Baroness Anne Jenkin "British development policy must help unleash the potential of women and girls"

Published as part of our joint collection of essays with Save the Children UK. CFID Founder, Baroness Anne Jenkin argues that UK development policy must continue to prioritise women and girls for their own sake, and for the difference that we can make to development by unleashing their potential.

Many of the essays in this collection are based on the authors’ personal experiences of seeing the difference that UK aid makes first-hand, and they span issues from the protection of civilians in conflict to investment in girls’ education and the need for a new development bank. It is an endorsement by parliamentarians from across the party of the case for a ‘Global Britain’ to be a compassionate Britain.

British development policy must help unleash the potential of women and girls

By Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, Founder of CFID

If we look at the countries where population is growing fastest, where unemployment is highest and where tensions are greatest, we see a common factor: female illiteracy. Education for girls is an issue of equality and justice, but it is also an issue of development.

The correlation is astonishing. Look at the high birth rate in countries of sub-Saharan Africa and you will find female illiteracy running at 50%, 60% or sometimes even 70% plus. Education gives women power over their own lives, and the opportunity to make their own choices, rather than being forced into early marriages.

It really is that simple. The current situation is not just a moral outrage; it is directly contrary to the interests of world peace, prosperity of country and community, health and happiness that such a huge proportion of our population—so many women and girls—should be unable to participate, alongside their brothers, in the economic life of their country. Female education is the tool that helps tackle so many challenges in the developing world. Societies where women can read, write and do maths as efficiently as their male counterparts will be healthier, happier and more prosperous. They will be in stabler populations and smaller families and, therefore, there will be fewer alienated and maladjusted young men whose egos require them to think of women as childbearing chattels.

This ambition and focus on women and girls is at the heart of the UK’s overseas policy—a policy shared by both Penny Mordaunt at DFID and by the Foreign Office. It is not just a campaign for fairness and freedom, but has much wider repercussions for the progress of developing countries—not just overpopulation and poverty but the threat of war, disorder, terrorism, climate change and the loss of habitat and species. Mankind is conquering so many of today’s challenges—from famine to disease—but, if we are to solve them sustainably, we need to prioritise the education of girls and easy access to contraception so that they can have control over their own bodies and their lives. Twelve years of full-time education is not the only answer to the world’s problems, but it is a jolly good start.

The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that equality in the job market would yield an extra £20 trillion to global GDP by 2025. I have no feel for what £20 trillion looks like, but it is a heck of a lot of money and a life-changing, even world-changing opportunity.

Along with thousands of men and women, I attended the International Women’s Day March 2018 in London, organised by Care International. Marchers from all backgrounds, all political parties and none were there to support all kinds of causes. Many were marching because of their anger at injustice, at girls being denied an education, angry that half the women in the world have experienced physical or sexual violence. Many on the march were angry that 12 year-olds are even today being forced to marry, and that those young teenagers are becoming mothers before they are ready and often die in the process. Still today in 18 countries women need permission from a man to have a job. Around the world millions of girls, and here in the UK an estimated 24,000 girls, are at risk from FGM, and it was a privilege for me to walk during that march with the inspirational and brave anti-FGM campaigner Nimco Ali, who has spoken out about her own experience and is determined to do what she can to prevent others suffering as she did. Many on that march were concerned that the World Economic Forum report found that the gender pay gap internationally is widening for the first time in decades. All were frustrated at the wasted talent and potential.

The UK can ensure that its world-leading international development efforts do something about these injustices, to give girls the same opportunities as boys, wherever they’re born, and the Conservative Government has done much to put women and girls front and centre in DFID’s work. It is essential that we continue to prioritise them for their own sake, and for the difference that we can make to development by unleashing their potential.