When Jason McCue (human rights lawyer and co-founder of the GREAT initiative http://www.thegreatinitiative.org.uk) first came to us to propose putting forward a law, to ensure gender equality is taken into account when we're planning UK international aid, we were thrilled by the prospect. We also knew it would take time and considerable effort to get it onto Parliament's agenda.
In fact it took two years, from a casual but passionate discussion, to what will hopefully turn into law. On Friday (September 13th) Parliament voted on the Gender Equality (International Development) Bill. I am pleased to announce that is went through, and is now on its way to the House of Lords. This is a great moment for gender equality as we are raising awareness of such a massive human right, one that is so very often defeated and suppressed.
After our initial trustees meeting, Jason met with Bill Cash MP to discuss this. Chair of several Parliamentary groups on Africa, Mr Cash has seen first-hand the difficulties so many women face in low income countries. He was so enthusiastic about the Bill that he has become a true ambassador. International NGOs including WaterAid, Plan UK, Marie Stopes International, the Central American Women's Network, EveryChild and VSO have supported this Bill, as well as parliamentarians from across the political spectrum. We all agree something needs to be done to ensure the plight of women and girls has the central place it deserves in UK international development.
If the current draft goes forward into law, the Bill will require the Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, and all her successors, to take into account how International Assistance might impact differently on men, women, and boys and girls. It will also give us the power to hold politicians to account, and require Parliament to be updated every year on gender equality in the UK's international development work. International development assistance can, and does, both exacerbate and address gender-related inequalities. This Bill is a great opportunity to put the legislative groundwork in place to really improve lives. We are encouraging all parties to support this legislation and the benefit it will bring to people around the world.
Why is this important?
Inequality between women and men, and girls and boys, is an issue which needs to be addressed in every country around the world. Disparities are even larger when poverty combines with more than one form of exclusion, such as remoteness, ethnicity, disability, chronic illness and ageing. Inequalities result in men and women being prevented from fulfilling their goals and potential and this, in turn, limits the scope for social and economic strengthening in the world's poorest communities. For example, women's work disproportionately falls within the domestic and unpaid sphere, and although women carry out two-thirds of the world's work - especially time-intensive duties such as water collection and childcare - it's men who earn 90% of the world's income. And of course any man has fewer chances in life if his mother has no education, no freedom to earn money or faces violence and repression at home.
We are happy that the parliamentary debate will be focused on gender equality. Happy because we know amazing grass-roots projects need attention today, and may have been out of the search light for numerous reasons. Very few countries have women at the head of their Administrations, but so many have shown women to have been crucial to peace-making and reconstructing social and economic structures. Women are proven to create organisations that are far more efficient in saving other women who are in despair. I congratulate all the members of the House of Commons who on Friday 13th September chose a future for hundreds of thousands of women and girls around the world .