Standing up for women - and for the Ukraine

North Devon Gazette

Did you know that in the UK only 559 women have ever been elected to our Parliament? International Women’s Day took place on March 8, and being just the 529th woman to be sworn in – as well as the first female MP for North Devon – made me realise that there is still progress to be made. It is important that women’s issues are heard by those in power, and since being elected in 2019 I have made it one of my missions.Â

An issue that strikes a chord with all of us is violence against women and girls. As a female MP, This is why I keenly welcome the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently going through Parliament, which will include longer sentences for sex crimes, as well as introduce new offences to tackle crimes like upskirting and revenge porn. I know myself that misogyny is alive and well in North Devon from the comments shouted at me as MP, and I am in regular contact with our Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez to discuss what more can be done to make our streets safer.Â

I am also a keen supporter of encouraging women to follow their ambitions in business. I am Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Enterprise, which works to ensure the challenges and opportunities for women entrepreneurs are considered and promoted. As a previous business owner myself, I want women to know that there is a place for them in business and public life in general. I recently joined a meeting of businesswomen back home at the launch of ‘Women in Business North Devon’ – and it was inspiring to see that many are interested in stepping into public life, despite certain barriers that continue to exist.Â

This International Women’s Day was particularly poignant given the situation in Ukraine with women and children leaving husbands and sons behind to fight; whilst many Ukrainian women have taken up arms themselves. Gender equality is a global issue and one that affects both women and men, and sometimes it is easy to forget that.Â

I am reassured by the Government’s recent announcement to reunite Ukrainian families here in the UK as well as allow the safe passage of more refugees by easing visa rules at this unprecedented time.Â

We are supporting British nationals and people settled in the UK to bring family members here, reuniting them and helping them to bring their loved ones to safety through our Ukraine Family Scheme.Â

Our humanitarian sponsorship pathway will allow individuals, charities, businesses and community groups to support displaced Ukrainians. We will be able to match those who do not have family ties with the UK with individuals, charities, businesses, and community groups, allowing them to volunteer to support Ukrainians in need.Â

I know many people have been upset that some Ukrainian refugees had been turned away at Calais. While I appreciate this is an awful thing to have to do, we should not be encouraging people to go to Calais. With the number of criminal gangs operating there, despite the work of our French allies, it is quite possibly the most dangerous place to be for a refugee seeking paperwork in France. There is no need to go to France without paperwork, especially now that most people can now do all of the necessary paperwork online. We have deployed extra expert Home Office staff to Poland, Hungary and Moldova to help anyone having problems with the online system, allowing us to rapidly process visas for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.Â

I know many people want us to go further and faster, but we must respect that most Ukrainians want to stay close to their home and go back as soon as possible when Putin is defeated. That is why we have been the largest bilateral humanitarian donor to Ukraine, with almost £400 million in aidÂ

pledged to help the Ukrainian people. There also, sadly, are many people who will be using this humanitarian crisis as an opportunity to illegally enter this country.Â

We do not know when this war will end and with potentially millions more refugees to leave Ukraine, it is imperative that we and the rest of Europe are prepared not only for the short but the long term.Â

No response to this crisis will ever be perfect, there will be mistakes, there will be things that we or other countries could be doing better, but it is essential through all of this that we work together and stand up for Ukraine.Â