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Violence Against Women (Developing Countries)

Volume 506: debated on Wednesday 3 March 2010

We are supporting and funding a series of initiatives internationally, through our country programmes and non-governmental organisations, to prevent violence against women, and to protect and help victims of such violence in, for example, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.

May I ask my hon. Friend what support his Department has given to civil society organisations, including women’s organisations, to help tackle the terrible crime of violence against women?

My hon. Friend is right to make the point that civil society has a critical role to play, both in helping to provide support to the victims of such violence and in advocating new laws and better support by Governments in developing countries. One particular example of the work that we fund through civil society groups is that of the International Rescue Committee in Sierra Leone. Its work has helped to support the development of new legislation and a range of new services to provide new support for women and child victims of a range of sexual offences.

Will the Minister acknowledge that eastern Congo probably witnesses the most savage and brutal attacks and rapes on women anywhere on the planet? As the United Kingdom is a major donor in the DRC, what does he think we can do to lead action to give the women of DRC the right to life and the right to equality in life that they are denied at present?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the eastern DRC as a particularly appalling example of the scale of violence against women. We can provide direct support, as we are, to help women to come forward to report examples of rape and other sexual crimes. We can also provide support to train the police to deal with such violence, which we are doing. In the end, there has to be the political will in the DRC for the issue to be tackled, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and others have raised it at the highest level with President Kabila and his Ministers.

Will my hon. Friend tell me what discussions he has had with the Nigerian Government about not only violence against women in northern Nigeria in particular, but the trafficking of women through northern Nigeria?

My hon. Friend will know, as he has a long-standing interest in Nigeria, that we work in a series of northern states in particular, where we are to trying to encourage more girls into school. We are obviously working with the authorities at a federal and state level in Nigeria. In that way, we are trying to help to improve the situation of girls and women more generally in Nigeria.

Is not the most effective way of tackling violence against women, strangely enough, to ensure that more girls get into education? Can we not make better progress over the next few years towards millennium development goal 3? Does the Minister share my disappointment that, despite many resources being poured in, we are still lagging some way behind our targets for that goal?

Of course we want to see much more progress in the prevention of violence against women and to see more girls getting into school. We have made significant progress in increasing the number of girls in school. One reason why we are pledged to increase our spending on international development is to fund more education programmes and to get more girls into school.

If we are to tackle violence against women and many of the other issues wrapped up in the achievement of the millennium development goal, the international community will have substantially to raise its game. In that context, the UN women’s agency is very important. Having supported the creation of the agency, which we welcome, the Government are now, it is reported, seeking to limit its operational capacity to something of a co-ordinating role. Will he reassure us that that is not the case and that we will see that agency given the resources and tools to do the job?

We have long advocated a powerful new women’s agency that brings the parts of the UN system that already work on this issue together under strong new leadership with better resourcing. The agency can play an important role and bring together more players in the UN system to do more work on tackling violence against women, in particular, and on a series of issues on gender equality.