Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Harriet Harman calls for support for women in Egypt at Socialist

Today I gave a speech to the Socalist International Women conference in Athens Greece. The text of my speech is below.

It is a pleasure to be here with my sisters from all around the world.

I'd like to pay tribute to Pia Locatelli for her leadership of SI Women.

SI Women important

Her work and the role that SI Women needs to play is only going to grow in its importance. 

As parties of the left, we are in solidarity with progressive movements around the world that fight for political, social and economic rights.

As women, we are in solidarity with women in every continent and in all countries who are entitled to, and who demand equality.

Over the years I have seen and strongly agreed with the work of SIW but I have not  attended one of your conferences before.   Like many women when I had young children, though I engaged in politics I stayed close to home.  But now my children are grown up instead of just supporting you from afar I can work with you as we support women around the world.

Difficult time for Greece

So though we are all delighted to be here, this is undoubtedly a very difficult time for our Greek hosts.  This week we meet against a background of great political and economic difficulty for Greece and express our support for the Greek people and for the role of SI President George Papandreou in taking his country through this challenge.

It is important that Greece finds its way through first and foremost for the Greek people.  But it is important to us in the UK  and indeed all around the world as our economies are all interconnected

Too far too fast - UK deficit reduction

The global financial crisis is affecting us all in different ways.  In the UK it was right to allow our deficit to rise in the face of the global financial crisis.  Now we are governed by a Conservative-led coalition which is hostile to public services and is using the deficit as an excuse to erode the welfare state.  We know, like all countries, we need to address our deficit.  But we believe that the Government's determination  completely to eradicate the deficit in just 4 years is too far and too fast.  It risks undermining the economic recovery and increasing joblessness as well as pulling the rug out from people who depend on public services and welfare benefits. 

Women hardest hit by deficit reduction

And the greatest impact of this unnecessary and reckless deficit reduction is falling on the shoulders of women.  Women who work in public services, women who rely on public services to support them in their care of children and the elderly, women who are on lower incomes than men and women who are themselves elderly.  Our Shadow Equality Minister, Yvette Cooper MP has published a report that shows that of cuts of nearly £17 billion, £11 billion will fall on women.

The only government department which is seeing its budget increased is International Development - and we support the government in increasing that department's budget.  The poorest people in the world should not pay the price of a global financial crisis caused by greedy and reckless bankers who we failed properly to regulate.

The Arab Spring - the future for women

This meeting of SIW is focussing particularly on the support we need to give our sisters in the Arab world.  And I hope we will, amongst all the issues that concern us, express particular support for our sisters in Egypt.

They feel strongly that it was their revolution too.  They stayed in Tahrir Square.  Alongside men, they bravely protested publicly against a regime which had showed itself only too ready to engage in brutality and torture.  The revolution is for justice, dignity and freedom.  That means for women as well as men.  But now Egyptian women tell me that some men are saying "thanks for your help in the revolution but you can leave it to us now."  The women believe they played their part in the revolution and they have a stake in the future and they are not prepared to take a back seat now.  And we must support them in that.

 

We must give them moral support and also practical support

Our government is giving financial backing to Egypt.  Labour women are demanding that we ensure, in the way we give that money, it supports equality for women.  As UK, EU, UN and World Bank funds support the economy - they must specifically support women's jobs and women's businesses as well as men's. As we support the development of an independent Trade Union movement that must specifically include women at work as well as men.  As we support the development of their democracy, we must help those organisations that support women getting their right to vote, using their right to vote and ensuring that there are women candidates to vote for.  The elections are in September.  So time is short.  And there have been worrying signs.  The committee which is drawing up the new constitution is men-only.  Even the woman who was on the Constitutional Court has not been included in the Constitutional Committee.  Without a quota for women in parliament there could be even fewer than the 64 women in the last parliament.

 

Through their struggles, women in Egypt have made progress over the last decades.  There is a law against Female Genital Mutilation - but it is still widely carried out.  Many women now go out to work - but they still face severe sexual harassment.  Women do not have to wear the veil - but in many places cannot go out without a male chaperone.  Demands for further progress have been led by the women's movement - women like Hoda Badran of the Alliance of Arab Women.  But some, who don't agree with the progress, use the fact that Suzanne Mubarak supported women's rights to allege that their demands therefore are anti-Egyptian and Western.  These are demands for Egyptian women put forward by Egyptian women.  They published their demands on June 5th.  To back them up in practice in their determination to get more women registered to vote, more women voting and to identify train and support women candidates, we have, through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy given them a grant of nearly £30,000.

We need to back up their demands with practical support - through our economic aid and through our support for women's organisations.  And we need to show political support.  We have tabled an Early Day Motion supporting women's rights in Egypt and it has already been signed by 58 MPs.  And it will be a great encouragement to women in Egypt to see us pass our resolution at this conference today.

 

Women working internationally to support women

There is a chance, now, for much greater international support of women in struggle and in support of women making progress.  Hitherto, women have largely been absent from international politics.   International issues have been the exclusive domain of men.  Men Prime Ministers and Presidents, men Foreign Secretaries, men in the UN, the EU, the Africa Union the IMF and the World Bank.  There has been no shortage of them.  But now there are women stepping forward.  Women committed to supporting women in their own country and internationally.  So to name just some of them - we have Julia Gillard in Australia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia, Dilma Rouseff  in Brazil and Michelle Bachelet - former President of Chile and one of the vice presidents of SI, now leading the new UN Women's Agency.  We have Margot Wallström putting tackling sexual violence in conflict at the heart of the peace-building agenda.  We must support them, as they support other women.  In the UK parliament, Labour women have set up a cross-party group in support of UN Women.  It will be the voice of UN Women in Parliament and UN Women will know that they have over 100 British MPs strongly in support of their work.  I hope that SIW colleagues all around the world can do the same.  UN Women is going to be strong force for women.  It's already playing a vital role in Egypt.  But it is still new so we must be a strong and vocal support for them.

Sharing ideas on how to make progress

It is a great opportunity for me to meet with you to hear how you are making progress on developing your policy programmes to address discrimination against women, how you are building support amongst women in your parties, and how you are striving to make your parties live up to our principles on equality. 

We have made progress in the UK Labour party.  We have gone from only 10 Labour women MPs when I was first elected 30 years ago to 82 now.  But though we are now a critical mass, we are still a minority.  Our task is to make sure that we make further progress and that women and men share the decisions at all levels of our party - including at the top. 

I am currently proposing that in our team of leader and deputy leader we must always have a woman.  For the last 105 years, 99 years have seen men only leadership teams.  Labour is a party of the 21st century that believes in equality.  Men- only leadership is not consistent with that.  It is time for men to share power with women.  And that includes in our own parties. This always causes an argument.  But it is an argument which we have to have.   I look forward to working with you in support of women around the world, and I look forward to drawing strength from your determination and your ideas on how you have made progress in your own countries and your own parties. 

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