Right of Reply: Baroness Jay

The Minister for Women answers our critical leading article about the Women's Unit
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The Independent Culture
YOUR ASSESSMENT of the role of the Women's Unit revealed a depressing tendency to read no further than the headlines.

Your leader agrees that young women face more problems than ever before. There is also no doubt that teenage girls often fail to live up to their potential. We owe it to them to find out more about why this happens and to introduce policies that tackle the problem. Highlighting the achievement of successful women, who may or may not be celebrities, can help young women to achieve more. We are not trying to impose role models on anyone. That would be not only patronising, but self-defeating.

We don't claim to have all the answers. We know the world of today's young women is far removed from that of 20 or 30 years ago. We need to know more about their aspirations and expectations, and the barriers to achieving them. It is why, over the next few months, Tessa Jowell and I will be travelling around the country talking to young women themselves and to those close to their world.

By way of questioning the role of the Women's Unit, you list appreciatively a whole raft of measures introduced by this government to improve the lives of women - the national child care strategy, the working families' tax credit, increasing child benefit.

I am glad you recognise the achievements of this government. I only wish you understood that the role of the Women's Unit is precisely to help shape these policies. That is exactly what the Unit has done - and will continue to do.

I, too, am not interested in tokenism or gimmicks. The Government was elected to create a decent society, one in which everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential. Policies that are better for women are better for all.

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