Last week I attended the Labour Party Conference to promote VSO's Women in Power campaign which is calling for women's participation and influence in decision making roles to be recognised through a target in the post 2015 development framework. Two third of people living in extreme poverty are women, yet they have the least say in what is done to tackle this. Not only is this unjust but it is a major barrier to tackling extreme poverty.
It was exciting to attend an event like this in Manchester, where I live. There was a buzz around the conference that spread out into the city. It was a chance for campaigners to raise their voice on important issues, for labour party members to have their say, and politicians to outline Labours stance on policies and issues.
On Sunday, the conference kicked off for me in attending the 'Young Labour Women: Circular Firing Up Squad Workshop'. It was great to see so many women motivated to increasing women's leadership skills and mentoring each other to aim high. Much of what I saw echoed the work I did in increasing women's leadership capacity in Nepal. Labour had many events at the conference focussing on increasing women's leadership; including 'Sex and Power' event and 'is your cabinet 50/50?' This fitted well with our own aims to raise the profile of gender as a development issue with Labour's parliamentarians.
At the VSO and International Citizens Service (ICS) fringe event, ICS volunteers, Nushrath and Jake inspired the audience with why this generation is in a position to tackle world poverty. It was great to see Alison McGovern, MP Shadow international development minister advocating for internationalism and in support of VSO and the ICS programme.
During the conference Jim Murphy, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, pledged to honour the 0.7% spending of gross national income on international development. Furthermore he highlighted that Labour will put human rights at the heart of DFID, including focus on Women's rights and LGBT rights, religious freedoms and workers' protections. This again was echoed in Ed Miliband's speech who stated that fighting for values overseas and promoting human rights, including for gay and lesbian people was a key priority for Labour.
Labour recently appointed Seema Malhotra as first Shadow Minister for Preventing Violence against Women and Girls. This was a positive step for tackling an issue that affects 35% of all women globally. During the Women's Aid event at the conference Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper placed VAWG firmly on Labours agenda by sharing that a Violence Against Women And Girls Bill should be in the first Queen's Speech if there is a Labour Government in 2015. I hope that their aims are not just limited to the national level but an international one too!
During the conference, VSO hosted a breakfast meeting with Labour Parliamentarians to promote the Women in Power campaign, highlight the importance of a gender goal in the post 2015 framework and encourage the Labour party to embed gender into its development thinking. During this event, I was able to share some of the work I was doing in Nepal with women in positions of power, how this helped women to challenge their position, voice and influence in society, and the wider implications this had for the community and other development areas. Parliamentarians, Meg Munn and Pamela Nash shared why the Women in Power campaign is important to them, and that they firmly believe that the rights of women and girls are non negotiable. This includes women's access to health and education, their sexual and reproductive health rights, their rights to participation, as well as to ending Violence against women and girls.
2015 will be a critical year for women's rights with the agreement of the post 2015 agenda and the review of the Beijing Platform for Action, I came away from the conference feeling positive that if Labour were to return to power in 2015 that they will continue the drive for women's rights both nationally and internationally. However, I was disappointed that the leader's speech mentioned human rights, without focussing directly on women's rights. With 2015 being such an important year in tackling this, I felt it would have been valuable to highlight a plan for tackling this major injustice.
UK parliamentarians must be on board for progress to be achieved. This highlights that although positive inroads have been made, the need to continuously hold them to account in ensuring that their pledges are met continues.
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