Page last updated at 19:30 GMT, Thursday, 10 March 2011

UN Women debate

Privileged women in developed countries must "speak up for their sisters" oppressed around the world, a senior Tory MP has told the Commons.

Opening a Commons debate marking the centenary of International Women's Day, Eleanor Laing told MPs: "If we really want to help developing nations, as well as help our own nation and Europe, we must recognise the role of women.

"We have to tackle violence against women in all its forms, here in our own country, across the world and the horror in war zones.

"We have to tackle trafficking, forced labour, the fact that women are deprived of education, the fact that women need to control their own fertility or they have no chance of empowerment or being able to contribute to their own societies."

Summing up her remarks Mrs Laing told MPs: "Where women are oppressed society suffers, where women are set free society prospers."

'Very special'

Labour former minister Fiona Mactaggart called for a committee to ensure "effective scrutiny" of the government's performance on gender equality issues.

And she urged ministers to "think again" about seeking to amend the draft Council of Europe convention on combating violence against women, which would mean that it did not take effect in situations of armed conflict.

In an impromptu speech, Tory Bob Stewart, a former army officer, said women "calmed" war situations, and that it was crucial they were involved in any peace process.

He added: "Women are at the core of our society because they are the only people in my experience that stay looking after the children when the men depart. They never give up their responsibility to children and this makes them not just equal but very special."

Lib Dem Lorely Burt said too often women were "undervalued and patronised" at work, but the threat of quotas on the number of women in boardrooms would prove a powerful incentive for companies.

Winding up the debate, International Development minister Stephen O'Brien recognised "we have to increase the opportunity for girls and women to make informed choices and to control the decisions that affect them.

He added: "We need laws to protect their rights, we need to increase the value given to girls and women by society and by the boys and men around them.

"And we will know that we have succeeded only when women and girls themselves tell all of us - that is women and men - that their lives have improved sustainably, with confidence, and will continue to improve."

The debate ended without a vote.

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