Speech

Transcript: International Women's Day 2012

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's speeches at IWD 2012 Downing Street reception.

Prime Minister

Good morning and welcome everybody, please come on down.  A very warm welcome to Number 10 Downing Street.  It’s great to have the International Women’s Day reception here again this year and you are all extraordinarily welcome.  We’ve got people who have come in from all over the world; I want to say a special welcome to Mary Robinson who has flown in this morning.  Mary, it is great to have you here.  To have Jan Eliasson, the Deputy UN Secretary, great to have you here too.  And ministers from countries right across Africa and other parts of the
world: a huge, huge welcome. 

I think it is worth asking ourselves why is it we still need to hold International Women’s Day and receptions like this.  And it seems to me that it’s absolutely clear that we do, because there is still massive inequality to be overcome both here and around the world; there is violence here and around the world that we need to overcome.  And also, there is a very positive side to this agenda, which speaks exactly to all the people in the room, which is that the power you have as women who are huge successes and role models to others, actually speaks volumes to people all over the world.  So there is a positive agenda to what we are talking about today. 

But I just specifically wanted to address the issues about violence, because I think this is, if you like, a giant hidden iceberg in all our societies and we really need to do better to deal with it.  We need to do better at home.  We need to do better overseas.  Now, I’m not saying the government has all of the answers, but I think we are taking some important and concrete steps this week.  I think by announcing today that we are going to have a separate offence for stalking - that is a criminal offence - I think is a very important step forward.  On its own it doesn’t solve the problem, but we’ve got to make sure that as a separate criminal offence, it’s combined with: better training for the police; better training for the probation service; better training for our courts; better action by technology, telephone and digital companies, so we stamp out this evil. 

I’ve met some really heroic people today who’ve come forward and are prepared to tell their own stories about how they have suffered and about how they have lost children to stalkers.  And it’s so important you tell those stories.  Because until you meet the victim of a stalker, no one - perhaps particularly men - but no one really understands just what a dreadful crime it is, and just how appallingly persistent these people are.  So that is an important step. 

We are also taking the step this week of piloting Clare’s Law.  I think that is an important step forward, so that women can have access to information about their partners.  We are going to continue with the funding of the rape crisis centres, I think that is important.  And I want to make sure that right across the board - whether it is domestic violence, whether it is stalking, whether it is rape - that this government does everything it can to deal with the problems of violence against women in our society. 

But even if we stamped out that problem at home, there is a massive problem around the world.  And whether it is appalling levels of violence against women in some sub-Saharan African countries - in South Africa for instance, a woman is killed by their partner every six hours, think about that.  Whether it is that level of violence in sub-Saharan Africa; whether it is the oppression of women in Northern Africa - where we still see horrific levels of female genital mutilation: an absolutely horrendous crime - or whether we see people in Ethiopia and other countries who are married off at an unbelievably young age; or whether we look across South East Asia where we see - in a world where we think we’ve abolished slavery - we see such immense levels of people trafficking and modern day slavery; it’s quite clear we have got a massive task on our hands to help stamp this out. 

Now, I think Britain can say that we can hold our head up high, because we have made a very difficult decision as a country, and that is to reach the target of 0.7% of our GDP going into overseas aid by 2013. This is not something that the Italians are doing, it’s not something the French are doing, it’s not something the Germans are doing, but we are keeping the promises we made at Gleneagles.  We are delivering on the pledge that we made as a civilised, compassionate country that stands for something in the world.  And I think we can all be very proud of that because that money, that we are going to be spending, is going to be making sure that women are not facing violence and abuse in some of the poorest countries in the world.  Our money can make a real difference: whether it is teaching programmes in Tanzania; whether it is anti slavery programmes in South East Asia; whether it is education programmes in South Africa; we can really make a difference.

So, I hope today, that as well as drawing attention to the appalling levels of violence against women in our society and in other societies around the world, I hope we can celebrate two things which is this country is taking action at home and abroad and today gathered here in Number 10 are some fantastic role models for what women can achieve and fantastic campaigners.  And it would be wrong to single people out but I look around the room and I see people who run fantastic campaigns.  I see colleagues from parliament who run great campaigns to put the stalking issue right up the agenda.

So, very big thank you for coming, but, above all, thank you for what you do to campaign for women’s rights, for women’s equality, and to make sure we end the appalling levels of violence against women at home and abroad.  Thank you very much indeed.

And you don’t just get one Prime Minister when you come to meetings like this; you’ve got the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, as well.  Nick over to you.

Deputy Prime Minister

Well, happy International Women’s Day everybody.  When I said to Miriam this morning that I was so excited that we were holding this reception here, she rather unceremoniously said to me, ‘So, what, two blokes in suits are going to talk to a room full of women who have to listen to you?’  That’s not perhaps the best way to celebrate International Women’s Day.  So, notwithstanding that sort of blemish, I nonetheless am really delighted to be here. I just wanted to say three very quick things. 

Firstly, women’s issues are men’s issues.  And I say that because I just think, you know - when I hear people say, ‘Women care about flexible working’, I care about flexible working.  I’ve got three small children; I care about how Miriam and myself and how all of us have to juggle things as mums and dads.  When people say, ‘This excellent work we’re doing to really bear down on the industrial scale violence against women, lifting the lid on that’, that should be something which makes men just as angry and frankly as ashamed - more ashamed - than it does amongst women.  That’s the first point.  I think it’s a wonderful thing that we are celebrating International Women’s Day, but we will do women a disservice if we don’t all take responsibility for it.

The second thing is that there’s been a huge amount of progress made in the - whatever it is - 101 years since International Women’s Day started - when a million women were demonstrating on the streets of Europe for their own rights, for their own emancipation.  It would be naive to pretend that we don’t have a long, long, long, long way still to go.

And I’m acutely aware - I think we all are in politics - that politics is just as bad as any other vocation, if not worse.  I lead a party which has got far, far, far too few women in it.  There are four members of the cabinet.  There are far too few women who feel attracted to politics.  There are far too many women put off by the language of politics: by the vitriol; by the polemic; by the yah-boo machismo of politics.  We all have a long way to go but I am acutely aware - I’m sure all the politicians here are - that we in politics have a particular duty to show that we are prepared to change as well.

And the third point was really what David said was that you play such a magnificent role in showing young girls that they should live out their dreams, they should pursue their ambitions.  And, by the way, also I think it is very important that the young boys of today don’t grow into men who fear women’s success.  So, you’re not only providing an inspiration to girls who want their horizons broadened, who want their sights lifted, you also, by showing that you are successful at what you do, being as passionate and committed to the causes that you champion, I think you also change the culture for young boys as well.

So, women’s issues are men’s issues - at least they should be.  We’ve got a long way to go and keep inspiring people.  Thank you very much.