Wrexham's Member of Parliament and Veteran, Sarah Atherton, addressed the Chamber to mark Remembrance Day.
Sarah's statement can be seen in full below:
"It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones),who speaks tirelessly in support of our military. I am compelled to mention the moving speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). As he knows, I have an enduring connection with the 22nd Cheshire Regiment, and I particularly recall its peacekeeping role in the Balkans.
"Remembrance Sunday in Wrexham was very different this year to any other, but we continued with a covid-safe service. I salute and commend the Royal British Legion, Wrexham County Borough Council and Wrexham.com for their can-do attitude in ensuring that this poignant event, held at the Royal Welch Fusiliers memorial, went ahead and was made accessible to as many people as possible through a live link. From this Wrexham veteran, I say thank you to them and to all the service charities that support Wrexham, including the veterans breakfast club, the Royal Artillery Association, Homes for Veterans Cymru and the Gresford British Legion, which provides a meeting place where veterans can have a pint, a chat, a game of dominoes and gain valuable peer support.
"I was a solider back in the ’80s and ’90s when women joined a specific corps within the three services. I was in the Women’s Royal Army Corps and I am pleased to say that the military has moved on at pace. Today, around 13% of our reserve and regular armed forces are women—that is nearly 21,500 women in military uniform. Back in 1990, only 40% of jobs open to men were open to women, but now women can undertake any role in the armed forces, including that of fast jet pilots, submariners and special forces and frontline combat roles. Nothing is barred and we now have parity of the sexes. A great milestone has been reached. It is a success that we see parity and equality of opportunity for women in the military, and our veterans have been helped by the introduction of a covenant, the railcard and the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill to stop vexatious claims.
"Despite the positive advancements for women in the military and for female veterans, there are still issues to address, ranging from obstacles to career progression to a lack of economic activity when back in civvy street. This is causing problems not only for the operational effectiveness of our military, but for female recruitment and retention.
"It is an honour to sit on the Defence Committee with colleagues from across the House and we realise the great improvements that have been made for and by women in the armed forces. However, the fact remains that women continue to be over-represented in the service complaints system. While there are now great opportunities, the journey to success is often paved with discrimination, harassment and bullying. While the door to equality has been opened across the House, we must make sure that those doors are not shut by the ingrained laddish culture of the military. The words “laddish culture” are not mine; they were the words used by the Chief of the Defence Staff to acknowledge that there is a problem.
"As a response, the Defence Committee has proposed to run a Sub-Committee, which I hope to chair, looking at the experiences of women in the military—those serving and veterans. This will provide a platform for women to talk about their experiences, including the positives, so that we can champion what a great career the military is, and the negatives, so we can rectify and ensure that future generations of women in uniform have total equality in practice, as well as in theory.
"The problems faced by serving women and veterans have not happened on one Government’s watch. They have evolved over decades, from Aden to Afghanistan, and it is all our duty to acknowledge and support a cultural change as we go forward. Britain has a global reputation to uphold—a reputation for equality, fairness, honouring our troops and looking after our veterans. We can and should do something about the problems faced by women in the military and the culture that they are subjected to. I, and I know many of my colleagues, will do all we can to ensure that the voices of military women and veterans are heard."
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