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Gender Equality

Volume 652: debated on Wednesday 9 January 2019

Gender equality is considered in the design of all DFID’s programmes, and is essential to achieving the sustainable development goals. Between 2015 and 2018, UK aid provided 16.9 million women and girls with modern methods of family planning, and helped 5.6 million girls to gain access to a decent education.

Action on Poverty, a charity based in my constituency, has done some tremendous work in Africa and Asia, including helping thousands of women to set up their own businesses. What more can the Department do to assist charities such as Action on Poverty?

I pay tribute to the work that Action on Poverty has done, and, indeed, to my hon. Friend’s support for that organisation. We are currently helping it, through UK Aid Direct, to improve livelihoods and food security in Sierra Leone, but, more widely, we want to increase the number of small and medium-sized charities and other organisations with which we work to deliver the global goals.

Let me ask the Secretary of State a pertinent question about empowering women. Does she agree that all the research shows that allowing them to start their own businesses and have control over their own lives is one of the best ways of empowering them, and that that often means giving them the finance that will enable them to start a small business?

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. Not only the future of womankind but the future of mankind depends on that happening.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the fact that in many parts of the world women and girls are still not being given the education that they deserve, or the same education as men and boys? What is her Department doing to help to alleviate that discrimination and highlight the need for equal opportunities?

Globally, 63 million girls between the ages of five and 15 are out of school. Under the auspices of the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), we are supporting the global education partnership and, within that, the education challenge. We have refreshed our own education strategy to ensure that it is not just about girls in classrooms, but about the quality of education that they are receiving. Only through a concerted effort in that respect, and by asking other partners to step up, will we ensure that every woman and girl has a decent education.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s ambitious strategy on gender equality, which is a heartening step towards Labour’s feminist approach to international development, but these commitments will remain just warm words if, as we learned last month, 20%—600—of DFID’s staff are to be reassigned to other Departments to help to manage the Tories’ Brexit shambles. Will the Secretary of State tell the House very specifically what impact she expects that huge cut to have on her gender equality strategy, and, indeed, on all her Department’s work?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role and sincerely wish him well in it, but his assertion is incorrect. That is not the number of staff who have been redeployed. I think that, currently, the grand total of DFID staff who are helping other Departments is 25. However, if the hon. Gentleman is concerned about a no-deal situation, he knows what he needs to do: he needs to vote for the Prime Minister’s deal.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her warm words, but I note that she did not rule out the possibility of 600 staff leaving the Department.

Many Members will have been deeply concerned by reports in the media last week that DFID’s independence may once again be up for debate in this summer’s comprehensive spending review, although merging DFID with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would fly in the face of the evidence of how our aid budget can make the greatest impact. Given that more UK aid money is already being spent by other Departments, given the brazen attempts to use aid to win trade deals, and given that 600 staff are on their way out, is the Secretary of State not overseeing the managed decline of the Department for International Development ?

The hon. Gentleman quotes many statistics and figures at me, so I will help him by quoting some back. All of what he says is not true so, as he starts his new role, I encourage him to talk about the 17 global goals that I hope everyone on both sides of the House is looking to deliver. What he said is not correct.