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Female Economic Empowerment: Poorest Countries

Volume 605: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2016

No country can develop while half its population is locked out of that process, which is why I have placed improving the prospects for girls and women around the world at the heart of DFID’s work. I am honoured to have been appointed recently by the UN Secretary General to the new UN high-level panel on women’s economic empowerment, joining leaders of the World Bank, the IMF, the private sector and civil society to drive that agenda forward.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there needs to be a particular focus in the poorest countries on rural development and agriculture? It is women who produce most of the food and who are responsible for its security. Does she agree that if we can improve the productivity of women and empower them, we can reduce poverty and see growth in the countries that need it?

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. Agriculture is a key economic sector of most of those countries. A recent McKinsey report states that the achievement of gender parity at a regional level, so that each country matches the best progress of the best country in its region, would add 11% of global GDP by 2025—a huge economic lever for all of us to pull.

The Zika virus crossed the Pacific and went from French Polynesia to Brazil in May last year. Since then, 4,000 children have been born with microcephaly. What analysis has the Secretary of State made of the risks to the poorest women and girls in the world if the virus crosses the Atlantic from Brazil to sub-Saharan Africa? Will she promise to keep a very close eye on that and use all British scientific knowledge to ensure that it does not happen?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We had an urgent question earlier this week and the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), set out the research that we are now kicking off. She will also be pleased to hear that Chris Whitty, the DFID chief scientist who led our work on Ebola and helped us to shape our response to it, is currently in Brazil talking to the authorities there to ensure we manage the various risks she sets out.

Will the Secretary of State commend the work of Tearfund in Bangladesh among women in rural areas, which helps them with business start-ups and works with the Bangladesh Government to provide mobile phone banking to cut out the middle man?

My right hon. Friend mentions a number of very innovative pieces of work. I commend Tearfund for its work. Healthy economies need everybody to be able to be a part of them. That is why women’s economic empowerment matters so much.

What efforts is the Secretary of State making to ensure that other donor countries, the EU, the UN and the World Bank integrate gender into their humanitarian efforts?

The fact that we now have global goal 5 on gender equality means that, for the very first time, this is formally on the world’s to-do list. The world humanitarian summit is a key moment where we can make sure the vulnerabilities of girls and women in particular are properly pulled into the humanitarian system in terms of a response on the ground. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that two years ago the UK held a conference on this very topic to drive that forward.