Skip to main content

Millennium Development Goals: Women and Girls

Volume 760: debated on Monday 9 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the United Nations Women analysis of the progress made towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls.

My Lords, despite many gains, progress across the millennium development goals has been uneven for girls and women. The MDGs did not effectively address the factors which underpin gender inequality. The United Kingdom is pushing for a post-2015 framework that has a strong and explicit commitment to gender equality and that will seek to transform outcomes for girls and women.

I thank the Minister for her response and agree that we must build upon what has been achieved by the MDGs but acknowledge those goals’ shortcomings up until now, particularly on gender equality, women’s empowerment and violence against women—three major issues which have been neglected. The Minister will be aware that women across the world continue to face economic, social and political exclusion. At the current pace of change, it will take 81 years to reach parity in the workplace and more than 75 years to reach equal pay for work of equal value. Will the Minister clarify whether the Government have responded to the UN Women position paper on the post-2015 development agenda, which advocates a stand-alone goal geared to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment? Has the UK responded to the UN Women proposal that there should be rigorous mainstreaming of gender equality concerns across the other priority areas and goals of the post-2015 agenda?

The noble Baroness is right to note that very uneven progress. We are indeed committed to the standalone goal and to mainstreaming.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Department for International Development and UNICEF have a project in Nigeria that is aimed at getting 100% of girls into school by, I think, 2020. How do they intend to monitor this project to ensure that it is making good progress?

It is extremely important to get girls as well as boys into school. A lot of progress has been made and there is almost gender parity, except in areas where there is conflict and, particularly, rural areas. The noble Baroness rightly highlights the project in Nigeria. We are working with UNICEF to manage the girls’ education project, which aims to get 1 million girls in school, and the results monitoring process has been agreed with UNICEF and is being implemented.

My Lords, as the Minister acknowledged, the goal relating to maternal mortality reduction will not be met by 2015. However, a great deal has been achieved by programmes such as Making It Happen by the Centre for Maternal and Newborn Health at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and I declare an interest as a supporter. Will the Minister assure the House that support from her department for progress like this that has made a huge difference will continue, so that this is not unfinished business past 2015?

It certainly must not be allowed to be unfinished business after 2015. The noble Baroness is right that progress has been made—maternal mortality has dropped by 45%—but we need to take that much further forward.

My Lords, is the Minister aware—I am sure she is—that, unfortunately, in large parts of the world there is a lot of conflict and fighting, and that it is always the women who suffer the most in such circumstances? What is being done at UN level to see that women who are caught up in battles and fighting are properly looked after? I fear that they are suffering more than the general population. It is women who suffer in these conflicts.

The noble Baroness is right that women and girls are especially vulnerable in such circumstances; I was hearing this morning about the particular vulnerability of adolescent girls. She will know that the international community is beginning to address this issue and that DfID is playing a leading role in trying to ensure that, for example, the women and girls displaced in Syria are well supported. She is right, however, that we need to move this further forward.

My Lords, mention has been made of Nigeria. What is the Government’s response to rumours that, as a result of Boko Haram activity in northern and eastern Nigeria, parents are reluctant to send their children to school there? This may be happening in other places where there is extremist activity, in Africa and elsewhere.

The noble Lord is right. Many families are concerned about the safety of their daughters and about sending them to school, not only in situations such as northern Nigeria but, if the girls have to travel by themselves to school, simply due to the question of whether they are vulnerable. This is something that DfID, along with other partners, is working to address.

My Lords, what is the Government’s position on reports in the past week that there may be a risk that the rights that women in Afghanistan have earned in the last 10 years may be compromised, rolled back or lost as a result of the Afghan Government’s discussions with the Taliban?

We are acutely aware of the position of women in Afghanistan and the progress that has been achieved, and we are determined, along with them, to ensure that it is secured. We are in dialogue with the Government of Afghanistan about the position of women.

My Lords, I have a question for the Minister about another country, regarding the effect of Ebola in Sierra Leone and the fact that girls are no longer able to go to school and schools are actually closing down. Can she give some indication as to what support we might be giving to help to get the schools reopened so that girls can start their education again?

The Government’s priory is to eliminate the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. We are making extremely good progress, as the noble Baroness will know. We are not there yet, but one of our aims is to reopen the schools. In the mean time, we are seeking to support children who are out of school by distance learning.

My Lords, very early this morning Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day” mentioned the impact of microfinance in giving women control over their own lives. What action is the Minister’s department taking to ensure that such programmes are supported in what are now described as middle-income countries? What steps are the United Kingdom Government taking to ensure that financial inclusion is properly addressed in the SDGs?

We have a wide range of programmes supporting financial inclusion. I stress that we need to make sure that in general in the economies of developing countries women have as many opportunities as men at every level.