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Humanitarian Emergencies: Women’s Rights Organisations

Volume 773: debated on Monday 27 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to fund women’s rights organisations during humanitarian emergencies.

My Lords, we recognise the critical role that women’s rights organisations play in achieving lasting transformation in the rights of women and girls. This is precisely why I announced a $1 million fund for the UN-led global acceleration instrument. My noble friend will also be aware that, since 2012, we have increased our humanitarian violence against women and girls programme sixfold, and we are proud to be contributing to the UN trust fund and to Amplify Change. I also pay tribute to my noble friend’s work in these matters.

I thank my noble friend for her Answer. I also congratulate the Government on their commitment at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to give support to women and girls during emergencies. Can she tell me whether the Government will be establishing a funding mechanism for women’s rights organisations during humanitarian emergencies, especially conflicts, to ensure that funding gets to those organisations at the grass roots—and, specifically, whether UK funding is getting through to women’s rights organisations in Syria, which are desperately trying to look after families and provide support and services to their local communities?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that we need to ensure that women’s rights organisations on the ground are properly funded and supported. Therefore, I am proud of the work that the UK is doing. We are trying to encourage our partners and other donors to step up, too, but we need to make sure that the funding is going to support those local organisations on the ground in their capacity-build to be able to respond. On that, the department is doing a lot of work.

My Lords, protection of women and girls is clearly absolutely vital, and I would like to welcome Malala and her fellow students, who are here today. Given the Minister’s responsibilities within DfID for relations with the EU, what action has she taken to ensure that in future we can work closely with the EU, which has the biggest development budget in the world, to influence it over this and other vital matters?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is of course right that we do a lot of our work through the European Union, but we also do it through a number of other large multilateral agencies and organisations. We will continue to work hard, and I am sure that in her Statement my noble friend the Leader of the House will lay out a clearer picture of what the Government will do.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Government on their efforts in terms of financing, but the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women urged that the Sendai framework, which emphasised gender issues, should be taken up by all countries. Can the Minister say what the department is doing to ensure that in disaster-prone countries women are involved in the decision-making processes to reduce risk?

The noble Lord is absolutely right that women and girls have to be part of the decision-making process. That was very much felt at the Syrian conference, where I met a number of women who told me, in their own testimonials, how powerless they felt and that they wanted meaningful engagement. The work that we have done and the announcements we made last October demonstrated our further commitments to ensuring that, wherever we have peace conferences and summits, we will have representation of those women’s voices at the table. But we have much more to do. I agree with the noble Lord that so much more needs to be done across the board, across all agencies and donor countries, to ensure that those voices are heard and that they make a meaningful contribution. I look forward to Members across this House helping us to ensure that that message continues to be loud and clear.

My Lords, are the House and the Government aware that, unfortunately, men in many Muslim countries work as barriers between Muslim women and their Koranic rights? It is therefore essential that the right help is given to the women to exercise their God-given rights—but it has to be direct, because their male colleagues would not like to accommodate them.

My Lords, we advocate very strongly strengthening the voice, choice and control of women’s and girls’ rights in all settings. The noble Baroness is right that we need to work tougher and harder to make sure that we act as strong advocates for women’s voices in countries where they are not being heard.

My Lords, I spent Friday and Saturday at the refugee camp in Calais. Can the Minister say what dialogue she has had with her French counterparts about the conditions of women and children in the camp there, given that some of them have family reunification rights to the UK?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness will be aware, we are in ongoing dialogues with all our partners. Whether in Calais or elsewhere, we need to ensure that we very much support the protection and rights of women and girls in those settings, as they will be the most prone to abuse and violence. It is therefore incumbent upon us to ensure that we, along with our partners, work hard to ensure that. However, the noble Baroness will also be aware that these issues were raised at the last conference we held in London and that all partners gave a commitment to ensure that we are able to put into place as many safeguards as we possibly can. But we do need the grand bargain, which is about bringing together the development and humanitarian pieces in a better-aligned way so that we can deal with both issues at the same time.

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord refers to another Question. I have already asked the noble Lord to take up my offer to come and see what the department is doing and talk to officials—and I extend that offer to all noble Lords who are concerned about St Helena.