“I am always deeply moved whenever I think of my mother’s story.”
On International Women’s Day, I’m reminded of my own mother’s commitment to supporting women. Today, my government is making this a priority.
James Cleverly writes for The Telegraph.
In 1940, in the beautiful city of Bo, in Sierra Leone, my mother Evelyn was born. She trained and worked as a schoolteacher as the colonial world she was brought up in began to unwind and recede.
Hearing of the opportunities for women in the United Kingdom, she took the courageous decision to uproot herself and journey to a new country to seek a fresh start.
Arriving in London in 1966 with her best friend, she was greeted by her gregarious sister who had already migrated over to the UK. The two new arrivals soon hit the town and quickly met a pair of handsome brothers. One was my uncle, one was my father.
My father, too, came from an immigrant family. But they landed on these shores some 900 years earlier. It was the beginning of a happy marriage that lasted for the rest of my mother’s life.
Tough as she was, the obstacles to settling down in a new country were challenging. But she met these with a forthright attitude and a determination to help others and leave her mark.
Qualifying as a midwife in the late 1960s, she embarked upon a successful career, bringing thousands of children into this world, easing the strain of mothers in childbirth and instructing aspiring midwives on how best to provide that quite literally life-changing service.
One of her protegées actually delivered both my sons.
Like her midwife students, she instilled in me an avid desire to serve our country as best I can. At first, I did that by being a soldier and later as a reservist. More recently, I have been lucky enough to contribute to my country as MP for Braintree and now as Foreign Secretary.
If it wasn’t for my mother’s guidance, inspiration and lessons of service, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today – providing a helping hand to people overseas, whilst protecting and promoting the United Kingdom’s values and interests across the world.
I am always deeply moved whenever I think of my mother’s story – especially today, on International Women’s Day. The struggle and success. Her bravery and determination. Her inspiring presence and ability to reassure those around her. My memory of her makes me incredibly proud to know what the UK government is doing today to improve the lives of women like her in Sierra Leone and beyond.
That’s why I’m delighted to be the first British Foreign Secretary to launch an International Women and Girls Strategy, which sets how we will advance women’s freedom, power and rights across the world.
Women’s rights were hard won and need to be defended at home and abroad – whether in Iran and Afghanistan, or on the battlefields of Ukraine, where sexual violence is being used as weapon in war. Our strategy sets out how we will support all the brave women who are struggling for their freedoms and rights on every continent.
Equal access to opportunities, resources and services should be the birth right of every woman. Wherever she lives in the world.
Advancing gender equality and challenging discrimination is not just the right thing to do – it’s also a policy from which everyone benefits. It brings freedom, boosts prosperity and trade, strengthens global security and builds resilience. It is the foundation stone of healthy democracy.
As I visit Sierra Leone this week, I believe that my mother would be proud of the support the UK Government is providing to our partners on the ground to protect and enhance women’s rights.
This includes the newly-established Women’s Integrated Sexual Health programme, which provides a safe means for women to plan their pregnancies and take care of their sexual health. It helps women and girls living in extreme poverty as well as those dealing with disabilities.
My mother’s story is why I wanted to launch this programme and renew our global commitment to women in Bo. It is where all the good she did began.