2020 Resolution: OVERSEAS AID
NCW urges the government to live up to its commitment to overseas aid with reducing gender inequality a key priority within it. NCW calls for renewed effort in tackling poverty through support for girls’ education, women’s livelihoods and environmental sustainability.
Following the merger of the Department for International Development with the FCO to make the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, NCW is concerned that this should not undermine UK aid, including women’s empowerment through work and education. The government says that it remains committed to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas development. ‘UK aid will be given new prominence within our ambitious international policy,’ it says.i
NCW is concerned that gender issues be considered at the heart of the UK aid programme and in the Integrated Review of foreign, defence and development policy. The majority of the world’s poor are womenii. The UK’s Gender Equality Act 2014 (an amendment to 2002 International Development Act, IDA), legally requires all overseas development funding to meaningfully consider the impact of how it will contribute to reducing gender inequality. The UK Aid Strategy prioritises the rights of women and girls under its fourth strategic goal of tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable.
So women ought to be heavily involved in the Integrated review. The National Audit Office (NAO) has praised Britain’s ‘ambitious’ plan to promote education, challenge child marriage and end female genital mutilation. But it says that better assessment is needed of how projects to improve the lives of women and girls overseas are progressing.iii
Particularly important are girls’ education, female livelihoods and sustainability. Countries with higher levels of gender equality tend to have higher income levels – improving women’s livelihoods and attaining broader development goals
Every day girls face barriers to education caused by poverty, cultural norms and practices, poor infrastructure, violence and fragility. According to UNESCO estimates, 130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 are out of school and 15 million girls of primary-school age—half of them in sub-Saharan Africa— will never enter a classroom.iv Girls are less likely to return to schools when they reopen after Covid outbreaks die down – this happened in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak after they had 9 months without any form of education. Children born to more educated mothers are less likely to die in infancy and more likely to have higher birth weights and be immunised. Better spaced children are more likely to thrive. Sexual and reproductive healthcare has suffered due to the demands that COVID has placed on healthcare and educational disruption, increasing risk of unwanted pregnancies and HIV.
Women are more likely to live in poverty, to work in low paid informal sectors with fewer rightsv and do three times as much unpaid care as menvi. Countries with higher levels of gender equality tend to have higher income levels, and evidence from a number of regions and countries shows closing the gap leads to a reduction in poverty. Supporting women to have access to quality and decent work and improve their livelihoods is therefore vital for fulfilling women’s rights, reducing poverty and attaining broader development goals.vii
Women in developing countries can be most affected by climate change as subsistence farming and collecting water become harder and husbands move away to find work. Overseas aid should focus on socially and environmentally sustainable solutions such as economic empowerment of women through sustainable business.
v Oxfam op cit
Proposer: Ann Davison, NCW Individual Member
Seconder: Ann Hardiment, NCW Individual Member
Submitted by: Ann Davison, NCW Individual Member
Proposer Speech – Ann Davison
The announcement that the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are to merge has raised questions about the UK’s commitment to supporting the world’s poorest people, especially women and girls. The Prime Minister has said, ‘we must mobilise every one of our national assets, including our aid budget and expertise, to safeguard British interests and values overseas.’i
Will the focus be on areas of British interest or on areas of need? We appreciate the need for a system of checks and balances to assess where the money goes and what projects it supports so that it really benefits the recipient. But has been found that where women are helped and supported life improves for all the family, so women’s voices need to be listened to in any such assessments.
Will gender equality remain an area of priority? Poverty decreases when more women and girls are educated: secondary education increases girls’ future wages by 10-20%. And women are often more likely to spend money on things that benefit children, improving their chances of achieving health and prosperity.ii This is one reason why gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment form goal 5 of the UN’s sustainable development goals adopted by all UN members in 2015.
Besides the serious health risks, Covid-19 has fuelled domestic violence, food poverty and educational disruption. Like most humanitarian crises, women and girls are bearing the brunt. They face a greater risk of sexual violence and exploitation and are less likely than boys to continue getting some kind of education as they take on extra duties at home.
When girls are out of school, they face a greater risk of early pregnancy and child marriage. And yet, programmes fighting FGM and child marriage are at risk of disruption.
Sub-Saharan Africa, home to most of the global extreme poor, has the largest gender poverty gap. Boys are still 1.55 times more likely to complete secondary education. Women farmers make up almost half of the agricultural workforce across the continent. It is estimated that if women worldwide had equal access to productive resources (seeds, fertilizer, extension services, for example), 100-150 million fewer people would go hungry every day. Most women in the non-farm labour force are self-employed in the informal sector but have no access to finance to grow their businesses. Further, market segregation often relegates women to less productive sectors.
Women represent two thirds of the poor in Asia. Economic insecurity is part of a cycle of disadvantage for women, often caused by discrimination in employment and education. Poverty magnifies this disadvantage by leading to poor health outcomes, limited decision-making power and few opportunities for women to pull themselves out of poverty. In many parts of Asia, women work in back-breaking and unsustainable agriculture for little reward. Women in many countries do not control key assets such as the family home, property, and decision-making rights on the use of income, further limiting opportunities to break the poverty cycle.iv
In the past five years, 10 million women and girls have received humanitarian assistance and more than 6 million girls have been able to access quality education, thanks to DFID. Upwards of £25m has been invested to protect women and girls from violence, and a further £67m committed.v We are anxious to see support with these aims continue and that DfID’s commitment to gender equality will be adopted by the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.