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Women’s Rights: SheDecides Day

Volume 796: debated on Monday 4 March 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government, following the second global SheDecides Day, what action they are taking to uphold women's rights around the world.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and in doing so I refer to my interests as published in the register.

My Lords, the UK’s development, diplomatic and defence work promotes our values of gender equality and secures women’s rights around the world. Upholding women’s rights is fundamental to lasting poverty reduction, and to building prosperous, resilient economies and peaceful, stable societies.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. Will he join me in congratulating the SheDecides movement, on its second anniversary, on championing the rights of women and girls to take decisions about their own bodies and lives?

In view of the UK’s strong record of supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world, will the Government join countries as diverse as Afghanistan, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Senegal and South Africa by appointing a Minister as a global champion of the principles of SheDecides?

I am very happy to pay tribute to the work of SheDecides. Its launch was attended by a UK Minister, Rory Stewart. It is directing a lot of funding towards the United Nations Population Fund, the UNFPA, of which the UK is a major supporter.

As for appointing a Minister, I cannot think of anyone better than our current Secretary of State, who is not only Secretary of State for International Development but Minister for Women and Equalities.

My Lords, the sad fact is that when Harriett Baldwin replied to a similar Question she was unable to acknowledge that the organisation exists. I hope the Minister will take the suggestion seriously, because the good thing about this organisation is that it is about empowering women and its diverse nature enables politicians from Africa and Europe to work together to address this fundamental issue. I hope that the Government will take this seriously, not necessarily by appointing a Minister but by ensuring that we have people across government who are able to give support to this organisation in its ongoing work.

I am very happy to do that. The noble Lord and I are aware that it is a leading ambition of the global goals. Afghanistan and everywhere else have signed up to implementing global goal 5 by 2030. I am very happy to give an undertaking that we will seek to do that. The Secretary of State will make a major speech this week in the lead-up to the UN commission on women next week. On International Women’s Day, which is on Friday, we will set out more of our strategy in this area.

My Lords, my noble friend has confirmed that the UK is one of the most generous donors in family planning and sexual and reproductive health for women and girls. The family planning summit last year put the UK at the centre of all this. Will my noble friend confirm that every programme DfID funds will have this at the heart and soul of its work?

I am very happy to make that commitment. We also have our gender equality strategy, which was published in March last year, which influences every programme we undertake. Some 17 million people have had access to safe methods of family planning since 2015. We want that record to be built upon in future.

My Lords, do the Government recognise that while spending on family planning is good, it falls far short of the SheDecides goals? For women and girls to be truly able to choose for themselves, the neglected areas of safe abortion, adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender-based violence and infertility must all be addressed. Surely our Government see the need to step forward and commit money and a SheDecides UK champion to meet that essential UN SDG.

This is an area that we have been at the forefront of for some time, even going back to the coalition and the work done by the noble Baroness’s colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, to raise this issue up the agenda when she was at the department. Violence against women and girls is something we have taken a lead on. My noble friend Lord Hague was at the forefront of raising the issue of preventing sexual violence in conflict. These are areas in which we have a proud tradition, but the need and the cases are still so widespread that we need to take action.

My Lords, the Istanbul convention will have a real impact on women’s lives in Europe, but what is the current status of progress reports, and what will be the status of the convention vis-à-vis Brexit?

The convention at the World Humanitarian Summit set out a number of ambitions in this area. We have incorporated those into our global strategy for our work with our intentional partners, which is unaffected by the events of Brexit.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that, in upholding women’s rights globally, we have fundamentally failed the women of Syria, of whom 8,000 are being raped and tortured in unlawful detention? As well as the great work of SheDecides and Plan International, is he aware of the Conscience Movement’s work, and will he ensure that it is supported in its endeavours to release the women detained unlawfully in Syria?

I am very happy to give a commitment to look at that. We have been at the forefront of work with our partners on the UN Security Council to document what has been happening in Syria to women and girls who have been subject to appalling violence to ensure that those crimes are thoroughly investigated and those who are responsible are brought to justice.