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Girl Effect: DfID Funding

Volume 779: debated on Wednesday 22 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why Department for International Development funding to the non-governmental organisation Girl Effect has been withdrawn.

My Lords, the International Development Secretary decided to end the partnership with Girl Effect following a review of the programme. Empowering women and girls around the world remains a priority, but she judged that there are more effective ways to invest UK aid and to deliver even better results for the world’s poorest as well as value for taxpayers’ money.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Popular culture is used to tackle difficult issues because it works. For example, many in your Lordships’ House will be familiar with “The Archers”. The storyline of domestic abuse endured by Helen Archer resulted in a 20% increase in calls to the domestic abuse helpline. The very popular Ethiopian girl group Yegna—dubbed the Ethiopian Spice Girls by the Daily Mail—reaches 8.5 million people and helps transform the lives of some of the hardest-to-reach and most disadvantaged girls in the world. Why, when faced by attacks from the Daily Mail, did the Secretary of State withdraw funding from this multi-A-rated DfID project?

The decision was taken, as I mentioned earlier, because it was deemed that there were other things which it would be more effective to spend the money on. There is another programme operating in Ethiopia, End Child Marriage, which focuses more on the rural areas that the Girl Effect programme was not reaching, and was deemed to have more effect because it actually worked directly with the communities concerned. Although we will not continue to fund it, because we will be sending the money elsewhere, we hope that Girl Effect will continue. We acknowledge that it did some good work.

The review which took place was begun before that. We undertake reviews of how taxpayers’ money is being spent to ensure that we get full value for money. That is very important, because if we did not do that, announcements such as that made by the Secretary of State this morning of £200 million in urgent humanitarian aid which will save millions of lives in Somalia and South Sudan would not be possible.

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord appreciates that the Daily Mail story was a part of a general narrative to undermine the good effect that development can have. It is not just about humanitarian aid but about changing culture and making a secure world. Will he respond to the question I asked before? Will he ask the Prime Minister to put a full page article in the Daily Mail explaining why development creates a more secure and safer world?

In many ways, I am sympathetic to what the noble Lord says. The Secretary of State wrote an op-ed piece this morning about giving that £200 million of British taxpayers’ money to those people in desperate need in South Sudan and Somalia, and it is very difficult to see where that is picked up. It is pointless criticising the media. We have the media we have because we are the people we are, and the truth is that the misspending, or ineffective spending, of potentially £4.5 million in Ethiopia is deemed more important by them than the £10 billion that we spend very wisely in saving lives around the world.

My Lords, women and girls are a key part of the sustainable development goals. Will my noble friend tell us when DfID will be publishing its strategy on a UK approach to the SDGs and how it will monitor progress?

That is of course a very important part of SDG 5, which is specifically on gender balance, and the sustainable development goals do not just apply to other countries but to us as well. That is why we have been undertaking a review, across government, to see how the sustainable development goals are going to be impacted in this country, which is being done jointly with the Cabinet Office. We will be publishing Agenda 2030 very shortly to set out our plans in that area, and we will monitor them through the Office for National Statistics.

My Lords, £200 million for famine in Africa is a welcome start. Will the Minister confirm that it is a start? Will he look at finding further money within our development programme? Will he talk to all the NGOs and get them mobilised? Will he, above all, get in touch with our partners in the European Union and make sure that they bilaterally and collectively get together? This is a major tragedy of famine in Somalia, in South Sudan, in Nigeria and elsewhere. Unless we get some concerted worldwide action, hundreds of thousands—millions—of people will die needlessly. Will he give that the top priority that is absolutely necessary?

I will certainly do that. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord that this is a priority. So far this century, in the first 17 years, one certified famine has actually occurred. We now have one certified today in South Sudan, affecting some 6 million people; we have credible evidence that there will be three further—in Yemen, north-east Nigeria, and Somalia. That is why the help is urgently needed, because as the noble Lord rightly said, we cannot do this alone. We need the international community to come together to tackle this issue and that is exactly the plea which the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State made today.

To return to the initial question, are the Government aware that in many third-world countries, the divide between rural and urban is a false divide? The effectiveness of laws depends on urban women who fight for the rights of all women. Therefore to make a decision that something is not helping rural areas is a false decision.

That is absolutely right—Ethiopia bears that example out. It has a very good law that says that the minimum marriage age is 18, but in many rural areas more than 50% of girls under the age of 14 are being married. We recognise that. Economic development, education and good healthcare and family planning are all part of this. We are helping on all of those fronts.

My Lords, research shows that girls in many developing countries consistently get passed over for, or denied access to, the services they need. Often it is negative, entrenched social norms about a girl’s value that prevent girls accessing services such as immunisations and education. Does the Minister agree with me that cultural programmes like Yegna which aim to empower women and create new social norms are vital to ensure that no woman is left behind?

I strongly agree with the first part of the noble Baroness’s remarks. She is absolutely right. The only way that poverty will be eradicated is with economic growth and economic development. No country can have economic development if it leaves half its people behind. That is why you need education, family planning and economic development. We have been working on all of these. The Secretary of State was in Ethiopia last month, launching a new economic strategy which has women and girls at the very heart of it.