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Why 2013 Is a Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity for Girls and Women

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The coalition government could not change the lives of millions of the poorest people around the world without working with a wide range of talented, inspirational and dedicated charities and NGOs.

This week I invited representatives of 13 of those organisations (full list below) to sit down with me for the first of, what I hope, will be a series of very useful roundtables focusing on specific issues that are close to all our hearts.

We started on a subject that is my top priority - girls and women.

This year is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a lasting difference to the lives of women and girls everywhere in the world.

Between the Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York in March, the work on the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals and the UK Presidency of the G8, the international community has the potential to help bring equality and safety where there is currently exclusion and fear.

But this is only possible if we all work together and push in the same direction. That's why I wanted to bring the NGOs together so they could tell me about their priorities and thoughts on what we should all be doing - together - to transform the lives of women and girls.

It was an opportunity for me to listen to those delivering aid on the ground and hear their ideas and ambitions.

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No one can deny the importance of their work - whether it be working to end female genital cutting, providing water and sanitation, the delivery of family planning services or providing for women and girls in humanitarian situations.

But you also can't deny the challenges we face - from the difficulties of reaching vulnerable and remote women directly to persuading those who seek to repress women of the benefits of health and education.

Of course, there will always be competition for resources. What is also true is that there is no magic bullet that will cure all the ills faced by women and girls.

Britain's work on gender equality must - and will - include elements from all these priorities if we are ever going to bring the lasting change we all hope for.

List of NGOs at the roundtables: Safer World, Oxfam, Plan UK, Christian Aid, Save the Children, Action Aid, International Alert, IPPF, Marie Stopes International, Orchid Project, International Rescue UK, Womankind, Wateraid

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