With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the UK’s international development work to support girls and women.
Tomorrow, we will mark international women’s day, which takes place amidst the negotiations of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York. The focus of this year’s CSW is on eliminating all violence against women and girls and sending the strongest international signal that the routine, everyday violence perpetrated against girls and women globally must end. The outcome of this year’s CSW is by no means assured, however, and last year’s meeting failed to reach any conclusions, so the UK Government have been working tirelessly to avoid a similar outcome this year.
This week, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), has been attending the meeting in New York, and last night I spoke to our ambassador to the United Nations to identify what more the UK could do. Both I and my hon. Friend have been playing our role in making the case for significantly upping our work in this area. We have also been making the necessary calls and co-ordinating supporters to get a successful outcome. We cannot afford to repeat the failure of last year.
Alongside that key opportunity at the CSW, I want to inform the House of my intention to step up the UK Government’s support for girls and women in the world’s poorest countries. We have already helped to make great strides globally. Since 2011, our country has supported more than 2.5 million girls to go to primary school and a quarter of a million to make the transition to secondary school. We have helped nearly three quarters of a million women to access financial services, helped to secure property and land rights for nearly a quarter of a million women, and supported 1 million additional women to use modern methods of family planning.
It is also appropriate this week to underline how urgent and great is the need for further sustained action. Around the world, one in three girls and women will be beaten or raped in their lifetime. Fewer than 20% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa have the chance to go to secondary school. A third of girls in the developing world marry before the age of 18, some as young as seven. Despite performing two thirds of the world’s work, women earn only 10% of the income and own only 1% of the property. Women represent only 20% of the world’s political leaders. I do not believe that there can be sustained development when only half a country’s population is involved.
The evidence shows that when the potential of girls and women is unleashed, there are incredible returns for girls and women themselves, and for whole societies and economies. Investing in girls and women is the smart thing to do. An extra year of primary schooling for girls increases their wages by up to 20% and the return is even higher for secondary school. Such education means that women marry later and have fewer children, and that there are better health outcomes for the children they do have.
Investing in women and girls is also the right thing to do. It is a matter of universal basic human rights. I believe that it represents the greatest unmet challenge of our time. The challenge is about three things to my mind: choice, so that girls and women can choose when they have children and how many; control, so that women and girls are free from violence and can take control of their working lives and incomes; and voice, so that girls and women can be heard and are able to speak out safely in their communities and at the national level. I intend to target DFID’s efforts relentlessly on improving the lives of the poorest girls and women in those crucial areas.
On choice, we will honour the commitment that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made at the London summit on family planning last year. In addition, this week DFID is releasing funding for contraceptives that will help avert about 2.6 million unintended pregnancies, prevent the deaths of more than 4,500 women during pregnancy and childbirth, and avoid almost 65,000 infant deaths, and we will look to do more still.
On Afghanistan, I have decided that the UK country plan will include tackling violence against women and girls as a country strategic priority. As troop draw-down takes place, gains must be built on and not lost.
DFID is developing an ambitious new £35 million programme to combat female genital mutilation and cutting—the biggest ever investment in eradicating the practice. We want to help end the practice in a generation.
I have established a research and innovation fund to drive forward successful initiatives to tackle violence against women and girls, and new programmes that respond to the specific needs of girls and women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syrian refugees.
Later this year, I will launch an international call to action on violence against women and girls in humanitarian emergencies. An event in the autumn will bring agencies, donors and advocates together to ensure that we all collectively up our game. I have written to the UN emergency relief co-ordinator, Valerie Amos, and the UN Secretary-General to call on them to put the needs of women and girls clearly at the heart of humanitarian programmes, including in Syria, where the number of refugees has passed the terrible 1 million landmark.
Finally, on control, the ability of girls and women to earn an income and control how they spend it is also essential, but the evidence on what works in this area urgently needs building. That is why I have just launched a new partnership with the World Bank for a “gender innovation lab” to test what works in terms of giving girls and women control over their economic lives. On participation, research clearly demonstrates that women’s political participation achieves real changes. So I have agreed funding for a new leadership for change programme, supporting the leadership skills of girls and women and the opportunities for them to make a difference in their local communities and nationally.
As we continue our work on those issues, we will also reach out to new partners. I know that we cannot simply preach to the converted; we need to do what works, working with whoever we can to make it work on the ground. I am therefore establishing an expert advisory group on girls and women, involving people from different worlds and including leaders from the human rights community, the private sector and civil society to help shape my Department’s work in this area.
During our G8 presidency, we are working across government in support of the Foreign Secretary’s vital preventing sexual violence initiative to ensure that G8 members sign up to pledges on this unacceptably neglected issue. On the post-2015 agenda, we will work to ensure that issues of voice, choice and control for girls and women are central in the new framework. I believe that is critical if we are to become the generation that eradicates absolute poverty.
Britain needs to play a leading role globally, not just by effort but by example. We must all ask the searching questions and never turn a blind eye to women treated unacceptably in our own country. Yesterday’s shocking EU report highlighted that there are 65,000 victims of female genital mutilation in the UK and a further 30,000 at risk. I pay tribute to the work that my ministerial colleague the International Development Under-Secretary has done, not just at home, but abroad, in tackling this issue. However, we have to be prepared to fight that battle here in the UK as well as internationally. So I believe that today, the day the before international women’s day, is a key opportunity for the House to come together in support of seeking irreversible gains in rights for girls and women and an end to violence for girls and women. I know that hon. Members will wish to send a collective signal of support for this goal—they will want it to come not just from the Government, but from Parliament as a whole—and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the right hon. Lady for advance sight of her statement, and from the outset may I make it clear that we support the important work that she and the Foreign Secretary are doing on the crucial issues of the rights of girls and women, and tackling violence against women?
It is an indisputable fact that there is a direct correlation between women’s rights and progress in developing countries, especially in conflict-ridden and fragile states. Of course, sustainable investment matters, which is why I want to begin by asking the Secretary of State how she can justify the Tory-led Government’s consistent failure to enshrine the UK’s 0.7% commitment in law. Last Friday, a Tory Back Bencher once again blocked the progress of the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick). May I remind the right hon. Lady that her party’s election manifesto promised to legislate on this in the first Session of Parliament? Is it not time she reminded her Back Benchers —left, centre and Tea party—that they each stood on that manifesto at the last election? If the measure is not in the Queen’s Speech, that will be not only a broken promise, but yet more evidence that although the Prime Minister may still be in office, he is no longer in power.
On the eve of international women’s day, it is right that we think about how UK aid can be focused to address the scourge of violence against women and girls. On my most recent visit to eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo with World Vision, I saw for myself the terrible impact that sexual violence has on the lives of women, their families and their communities. One woman told me how three soldiers from a militia group had gang-raped her and left her for dead. In the same attack her husband and three children were taken away and she never saw them again. Every day, that woman and many like her cope with emotional and physical scars that may lessen over time but will never heal. It is essential that we tackle the culture of impunity, as well as the underlying causes of violence against women. More needs to be done to help women whose lives are blighted by violence and conflict. Will the Secretary of State say what her Department is doing to encourage the involvement of women in peacemaking and political reconciliation design and processes, and in bringing to justice those who use rape as a weapon of war?
International co-operation and co-ordination to prevent sexual violence in conflict on the ground is central to any response. What are the Government doing to address the fact that action against gender-based violence internationally remains chronically underfunded? Will she join me in expressing support for the One Billion Rising campaign led by Eve Ensler? Organisations such as UN Women have great potential but they do not have the long-term financial support required to fulfil their important mandate. The aim is to join up the work done across the UN on gender equality and women’s empowerment, pooling resources to increase its impact and reach. As a member of the UN Women executive, will the Secretary of State tell the House what steps the UK Government are taking to encourage other donors—private or public—to help ensure that UN Women has the core funding it needs to continue its work and support women’s empowerment and gender equality?
I am reassured to hear that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development is taking a leading role in UN negotiations on the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York. Will she please clarify what specific outcomes she is seeking to achieve and what criteria she will use to judge success?
The Secretary of State is right to focus on giving women choice through quality educational opportunities and access to essential family planning and education programmes that will help avert unintended pregnancies and prevent deaths. As she is aware, however, US restrictions specifically related to abortion mean that humanitarian aid managed by the International Committee of the Red Cross cannot be used—shamefully—for victims of rape. Norway has made a bilateral request to the US that it lift the abortion ban on humanitarian aid for women raped in war as a matter of US compliance with the Geneva conventions. Will the UK follow Norway’s example and make similar representations to our US allies?
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement of a new programme to combat female genital mutilation. Like I and every Member of the House she will have been horrified by the statistics that were revealed this week. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for International Development who has worked over a long period to highlight an issue that has not been given enough attention in the past. In that context, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to end the practice in the UK, working with colleagues across the Government, and how can we go further and provide protection against forced marriages and domestic abuse?
Finally, I am reassured to hear that the Secretary of State is prioritising women’s rights and empowerment in discussions on a new post-2015 development framework. Does she agree that only a clear focus in that new framework on inequality and human rights will ensure an end to the exploitation of women across the world?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman started his remarks in a tone that did not particularly fit my statement, but in response to his question, it is the Government’s intention to enshrine the aid target of 0.7% in law. I emphasise, however, that we have already been getting on with that this year.
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman had a chance to visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and he rightly spoke about the need to tackle some of the underlying root causes linked to attitudes and social norms. Such factors are one reason why it is particularly challenging to make progress in this area. We cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach and our work must be country-specific and tailored to the needs of that country. That is precisely what we do, and we are working in about 20 countries. A good example of such work is the Tawanmandi programme that the Government have supported in Afghanistan. It works with a number of community groups but sits alongside work nationally to strengthen women’s participation at a political level.
We must also work—as we do—to strengthen justice systems so that when crimes take place there is no sense of impunity for those crimes, and steps can be taken to bring the perpetrators to justice. We have all seen the shocking statistics about the lack of justice for women who suffer sexual violence during conflicts, which is why the Foreign Secretary is right to champion this issue.
My Department has supported the One Billion Rising campaign, and I am delighted to say that the online petition on our website has been signed by nearly 30,000 people. It is an important matter, which is why the CSW is right to focus this year on eradicating violence against women.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the role of UN Women. It is still a relatively new organisation, having been set up in 2011. It is an amalgamation of some existing UN agencies that have worked in the area of women’s rights. I have spoken with Michelle Bachelet on a couple of occasions about the work that UN Women does. She is clear that the organisation needs to reform in order to be able to work more effectively at the UN level and in terms of its programmes at country level.
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government have introduced the multilateral aid review, which systematically looks at the effectiveness of taxpayer money as used via multilateral organisations such as UN Women. That organisation was not in existence the last time we carried out that review, but I hope that it will get a good score in the next MAR. We are working with UN Women to ensure that it can achieve that.
The hon. Gentleman asked about our aspirations for the CSW. If he has read the draft conclusions being debated in New York this week and next, he will see that they are strong conclusions and we should resist any watering down, although we should also recognise the element of negotiation in the process. I can assure him that the work that we have done in public and private includes lobbying; cajoling countries that often stay silent to speak up; and encouraging like-minded countries that are in favour of the CSW’s conclusions to work together. That work has seen a significant increase this year compared with previous years. It would be a significant backward step for women’s rights if we were to fail to reach good, strong conclusions at this year’s CSW, and we are working towards reaching those conclusions.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about abortion. We all recognise how sensitive that issue is, but the UK has often been one of a handful of donors who are prepared to fund work to ensure that women can have safe abortions, especially when they have become pregnant through violence and in conflict situations. We recognise that this is a sensitive area for other countries, but I can assure him that we raise our concerns. It is an important area, and the UK can be proud that in spite of it being a sensitive issue we have ensured that we provide support to women who need it in that situation.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. It is incredibly heartening and we are all very encouraged by it. I especially welcome what she said about female genital mutilation. In the last few years through the all-party group, I have had the privilege of meeting some fantastic grass-roots campaigners from Africa. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that we will support these amazing people—mostly women—working in country and with diaspora communities, to find out what really works on the ground and to back them up in their brave and important fight?
We are supporting the UN joint programme in work in this area. My hon. Friend is right: some of the strongest advocates in ending FGC are those people who have themselves suffered. It is a terrible practice. Interestingly, it is not a religious practice, and we can enlist the support of religious leaders in making the case in their communities about why this practice should end. It is worth saying that the EU report published yesterday confirms that work remains to be done right here in the UK, and we must not shy away from that.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but a lot of the aims are being put at grave risk by continuing sexual violence in conflict situations. Strengthening the terms of the draft arms treaty is one thing that could make a difference. What discussions is the Department having with the Foreign Secretary on this important matter?
I assure the hon. Lady that the Department has discussions with the Foreign Office, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State leads that work. She is right that the focus on women and girls, particularly in relation to the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, must run through the Government’s work, not just in DFID but in other Departments too, and that is why I welcome the Foreign Secretary championing the initiative. It will also be on our G8 agenda; we will be beating the drum to ensure that other G8 members sign up to that effort and join us.
I wholeheartedly welcome the statement. I am proud of the work that the Government are doing to lead the world on gender equality, and in particular I commend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), for her work in New York. However, we must ensure that other countries play their part. The Prime Minister is co-chairing the high-level panel to devise the next set of millennium development goals in Bali later this month. Will the Secretary of State urge him, in that leading role, to press for a stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment?
I have been clear that I believe we need a stand-alone goal, and that we need to see these issues right the way through any new development framework. As my hon. Friend knows, the debate on what the new development framework should be once the millennium development goals come to an end in 2015 is at an early stage, but I can reassure her that, having been to the first two meetings in London and with the Prime Minister in Liberia, there is an understanding that it is vital for the issue of gender, which was in one of the MDGs in the first development framework, to be in the next framework.
I would like to press the Secretary of State a little further on the issue of Syrian refugees, which she touched on in her statement. The number of refugees has now hit the 1 million mark, and two-thirds of them are women and children. The UN has said that it lacks the funds necessary to deal with the crisis. Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary said that the UK
“will seek new ways to relieve the humanitarian crisis”.—[Official Report, 6 March 2013; Vol. 559, c. 962.]
Will she elaborate a little further on what that will involve? Does she anticipate the UK increasing its financial contribution to the aid effort?
The UK has played a leading role not only in providing financial and humanitarian assistance to help alleviate the suffering of the 1 million refugees and, in addition, the many displaced people within Syria, but in beating the drum for other countries to step up to the plate. The Kuwait conference I attended a few weeks ago saw Arab nations, in particular, begin to put in significant funding. The hon. Gentleman asks what more we can do. I am prepared to do more. Unfortunately, if we continue to see refugees streaming across the Syrian border into neighbouring countries, it is likely that we will need to do more. As I said in my statement, I raised formally at the UN the issue of how we deal with women and girls. That needs to be carefully thought through and never missed in our humanitarian work. From looking at similar situations, such as in Haiti, we know that it is easy for the plight of women and girls to be missed. They are never more vulnerable than in such situations. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue, and I assure him that we are raising it in the UN to ensure that the risks are mitigated wherever possible.
I congratulate the International Development Secretary on her statement, which clearly demonstrates the UK’s commitment to women’s rights around the world. I particularly welcome her commitment to tackling violence against women as a strategic priority for Afghanistan. Does she agree that we should ensure that human rights defenders and women in public office in Afghanistan are protected? They are particularly targeted for abuse and violent intimidation when they stand up for women’s rights. These women are our allies in ensuring and improving women’s rights in Afghanistan and we should be doing more to protect and support them.
In short, I agree with my hon. Friend. Some of the most courageous people I have met during my time in this role were the women I met when I went to Afghanistan at the end of last year. They are amazing women who are literally putting their lives on the line to stand up for women’s rights in Afghanistan. They should be supported in doing that, which is precisely why I believe it is now time to make this issue a more strategic priority in the work DFID does in Afghanistan.
Last Friday I took part in an event at Aberdeen university which showed a moving film called “Sister”, which highlighted the reality for pregnant women in developing countries. The film was a graphic demonstration of why millennium development goal 5, on maternal health, is still some way from being met. What action are the Government taking to improve maternal health in developing countries and increase the survival rates of women and their babies?
Interestingly, in spite of all the progress that has been mentioned, there is a huge issue, with issues in childbirth and pregnancy still representing the largest reason for death among girls aged 15 to 19 in developing countries. We are addressing that through a range of health interventions in many programmes, but also through family planning, as I have said, and, critically, education. We know that the better educated women become, particularly if they not only get to primary school, but go on to secondary school, the later they start their families and the healthier those families will be. However, there is still a huge amount of work to be done in this area, and that is what we are getting on with.
I think the whole House will welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Does she agree that all the millennium development goals are important in supporting women and girls? For example, on water and sanitation, if girls have appalling sanitation when they go to school, they will be less inclined to stay there. They will drift away from school and remain illiterate. Some 40% of girls in countries such as Ethiopia are illiterate; therefore, our family planning and other initiatives tend to fall on deaf ears and those girls miss out on life chances. When we look at post 2015, we need to ensure that we take all the millennium development goals forward and not cherry-pick one or another. They are a comprehensive set that all need to be taken forward if we are to support women and girls.
My hon. Friend is right. Recently I saw some research showing that while men in developing countries viewed water and sanitation as their seventh highest priority, for women it was number two. Interestingly, I think I am right in saying that the No. 1 priority for both men and women was getting a job. I will be making a speech next week about how DFID can help to make that happen.
When I asked about the arms trade treaty at Foreign Office questions on Tuesday, I was assured that although no DFID Minister was going to the talks later this month, they were very much taking an interest in it, working the phones and so on. I was therefore concerned by the Secretary of State’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore), which implied that the issue is simply not on her radar at all, when it is so important to the matters addressed by her Department, such as poverty among women and gender-based violence. Can I urge her to give it real priority?
I can assure the hon. Lady that I do give the issue priority. I am making a statement today precisely because I think that the issue of women and girls is so important in all aspects. I hope she can welcome that. To reiterate, I take her point on board. I regularly meet the Foreign Secretary to discuss the work our two Departments do together and I can assure her that this is precisely the sort of issue I discuss with him.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on the excellent job she is doing and on today’s statement. On the issue of abortion, although I completely understand that women who are subject to sexual violence and other issues that bring about unwanted babies might want access to abortions, will the Secretary of State assure the House that there will be strict criteria for the use of British taxpayers’ money for abortions and that it will not be for abortion on demand?
I think I can provide that assurance. Our involvement has not been about the rights and wrongs of abortion. In countries where abortion is permitted, and where we can support programmes that make safe abortion possible rather than allowing unsafe abortions, that is what we have focused on.
I very much welcome today’s statement. Earlier this week, I chaired a joint meeting of the all-party parliamentary groups on international development and the environment and on water and sanitation in developing countries. We learned that, notwithstanding the huge progress that has been made on access to water, sanitation and hygiene, women and girls are consistently and substantially left behind when we measure success, not least because of the taboos around menstruation and childbirth. Are the Government confident that the ways in which they intend to measure the effectiveness of their new initiatives will fully capture their impact on women and girls and uphold their basic rights and dignities?
I am confident, but there is a lot of work to be done. At a basic level, we are now focusing on gender-disaggregated data, so that we can understand the impact of our programmes in terms not only of overall value for money but of how they impact on men and on women. That is a significant programme of work for us. The hon. Lady is right to highlight this point, and we are increasingly starting to look at how our programmes affect women and girls explicitly.
With the support of DFID, ShelterBox, a very good charity based in Cornwall, is delivering practical support to refugees in Syria and Lebanon. What more can be done to support the women and girls who are fleeing from the dreadful atrocities in Syria—particularly the sexual violence that is being committed against them?
There are a number of things. First, we must ensure that we have human rights monitors who are able to go into Syria so that we can find out for ourselves what is happening on the ground. Secondly, many of the women who are leaving are by that stage the head of their household as their husbands are no longer with them, and we must ensure that they get not only the care, often medical care, that they need but counselling for the trauma that they—and, often, their children—have gone through in order to make it to the refugee camps.
I welcome every word of the Secretary of State’s statement, but I want to dispute one letter. She spoke of setting up an expert advisory group on girls and women. Will she also ensure that it is an expert advisory group of girls and women? Perhaps it could include people such as my constituent Samira Khalil, a young woman from an Afghani family who was educated in Brent North and is now studying at Cambridge, or Faisa Mohamoud, who works for the Help Somalia Foundation and who could tell the right hon. Lady a thing or two about female genital mutilation and how it affects that community. Let us make sure that it is a women-led group with women’s experience at the heart of it.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her excellent and very encouraging statement. Does she welcome the warm endorsement that Kate Allen, the head of Amnesty International, gave to the Government’s policies on women and girls on Monday?
Yes, I was delighted by that. It was very good of Amnesty to allow me to make my speech at its headquarters here in London. Amnesty has been pressing us for some time to focus more strategically on the work that we are doing, particularly on women and girls in Afghanistan, and I was pleased to be able to set those policies out to Kate on Monday.
I welcome the priority that the Secretary of State is giving to women and girls, and I hope that she welcomes the work that the International Development Committee is doing on the subject at the moment. I once asked the noble Baroness Afshar, before she was appointed to the House of Lords, what would make the most difference to British development policy in supporting women and girls. She said that it would be to ensure that there always had to be a woman’s signature on the cheque book. When the Secretary of State is talking about budget support, will she seek to ensure that, when decisions are taken by the Governments to whom we give money, women Ministers in those Governments are required to sign off any decisions before they are made?
I am not sure whether we can go quite that far in practice, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the focus on women and girls will become a more hard-coded bit of our Department from now on. For example, our multilateral aid review is currently under way, but when we do our next one in 2015, the way in which multilateral agencies look at the issues of women and girls will be one of the factors that we use in assessing their performance. He is right to say that we want to see countries moving in the right direction on this agenda. The debate that is happening in New York, in which the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), has been involved this week, shows that that is a challenge, but it is one that we need to meet head on.
I thoroughly commend my right hon. Friend for her powerful and moving statement. Will she commend the work of the Global Poverty Project, which has done so much to promote the empowerment of women as one of the five principles that are absolutely essential to rescuing societies from poverty and despair? Can she tell us what support she is giving to the project in order to help it in this important work, which is winning the argument?
I will write to my hon. Friend about the precise support that we are giving to the project, but I can say that some amazing work has been done by such organisations. In the UK, Emmeline Pankhurst was being arrested for fighting for votes for women 100 years ago. It is staggering that in so many other countries, women’s rights are still at such a basic level and still having to be fought for. I said this week that the issue of women’s rights remains one of the greatest unmet human challenges that the world faces, and it is incredibly important that we do anything we can to work with those organisations to raise the issue and do something about it.
Last April, members of the associate parliamentary group for the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan and I visited Lakes state in South Sudan and saw for ourselves the enormously empowering effect that smallholder agriculture projects can have on women’s economic rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Will the Secretary of State tell us what investment plans her Department has to support women’s economic development in that region during the remainder of this Parliament?
I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development has looked at this area. Sudan and South Sudan are among the most challenging areas in which we carry out our work, and women’s economic empowerment in the region is incredibly important. In countries such as Kenya, women have access to only 1% of land titles, and without collateral, women cannot get a loan. Without a loan, they cannot develop their businesses. Much of our work is related to access to finance, as well as to allowing and helping women to grow the small businesses that they want to run, many of which involve agriculture and farming.
In recognising international girls’ and women’s day, may I say how sad it was that the Opposition opened up by complaining about the 0.7% of GDP official development assistance spending? They had 13 years in which to correct that position, and this Government are already spending that amount. It was sad that they had to open up with those comments.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s powerful statement, from which I will take away some stark statistics. Women perform two thirds of the world’s work, but they earn only 10% of the income, own 1% of the property and hold 20% of the leadership positions. That suggests that there is much more work to be done. She mentioned that there had not been a good outcome at the UN talks last year. Will she tell us what needs to happen this year to ensure that that outcome is not repeated?
All countries that have been keen to see the strong draft conclusions agreed have been lobbying furiously behind the scenes and in public. I have had two conversations with Michelle Bachelet, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has done some excellent work this week in New York on behalf of the Government as the cross-government champion on violence against women. At EU level, we have encouraged a unanimous EU approach to the issue. However, there is no doubt that those countries that do not want to see progress have also been getting organised, and there is no guarantee that we will be able to avoid a repeat of last year’s outcome. That would be a tragedy, and it is one that we are desperately trying to avoid.
I was disappointed with the last speaker’s remarks, as it has been demonstrated here that there is a lot of support across the House for what the Secretary of State has done. I, for one, welcome her statement. Will she tell me what progress has been made to stop the trafficking of women?
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that we are nearing completion of a programme that will up our game in combating human trafficking. We have done a lot of work on it, although it is not quite finished in the sense of us being able to roll it out. We want to do more work on the subject. I have met the head of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who has campaigned tirelessly on the issue himself. One of my Department’s roles is not just to focus on countries in which we see women’s rights being eroded, but where aspects of that relate to the UK, to see what we can do by working with UK Government Departments to stop this terrible trade.
The Secretary of State rightly makes a lot of empowerment, and I commend the work of her Department in Nigeria, particularly on the development of school-based management committees and girls’ clubs in primary schools. Solidarity is an important facet of dealing with the problem and the Department has gone a long way to achieving it, although there remains much to do. Also critical is the need for more women teachers.
I thank my hon. Friend for those words. Nigeria is a huge country, and we have a very large education programme—two programmes, in fact—that can be a real challenge to deliver, particularly when we are often working in remote rural areas. As he says, part of our work is to make sure that we have a programme that sees girls able to talk about issues and to get educated at the same time. The issue of women teachers is a particularly important one. We often see—not necessarily in Nigeria, but across the world—women teachers being intimidated not to get involved in teaching. The earlier little girls can see role models of women doing jobs, having successful careers and earning income, the better. That is why the issue is so important.
My wife grew up in Kenya and now sponsors a family there through Plan UK. Has the Secretary of State had a chance to speak to Plan UK about its assessment of how we can help women and girls in Kenya?
I have not met Plan UK explicitly, although I know it is coming into my Department in the next few weeks. Its work in Kenya has, I think, been transformational. Real progress is being made in Kenya generally. Where I would like to see my Department doing more is in helping the country’s economy to develop. Ultimately, alongside developing public services and improving basic services, Kenya needs economic growth and jobs. Interestingly, UK companies did £1 billion-worth of trade with Kenya last year. I have no doubt that companies will have a role to play in joining the development push where Kenya is concerned.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. She will know that Pakistan will be one of the largest recipients of UK aid by 2015. One of the biggest problems facing Pakistan is population growth and lack of family planning, which has led to about 80% of maternal deaths. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Government of Pakistan to address these issues?
I was in Pakistan a few weeks ago, and I had the very same discussions that my hon. Friend mentions. Interestingly, much of the work we do for girls in Pakistan is focused on education. We have a huge programme, focused particularly on states such as Punjab, that provides young girls with the chance to go to primary school and then on to secondary school for the very first time. We know statistically that when girls spend more time in school, they are less likely to start a family quite so early. Alongside direct family planning and access to safe family planning, that is one of the best ways of tackling these issues in the long term.
All who believe in fairness through gender equality will welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to maximise the British voice on the international plain, we must focus absolutely on gender mutilation and other abuses here in Britain, as well as on other equality issues such as the continuing wage gender gap?
My hon. Friend is right; in a nutshell, we have got to walk the talk. However sensitive and difficult it can sometimes be to discuss what is happening in our own country on women’s rights, particularly regarding FGM or forced marriage, I think we have to have that debate. It is time that we did. I hope we can lead by example. I pay tribute to the work that my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport are doing in this area. If we are to be credible, that work is vital and it must go on alongside the work my Department is doing.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement and on all the work she is doing as Secretary of State for International Development. She quite rightly mentioned in her statement that she will apply special measures to the Afghanistan programme, but which other countries that are recipients of UK aid have most to do to improve their record on women and girls?
Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to single out any particular countries, but we know that when we invest £35 million to tackle female genital cutting, we are aiming to eradicate the practice in 15 countries. In some communities, however, this practice is starting up, so we are not necessarily combating a problem that has reached its zenith so that we are trying to get it down to zero. We are working against the tide in some places, so I am not going to single out particular countries, not least because we want to hold out a hand to them to get them to move along the path we want. We are careful about how we manage to achieve that.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Yesterday, I attended a meeting hosted by Raja Najabat Hussain, the chairman of the Jammu Kashmir self-determination movement, and met the head of the women’s wing of that organisation to mark international women’s day. Kashmiri women and girls have been deeply affected by the dispute in the region and have been denied their basic human rights for far too long. I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about her work in areas such as Afghanistan and Syria, but what more can we do to support the women and girls of Kashmir?
We have talked a lot about education and health today, but some of the work on justice and strengthening justice systems is also important alongside that, as is ensuring that the right laws are in place at the legislative level, so that women and girls have recourse at the national level. Those are the other building blocks that we should try to ensure are in place. Part of what DFID does is to work with institutions to strengthen them so that they are better able to deal with these issues—from a top-down basis, as well as from a grass-roots programme bottom-up basis. My hon. Friend mentioned the particular area of Kashmir, which is representative of the fact that in many of the places where DFID does its work, the circumstances are incredibly challenging—so much so in some cases that it is quite hard for our staff practically to get out and deliver the job and the programmes. Yet that is what they do, and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the DFID staff in all those countries whose living conditions are incredibly challenging. They get on with their jobs and make a huge difference to the people they help.
Raising my daughter over the last 10 years has been one of the most important roles I will ever carry out. I seek assurances from my right hon. Friend that when it comes to DFID projects, fathers and responsible male role models are, wherever possible, made part of the upbringing of disadvantaged girls?
I can give my hon. Friend those assurances. We are funding programmes in Nigeria, for example, which do just that. Part of the research that we are conducting on violence against girls and women and how it can be tackled relates to how we can change attitudes and involve boys and men in the eradication of such violence.
It is very sad that some people are suggesting that there are more slaves in the world than there have ever been before. As a delegate to the International Committee of the Red Cross, my wife watched slavers moving across south Sudan towards the middle east with girls, boys, women—mainly—and a few men. What measures can my right hon. Friend take to try to stop this abominable trade?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. It is 180 years since the House passed an Act abolishing slavery, but in reality, as he says, that is the day-to-day life that many people face. I assure him that I work tirelessly with the Foreign Secretary to combat it.
We must tackle the problem at national and international levels and at the grass roots, but if we are to tackle some of the root causes, we must also enable people to be more valuable if they stay where they are, which means ensuring that they are educated and have skills. The biggest value that they have should lie in their staying put and doing a job domestically. In future, the economic development aspect of what DIFD does will need to constitute a far bigger part of its overall work than it has in the past. Ultimately, trafficking and slavery are about money, so we need to change the money argument if we are to see a real change in outcomes.
Last week I was a member of a Conservative Women’s Forum panel discussing sanitation and water. A representative of WaterAid said that some of schools that are now being built—and it is fantastic that girls are getting into schools—do not have bathrooms. Can we do anything about that? Should we not take all possible opportunities to achieve the millennium development goals referred to earlier by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry)?
My hon. Friend is right. It is often not good enough just to establish the infrastructure. We need to ensure that we have looked at every aspect of the barriers that prevent girls from going to school.
When I was visiting family members back in Rotherham the other day—I will keep it brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I opened the Rotherham Advertiser to see the headline “Knickers for Malawi”. Two women in Rotherham are collecting knickers and sending them to little girls in Malawi, because, as we know, one of the reasons parents are reticent about sending their girls to school is their worry about the girls not having the appropriate underwear —and who can blame them? We need to remove some of those unusual and unpredictable but important barriers, as well as investing in the obvious infrastructure.