Yesterday in Parliament Fiona contributed to the debate on International Women's Day. Fiona's full speech is below and can also be viewed here.
"International Women’s Day is an opportunity to highlight how millions of women worldwide suffer discrimination, persecution and violence doubly on account of their gender and their beliefs. Many are subjected to some of the most egregious atrocities on earth today, pressed into slavery, sexual or otherwise, tricked and subjected to human trafficking, scarred mentally and physically through the use of rape in conflict. Young girls are sold as a commodity, deprived of an education and, as a result, of a livelihood and any chance of flourishing or reaching their full potential, subject to systematic abuses such as early or forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour killings, or trapped in prostitution and poverty.
My duty, as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, is to speak out against this. I am proud to be the first woman to have been appointed to this role. Many women around the world suffer lower social status or reduced legal rights, which can exacerbate the problems they encounter in trying to exercise their freedom of religion or belief.
It is good that tackling gender and belief-based violence is a priority for our Government. Let me focus on a few instances where the UK Government are taking action—although of course there is much more to be done.
In Pakistan, the ongoing reports of forced marriage and conversion of Hindu, Sikh and Muslim women and girls, reportedly hundreds of girls a year, are alarming. I raised concerns about this a few days ago at a virtual meeting with our high commissioner in Pakistan. I know that my colleagues in the Foreign Office share these concerns and regularly raise them with the Government of Pakistan. In Nigeria, officials have in recent months raised with the Nigerian Government the case of Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu, abducted by Boko Haram and the last of her group still not released. Our Government are providing a package of humanitarian and stabilisation support there, including for women, but more—much more—needs to be done.
Turning to China, reports of dehumanisation of Uyghur women there are deeply distressing. The Foreign Secretary recently addressed the UN Human Rights Council, saying:
“The situation in Xinjiang is beyond the pale. The reported abuses—which include torture, forced labour and forced sterilisation of women—are extreme and they are extensive. They are taking place on an industrial scale. It must be our collective duty to ensure that this does not go unanswered.”
Indeed, we must all ensure, as a true response to International Women’s Day, that they do not go unanswered. More needs to be done.
Finally, Yazidi and Christian women in Iraq suffered horrific crimes at the hands of Daesh. Iraq must ensure that minority communities displaced by Daesh are allowed to return home safely. No one should suffer or be coerced doubly because of their conscience or their gender. More needs to be done."