I would like to update the House on my work championing the issue of tackling violence against women and girls internationally, building policy coherence across Whitehall and pushing for as much progress as possible towards our goal of ending all forms of violence.
The concerning abduction of over 200 school girls in Nigeria in April and the recent gang rape and murder of girls in India are a sharp reminder of the low status of women and girls globally and the terrible injustice and violence faced by so many.
The UNMISS human rights report on the conflict in South Sudan, published on 8 May 2014, presents grim evidence of how the conflict has exacerbated the vulnerability of women and children. All parties to the conflict have committed acts of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women with impunity. The ability of survivors of sexual violence to receive services in this environment has diminished, leaving most incidents unreported.
I am proud to say that the UK is supporting the International Rescue Committee in South Sudan to conduct outreach and support services to survivors of gender-based violence.
Since my last statement the UK has refreshed our cross-government action plan, “A call to end violence against women and girls”, which sets out an ambitious agenda for the year ahead, including how we will continue to bring international and domestic work on violence against women and girls closer together.
The International Development (Gender Equality) Act came into force on 13 May. This Act, strongly supported by the Secretary of State for International Development, makes it law for the UK to consider gender equality before it provides development assistance, and the differences in gender-related needs for its humanitarian support. This puts our existing commitment to delivering important outcomes for girls and women—including a reduction in violence—on a statutory footing.
In May I had the great privilege of speaking at DFID Mozambique’s summit on ending child, early and forced marriage (CEFM). This is a huge issue in Mozambique, where one in two girls is married before her 18th birthday. CEFM is a global issue that has a significant negative impact on girls, their families, communities and countries.
On 10 to 13 June over 120 country delegations, over 80 Ministers, and around 1,700 delegates including eight UN agency heads, presidents and prosecutors from the ICC and international tribunals, civil society, and over 300 sponsored delegates, including from conflict-affected countries, among them a number of survivors, came together at the global summit to end sexual violence in conflict hosted by the Foreign Secretary and UN special envoy, Angelina Jolie.
I was proud to be part of the summit and to formally launch “What works to prevent violence” DFID’s new research and innovation fund. I spoke on the panel with leading experts to highlight the need to invest in work to understand and address the root causes and social norms which underpin many forms of violence—both in times of peace and in conflict. I also participated in the ministerial round table on hidden victims to highlight the issues of domestic violence, female genital mutilation (FGM/C) and CEFM which are often exacerbated in conflict. The Secretary of State for International Development chaired a ministerial round table on the call to action to protect women and girls in humanitarian emergencies and jointly launched the UK’s new national action plan on women, peace and security with the Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary.
The momentum will continue over the summer. In July, the UK Prime Minister and UNICEF will co-host a Girl summit on female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage. The summit aims to support southern leadership on these issues and to further rally a global movement to end the practices for all girls, within a generation. I know that many in the House will have an interest in these issues, given the impact they have in the UK as well as internationally.
A youth event will be held at DFID on 19 July with 170 attendees, made up of young people, including several nominated by Members of Parliament, several from developing countries, a youth panel and other attendees nominated by partners.
A social media campaign has also been launched this week. The campaign aims to receive pledges of support from people across the UK, reaching beyond the usual network of development organisations and civil society supporters. The action focuses around “play your part”—we are asking people to play their part in ending these harmful practices through pledging support and spreading the word.
In the coming months, I will visit more of our programmes overseas so that I can see in practice how our commitments to this agenda are being implemented.