Today I'm handing over the 'keys' of the CWO to the incoming Chairman, Julie Iles, with mixed feelings.
I was first was elected Chair in 2011, and in the past 5 years there's been good news, encouraging news and 'That's really still happening in the 21st century?' news.
Let's start with the good news: As of the 2015 election, violent crime was down by 23%; there was better help for rape victims; and new Internet controls were introduced to help families protect their children. Parents have 15 hours free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds (hopefully extending to 30 hours soon); free childcare became available for 2 year olds for lower income families; and new rights came into force for shared parental leave & flexible working.
Economically, 12 million women are paying less tax; the gender pay-gap has narrowed to its lowest level ever; 1.5 million women have been taken out of income tax altogether; and the number of pension qualifying years for women has been reduced. The Government capped care home fees; recruited thousands more doctors, nurses and midwives; and maternity & post-natal support have improved. There's a lot to be pleased about.
The phrase 'Female Genital Mutilation' (FGM) was recognised as not just a problem outside the UK and is being openly discussed in the media - as is forced marriage, 'honour' killings and the most psychologically violent 'tactic' of war.
In Liberia alone, 92% of women have experienced some sort of sexual violence, including rape - although the UN believed the figure 'probably erred on the low side for fear of retaliation and social ignominy'. We can't let the William Hague/Angelina Jolie Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2014 be the highlight of the campaign. Work is ongoing but we need more prosecutions. The violence never stops, so nor should we.
FGM is estimated to affect up to 680,000 women and girls in Europe but yet just a handful of people have been prosecuted. In a 2015 Home Affair Select Committee report, it reports that 'whilst there have been several police investigations since the criminalisation of FGM, the CPS told us it was not until 2010 that it received its first referral from the police. Since then it has examined 14 cases.' When 137,000 women and girls in the UK alone have been mutilated, we need to act with prosecutions, otherwise this preventable brutal practice will continue.
On a side note, I want to thank Marina Yannakoudis for the huge amount of work she did, publicising FGM, when she was an MEP. Without her, I doubt we'd still know what was going on.
On IWD 2014, I wrote about 'Inspiring change for women with taps and toilets'. The CWO have been working with WaterAid and helping them publicise their campaigns for many years, for good reason. If you've never seen the video of a white, middle-class woman having to walk down the street in her nightie just to go to the toilet, then do watch it. It brings home, more than anything else, what life is like for so many women around the world. 1 in 3 women worldwide risk shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they have nowhere safe to go to the toilet and girls are missing a quarter of their school year as they stay at home when menstruating.
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