International women’s day is a chance to celebrate women’s achievements, acknowledge the struggles that women continue to face and recommit ourselves to the ongoing fight for equality.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is, “Choose to Challenge”, a reminder to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality.
Whether it’s Uyghur women in Xinjiang who are subjected to the most inhumane abuses, or Kashmiri women who suffer sexual violence and an ongoing crackdown on civil liberties, it is clear that women in conflict zones carry some of the heaviest burdens.
Horrors reported from Xinjiang reveal how Uyghur women in concentration camps have been violated as part of the Chinese government’s brutal campaign to curb its Muslim population. Abuses they currently face include forced sterilisation and labour, sexual violence and rape, denouncement of faith, and torture, all of which can only be described as genocidal acts.
Action is desperately needed. I implore the Government to consider sanctions and follow in the footsteps of America, Canada and the Netherlands, in declaring China’s treatment of Uyghurs as genocide.
As the son of a Kashmiri Woman, it pains me deeply that women in Kashmir live under some of the most difficult conditions in the world. They are subjected to mass surveillance, sexual violence and many are “half-widows”.
Their painful stories need to come to an end, but for that to happen, there must be sustainable peace in Kashmir which cannot be imposed by military means.
Time and again the UK Government maintains that Kashmir is a bilateral issue, but the Kashmir conflict came about as a direct result of Britain’s actions. To assume zero responsibility is frankly offensive.
“Global Britain” is meaningless unless the UK leads the global effort to protect and empower these women.
It is disappointing that the Government has cut aid during a time like this, when it is often the first and last hope of improving women and girls’ lives.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the UN penholder on women and peace and security, the UK is in a rare position to do more.
I urge the Minister and the Government to grasp with both hands the opportunity that is in front of them to make a genuinely transformational change that will improves the lives of women and girls globally.