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Baroness Sugg: Prioritise women’s rights to end poverty

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An article by International Development Minister Baroness Sugg appeared in The Times yesterday on the importance of prioritising women’s rights to achieve the Global Goal of zero poverty by 2030.

On Thursday 9 January, Baroness Sugg wrote:

Prioritise women’s rights to end poverty

“We have just ten years left to end global poverty — a goal the UK and every United Nations member committed to in 2015.

“We’ve achieved a lot since then. UK aid has supported the development of the world’s first Ebola vaccine and last year helped to vaccinate 45 million children against polio as well as doubling our investment to tackle the biggest challenges of our time, climate change and species loss.

“But we have a lot more to do and we won’t achieve the global goal of zero poverty without prioritising gender equality and women’s rights. It is wrong that around the world, women and girls still have to fight harder for the rights and opportunities their brothers take for granted.

“We cannot achieve great change when the potential of half the world’s population is going to waste.

“The gender gap starts in childhood. Globally 131 million girls are missing out on school, and in conflict zones, girls are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys. From poverty, to harmful attitudes, to poor accessibility for those with disabilities, too many barriers keep girls out of school.

“Investing in girls’ education offers a huge return. If all girls went to school for 12 years, developing countries could grow their economies by £75 billion a year and all girls would have the chance to shape their country’s future.

“That is why the prime minister has been a champion for 12 years of quality education for every girl and announced at the UN and G7 last year that UK aid would support 12 million of the world’s poorest children — half of them girls — to go to school, including those living in conflict zones such as in the Sahel. I know this will continue to be a priority for the prime minister and a central pillar of his international engagement and domestic ambitions.

“Another vital issue is the battle for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.

“Millions of the world’s poorest women struggle to access the modern contraception they want. Every year about 89 million pregnancies in developing countries are unintended, and 25 million women and girls — most in sub-Saharan Africa — will resort to dangerous, life-threatening backstreet abortions. Nobody should be forced to make that choice.

“When girls and women can access the information and safe healthcare services they need, lives are saved, child marriages are averted, and girls can stay in school longer.

“I want to see a world where every girl can decide her own future. Where a woman has the right to choose whether, when, and with whom to have children. I’m proud to say that last year, UK aid gave 23.5 million of the world’s poorest women and girls access to vital, voluntary family planning, helping to save thousands of lives.

“But one of the challenges is reaching women and girls in the most remote areas. When I visited Senegal last year, the women I met had walked hours in scorching heat to visit a UK aid clinic to access the contraception and services we take for granted in Britain.

“Many developing countries simply cannot afford the health products their people need, particularly modern contraception, sacrificing women and girls’ health and rights as a result. We need to make those services more affordable and accessible.

“The contraceptive implant is a popular and convenient choice among women, but prior to 2013 it was too expensive for developing countries. The department for international development worked with other donors and the implant’s biggest producers, Merck and Bayer, to secure a deal that cut the implant’s price by 50 per cent for the world’s poorest countries, from $18 to $8.50. This saved $500 million and helped to triple implant use in developing countries.

“This shows that Britain’s commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on aid is something to be proud of. It is transforming lives in the most profound way, enabling people to realise the rights that poverty has stripped them of. Our priority is to drive value for money for both the British taxpayer and the people we help, so we can deliver on our manifesto commitment to help developing nations move beyond aid.

“Investing in girls’ education, and ensuring women have access to contraception at a low cost, makes economic sense. So does helping Africa’s women become entrepreneurs, which is why Britain will be hosting the UK Africa Investment Summit on January 20 to create new partnerships that will deliver more investment, jobs and growth across Africa and the UK.

“The voices of people who want to restrict women’s choices and rights have become bolder. We are seeing it in regressive policies, through disputes at the UN, and in our partners’ inability to deliver vital services on the ground.

“It is a crucial time for UK aid to maintain its global leadership on women’s rights and to champion the evidence that shows us we are saving lives.

“Focusing on gender equality is the only way we will end poverty by 2030. We will continue to take every opportunity to advance the health and rights of the world’s disadvantaged women, and to end the preventable deaths of mothers, new-borns and children by 2030.

“Aid works. Empowering women and girls works. It saves lives, transforms the future of the poorest communities in the world, and ultimately rewards us all.”

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