women more generally.

Unlike the Labour party who would rather play political games with gender, we know that for women, just as much as for men, mending Labour’s broken economy is the number one priority. Recent polling puts the economy as the most important issue for 60 per cent of women and 61 per cent of men. No one wants to leave debt for their children.

Our most important achievement for women to date – just as it is for men – is that we have cut Labour’s deficit by a quarter in just two years. Equally, our most important commitment to women is that we stay the course and persevere. This must be our priority. To be able to compete and to secure the future for our children, we must deal with the deficit and build a strong economy so we can pay our way in the world.

This strong economy must be built on the foundation of aspiration – the belief that anyone can succeed and get on in life. To this end, on International Women’s Day, we must focus on what is being done to encourage and inspire women to fulfil their potential.

This starts early. Girls in the UK need to have the confidence and the skills to pursue whatever career they choose. This means making sure there are inspiring teachers who will support pupils to aim high. Today, I’ll be speaking at the Science Museum with Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut, encouraging girls to aim high. It is important to show our future generations that a career in science and engineering isn’t just for men, and the best way to educate young women is to give them somebody to look up to.

Encouraging aspiration is vital but we also need to tackle any barriers to work women might still face. We have more women in work than ever before and the gender pay gap is closing but it’s still not enough. We’re introducing equal pay audits, and taking action to end sexual discrimination and harassment in the workplace. On top of that, when women reach the top we want to make sure that they are active on the boards of our most prestigious organisations and companies. Over the last 2 years we have seen a vast improvement and it’s through our voluntary, business-led approach set out by Lord Davies, that this progress is being made. We are also supporting women to set up their own businesses with the Women’s Business Council and network of 5,000 business mentors.

So that parents can choose how to balance work and family life, we are introducing flexible parental leave. We are also striving to help with the cost of childcare, which is why we have invested an extra £300 million in affordable childcare support under Universal Credit and have set up a Childcare Commission to look at its affordability and availability.

These are just some of the steps we are taking to make sure women can contribute fully to helping us build a rebalanced, strong economy.

This is a Conservative-led Government that is leading the way in global efforts to protect vulnerable women. It is a Conservative-led Government that is delivering a strong economy. It is a Conservative-led Government tackling barriers to work so that women can aspire and fulfil their potential. These are the priorities that we should celebrate today on International Women’s Day.


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