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Ministerial Champion for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Overseas

Volume 570: debated on Monday 11 November 2013

I am pleased to take this opportunity to update the House on my role as Ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas.

Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic—it is one of the most systematic, widespread human rights abuses in the world. The UK Government believe this can change, that every woman and girl has the right to live free from violence and abuse.

The establishment of the role of Ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas is the first of its kind internationally. I was appointed to this role by the Prime Minister in 2010 and for the last three years I have had the privilege of being at the forefront of UK efforts to successfully drive forward progress towards eliminating violence against women and girls internationally.

In my role I am also working to improve policy coherence across UK Government Departments, ensuring that what we do has the greatest possible impact overseas. I have also championed this issue with the media, civil society and with parliamentarians in the countries in which we work. As a result we are now seeing an unprecedented level of commitment to this issue that I would like to bring to the House’s attention.

As champion, I am passionately committed to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls but have identified three priority areas:

Addressing violence against women and girls in humanitarian emergencies—because women and girls are often the most vulnerable in emergencies and in times of conflict;

Ending female genital mutilation/cutting—as this is one the worst kinds of gender violence, where girls around the world have suffered a lifetime of damage, sometimes even death, as a result;

Building the evidence base—so we better understand what works in preventing violence against women and girls.

During my time as champion, the UK Government have shown considerable leadership in this area at all levels. This includes the recognition of violence against women and girls in the Prime Minister’s “Golden Thread” agenda for International Development and his push for its inclusion in the framework that will replace the millennium development goals; the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to addressing sexual violence in conflict through the preventing sexual violence initiative; and DFID’s scaling up of its response to violence against women and girls, including more in-country programmes on preventing violence, support to building the evidence-base on prevention including launching a £25 million research programme, and high-level leadership on addressing violence against women and girls in humanitarian responses.

I am championing our work on female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), of which I am very proud—demonstrating UK leadership in backing an Africa-led movement on this issue. In March 2013 I announced DFID’s flagship £35 million programme which will help to end this practice within a generation with a specific objective of reducing it by 30% in at least 10 countries in five years. There are clearly links between the diaspora and what is happening within their countries of origin. Within our FGM/C programme, we will be working with diaspora communities with the specific aim of supporting ways for them to influence change in their countries of origin.

Important steps have also been taken this year at the international policy level in which the UK has played a key role. This includes the agreed conclusions reached at the 2013 UN Commission on the Status of Women which gives the international community a strong mandate to take a stand on ending violence against women and girls.

We have also seen the Foreign Secretary deliver the preventing sexual violence initiative, ensuring our efforts across Government are fully complementary. So far, the initiative led to the historic G8 declaration, and in September 2013 the ambitious declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict, which, so far, 134 countries have endorsed.

Looking forward, building on the G8 commitments, on 13 November 2013, the Secretary of State for International Development will host a high level call to action on protecting girls and women in emergencies, to be held in London. This event will shine a spotlight on the actions the international community will take to better protect women and girls in emergencies.

We are also developing a new UK national action plan on women, peace and security, to be launched in March 2014. This will ensure that the UK’s work in conflict resolution and peace-building takes into account the impact of conflict on women as well as the important role they play in building a lasting peace.

Alongside the International Development Secretary, I will continue to push for the inclusion of a stand-alone goal on gender equality, which includes a target on ending violence against women and girls, in the framework that will replace the millennium development goals after 2015.

As recommended by the International Development Committee in their recent report on violence against women and girls, I am working to ensure that we continue to scale up the development and implementation of programmes to tackle violence against women and girls in all DFID priority countries.