Owen Smith MP – my commitment to tackling poverty at home and abroad

owen-smith-2Owen Smith MP, candidate in the 2016 Labour Leadership contest, blogs for LCID on his commitment to international development – @OwenSmith_MP

Anyone in any doubt about the right-wing agenda of this new Tory government should take a look at two of Theresa May’s lesser commented-on appointments over the summer – that of Priti Patel as International Development Secretary, and her Special Adviser Robert Oxley – formerly of the Brexit campaign and the ideological Taxpayer’s Alliance.

Both Patel and Oxley have spent years attacking the very department that they now lead, arguing for the aid budget to be redirected, cut or even scrapped – and even at one point suggesting that DFID should be abolished or reformed. Even more shockingly they appear to be willing to undermine the cross-party consensus on the 0.7% aid target to spend a small but guaranteed proportion of our income on supporting education, health and responding to disasters around the world. They must be stopped.

Establishing DFID, leading the way on both the quality and quantity of our development assistance, and while abandoning the type of policies that led to the Pergau dam scandal – was one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government. An achievement that literally saved lives around the world, and showed the type of outward looking internationalism that Britain and Labour should represent.

It is clear that there is a moral case for international development assistance – and focusing this on those who need it the most. Who can say that we should turn by and walk on the other side when so many children remain unable to go to school, when millions face the threat of HIV/Aids, Malaria or TB, and when women and girls often bear the brunt – not least in conflict zones. And as we see the effects of climate change and disorganised war and conflict impacting on many more – we also have to prepare for the challenges of the future.

It’s why the agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals was so important – recognising that tackling poverty and injustice requires concerted action in many areas, and in the richest countries domestic policies as well as their international action – not least when it comes to sustainability, climate change, taxation and corporate behaviour overseas. I want to see a Labour government that leads the way in delivering the goals domestically and internationally.

But as well as the moral case – international development is clearly in our national interest. Whether it is the tragedy of poverty and conflict driven thousands drowning in boats in the Mediterranean – or the threat of instability and poor governance in countries across Africa and the Middle East leading providing the space for extremism to grow – we ignore these challenges at our own peril. There is no zero-sum game between our Defence, Development and Diplomatic efforts around the world. We must ensure there is coherence and collaboration to ensure a safer, fairer and more just world for all.

But I believe there is something more fundamental at stake. Many understand the need for charity – but only Labour has historically recognised the need for justice – whether for garment workers in Bangladesh, women fleeing rape in the DRC or the refugees of Syria. We need to address the immediate impacts – but also the economic and political structures that drive injustice, poverty and conflict – for example through global tax transparency or fair trade. DFID and our aid budget have been at the heart of that fight for justice since 1997, and I will fight tooth and nail as Labour’s Leader to ensure the Tories don’t take an ideological axe to its work – and pledge to put tackling poverty at home and abroad at the heart of my programme as Labour’s next Prime Minister.

 

Owen Smith

On the 22nd Anniversary of the Genocide, Rwanda is defying both global expectations and wishes

By Claire Leigh – Consultant at UNDP, 2015 Labour Parliamentary Candidate and former Chair of LCID – @ClaireLeighLab  

Reconciliation village, Nyamata, 2016

Reconciliation village, Nyamata, 2016

It is almost frustrating to start every discussion on Rwanda by referencing the infamous genocide that took place there twenty two years ago. The country today is almost unrecognisable from the place that tore itself apart in 1994 at the cost of some 800 thousand lives, and its grim reputation abroad is starkly out of step with the feisty, controversial and modernising nation’s reality. Ask anyone what they know about Rwanda, and they will say the genocide. When pushed, they might mention gorillas. Pushed further they might have read a newspaper in which President Paul Kagame was slated as ‘another typical African dictator’.

But its government is faced with a dilemma when it comes to not allowing genocide to define it. Within Rwanda itself, the state has pursued a distinctive approach to reconciliation that makes ‘never forget’ more of an order than an entreaty. Constant and visible reminders of the genocide are everywhere; Memorials – often gruesome – appear in every town, while Reconciliation Villages bring perpetrators and victims together to give regular talks to Rwandans and visitors about the terrible events of April 1994. And the genocide is central to the governing regime’s domestic political narrative.

Skyscrapers in downtown KigaliAt the same time the country is attempting the unthinkable: to become a ‘hub’ for African business and a middle-income economy  within a generation. Already, the country seems to be making this vision seem less hallucinogenic, with GDP growth regularly in the double digits, and new sky-scrapers crowding the capital Kigali. But the PR issue remains very real; How to both ‘never forget’ at home while moving perceptions on abroad.

The result is that, despite its startling successes in maintaining the peace (against all expectations, the return to conflict being a miraculous non-event that the state fails to get credit for) and improving citizens’ prosperity, foreigners remain for the most part ignorant of the pretty astonishing changes taking place in Rwanda.

Observers who know more about its transformation are often deeply sceptical of the means by which it is being achieved. Part of the reason for this is Kagame himself, who is anything but a ‘typical African dictator’, but who is dictatorial nevertheless. Political space has been tightly controlled since the genocide, and democracy is simply not a priority of the Regime. As Harvard MBA students learn, Kagame runs Rwanda like the CEO of a large corporation. The government is ruthlessly performance-focused, and if it were judged by one of its own famous performance cards, it would get an A* for things like reducing maternal mortality, increasing incomes, and keeping kids in school. But the international community have in recent years awarded it a D- for democracy, with many withdrawing aid money in protest.

I lived in Rwanda six years ago (full disclosure, I worked for a charity and was based in the President’s Office) at a time when the international community was still in love with Kagame. And it is easy to see why; One of the safest countries in Africa, Rwanda is also the second least corrupt, and spends aid money incredibly effectively. And it was clear to anyone living there that the lives of ordinary Rwandans were being changed dramatically. Fast forward six years and the international romance is over (even ending in divorce for countries like the UK), with donors citing political repression as a growing concern. But Kagame, among the vast majority of Rwandans, remains wildly popular. Most Rwandans I talk to genuinely don’t seem to regard democratisation as either a priority or even desirable in the immediate future. After all, Rwandans have seen what majority rule can do in a country with a large ethnic minority. The government looks to Singapore – only recently democratising after decades of state-led development – as its role model, and surrounded as it is by weak democracies with even weaker development records, who are we to argue?

Twenty two years on from one of the greatest human tragedies of the modern era, Rwanda finds itself famous for all the wrong reasons, and criticised for achieving  all the right things in all the wrong ways. The defiantly unorthodox path being taken by Rwanda raises uncomfortable questions for the international community. We must continue to criticise where human rights abuses are apparent. And clearly Rwanda, like Singapore, needs an exit strategy from authoritarianism. But we must also be humble enough to admit that we might not have all the answers when it comes to Rwanda’s broader exit strategy from the tragic events of 1994.

Let’s talk about feminism

Emma Watson in Conversation with Gloria Steinem for Our Shared Shelf

Emma Watson in Conversation with Gloria Steinem for Our Shared Shelf

By Claudia Bonifay

When a close friend of mine mentioned on a group chat that Emma Watson had just launched a book club, I was immediately thrilled. Ever since her speech at the UN for the launch of ‘He for She’ had moved me to tears, I had been following the campaign. This book club had the promise of bringing together my new found fascination for Watson’s work on feminism, my love for reading, and my inappropriate adult obsession for Harry Potter. What could possibly go wrong? Within minutes I had visited the book club page, called ‘Our Shared Shelf’, and downloaded the first book on my reading tablet. I was ready to be part of the movement.

Since January, Watson has been uploading a new thread announcing the book she will be reading on the first day of every month. Initially, it was explained that members had three weeks to read the book, and it would then be discussed throughout the remaining week of the month. However, that rule was quickly disregarded by the overwhelming ever-growing following of the club, as eager members were creating dozens of different discussion threads every day. With such a wide variety of questions and topics, the forum had to acquire more than a handful of moderators to keep it all in check. Anybody can start a discussion thread, whether about the books, related themes, or really anything that the feminist topic inspires. You can also join in on threads others have already started. From pornography, to the representation of women in the media or the complexity of religious belief as a rape victim, the forums have plenty to offer. There are even discussion threads in different languages, such as Spanish and French.

‘My Life on the Road’ by Gloria Steinem was the first book on the list. Steinem is one of the most prominent feminist activists of the 20th, and even of the 21st century so far. The book is all about her life as a feminist activist, her love for the road and is full of highly satisfying juicy anecdotes. This first pick was a perfect introduction to feminism because it unveils the inner works of her life as an activist, effectively bringing a human touch to historical events and feminist theory. It was incredible to learn from her experience about the different ways the feminist movement had evolved throughout the decades. Most importantly, it taught me that her work had such a large-scale impact because she truly cared about listening, learning and building deep relationships with others.

The book club does not just link people together behind the screen. Dozens of members have quickly taken the initiative to organise meet-ups and reading groups in their respective cities. And last month I saw the club come to life as Gloria Steinem took the stage to be interviewed by Emma Watson at the ‘how to: Academy’ in London as part of her UK tour. At first, I was sceptical about the idea. I was afraid I would be stuck queuing up along with a crowd excited about coming face to face with a celebrity. I am glad I was proven wrong when I realised that everyone was incredibly open-minded and diverse, crossing generations and races. I was also glad to see men sympathetic to the cause disseminated amongst the audience.

Despite the event having been organised in the context of the release of Steinem’s book, other topics were addressed such as the place feminism should take in international conversations on development. Watson expressed her frustration with regards to gender issues being constantly pushed down further on the agenda, rather than being considered a priority and an issue that encompasses all others. Instead, development or conflict concerns should also be examined with a gender lens, as they will always be either caused or aggravated by the exclusion of women and girls and widespread violence against them. In fact, every issue deemed more important than gender equality cannot possibly be solved without gender equality. A perfect example of this is how we currently think of international security. Watson mentioned a figure she came across in the book ‘Sex and World Peace’ that shocked the audience just as much as herself – ‘(…) more lives are lost through violence against women from sex-selective abortion, female infanticide, suicide, egregious maternal mortality, and other sex-linked causes than were lost during all the wars and civil strife of the twentieth century,’ thereby effectively resulting in women no longer constituting half of the world’s population. The devaluation of female life is an international security threat but is often regarded as a separate issue. Steinem followed up by stating that the best indicator of the likelihood of violence occurring in a country or even of that country’s willingness to use military violence against another is not poverty, access to resources, religion or degree of democracy, but the level of violence against females. She explains that this is not because female life is more valuable than any other but rather because it normalises domination.

‘Our Shared Shelf’ really is an incredible way to discover books written by women about feminism, even if not always in obvious ways. It challenges me to think of the presence of those themes where I would not look for them. This is also what the ‘He for She’ campaign aims to achieve: to challenge our notion that feminism is a women-only club. As Watson always says, men need to be part of the conversation for equality to be achieved. I have already started to notice the impact this campaign has had on how comfortable most of my male friends now are with the word feminism and how ready they are to identify with the movement, as feminists.

I was recently asked who my literary female hero was when I was growing up. Whilst I could name a few fictional characters following a few minutes of careful thought – Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy did not deceive as an adventuress and taught me that loving and caring does not contradict strength and courage, actually quite on the contrary – I realised that I had a very hard time naming other heroines who were not sidekicks to protagonist male characters. The ones I liked won the inspirational prize by default because the list of competitors was unfortunately incredibly limited. There has definitely been developments since my time as a child, and I particularly like Viola Eade from Patrick Ness’ ‘Chaos Walking’ series, but I think there is a lot of progress to be made with the support of a book club that aims to deepen exposure to a variety of female authors and characters, dedicated to women, girls, men and boys alike. Gloria Steinem said at the talk that ‘clicking send is not activism,’ but I have to disagree with her. Online platforms such as ‘Our Shared Shelf’ are the future of activism because they have the potential to create communities where ideas can be shared, events announced, questions raised and opinions debated in a much larger space than was previously possible.

Why 2016 is the year to leap, not shuffle, towards gender equality

left to right, Katie Berrington, Karen Gould, Emily Berrington

Katie Berrington, Karen Gould & Emily Berrington

By Emily and Katie Berrington

Despite being the year that the United States may be set to welcome its first female president; the first year that Saudi Arabia’s female residents will live under municipal governments that they were able to vote in; and the year that more than 90 countries answered the UN Women’s call to “Step It Up For Gender Equality”; 2016 has not been an easy year to be a woman in many parts of the world. Far from it, in fact. Headlines of progression for women’s rights are scarce and a quick scan of the top news stories over the last two months confirms that we have a long way to go before equality is achieved – approximately 117 years according to the World Economic Forum, based on indicators of health, education, economic participation and political empowerment. Even more worrying, this estimate increased by 38 years between 2014 and 2015, due to a slowdown in the rate of progress.

But it is not just about the figures – so far this year has seen women suffering disproportionately in conflict zones around the world, with groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram using sexual violence as a weapon of war and suppressing women’s rights in areas under their control. Many fleeing war torn homes report assault, exploitation and harassment on their journey to safety (Amnesty International, 2016) with little protection or security being provided to those at risk. The battle against Female Genital Mutilation rages on, with an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing it every year (WHO, 2016). Human trafficking remains an international issue – the most common form being sexual exploitation and victims predominantly being female. And, although women may have been given the vote locally (still not nationally) in Saudi Arabia, they continue to face sanctions, such as the lack of freedom to drive to the polling station, which render a historical development less of a leap and more of a shuffle in the right direction.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to address the enormous forces working against women’s rights and preventing true gender equality. It is a chance to petition governments, to challenge, to campaign, to take action. It is also a time to celebrate, to reflect on the achievements that have been made and to salute the fantastic work that is being done, as well as to recognise how much further there is to go. The headlines are bleak, but they are not ineradicable.

This International Women’s Day we will be celebrating some of the many women who have inspired us – in the opportunities we have had and the choices we have made. Our mum, who made being a feminist the norm and led by example in encouraging us to expect and strive for parity in both our personal and professional lives. Harriet Harman, who Emily was lucky enough to see being honoured at last year’s Labour Women’s Conference for bringing what had previously been seen as “women’s issues” – childcare, for instance – to parliament. She was often mocked or ignored and we are grateful that she refused to concede. Finally, Malala Yousafzai, whose courage in the face of unspeakable adversity and dedication to advocate girls’ right to education worldwide drives progress forward, and to whom we give the closing words. “I raise up my voice – not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

Let’s all raise up our voices, in whatever ways we can, this year.

On International Women’s Day call on the Government to back up UN Women

Today is International Women’s Day, Labour is holding the Conservative-led Government to account on its promise to women around the world. This comes a week after support for UN Women was left out of the aid review. In an email, Harriet Harman asked people to ask them why:

Today is International Women’s Day. Join me in calling on the Government to answer the question they failed to answer last week when they published their review of the UK’s international aid programme – how much will they commit to spending on the new UN women’s agency?

This new UN agency has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of women in both the developed and the developing world but it needs resources.

The Government say they are putting women and girls at the heart of their development work. Sign up and ask the Government to put their money where their mouth is and show the world that the UK is still a leader for women

The Labour Government played a key role in establishing “UN Women”. The new Government must continue that support. Empowering women is not only right in principle but essential for fighting poverty and achieving all of the Millennium Development Goals, such as reducing the number of women who die in childbirth, and increasing the number of girls who go to school.

It is women in developing countries who are best placed to fight for maternal health care, and for their daughters to go to school. UN Women must help them in that fight. Support UN Women by signing up to ask the Tory-led Government for a real commitment to back up women throughout the world

Decisions are being made on this now and women the world over need the UK to play its part. The women of the world shouldn’t have to wait any longer for this Government to make up its mind.

Best,

Harriet Harman
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

 

Women and Development policy review group launched

Today, on the eve of the 100th International Women’s Day, Labour launched a policy review into women and development: “Supporting the sustainable empowerment of women and girls in the developing world”.

As part of the wide-ranging review of Labour Party policies, this group will look at the barriers that women across the world still face in accessing education, healthcare and economic opportunities, as well as a staggering lack of political representation.

The group will be chaired by Cherie Blair, who in 2008 established the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, which works with organisations based in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East jointly developing projects with  local partners to help women start and expand their businesses.

The review will look into 6 areas:

  • Supporting the sustainable empowerment of women and girls in developing countries
  • Making growth work for the poor and generating resources for development
  • Climate Change, resource scarcity and food insecurity –mapping and responding to the challenges
  • Conflict, security and development
  • Beyond governments: Recognising and building greater support for international development
  • The challenge of inequality between and within countries

Underlining the importance of the policy review and Labour’s dedication to international development, Cherie Blair said:

“Women are the drivers of change across the world. They are far more likely than men to invest their incomes back into their families – helping to drive up better health standards and educational opportunities for their children, which in turn benefits the wider community.

“That’s why working for the economic independence of women is vital to the fight against global poverty. But there are so many barriers faced by women and girls in the developing world, that they are often unable to participate in economic or political life and struggle to get access to healthcare and education for themselves, let alone their families. 

“We need to look afresh at how countries like the UK, through their development efforts, can help make a real difference to the status and power of women in the developing world.”

Welcoming the selection of Cherie Blair as Chair, Harriet Harman, Shadow International Development Secretary, said:

“I am delighted that Cherie Blair has agreed to chair this group. She is a committed campaigner for women and girls in the developing world. Her contribution will be invaluable.”

Standing up for women around the world

Speaking yesterday at the start of the 55th Commission on the Status of Women, Harriet Harman took the opportunity to welcome the launch of UN Women, which was officially launched.

“This is a very important meeting. It will see the official launch of UN Women and bring together women from around the world.

“There can be no retreat from the Government’s promise to spend 0.7% on development aid by 2013. Women and girls around the world are helped by aid– from the woman in Nigeria who no longer has to walk for miles to get water, to the girl in Bangladesh who can now go to school. We must not turn our backs on them now.

“Women in the developing world must not be made the victims of deficit reduction programmes, as they are in the UK, where the government’s cuts are hitting women the hardest.

“UN Women will support the women in parliaments and in governments across the world – they are the ones who will fight hardest for the women in developing countries. UN Women will play an important role in backing them up to ensure progress for the women they represent.”

Harriet was joined by Fiona Mactaggart, Shadow Equalities Minister, who will sit on the Commission, highlighted the importance of UN Women. She said: “At the Interparliamentary Union meeting which coincides with the session I will be working  with colleagues in other parliaments and governments to make sure that UN Women works with elected women to advance the condition of women throughout the world.”

As Shadow International Development Secretary, Harriet Harman has made it clear that female elected representatives will be key in improving the lives of women across the developing world. This was a fact that she reinforced last week at the launch of the Keep the Promise campaign, which was hosted by LCID.