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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Visiting Roshni

Monday, January 29, 2007

As part of her Ministerial duties, Meg visited the Roshni Asian Women's Resource Centre in Sheffield. Meg presented certificates to women who had gained a certificate from the Open College Network, and gave the following speech. The centre, established in 1992, offers advice, support and counselling on health, education and training and social and cultural needs.

 

Domestic violence is a serious problem. The statistics make for grim reading:

  • domestic violence accounts for 17% of violent crime,
  • one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime; and one in six men,
  • one incident is reported to the police every minute,
  • for around 30% of victims, domestic violence starts or escalates in pregnancy, and
  • around 120 women are murdered by a current or former partner - that's more than two women every week. 

Sadly the barriers to leaving an abusive relationship are often particularly difficult for minority ethnic women. These barriers include:

  • religious and cultural pressure,
  • notions of shame and family dishonour,
  • language difficulties,
  • ignorance of rights and services, and
  • fear of possible removal or deportation.  

So it’s particularly important I thank you for the work that you do for these especially vulnerable women. As a Sheffield Member of Parliament I know some of the work you undertake. Never easy, rarely acknowledged, but vital for the women who find themselves in a bad situation.  

 

My Story

As one of your local MPs I’ve been asked to give you a potted history of the opportunities and challenges I have faced in my own career. I was born in Norfolk Park in Sheffield and moved to live near Graves Park, right in the heart of my constituency of Heeley, when I was three. My Dad was a Sheffield Labour Councillor and my mum was active in the local Labour Party so I was brought up knowing about politics. I joined the Labour Party at the age of 15 but didn’t then have ambitions to be in politics full time.

 

I left Sheffield to go to university in York and study languages before going into a career in social work. I moved around the country and spent sometime in Nottingham where I was persuaded to stand for the local council. I thoroughly enjoyed it but found it difficult to combine it with work so after four years I stood down to concentrate on my career. Soon afterwards I moved back to Yorkshire. It was quite a few years after that before I considered standing for parliament. Although I had remained interested in politics it felt like a big step to take. But as I got towards 40 I decided to dip my toe in the water and tried for to be selected for a by-election for the European parliament. I wasn’t successful but by then the bug had truly bitten me. So when I heard the MP for Heeley was standing down I decided I had to give it everything.

 

The selection process was very hard work. It wasn’t an all women shortlist and so it did mean overcoming the prejudice against women that is found in all political parties. There were about 300 party members who could vote so I spent hours knocking on their doors to introduce myself and persuade them I could be the next MP. As you know I was successful but I was one of only 4 new Labour women MPs elected in 2001 with 34 new male Labour MPs. This was one of the reasons that the Government decided to change the law to allow parties to have measures in place such as all women shortlists that mean women have a chance to be selected.

 

Once in parliament the discrimination is much less and all MPs have to learn how to do their job well. It’s demanding but very rewarding. I was delighted when asked to become a minister especially as issues of equality are one of the reasons I got involved in politics in the first place.

 

With my job as a Minister for Women and Equality I have responsibility for a wide range of issues. These range from gender and equality, such as the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, overseeing the Government’s plan for closing the gender pay gap, and activity around trafficking women and children.

 

Work

In the UK today there are around 2.3 million ethnic minority women, making up 4% of the population and around 8% of all women. It’s not a surprise to you to hear that ethnic minority communities have a lower employment rate than the rest of the population. For Bangladeshi and Pakistani women it is particularly low - around 24.2% and 24% respectively.  That means that only a quarter of these women are in recorded work - either by choice or by circumstance.

 

Moving on Up, the recent Equal Opportunities Commission report on young Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black Caribbean women, showed that ethnic minority girls are doing better at school and at university.  The report illustrated that girls aged 16 have the same aspirations as white girls - the wish to combine work and family life - and they are even more ambitious about their education and future careers. So here Government has a role in helping them achieve their aspirations.

 

The Prime Minister set up the Women and Work Commission to look at the causes of the gender pay gap and the barriers to women’s employment. The Commission produced a report last February, which made a number of recommendations for Government and employers. In September we published our Action Plan detailing how to implement the recommendations.

 

In the next phase of our work in this area we are committed to ensuring that the particular needs of ethnic minority women are addressed.  This could be around:

  • local job matching,
  • or skills and training,
  • the development of new recruitment and career pathways,
  • helping women returning to the job market, and
  • facilitating quality part-time work. 

In addition, we set up the Ethnic Minority Employment Task Force. They co-ordinate Government activity across different departments to improve the employment for ethnic minority groups. They have commissioned a large scale research project highlighting the restraints experienced by Pakistani and Bangladeshi men and women gaining employment.  The second part of the research, which is focusing specifically on women, is due to report later this year.

 

Women in public and political life

There are not enough ethnic minority women in public life, with Asian women making up less than 1% of local councillors in England.  It is sad to say there are no Asian women MPs.  This lack of representation in public life has a real knock on effect, with few role models for the next generation to emulate. How can you aspire to a public career if nobody that you see on TV or in politics looks like you?

 

It’s important to get the voices of women in public, so we have enacted legislation to help things along. In 2002 we passed the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act, which allows for positive measures to increase women’s political participation. It is having an impact, with the numbers of women involved rising.

 

There are currently 126 women MPs in the House of Commons, accounting for just under 20%.  There are 142 female peers, which is roughly the same percentage. The story is better when looking at the devolved administrations.  52% of the Welsh Assembly are women, 39% of Scottish MSPs are women, and in England 29% of local councillors are women. Having said that, the numbers of ethnic minority women is still poor.

 

But there are more ways to make your mark in public life. We need more women - more of you - on the boards of your local NHS Trust, or as school governors in local schools

 

Women’s Organisations

Women’s organisations such as Roshni play a vital role in helping tackle discrimination and disadvantage that women experience. Government recognises this and we have announced a number of avenues for funding to help support women’s organisations.

These include the Faith Communities Capacity Building Fund launched in January 2006 to support faith communities to develop projects that would enable them to participate more fully in society. In February 2006 £7.75m was awarded as part of the first round and £5million has been set aside for second round in 2007.

We have helped to develop and sponsor several initiatives on economic inclusion, including a QED-UK initiative. This looks at economic activity among Asian communities in South & West Yorkshire. It highlights Asian female role models in a bid to encourage more ethnic minority women to enter and progress in the workplace.

 

Each year in October the Ministers for Women host a reception in the House of Commons to celebrate Black History Month. This reception, one of the largest gatherings of ethnic minority women in the UK, is aimed at all ethnic minority women. It provides an opportunity for women to network and find out more about policies that Government has introduced that have an impact on them. It is also our way of acknowledging the excellent work ethnic minority women are doing across the UK.

 

My full job title is Minister for Women and Equality - It’s an important part of what I do to encourage women to take a full part in today’s society. This is particularly relevant to ethnic minority women, I want them, I want you to enter and be engaged in all levels of public life and in the workplace.

 

 

 

The photo shows Meg with a number of women who had just been awarded certificates, with on the left hand side, Ghazaa Razzaq, the centre co-ordinator, and on the right hand side, Dina Martin, Chair of Roshni. 

Associated Photograph :


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