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Women's Rights

Volume 542: debated on Wednesday 14 March 2012

4. What proportion of his Department’s budget support was spent on projects promoting women’s rights and empowerment in the last year for which figures are available. (99631)

In DFID, we put girls and women at the heart of everything we do. DFID’s strategic vision for girls and women, launched last March, sets out four priority areas for greater action in all its 28 country programmes. It is not, however, possible to calculate the precise proportion of our budget that is spent on that.

I am grateful for that reply. Given President Karzai’s support for the ulema council’s statement, which classified women as “secondary”, what representations have the UK Government made to him on this issue? What projects are the Department developing specifically to promote Afghan women’s social and political rights, and participation?

Supporting girls and women is an integral part of the UK’s work in Afghanistan. We support initiatives to increase girls’ education and access to finance, and to increase women’s participation in governance. For example, we fund the gender unit in Afghanistan’s independent electoral commission.

I welcome the Government’s approach to putting women at the heart of international development efforts, especially the most recent drive to combat domestic violence and trafficking in the poorest countries. Will my right hon. Friend give some more information about how that will work in the forthcoming months and years?

My hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities is the UK’s ministerial champion on tackling violence against women and girls overseas. She has made successful visits to India and Nepal, for example, to raise awareness of this agenda, and DFID has increased its focus in 25 out of our 28 bilateral programmes to tackle violence against women.

In assisting women’s groups in Egypt, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs recently went on a visit and met some of them. One of the issues raised with us, particularly by women who had demonstrated in Tahrir square, was the forced virginity tests that many of them had to undertake. A military court has just acquitted the doctor responsible of the charges against him. Will the Minister raise this issue in conversations with any Egyptian counterparts?

The answer to the right hon. Lady’s question is most definitely yes. We are working through the Arab partnership that we set up specifically to encourage groups, and women in particular, in developing countries following the Arab spring. The agenda that the right hon. Lady has championed for many years is one that we share.