HL Deb 08 March 1995 vol 562 cc263-5

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for building on the achievements of the Cairo Conference on Population and Development at the forthcoming United Nations Conference on Women, to be held in Beijing in September 1995.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, we will work hard to ensure that the Fourth World Conference on Women in Peking endorses the Cairo Programme of Action, in particular the commitments made to improve women's reproductive health and to enable women and men to have children by choice, not chance.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that extremely helpful reply. While fully appreciating the important role that the Minister played in the success of Cairo, will she agree that the International Women's Day—it is today—has a special significance this year, taking place as it does between those two important conferences for women at Cairo and Beijing? Will she also agree that the language and concepts relating to reproductive health and quality family planning agreed at the Cairo conference should be an intrinsic part of the plan of action of Beijing?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, indeed. On International Women's Day, today, we need to turn our minds very much to the language that will be used for the Peking conference. I certainly believe that we have to take the best of Cairo and make sure that it is part of Peking. I shall be doing my best to ensure that that is done.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on the work that she did at Cairo. Can she inform the House about two additional areas which might be addressed at Beijing? I refer first to the role of women in economic development, especially in areas where their contribution is not monetised and therefore often not recognised; and, secondly, to the growing issue of domestic violence, which many countries have indicated is now a high priority for discussion at the UN women's conference at Beijing?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for what she said. I believe that enabling women through education and training to be able to make a proper economic contribution to their families' lives will be a crucial issue for the Peking conference. Whether we shall be able to tackle domestic violence in the way that the noble Baroness suggests is not yet clear from the preparation conferences. However, I know that many men and women across the world are anxious that more should be done in countries where perhaps their women are less educated to help women not to have to endure such things.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, first, perhaps I may congratulate the Minister on her emphasis on education and training for women, which enable them to make a more positive economic contribution to the future of their country. I hope that at Beijing, as we did at Nairobi 10 years ago, women will be encouraged to go into fields of work which are non-traditional for them.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her comment and her question on non-traditional employment for women. I am told that one of the marvellous discoveries in some universities these days is what good engineers women can make. While there will not necessarily be full-scale support for that at the Peking conference, I believe that widening opportunities in education and training for women must be uppermost in our minds as we approach the Peking conference.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, given the ODA' s excellent policy document, Children by choice not chance, will the Minister inform the House whether the Government have any plans to build on the achievements of the Cairo conference at the Beijing conference in order to achieve the objectives of that policy?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we are not even waiting until the Peking conference to seek to build on the programmes which were so widely accepted at Cairo. We have committed about £100 million over two years through our own Children by choice not chance initiative. We have also encouraged other donors to do likewise. That is moving well.

We are now involved in wide-ranging discussions with other donors to ensure that we achieve better international understanding of what needs to be done in each country. We are not only running workshops on reproductive health but also trying to ensure that policy-making is realistic for the conditions in which women have to try to survive in some of the developing countries.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the general view in this Chamber is that the contribution of noble Baronesses to our affairs is outstanding? The Beijing Conference would proceed much better if they all went there to make a contribution.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comment to all noble Baronesses in the Chamber. As a Minister who maintains strict financial control, I have to consider carefully how much money we spend on Peking. Therefore, it might not be possible to take all noble Baronesses there. However, I shall certainly ascertain whether more could be included in the delegation.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, following the media reports today about what might be happening behind closed doors at the Copenhagen Social Summit, can the noble Baroness reassure the House that the considerable success and achievements of the Cairo Conference, in which she played a notable part, will not be diminished or traded off in the next few days?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I can assure the noble Viscount that what he heard on the "Today" programme this morning was a storm in a teacup. So far as I can tell, competitive press officers were trying to catch the eye of the media and they succeeded. Things are not bad in Copenhagen, the NGOs gained admission to the corridors this morning. I do believe that, if they had asked for it previously, they would have been allowed into the corridors, exclusion from which they complained about in the media. On International Women's Day, it is good to see so many women taking part in Question Time, and also a man. It gives us a little balance and is some help for my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who is only accompanied by the ladies today.

Baroness Flather

My Lords, will the Minister pay particular regard to what is called "cultural and religious sensibilities"? Under the name of "cultural and religious sensibilities", women suffer great injustices in many societies and I request my noble friend to pay particular regard to that. I ask her not to be fobbed off with what are called "special dispensations" for cultural and religious sensibilities.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. She is absolutely right that in many parts of the world cultural and religious sensitivities are used as an excuse not to face up to the needs of women in those societies. In the past year I have been pleased that we are making some progress in the Moslem communities. A number of the imams are much more forthright in looking to the needs of women than they used to be. I shall certainly bear in mind what my noble friend says in all our deliberations.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a disturbing trend in many developing countries that, as structural adjustment takes place, user fees are introduced for health, to the detriment of women? Does she agree that an objective at the Beijing Conference should be to ensure that in future such fees are not introduced as part of structural adjustment?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's anxiety and he knows that to some extent I share it. However, I do not think any UN conference or any other conference can seek to constrain the financial affairs of a country in the way that the noble Lord described. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is now an understanding of the need to give basic health care to people, free of charge where it can be arranged.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Baroness realise that many of us believe that, whatever the limitations of the Government's policy in the area, they would be a great deal worse if she were not the Minister responsible? We are grateful to her.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness very much for what she has just said, but my colleagues also help me.

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