Unlocking girls’ education is the key to a healthier, safer and more prosperous world

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Author: Libby Smith, Acting CEO of the Coalition for Global Prosperity and LCID Executive Member

On International Women’s Day 2020, it’s important that we not only celebrate the huge strides made but recognise that every day, women and girls still face discrimination, poverty and violence just because they are women. We know that when we empower women and girls great things happen, yet women and girls everywhere are still being silenced and denied their rights.

So much of today’s progress in Britain has been hard fought and hard won by women before us. A century on from the watershed moment in which 8.4 million women won the right to vote, we have a record 220 women as elected representatives in Parliament. Women in the UK, who were once barred from formal education, are today 35% more likely than boys to attend university. Fast forward to the present day, and inspirational movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have sent shockwaves around much of the developed world, giving a voice to millions of women previously silenced.

But the reality is that the fight is still far from over. Women and girls in the poorest countries are still not being heard in the workplace and at the polling station, with 130 million girls around the world still being deprived of an education and only two countries in the world having equal representation of women in parliament. Without concerted action, they face being swept aside in a sea of unprecedented change. We have the power to change this and this is why UK aid is keeping girls in schools, stamping out gender violence and giving women a voice in shaping the future of their countries. I believe that by harnessing one our greatest strengths – our aid budget – we are, and can, make a meaningful difference to the lives of young women for generations to come.

I have seen for myself in Uganda the important work UK aid is doing. I met Farah, a young girl orphaned at 14 years old, she had fled South Sudan and was caring for her siblings in the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement. Despite all the hardship and challenges, the immense emotional scars and trauma, she faced all she wanted was to get into the classroom: “We need to be educated so we can return home and build a peaceful future for South Sudan”. What was striking was how important she felt getting an education was to create the next generation of future leaders in South Sudan.

I believe that the single most powerful way to make the world a safer, healthier and more prosperous place for us all is by investing in women and girls, in particular girl’s education. It has been proven time and time again that getting girls in the classroom is the key to unlocking so many other problems – it boosts economic growth, reduces population pressures, reduces conflict and improves health. A United Nations study found that if all girls went to secondary school, then infant mortality would be cut in half, saving three million young lives every year. When girls are educated, there are more jobs for everyone. If all girls went to school for 12 years, low and middle income countries could add $92 billion per year to their economies. While evidence shows that providing aid to the women of the house means they are far more likely to invest their incomes back into their families – helping to drive up better health standards and educational opportunities for their children, in turn benefitting the wider community. However it is not just that universal female education will expand GDP and make us all more prosperous, though it will, it is profoundly the right thing to do.

We also know that to effectively govern the population, parliaments need to be representative of their population, drawing upon the widest possible pools of talent and experience. Yet currently men are still dominating the corridors of power around the world. By educating girls today, we can create tomorrow’s campaigners and leading political voices who want to strengthen womens’ rights, building a new political class for whom creating a new status quo is their raison d’etre. UK aid can, and is, playing a key role here, as the example of Pakistan shows, where the UK-aid funded Aawaz programme has helped to politically empower over 20,000 women through women’s assemblies. But we can also do more to learn from and support each other. In Rwanda, over 61% of MPs are female, compared with just 34% in the UK. Despite its harrowing history, the country is leading the way in female political representation, and if they can do this, then so too should we.

The UK Government has a strong track record of championing women’s rights around the world and has rightly continued to prioritise women and girls in its international development and foreign policy. UK aid has helped 5.3 million girls into education in the last 5 years, including in some of the toughest places in the world and I’m glad the Prime Minister has made this a priority.

As the UK redefines its role in the world, we have the opportunity to really consider what sort of nation we want to be. I believe we are at our best when we stand tall as an outward-facing, tolerant, compassionate nation which respects the rule of law and human rights, championing our values in the face of the defining challenges of their time. We must continue to champion equal rights, opportunities and life chances for women and girls around the world as we know that when we empower women and girls great things happen.

LCID is proud to be nominating Keir Starmer and Rosena Allin-Khan

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The Labour Campaign for International Development is proud to nominate Keir Starmer for Labour Leader and Rosena Allin-Khan for Deputy Leader.

Keir Starmer has been a tireless advocate of human rights and a brilliant supporter of internationalism and international cooperation. Rosena Allin-Khan, one of LCID’s Vice Presidents, has dedicated her life to helping others, both here as a doctor in our NHS, and overseas doing humanitarian aid work with the world’s most vulnerable.

The only way to guarantee that Britain’s aid budget is protected, the Department of International Development remains independent, and that Britain is a leader on international development and humanitarianism, is with a Labour government. We believe that Keir and Rosena are the best people to win Labour back to power at the next election.

The decision to nominate was voted on by LCID’s executive and guided by our members survey, which Keir and Rosena topped – the results can be viewed in full here (and below this post).

Sir Keir Starmer said:

“I’m really pleased to have received LCID’s nomination and will stand with you to ensure DFID retains its departmental independence and that we hold the Government to their commitment to honour the 0.7% target.

Britain should be leading the struggle for human rights, tackling inequality and taking on the climate emergency. If I am elected leader of the Labour Party I will ensure that we build on our proud international development record and that we lead the fight for a more just and peaceful world.”

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said:

“I’ve devoted my life to giving a voice to the voiceless, it’s taken me across the world, helping those fleeing conflict or rebuilding after disasters.

LCID have been a huge part of that journey for me – we share the same values. I’m so honoured to get their endorsement.”

For more information about their campaigns and to get involved, please visit keirstarmer.com and drrosena.co.uk.

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(For the full results of all questions in our members survey, click here).

Members survey

With the start of a new year and a new Parliament, the LCID team is currently revising our plans for the year ahead. We were interested in hearing the views of LCID members on a range of issues as we look to shape our priorities. Below are the results – thank you to everyone who took part!

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Committing to Human Rights in Syria

Today LCID has written with the Syrian British Council to Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, calling on her to ensure a future Labour Government protects human rights in Syria.

The Syrian British Council are a a recently established organisation that brings together Syrian civil society groups, British nationals and UK-based Syrian individuals across Britain to work towards achieving a democratic and human rights-abiding Syria, free from extremism and dictatorship.

You can read the letter here.

LCID Hosts Its 10 Year Anniversary Reception with Gordon Brown

Lauren Pizzey is a member of LCID’s executive committee

Despite the prorogation of Parliament, LCID were delighted to host a packed room in the House of Commons to mark its 10 Year Anniversary Reception with The Right Honourable Gordon Brown.

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LCID Chair, Mann Virdee, and LCID Founder, David Taylor, opened the event by welcoming guests and outlining the Labour Party’s proud record on International Development.

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Speeches were kicked off by Chair of the International Development Select Committee Stephen Twigg MP, who powerfully stated that although he will step down as an MP at the next general election, he will not stand down from the cause for International Development.

“We cannot take our position here for granted, it is vitally important that we stand up for International Development, the centrality of the Sustainable Development Goals and alleviating poverty around the world.” – Stephen Twigg MP

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Labour MP Alison McGovern then praised LCID and the work that had been accomplished as a result of their lobbying. However, she warned that the values behind international development were under threat, and said it was important that we continue to demonstrate the case for development.

“I am proud that Britain acts when disaster strikes. It is incredibly important to champion the role humanitarian response plays in protecting children around the world.” – Alison McGovern MP

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Former UK Prime Minister Rt Hon Gordon Brown then provided his keynote speech. Mr Brown spoke proudly of Labour’s record in Government on International Development, arguing that debt relief and advancing equality was at the heart of every international strategy. He stated that the Labour party is defending and advancing a cause which is driving equality, justice and fairness around the world.

Mr Brown then noted that as a consequence of the work of the last Labour Government, more people were taken out of poverty than at any other time in the world. He told colleagues that Britain must continue to lead in this area and must help shape future developing institutions.

“Let us not forget that a world that is sinking into nationalism, we must stand for internationalism and build the global institutions of the future.Rt Hon Gordon Brown

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Shadow DFID minister Dan Carden MP then told guests that the next Labour Government would build on the agenda of the last with regards to international development.

“We will only ever end poverty by tackling its structural causes, and if we want public support, then we need to show that the fight against poverty and inequality is global.” – Dan Carden MP

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Stephen Doughty MP paid tribute to Labour’s record on international development, and in particular to Gordon Brown’s contributions to the cause.

“We need to understand that this [International Development] is in our common interest, it’s in the interest of the countries, partners, the fellow humans we share this planet with. It’s in our common interest and that’s why we have to act.” – Stephen Doughty MP

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Dr Rosena Allin Khan MP then paid tribute to all British aid workers working overseas, and recalled her own experiences working in Bangladesh and the West Bank.

“The UK has a proud tradition of helping the most vulnerable. As a humanitarian doctor, I have seen the worst of humanity and the tragedies people face. We must continue to fight to make the world a healthier, safer and more prosperous place for everyone.” – Dr Rosena Allin Khan MP

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Former First Minister for Scotland Lord Jack McConnell then urged that the cause of international development needs to remain high on the political agenda for the Labour party.

“Delivering the Global Goals by 2030 will help end extreme poverty, build peace and tackle climate change. We need a decade of delivery to secure a sustainable future for all” – Lord Jack McConnell

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Former Secretary of State for DFID, Hilary Benn MP, spoke positively of his time serving under both Gordon Brown and Tony Blair’s governments. He stated that due to globalisation, our neighbours are now not only those who live on our street, but those who live on the other side of the world.

“In the end, development in other countries is not about us turning up as a nice former colonial power to say we’ve come to help you develop, it is about people improving their own lives for the better with our assistance.” – Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP

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The speeches concluded with shadow DFID minister, Preet Gill, pledging that a future Labour Government would have a feminist approach to International Development.

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The event was closed by Mann Virdee, who thanked everyone for coming and invited guests to join the movement to keep International Development high on Labour’s political agenda.

Photos from LCID’s 10th Anniversary Reception

LCID was founded in 2009. To mark our 10th anniversary, we hosted a reception in Parliament with former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. This event was co-hosted by the Coalition for Global Prosperity.

Our speakers were:

  • Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister
  • Stephen Doughty MP, LCID Vice-President and MP for Cardiff South and Penarth
  • David Taylor, LCID founder and Vice-Chair
  • Alison McGovern MP, LCID Vice-President and MP for Wirral South
  • Hilary Benn MP, LCID Vice-President, former Secretary of State for International Development and Chair of the Brexit Select Committee
  • Dan Carden MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
  • Mann Virdee, LCID Chair
  • Preet Kaur Gill MP, Shadow Minister for International Development
  • Stephen Twigg MP, Chair of the International Development Select Committee
  • Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP, LCID Vice-President and MP for Tooting
  • Theo Clarke, Chief Executive of The Coalition for Global Prosperity
  • Lord Jack McConnell, LCID Vice-President, former First Minister of Scotland and Chair of the APPG on the UN SDGs

 

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LCID 10th Anniversary Event

Today was a special day, as we hosted an event in Parliament to celebrate 10 years of LCID. We’re going to have videos of Gordon’s and everyone’s speeches in the coming days, but in the meantime, here is what I shared on behalf of LCID itself: 

When LCID was set up ten years ago our focus then was to promote the fantastic achievements on international development of the then Labour government ahead of the 2010 election. And what a record it was. From establishing DFID, to trebling aid, cancelling debt, to the Climate Change Act and setting in motion the Arms Trade Treaty – millions of people are better off because of the actions of that government. 

It really is an honour to have you here Gordon, I’ve never met someone as dedicated to helping the lives of others. The leadership that Gordon and Tony showed at summit after summit as our Prime Ministers was simply incredible. Let us praise too the achievements of our Secretary of States and Ministers at DFID – from Douglas Alexander to Hilary Benn, Claire Short, Glenys Kinnock and Gareth Thomas, of First Minister Jack McConnell, and advisers such as Stephen Doughty, now an MP leading the charge against Brexit or Kirsty McNeill and Richard Darlington, now leading the charity sector’s defence of aid. And of course everyone else in this room who was part of the Make Poverty History campaign and others like it, whether you held organise it, or like me were an activist taking part in the marches, signing petitions or wearing white bands. Today is as much a celebration of all of your achievements as it is of LCID.

Now you don’t need me to tell you that achieving much in opposition very hard, which is why it is so important we have a Labour government again. But I am proud of two things. First, the private members bill that got the 0.7% aid promise enshrined in law. The bill had support from MPs from across the political spectrum and they deserve a huge amount of credit. But more Labour MPs voted for that bill and all the other parties combined, and it would not have passed without the brilliant get out the vote operation that Ally McGovern ran out of her office and I’m proud that LCID members were in the room hitting the phones to help rally MPs to vote.

Second, I’m proud of the campaign we run on protecting civilians in conflict. It is not a popular position to take in the current Labour Party, but it is an important part of the late great and desperately missed Jo Cox’s legacy, and I’m humbled to have representatives from Syrian civil society here today. I’m sorry that we, as a Labour movement, have let you down over these last 8 years, but this corner of it is proud to work in solidarity with you and will continue to do so.

Finally, you are all here today because you think our country can, when it chooses, help make the world a better place. The internationalism we believe in is under threat like never before in modern times, and defending it will be the fight of our lives. I hope you will come away from today’s event inspired and re-energised for the struggle ahead.