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Women: Latin America

Volume 718: debated on Monday 8 March 2010

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to support Latin American Governments in improving the position of women in their countries.

The Department for International Development is providing £17 million over three years, 2008-11, to civil society organisations to address inequality and poverty in 14 Latin American countries. This work specifically aims to promote women’s inclusion in decision-making and to tackle gender discrimination by working with women and men. Women’s rights form an important part of the UK’s bilateral dialogue with Latin American Governments.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that the Colombian Government have entered into, voluntarily, the universal periodic review of human rights in Colombia and have reported this review to the United Nations Human Rights Council? What has the Government’s response been to this review, especially in relation to women?

My Lords, the United Kingdom Government welcome the emphasis given by the Colombian Government to human rights issues. However, while progress has been made, there remain deep concerns. Reflecting this, the UK has already held discussions with civil society partners in that country and has submitted detailed lists of questions and recommendations to the Colombian Government. These include deepening their engagement with and support for civil society actors, human rights defenders and minority groups; tackling poverty; and looking for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages. We welcome the decision to dismiss a number of military personnel as a result of recent extra-judicial killings and other crimes. We also welcome the initiatives of the High Commission for Human Rights and the International Labour Organisation in strengthening rights in the workplace, the majority of which will benefit women.

My Lords, what support have Her Majesty’s Government managed to give to the female President of Chile in its hour of need following the earthquake?

Chile has a President who is seeking, in dire circumstances, to represent that country and is doing an excellent job. On this occasion, the President happens to be a woman. The important thing for Chile is to have an effective President; the fact that she is a woman is a lesson to us all. On this issue, it is not gender that is important but the assistance that we can give.

My Lords, last year three women received Nobel prizes in the sciences—a record for any year. Does the Minister agree that there needs to be renewed emphasis on education and on allowing women to take decisions about their reproductive and sexual health?

My Lords, my noble friend’s Question related to Latin America. In Latin America and beyond, it is clear that the ending of poverty and the achievement of millennium development goals will not happen unless we can eliminate gender discrimination and give women equal rights. At the other end of the spectrum—we are talking about rights that do not exist or are badly monitored—we can take pride in the fact that women are contributing more and more because they have more and more opportunities. When I asked a High Commissioner in India 15 years ago what would be the best thing to happen for India, he said, “Education of women”. It was true then and it is true now. The fact that we have seen greater development of the talents of all our people is to be welcomed. I answered recently the question about sexual health and reproduction; it is an area where women’s rights have to be honoured and assisted.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware that in mining areas in countries such as Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru, women seem more willing to stand up for their rights in respect of water use and so on than men, and often suffer the same kind of nasty penalties for doing so as they have done previously in war-torn situations. What approach have the United Kingdom Government used to encourage Governments and mining companies in these countries to create, enforce and maintain high standards of environmental protection so as to avoid laying waste to the countryside and to address local people’s needs for water?

I appreciate the sentiments behind the question, but I am not sure that deprivation caused by the extractive industries in laying waste large parts of Latin America is a gender-specific issue. It affects families, it affects children, and it is something that we seek to curb internationally, through the extractive industries initiative, the United Nations and other international bodies, to ensure that we have effective and sensitive policies.

As, I hope, a final contribution to this, I have met women in Latin America who have made me very humble because of their willingness to stand up for their families against the kind of odds against which I do not think that I would have the bravery to stand. In Africa, there are women who, given the freedom, have entrepreneurship that outstrips men by far. We have a world in which we are losing half the development that we could have because we have been too slow on the uptake.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is not just a question of this Government helping other Governments, but of the NGOs which are based in this country—in the past I was chairman of Plan International—doing a great deal to help in these countries? Above all, apart from helping with water supplies and various other things, education for girls is now the prime object of Plan, and education for women is surely the thing that will ensure the future.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. That is why we are supporting, through DfID, a Latin American partnership programme arrangement, which is a partnership between DfID and 12 UK NGOs. Each of these receives £1.4 million and they are working in 14 countries on the issues of accountability, democracy and education. The countries they are working in are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela and they are all the names you would expect: ActionAid; CAFOD; CARE International; Christian Aid; HelpAge International; International HIV/AIDS Alliance; Oxfam GB; Plan UK; Progressio; Save the Children and World Vision.

Those are the partnerships we need, together with partnerships with Governments, and as soon as possible we should be celebrating the day—though I suspect it will not be in the next few years—when we are able to say that we have achieved the ends to which the whole House, I think, has today been united.