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Violence against Women and Girls Overseas

Volume 592: debated on Thursday 5 February 2015

I would like to update the House on my work as the ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) overseas.

Since moving back to the Home Office as the Minister for Crime Prevention, I have been able to strengthen my ministerial champion role by ensuring the Government continue to take a coherent approach across international and domestic work to tackle violence against women and girls.

The scale of the challenge of ending violence against women and girls continues to be considerable.

Since my appointment as the international champion, I have made a series of overseas visits, including to South Sudan, Somalia, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates, India and Burma, working in partnership to encourage and drive action to address VAWG in these countries. I have also represented the UK at a number of key international forums such as the Commission on the Status of Women, making the case for VAWG to be recognised in the post-2015 millennium development framework. I have also met, and built up strong alliances, with many in the wider community working on these issues including passionate activists and campaigners from non-governmental organisations and grassroots organisations, and diaspora communities in the UK.

In January, I undertook my final overseas visit—to India and Burma. I first visited India in my role as ministerial champion in 2011 and the progress that has been made since my last visit was encouraging. I was pleased to be able to secure Ministers’ agreement to sending written support for the Girl Summit charter to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) in a generation.

In Burma, I met Government Ministers, civil society groups, women’s rights campaigners, and Aung San Suu Kyi, to discuss how violence against women and girls can be tackled, and how they could gain an equal voice in the peace process and political reforms. One thing was clear to me. They are all dedicated to making their country a better place for all Burmese people. Much of the violence against women and girls in Burma is as a result of conflict. I was encouraged to hear of the work under way to tackle this, and saw a preventing sexual violence initiative-linked training session for the Burmese Army, supported by the UK’s Defence Academy, on the UNSC 1325 commitments on women, peace and security.

I am proud of the role the UK has taken in supporting Burma, India and so many other countries to address violence against women and girls. I am also extremely proud of the achievements we have made since 2010. The UK is now positioned as a true world leader on tackling violence against women and girls. I would like to outline just a small selection of these achievements:

We have hosted three ground-breaking global summits on addressing VAWG: (1) the “call to action” to tackle violence against women and girls in humanitarian emergencies; (2) “ending sexual violence in conflict”, and (3) the “Girl Summit” focused on tackling child, early and forced marriage, and ending female genital mutilation (FGM) both in the UK and worldwide.

These summits galvanised a huge range of financial and political commitments to act, including a groundbreaking communiqué to agree that early action to protect girls and women in emergencies saves lives—signed by 50 Governments and organisations; an international protocol on the investigation and documentation of sexual violence; and a Girl Summit charter on FGM and child, early and forced marriage (with 470 signatories, including 36 Governments).

I launched a flagship FGM programme in 2013—for which the UK is the largest donor in the world—working in 17 countries to support the Africa-led movement to end FGM, aiming to see a 30% reduction of FGM in 10 countries over the next five years. The momentum this generated led to the Girl Summit being held in London the following year.

The UK has significantly scaled up its work to tackle VAWG overseas. For example, the Department for International Development has seen a 63% increase in programmes addressing these issues since 2012. We now have bilateral VAWG programmes in 29 countries.

We have committed up to £25 million for a new programme to end child, early and forced marriage in 12 countries.

We have seen a six-fold increase in programmes addressing VAWG in humanitarian situations. For example, the UK is now supporting a programme working across the DRC, Ethiopia, and Pakistan called “Protecting Adolescent Girls against Violence in Humanitarian Settings”, which will directly benefit 8,615 adolescent girls.

We are investing £25 million over five years in a flagship research and innovation programme that will find out what works to prevent violence in developing countries, with a component focused on conflict and humanitarian contexts.

I am committed to continuing to address these issues here and around the world. The Government are committed to publishing a review of our VAWG action plan this session, which will set out the progress we have made, domestically and internationally, over the course of this Parliament.

We are making progress at home too. Since we launched our strategy, “A Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls”, in 2010 we have criminalised forced marriage in England and Wales; introduced new stalking offences; rolled out Clare’s law and domestic violence protection orders to protect victims of domestic violence and announced a new offence of domestic abuse of controlling and coercive behaviour; and driven a step change in our efforts to end female genital mutilation. Our national prevention campaign—“This is Abuse”—encourages teenagers to rethink their views about rape, consent, violence and abuse, contributing to the wider cultural awareness that violence is unacceptable.

But there is still more to do. I am continuing to drive progress. Since the Girl Summit we have issued a consultation on mandatory reporting of FGM and we are now considering the responses with a view to bringing forward legislation this session. We have also established the FGM unit to drive a step change in nationwide outreach on FGM with criminal justice partners, children’s services, health care professionals and affected communities.