Last week we marked International Women’s Day – an annual event that recognises the achievements of women and shines a light on the issues that still affect women today.
I am proud to serve in a government with a record of championing women in all aspects of British life.
Since 2010 we have seen record levels of female employment and women starting their own businesses, with 40% of the Government’s Start Up Loans going to women entrepreneurs – such as Kirsty in Lydney for her fantastic business ‘Forest Friendly’ which offers a range of reusable and eco-friendly alternative products.
We are also taking action to get women on our top company boards and have already met our target to get 40% of FTSE 350 leadership roles held by women, three years early. This is in no small part thanks to our policies of shared parental leave, 30 hours of free childcare for eligible parents and encouraging employers to offer employees flexible working as standard.
These successes come at the same time as the Government is seriously cracking down on violence against women and girls – launching a landmark strategy on the issue and the £125 million Safer Streets Fund, £2 million of which is being spent in Gloucestershire. We are also introducing news laws to tackle the abhorrent practice of ‘upskirting,’ protect victims of stalking and are launching a 24/7 support service for victims of rape.
International Women’s Day is also a time to celebrate women in public life and encourage them to stand for leadership positions. This is exactly what I did in my four and a half years as co-chair of ‘Women2Win’ – mentoring prospective candidates and leading the campaign to elect more Conservative women to Parliament. The last election saw the largest number of female Conservative MPs ever elected and almost double the number in 2010.
Last year a locally significant leadership position was filled by a woman for the first time in its 900 year history as we welcomed Coleford born Sue Middleton as our first female verderer. Sue and the three other verderers have responsibility for administering the ancient laws of the Forest and to protect the 'vert and venison' - the trees, shrubs and livestock.
This article was first published in The Forester newspaper.