‘Complete economic, political and social empowerment of women is the great strategic prize of the 21st century,’ said William Hague when he was Secretary of State. There are still significant areas of the world where half of the world’s population is undervalued, underused and underdeveloped.”There are still large parts of the world where half their population is undervalued, underutilized and underdeveloped.”
The Parliament’s Committee on Women and Gender Equality, which I chair, is not afraid to take on the role of the Prime Minister when his policies fail to provide for the oppressed and underrepresented. We have kept the feet of the government to the Domestic Violence Bill burning, the role of women in the response to Covid-19, and the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on BAME populations.
But at our borders, the need to equalize society does not end, and many of the world’s poorest countries are still the most unequal. The decision to abandon our Conservative manifesto promise to keep development aid spending at 0.7% of gross national income is a huge blow to the UK government’s effect on those who are dealt the worst hand in life. With news of a new version of Covid-19 running wild in South Africa, at the worst possible moment, this is looking more and more like the wrong strategy. There are serious concerns elsewhere in Africa as to how the pandemic would affect daily health care, especially in the fight against malaria. Experts at the World Health Organization predict that this year, up to 100,000 additional malaria deaths are predicted, raising the global malaria death toll to more than half a million. Although covid kills the elderly mainly, malaria remains a children’s killer.
But malaria can be completely avoided, and the UK is a global leader in prevention. Our manifesto vowed to give every girl a 12-year education at last year’s election. Women and girls were rightfully a priority for the successive Conservative governments’ international development policies, and they had some true champions in ministers like Baroness Sugg, Penny Mordaunt, Harriet Baldwin and Justine Greening.
Among other items, British assistance helps nearly 23 million women a year gain access to modern methods of family planning – a phenomenal accomplishment that suggests that their bodies should not decide the futures of countless women.
But the UK is proposing to withdraw its funding in this region at a time when vulnerable health services are struggling to cope and evidence suggests the pandemic has led to a rise in teenage pregnancies. For some of the most marginalized women on the planet, there is never a good time to step back from this inspiring, life-saving job, but right now it might be the worst. The Prime Minister was a brilliant advocate, calling it “the Swiss Army knife that solves a multitude of the world’s problems.” Last year, on our election platform, we pledged to give every girl a high-quality, 12-year education. That was a major objective of extending equal opportunities to the greatest extent possible and equipping a generation of women with the skills they need to create and lead a healthy, equal society. Cutting our development aid budget by one-third would mean supporting around half a million fewer girls per year through education.
The Swiss Army knife will dull it.
Because of the effect of the pandemic on our economy, a year after the budget has already shrunk dramatically, it means that the UK is no longer willing to ensure that girls get the same opportunities as boys. Arguably, the promise of the Manifesto on girls’ education would go the same direction as the 0.7% pledge. Not out of self-serving reasons, but out of a desire to uphold equity, human rights and the rule of law, we give our support, and so my concern is that this reduction is not only about services that are no longer going to be supported, but about the holes that are going to be generated. If the United Kingdom Withdraws, there is a danger that the effect of a few unscrupulous partners will spread and advance to a world where gender, race, religion, or disability does not prevail over sch