Sayeeda Warsi: Speech to the Conservative Women’s Organisation
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It’s great to see you all here again this year.
I want to start by saying an enormous thank you to Niki Molnar, who is standing down after an excellent year as your Chairman.
Niki, it’s been a great pleasure working with you and we are so grateful for all the work you’ve done.
Thanks to Pauline Lucas, President and ex-Chairman, for her continuing work with the CWO, helping to find women to stand for public life at all levels.
Also thanks to deputy Chairman Thalia Openshaw, who is also stepping down after three years.
And a huge congratulations to Katy Bourne who is stepping up to the role of Chairman.
Four inspirational women. And a fitting way to begin, since our theme today is ‘inspiring women’.
I have recently been thinking about the women who have inspired me.
When I was asked to go on Radio 4’s Great Lives programme last month, one great life sprung to my mind.
Someone my father used to tell me about as a child: the Turkish princess who became Indian Queen, Razia Sultana.
The first woman to rule South Asia, back in 1236…
…who was handpicked by her father as a successor…
…opposed by the nobility…
…briefly ousted by her brother…
…before regaining the throne and reigning for a successful four years…
…and dying, tragically, at the hands of her enemies.
It was a slightly more dramatic ascent and descent than we see in today’s power struggles.
But the themes of coups, treachery and sibling rivalry are perhaps ones we can still recognise!
So why did a woman from so long ago, from so far away, inspire me?
Because she was a woman succeeding in a man’s world.
While women were subordinated elsewhere, she led men to war.
While most women of the time around the world did not see their role as one of public leadership, she fought on the battlefield.
While she lived in a culture where there were strict rules of dress, she defied convention and rode into battle in men’s attire.
And, most significantly, she insisted on being addressed in the masculine form – as Razia Sultan not Sultana…
…lest anyone imply that her identity was because she was the daughter of or wife of a sultan but that she was, in fact, the sultan herself.
What’s most significant for me is that Razia’s legend lives on not merely for her gender but for her achievements.
For tackling the persecution of minorities.
For spearheading huge infrastructure projects.
For bringing politics into the public sphere.
What she achieved in just a few years is what made her popular and – as I argued in my interview – made her something of a Tory!
And she was certainly not a politician for second-term priorities.
She just got on with the job, as so many women do.
It was particularly timely to be discussing an inspirational female ruler at a time when the showbiz world had refocused everyone’s attention on our greatest peacetime Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, with the release of the Iron Lady.
As Razia Sultana inspired me as a child, Lady Thatcher inspired me in later life.
Her drive, her determination, her resolve to transform our country, sometimes in the face of fierce opposition, defined her.
Maybe it was because of the culture or time in which she lived that Razia felt she had to deny or conceal her gender to be successful.
In many ways Lady Thatcher faced similar challenges.
When much was made of her being first female Prime Minister, she was blasé – claiming that she was equally as conscious of being the first research scientist Prime Minister.
You can understand why in public life a gender-denying attitude has been a necessary precursor to success.
But I think today we need a different attitude.
Saying that we are successful because we are women not despite being women.
Today, there is still a problem.
While women take home half the degrees for example, they are still paid 17 per cent less than men and still make up only 15 per cent of board directors.
And we still see discrimination where woman are overlooked for promotion and are seen as ‘not quite up to the job’ once they have had children.
One of the industries where these challenges need to be tackled is in politics.
And that needs to start at home: in our own Party.
Yes, of course there is cause for cheer – we saw a 250 per cent increase in women MPs on the Conservative benches to 49 in the 2010 election.
That is thanks in huge part to the hard work of organisations like the CWO.
But there’s more work to do – women still only represent 16 per cent of the party.
Less than a quarter of our cabinet is female.
While France and Germany’s cabinets comprise more than 30 per cent women…
…and Spain and Sweden’s are more than 50 per cent female.
Of course I understand the challenges of being in Coalition. There are issues with Lib Dem female representation, and it’s something I’ve taken up with the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
There’s so much more we can all do to make politics more representative…
And a lot of it lies with people like you, who can campaign, recruit, persuade and promote to make sure that politics is as much of a woman’s world as a man’s.
I want to find a time when female candidates don’t come up to me and say they’re less likely to be selected than a man.
For me, the need for more women at the top of public life is not in dispute.
IMF managing director Christine Largarde famously said that if the Lehman Brothers had been the Lehman Sisters there may not have been a financial crash.
Whether in the business world or political world, more women at the top will mean wider perspectives on business decisions and a better understanding of policy outcomes.
And who knows, maybe PMQs would be less gladiatorial and the bars in the Commons would be more peaceful…
Evidence backs up the need for more women in the workplace.
The recent Davies Report said that companies with more women on their boards outperform their rivals – with a 42 per cent higher return in sales, 66 per cent higher return on invested capital and 53 per cent higher return on equity.
So I want us to do something today. I want us to show that this party can lead the way in both promoting gender equality and in demonstrating it.
Why are we best equipped to do so? Because the Conservative Party is the Party of women.
Labour may claim this crown for themselves.
But our history says otherwise.
A Conservative-backed Coalition extended suffrage to women.
Conservative Nancy Astor as the first female MP to take her seat.
The Conservative Women’s Organisation as the first women’s political organisation in the world.
The Conservative Government equalising the voting age.
The Conservative Government allowing women to sit in the Lords.
Conservative MP Margaret Thatcher elected as the first female Prime Minister.
And, as recently as last year, the Conservative-led Coalition ensuring that the first born child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will inherit the throne, regardless of sex.
So we as Conservatives have been there at historic moments laying down the marker and forging change
But more needs to be done, by all of us, together.
So I welcome the CWO.
I welcome Women 2 Win.
I welcome the backbench female MPs’ forum, whom I had lunch with earlier this week.
For me, a personal achievement is that the chairman’s team at CCHQ is 70 per cent female.
OK, it’s not quite Beyonce’s all-female band…
But it shows that the Conservative Party is the party of women as much as it is the party of men.
And that together we can support, drive and recruit and all the time strive to ensure that the culture we work in and the world we live in, is as much for women as it is for men…
…where women are recruited on merit and show that they’re doing an amazing job both in my team and across the Party.