Baroness Goudie's speech in the House of Lords in the debate to celebrate International Women's day

4th of March 2010Baroness Goudie: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for calling for this debate today and apologise to her for arriving a few minutes late-it started a bit sharp. I have known of her reputation for working for women's improvement since I met her just over 30 years ago, when we were trying to get better and equal opportunities for women to stand for Parliament. There is growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the military Joint Chiefs of Staff and to aid organisations such as Care that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way of fighting global poverty and extremism. Women's issues are of paramount importance to our global economy and to our humanity. As an engaged and effective advocate among us, the noble Baroness fully understands the critical importance of raising awareness of gender inequalities and the tragic consequences of abuses happening around the world each day.

I have a few insights. Although women comprise roughly half the population, their socio-economic contribution is woefully undervalued. They are primary family care givers, educators, homemakers and even breadwinners. None the less, they universally earn less than men. They are often denied property rights and even the fundamental freedoms of movement and personal agency. It is women who take out the micro-finance loans around the world; it is women who repay them; and it is women who continue to do that and be the breadwinners. In this country alone, because of the credit crunch, we will have to undertake micro-finance in Northern Ireland and parts of England. I hope that the Government will give support to the banks when they decide to take that on publicly.

Maternal healthcare is alarmingly inadequate. Every minute, a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth. Every year, more than 536,000 women die due to complications developed during pregnancy, while 75 per cent of maternal deaths occur during childbirth and the postnatal period. The vast majority of maternal deaths are avoidable when women have access to vital healthcare before, during and after childbirth.

Human trafficking is thriving today. I have mentioned that many times in this House. Many Governments and many people are in denial of that trade. The income from human trafficking comes second after arms-before drugs-because a human being can be used more than once. I ask the Government to take up the issue not just at the various meetings in Europe; it, like maternal health, should be on the agenda at meetings of the G20 and the G8. Through the World Bank, we know the statistics on money-laundering that is brought through human trafficking.

It is not just men who perpetrate that evil form of life; it is women. It is women who are the middle managers; it is women who take the cash. It is up to us to ensure that our Government and other Governments around the world put pressure on the banks and on the World Bank. A very eminent banker once said to me, "We know the clients of ours who do this, but we cannot tell you". It is important that that should cease. I feel very strongly about this, because people are put into awful servitude. Women make other women do this. They take their passports away. They take loans. It is a terrible disease.

Through my work with Vital Voices, UN.GIFT, the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland and many other organisations dedicated to women and children, I have been privileged to promote equality. However, not enough women or men are promoting the equality of women today. This must be a joint issue. We cannot do it alone. I recently heard someone say, "Women should work together; we don't want to ask men for anything". I believe that, for us to succeed for future generations, we must involve ourselves, males, the private sector, NGOs and Governments.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown speaking at a breakfast on International Women's Day

Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland