Building on the Conservatives’ international leadership on women’s rights

As our relationship with Europe and the rest of the world begins to change, we should be proud of the Conservatives’ record of internationalism and overseas aid, and particularly as a champion of women’s rights. It is now more important than ever to demonstrate that Britain is an outward-looking, compassionate country and that it will continue to play a positive role across the globe.
Overseas aid is not only the right thing to do, but also clearly in our own national interest – whether through helping to halt the spread of Ebola, or tackling the refugee crisis on Europe’s borders. In her nearly four years as Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening has achieved a lot - from which her replacement, Priti Patel, will be able to further shape and build upon. It is because of a Conservative Government that we have kept our promise to the world’s poorest people by spending 0.7% of our National Income on overseas aid. This money has helped to immunise 43 million children from preventable diseases, send 11 million children to school, and helped to transform economies through providing infrastructure and creating jobs. Global prosperity is not only essential for poverty reduction in poorer countries; it creates opportunities for companies in the UK too, as developing countries will increasingly become our trading partners in the future.
But arguably Justine Greening’s key legacy as DFID Secretary has been the empowerment of women and girls – including through her role on the UN High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, raising awareness and taking action to help prevent FGM, and recently hosting the Girls’ Education Forum where she announced £100 million in funding to help 175,000 girls in the worlds’ poorest countries get an education. Research from ActionAid found that the global economy would be boosted by US$ 17 trillion if women’s pay and access to jobs was increased to the same level as men’s. Justine Greening has been rightly rewarded for her efforts championing women’s rights through a promotion to Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, where she will be able to continue this work domestically.
The UK Government was instrumental in ensuring that there was a standalone UN Global Goal to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls – Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5. But there is still a long way to go in order for the ambitious targets that make up the goal to be met by the deadline of 2030. Target 5.2, to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, is one area in particular that requires a redoubling of efforts. ActionAid’s analysis of UN data found that globally 119 women are killed every day by a partner or family member, a figure that doesn’t account for other forms of violence. Clearly, much more needs to be done in order to stop such horrendous violence, as well as to challenge the unequal gender divisions that underpin it.
The Independent Commission on Aid Impact (IACA) recently reviewed DFID’s work to eliminate violence against women and girls. It gave it a ‘green’ rating, recognising its outstanding work on this issue, but recommended that more could be done to support women’s rights organisations as a way of scaling up its programming. Women’s rights organisations in developing countries are on the frontline leading the charge for gender equality. However, they are poorly funded. OECD figures for 2013-2014 show that, of the US$39.9 billion in aid committed to support gender equality on average per year; just under 1% was reported as direct funding for women’s equality organisations and institutions.
As a global leader on women’s rights, including tackling violence against women and girls, the UK has both an opportunity and responsibility to ensure swift progress is made. I hope women’s rights is an issue that Priti Patel continues to prioritise now that she’s in charge at DFID – particularly given that she has been a vocal advocate for closing the gender pay gap in the UK. Boosting funding for women’s rights organisations would certainly demonstrate her commitment to the cause, and would help women across the world to know and claim their rights.