WORKING HARD FOR LEEDS CENTRAL
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March 8th, 2007
First of all can I thank you very much indeed for doing me the honour of inviting me here today to celebrate International Women’s Day.
It’s a day that was born in the socialist movement almost 100 years ago, out of the struggle of women demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. And I am glad that this is going to be a space – as I am sure it shortly will be – where we can talk about politics because its politics that changes things.
And today when we remember people like Emily Wilding Davidson, who is commemorated by a plaque in the broom cupboard in the House of Commons. I know the story because my dear father is responsible for the plaque on the back of the broom cupboard in the House of Commons. Now Emily Wilding Davidson, as you know, was a suffragette. And on the night of the census in 1911 she decided she was going to spend the night in the House of Commons and she snuck in and she spent the night in the broom cupboard, which you can visit if you go and visit the crypt. And the reason she did that was so that when she filled in her census form she could write Emily Wilding Davidson, address House of Commons, London SW1. And history tells us, of course, that a year later she died when she threw herself under the King’s horse at the derby in Epsom in 1912 in pursuit of the right of women - as half of humanity - to have the chance to participate in political life. And I suppose the main thing I wanted to say to you tonight – but you know it already – is that it’s the thing that we call politics that in the end changes things. And politics doesn’t work if not everyone is able to participate in it.
So today is a day of commemoration, it’s a day of celebration. We celebrate women’s achievements and women’s contribution. But its also a day that we have to recognise – and that’s what we are here tonight to talk about – that worldwide women have still not fully secured their rights and are still not fully fulfilling their potential.
Now, the world recognised this 12 years ago, in Beijing. The world came together and said, and I quote:
“Equality between women and men is a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice and is also a necessary and fundamental prerequisite for equality, development and peace.”
Now we all say “hear hear” to that.
We continue to believe this – and we seek to make it happen. But 12 years later we’re still not there.
We know the statistics, but they do remind us of the condition of half of humankind. At least 60 million girls – and that’s the population of the United Kingdom – are missing from Asia. Do you know why they are missing? Because of sex selection, infanticide and neglect. Why did this happen to them? Because they were not boys.
Half a million women are dying in childbirth and pregnancy each and every year. Most of them die on the floor of a darkened hut with no help. Why? Because it’s not somebody else’s priority that they should have a midwife or that they should be able to get to a midwife when they get into difficulty in pregnancy or childbirth.
Every year more boys than girls go to school; and that means that two thirds of the world’s 800 million adults who cannot read and write are women. Why does this happen? Because girls are not seen as worth the investment, or are busy collecting water or firewood or tasks in the home.
I met a group of young women in Malawi a couple of weeks ago who are out of school, and listened to them describe why they are out of school. In some cases because their parents can’t afford a pencil and an exercise book without which they felt it wasn’t worth their while going to school. And one young woman said to me “Even if I do go to the end of Standard Six, no one is going to pay for my fees to go to secondary school, so what’s the point?”.
We know women make up two thirds of the people living with the HIV virus in sub-Saharan Africa. In some African countries, young women are almost three times more likely to be HIV-positive than men of the same age. Why? Because violence and fear of violence, lack of financial security, lack of choice about what happens to you and your body, makes women more vulnerable to HIV. And that’s exactly what your “Women Won’t Wait” report has to say.
Now the other side of the story is the difference that women are making - as women have always made - when their rights are recognised, when they are included and when they are treated equally. That’s a difference to politics, it’s a different to economic growth, it’s a difference to communities. And there’s also the difference that men can make by changing their behaviour and by supporting women.
But to be able to do this for any human being, particularly for women, you have to be able to live free from fear.
And we are now living – as I have described it - in a differently dangerous world with a range of insecurities. The question is how do we deal with them, how do we work with those who are most vulnerable?
And are the lives of women and girls any more secure? Well the answer is no they are not. Their lives are, as well, differently dangerous.
And for many their experience of insecurity and violence, is hidden, is silent, is at home.
Violence against women is the most widespread and tolerated denial of all human rights. It is almost unbelievable at the beginning of the 21st century that among women aged 19-44 worldwide, domestic violence – being threatened, beaten, abused by your family or partner - the very people with whom you should feel safest as a human being – accounts for more death and ill-health than war or traffic accidents or cancer.
That’s the world we live in today.
In the UK, one in four women will be the victim of domestic violence at some point during their lives. Domestic violence accounts for one sixth of all violent crime in England and Wales. It claims the lives of two women in our country every week. And it cost those victims, their employers and the state around £23 billion in 2001.
Rape and forced pregnancy have always been a weapon of war and retaliation, and most recently that fact has been documented in Bangladesh, Chechnya, Guatemala, Korea, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Darfur.
A DFID research project in Malawi found that almost 1 in 5 girls, girls like those that I spoke to three weeks ago, had been sexually assaulted in school and almost 1 in 10 had been raped or subjected to attempted rape
Now we need to respect other ways of life, but there are some things we should not tolerate.
Around 130 million women and girls are victims of genital mutilation - 2 million more suffer it every year. It’s a barbaric practice. It brings pain and terrible suffering and it shouldn’t happen anywhere in the world.
Forced marriage of girls denies them the right to choose whether to marry and whom, it denies them the right to choose when to have sex and with whom, and when to have children.
So, if there were one thing that we could change, that I could change, one thing that I think would have the longest and most lasting effect on development, it would be to put an end, an immediate end, to all forms of violence against women. The punching, the kicking, the shouting, the mocking, the raping, the isolating, and the killing that shames every single one of us as human beings. And that’s something DFID needs to work on too. To pay more attention to tackling this problem in our work. In our work on how we finance healthcare, on domestic legislation, in discussions with government and in our support to NGOs.
To take an example, Ghana - which has just celebrated its 50th year of independence from its former colonial master Britain - has just passed their Domestic Violence Bill. This is a fantastic achievement for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and for the NGOs who had lobbied for this change. It will provide better protection to women, it will help bring their attackers to justice. And I’m pleased to say that we – DFID, on your behalf - financed some of the NGOs, and we worked with the Ministry to help this happen. Real change that in the end will result in a real difference for many women.
There’s another type of insecurity too. Every one of us in this room will have eaten today. But those who live in extreme poverty, on less than 50p a day, will wake up not knowing in the morning whether they will be able to feed their children that night. Of the more than a billion people who live like this, 70% are women and girls.
Globally women have fewer assets, they eat less, they work longer hours. They are less likely to be employed in the formal sector, they almost always earn lower wages than men.
And here in the UK, despite the progress we have made women still earn on average 87% of what men earn for the same work. And this inequality is passed on into old age, with only 16% of women entitled to a full basic state pension based on their contributions. In fact retired women get an income worth only about 57% of men’s. And the changes that we are making to our pension legislation are to try to do something about that.
Now, in the developing world it’s poverty that keeps girls out of school. It’s poverty that makes health care unaffordable. It’s poverty that helps to maintain the exploitation of women – some two million girls aged between 5 and 15 join the commercial sex market every year on this planet of ours.
Now those are the facts. That’s what we are dealing with. That’s the reality for many of our fellow human beings at the beginning of the 21st century. And the question on a day like today is, what are we going to do about it?
Well, let’s start with DFID.
Because we recently looked at the work we do on gender equality, and it showed us that while we’d had some successes, the truth is that we hadn’t fully put gender equality into the heart of DFID’s work. We’re not alone in this. Our colleagues in Norway, and in the World Bank and at the UN came to the same conclusions.
And it said we needed stronger leadership in DFID on gender equality.
So I and others at the department have now committed to provide this leadership. And we saw that we needed to do more to place gender equality and women’s rights at the very heart of development. And the booklet which we published today tries to set out clearly what we have done and what we are going to do in the future.
So what are we going to do? Because it’s a very fair question to ask.
The first is that we’re going to ask ourselves regularly, and in every aspect of what we do:
Secondly, we’re going to make sure that our decisions and our actions – what we do as a result of asking those questions – actually matches the answers to those questions.
For example our Country Assistance Plans - which is where we set out what we are going to do in Malawi, Afghanistan, Tanzania, with the government’s, communities and people. Each Plan is required to analyse gender equality and women’s rights. And our new Country Governance Analysis – which will be published in these plans - will set out information on a range of human rights, including women’s rights. We’re also planning to hold human rights assessments in each country.
So where we encounter discrimination against women, a denial of their rights, we’ll raise this with our partner governments. We’ll do something about it in our governance work or what we are doing on economic growth or social protection, and then we’ll closely monitor what happens.
Thirdly, we are going to try to be clearer about what we want, with everyone with whom we work.
What we want is equality of opportunity, which means women having equal rights and entitlements to human, social, economic, and cultural development – what we want is equal voice for women in civil and political life.
But we also want equity of outcomes. It’s every woman’s right to have this. Is it too much to ask? Of course it isn’t.
And one of the things we will use to help in this process is our new Governance and Transparency Fund. It’s designed to try to support people in countries who are building demand for change, for good governance, for better politics, more responsible government, social change. And I want to see some of the £100 million used to change the rules of the game for women.
The fourth thing that we’ve learnt is that our focus on gender equality and women’s rights needs to keep pace with the changes taking place around us.
Take climate change. Now, it’s going to be hardest felt by those least responsible for it – the poorest countries, the poorest places in the world. And it has the potential to cause untold damage far beyond the reach or the remedy of any size of aid programme that you care to contemplate.
Question: What does this mean for poor people? What does this mean for women?
Well I’ll give you one example. If it ceases to rain in some places, or water becomes in shorter supply - and it will - although in other places there will be more water than people can actually cope with and sea levels will rise. One very practical consequence of that is that you will have to travel further to get clean water. On whom does the burden of fetching and carrying water fall in the developing world? On girls and women.
And on that same trip to Malawi I walked with those women a short distance, because their well is about ten minutes away from where they live. And we filled up the buckets and the women turned to me and said “what about you?” And so I cheated a bit because my bucket was about 55% full and I put it on my head and I walked back fifteen minutes and my neck ached like anything and I put the bucket down. And one of the women had a bucket that was twice as heavy as mine.
I said to them “how often do you do this?” and they said “that’s the third time we’ve made the journey today. On this occasion we didn’t have to wait at the well to fill up the water”. And I said “how many times are you going to do it before the end of the day?” and they said “we’ll do it another three times”. Now that conversation really brought home to me how the whole of their life, the whole of their day, is spent fetching and carrying water. And we stopped on the way and talked to one or two men and I said “do you ever help out” and the answer was “Well no, if a woman was sick and there was no other female relative we might consent to go and fetch and carry the water but otherwise we don’t regard that as our work”.
Now that’s the reality. And so climate change, less water, travelling further - what chance do you have to go to school, participate in the economy, contribute to your community if your life is all about fetching and carrying water every single day.
Or take another example - conflict. Now, when we looked at the disarmament and demobilisation programme in Sierra Leone we found that the peace process hadn’t benefited women, and women have huge, untapped potential to help make the peace. So when we are dealing with conflict in future we want to put a greater focus on women’s rights.
And to take another practical example, that is why we were the first country in the world to contribute money to the African Union mission in Darfur. That’s why Britain is pressing for the AU / UN force to come in to provide more police to protect the women, in particular in the camps. Who, when they go out of the camps to collect firewood, are attacked and beaten and raped. And we have a responsibility to play our part in helping to protect them.
We need to do that in relation to the economy too, to help women to participate. Microfinance is a good way of doing that. And when I visited Pakistan about three years ago – just to give you a sense of the globalised world in which we live – we went to a cooperative in Lahore. A group of women were sitting on the floor. The T-shirts they were embroidering with enormous skill had been imported from India, they were destined for the United States of America, for GAP. They are participating in the global economy, but do you know what the most interesting thing of all was. Listening through the interpreter to them describe how having a job, coming out of the house, changed the way they were seen by their husbands and their families, had changed their position in society, had given them greater confidence.
Now the fifth thing we need to do is to learn - and that’s one of the reason I am here today – from others. And I think one of the most important lessons we have already learnt, all of us, is that meeting women’s rights in one area helps them to secure their rights in other areas. So we want to do better at making these connections.
And the final thing we need to do collectively is to get the international system to work better for women and to be more accountable. We want to see a stronger UN response, one that can make a bigger difference on the ground, we want to see the World Bank and regional development banks making gender equality more central in their work.
Now, Action Aid International, one of the co-sponsors of tonight’s meeting, you’re one the world’s leading NGOs when it comes to women and their rights. And the report that I referred to moments ago says that in DFID we need to do more and I have come here tonight to say I agree with you. We do need to do more and we’ll look carefully at the recommendations you have made.
Action Aid and DFID have had some vigorous exchanges of views over the last couple of years. When you say, and I quote: “DFID has taken global leadership in promoting progressive action on human rights, gender equality, sexual and reproductive rights and violence against women and HIV AIDS” – it’s nice to get a compliment. And it’s really nice to get a compliment from Action Aid, so thank you very much indeed.
Now the final thing I want to say is really to come back to where I started this evening - about the process of politics, how things change. Because if things are going to change we have to make sure everyone gets the message, not just people like us who have come tonight to debate and talk among ourselves.
And it’s one of the reasons why we are in Afghanistan. Now Jane, you mentioned at the beginning the issue of security and terrorism. But I have to say that helping to pay for teachers, so that half the potential of the next generation of Afghanistan gets the most fundamental right of all, which is the right to go to school – Why? because going to school opens a window on the world for every single one of us – is the right thing to do. Investing in education is the best investment we can make in the future and that has to be an investment in girls as well as boys. And one of the other things we cannot tolerate is when half the society is denied the right, that basic human right, to discover their potential by getting into a classroom with a teacher and a desk and a textbook and a future.
Now I think that our history teaches us that the position of women in our society changed and is still changing - when the voices of women are heard. That’s how we changed our society from where we were to where we are today and its work in progress. And we have a long way to go, 19% of women in our parliament are women. We’re behind Afghanistan where its 25%, we’re way, way behind Rwanda where its 49%. Now there’s a parliament that represents evenly men and women, boys and girls in their society.
So frankly if, like me, you want to hand on a better world to our children and those who are going to come after us, then we need to continue to work together to change things. And we are only going to do that if all the voices of all the human beings are heard. Let’s bring that change about.