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We must keep our focus on gender

EQUALITY: Helen Grant MP spoke in the House of Commons’ Vote 100 debate last month to mark the Centenary since some women were
first given the vote in Britain

THE UK’s journey towards universal suffrage, the right for (almost) all adults to vote in elections, has come a long way over the last 100 years. Women of all ages, classes and races have worked together to bring about change, and it is important to remember that the status quo was also only achieved with the courage and persistence of some very special men.

EFFORT

The issue has also attained the maturity of (usually) rising above petty party politicking, and an ongoing cross-party effort is something that brings me great comfort. Too often politicians obsess themselves with cheap political point scoring, but in this area I’ve welcomed a more consensual approach that characterises the vast majority of those of us who seek to champion female empowerment and equality.

If getting the vote was the beginning, getting women into Parliament was phase two. On that front, many may not be aware that several years ago, Theresa May co-founded an organisation called Women2Win, with Baroness Jenkin, which has been leading the campaign to get more Conservative women into public life. Yours truly was one of its protégés, and I thank Women2Win for its support and guidance. Indeed, I recommend the organisation to any woman who has political aspirations.

Taking the fight to the wider workplace, we now have the lowest gender pay gap on record for full time employees, but that is not enough – there should be no gender pay gap at all. That’s why the Government is tackling the causes, by introducing mandatory pay audits for employers who lose equal pay claims, and introducing ground-breaking regulations that will see large employers, across all sectors, publishing the differences in their average salaries and bonuses paid to women and men. On the international stage many of my colleagues are standing up for issues that affect women around the world, as well as here in Britain.

ABUSE

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a typical example, where campaigners such as Nimco Ali and Zac Goldsmith MP are commanding important and robust conversations for cultural change and the cessation of this appalling abuse of women and girls. Five years ago the department for international development committed to spend £35 million, more than any other country in the world, towards ending FGM within a generation. I give due credit to the Labour Party for supporting women’s rights and I am grateful that they have shared the responsibility in working to deliver change.

Equally, I am intensely proud of the record that the Conservative Party has on this issue, and indeed social mobility as a whole. That is why a fundamental part of our philosophy is that everyone, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race or religion, should have a chance to get on in life if they choose to do so. That’s also why I am so delighted to hold the role of Vice Chair for Communities within the Conservative Party.

Together with my colleague Rehman Chisti we are engaging with groups across the UK who are opening their doors, sharing their views and becoming significant voices in national policy and action. Huge strides have been made in making our country more equal, and I hope all political parties will continue to advance in becoming more welcoming to everyone. And if we are to tackle some of the great challenges that remain surrounding gender inequality, it will be enlightened men as well as courageous women who will need to continue the fight for transformation and I, for one, am ready for that mission.

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