On Monday 13th June, a parliamentary debate was called regarding The Mail on Sunday’s petition to stop the spending of a fixed 0.7 per cent of the UK’s gross national income on foreign aid, which had become law in 2015.
The debate was triggered when the petition received over 100,000 signatures. Despite concerns that the debate would therefore have an overwhelmingly negative tone the anti-aid brigade may have been disappointed that the MP who moved the motion for the House to consider the e-petition, Steve Double (Con, St Austell and Newquay), in fact repeatedly defended the achievements of UK aid.
It was a particularly well attended debate for one not held not in the main chamber but in the smaller Westminster Hall. In total 13 Labour MPs spoke strongly in favour of the fixed spending on aid and, with the room full to capacity, some MPs who wished to were not able to speak at all.
The fact that no one spoke explicitly against the 0.7 Act is very positive. However there was criticism around the need for greater transparency and accountability from across both parties. As LCID we have a job to do to continue to demonstrate the achievements of aid, to rebuff criticism and to demonstrate that Labour values are relevant to the development approach taken by the UK.
Thank you to the Labour MPs who spoke and attended:
Ms Diane Abbott MP
Mr Ian Austin MP
Mr Richard Burden MP
Mr Stephen Doughty MP
The Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP
Mr Mike Gapes MP
Ms Sharon Hodgson MP
Dr Rupa Huq MP
The Rt Hon David Lammy MP
Ms Liz McInnes MP
Mr Albert Owen MP
Mr Toby Perkins MP
The Rt Hon Joan Ryan MP
Mr Andy Slaughter MP
Mr Nick Thomas-Symonds MP
The Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP
Mr Stephen Twigg MP
Ms Catherine West MP
Mr Phil Wilson MP
Ms Catherine McKinnell MP
In conjunction with the Labour Movement for Europe (LME) and Labour’s Environmental Campaign Group (SERA), LCID is hosting to an exclusive Panel Q&A on the evening of June 14th, 19.00-21.00, at UNITE Head Quarters in London.
The evening’s discussion, entitled “Brexit: A danger to security, tackling climate change and international development”, will be addressed by Mary Creagh MP, Stephen Doughty MP, Glenys Kinnock and speakers from across the Labour Party. Our panellists will make the environmental, security, human rights and international development case for remaining in the European Union on June 23rd.
LCID is pleased to provide 50 free tickets for the evening, on a first-come-first-serve basis. This will provide access to UNITE, the right to ask questions of our panellists, and after-talk refreshments with MPs.
The event will take place in the Diskuss Room at Unite the Union, Unite House, 128 Theobald Road, Holborn, London, WC1X 8TN. The closest tube station is Holborn, accessible from the Central and Piccadilly Lines
If you are interested in attending, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact details as soon as possible. We anticipate high demand for tickets so encourage members to get in touch sooner rather than later!
Please bring identification with you on arrival.
Today in London David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary and current CEO of International Rescue Committee, delivered a speech making the case for the UK to remain in Europe, including why the EU matters for international development.
Some of his comments are reproduced below:
At the heart of our British success story in the post-war period – not just as a fringe component or some add-on extra – has been our membership of the European Union. Europe is not an alternative to a global Britain; it is the foundation for our role and reach internationally, which is good for us, and I would argue good for stability and security around the world.
The very same outward-looking attitude that took us into Europe, and has kept us in Europe, is the attitude that makes us credible and influential in the wider world. Rather than limit or diminish us, the European Union multiplies British power, British ideas and British values in very direct ways.
- The EU multiplies British defence policy. We could never tackle Somali pirates, who were holding the coast of Africa to ransom, on our own. As part of the EU, we despatched a highly successful naval force to do just that – the Atalanta force led by the Royal Navy. In 2011, there were 176 attacks; last year, none.
- Europe multiplies British diplomacy. We sought, on a cross-party basis, across successive governments, a negotiated resolution to the Iranian nuclear program through the EU, which was ahead of the US on this issue, and which convened and drove forward the process to achieve that hugely important goal. When I went to argue in Beijing for Chinese support for sanctions that would help support a negotiated settlement, progress was achieved in part because of the united European position I was able to put forward.
- Europe multiplies support for British values. We saw the consequences of break-up in the Balkans in the 1990s before the EU had a common foreign policy. It is thanks to the EU’s diplomatic pressure and economic pull that there is now relative peace and stability in the Balkans, despite the refugee crisis. An independent Kosovo, stable Serbia, growing Croatia exist because of agreed EU foreign policy. This is an area where the EU has thrown its weight around, and to good effect.
- Europe multiplies our development policy. We know the UK overseas aid budget has gone up – but with a British contribution, the EU’s humanitarian aid budget is the largest in the world, and together we are pioneers in good practice. Britain’s membership of the EU has been good for EU humanitarian aid policy, and in the process good for millions of people helped around the world because of the Union’s clout and commitment in this field.
- Europe massively multiplies our environmental clout. The UK cares about climate change, but we can hardly tackle it alone. Our EU membership has allowed us to drive and deliver a cross-party UK priority on a European scale, and now a global scale.
Where Europe has been weak, and failed to multiply British interests, for example in its dealings with Russia, it is not because Europe has been too united in its policy, but too divided. The answer to a revanchist Russia seeking to flex its muscles around the world is not a weaker EU, but a stronger one.
So Europe multiplies British power, rather than diminishing or constraining it.
The fact is that Britain needs Europe, and Europe needs Britain. That is the patriotic case for us to not just to remain in the EU, but to develop a positive vision for European cooperation for the 21st century.
By Stephen Doughty MP, Labour and Co-operative MP for Cardiff South and Penarth and LCID Vice-President –@SDoughtyMP
This piece originally featured on the Huffington Post website
With the startling revelations that have come to light in the Panama Papers over the past few days, it is all too easy to brush this aside another example of corruption in the already corrupted and convoluted developing world – specifically in this case Latin America and Panama – being exploited by rich elites in both the developed and developing world.
Blaming the Global South for it’s problems of corruption is something we in the west do very well – indeed the shrill and misleading Mail on Sunday attacks on the aid budget in recent weeks uses this as a major stick to beat our international development efforts.
However, we miss the point if this is where our attention is drawn to when we delve into the Panama Papers.
We miss the point that is once again staring us all starkly in the face.
The corruption, evasion and avoidance by the world elite is happening in our own back garden, it is happening in British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. British Territories that still fundamentally depend on us for their defence and security but have in some cases (the Falklands notably aside) descended into safety deposit boxes for the elite and the corrupt.
A look into the papers reveals that Britain was second only to Hong Kong in a list of international jurisdictions where the most banks and law firms associated with the Panama Papers operate. UK Overseas Territories and Crown dependencies sit at the centre of a spectral network of companies used by the super-rich, celebrities and politicians to hide their global assets and wealth.
Over half of the companies implicated in the Panama Papers are incorporated in the tiny British Virgin Islands. Three major British and Channel Islands Banks – HSBC, Coutts and Rothschilds are named among the top ten banks that most frequently request offshore accounts. Indeed research by the Tax Justice Network puts the UK, its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies as the world’s largest collective tax haven.
When I worked at the Department for International Development I was astonished to find how difficult it was to address even the question of whether even directly backed agencies of government used these tax havens.
In that case I had asked whether the UK tax-payer backed Commonwealth Development Corporation (a private investment wing of the UK in developing countries) was barred from operating in or utilising tax havens.
But even asking questions in private about places like Anguilla and BVI caused civil service eyebrows to be raised in the Treasury and the FCO, “it’s all very difficult”, “it’s all very complicated” was a common response.
Well it needn’t be.
This leak exposes the extent to which UK tax havens and UK based intermediaries are at the very heart of a shadowy world system exploited by those who can afford the legal advice and bank accounts.
It is high time we in the UK clean up our own back yard and get serious about tackling the hidden financial systems of our Overseas Territories that not only facilitate tax evasion by the elite but actively encourage it.
Tax evasion in British overseas territory is not only a national embarrassment, it denies funds that could be spent on public services at home and helps in part enable global poverty. A recent review that was published by Christian Aid and the Financial Transparency Coalition of the leaks from the Swiss branch of HSBC, evidenced that poorer countries lose far more to tax evasion, relative to the size of their economies, compared to rich countries.
The IMF recently calculated that developing countries are losing around $200 billion a year to tax avoidance by companies. This is substantially more than they receive in aid. This coupled with the fact that the OECD has estimated that tax havens may be costing developing countries a sum of up to three times the global aid budget is truly shocking.
When I personally visited the BVIs some years ago I was surprised by their beauty and friendliness – but also two other things. A striking number of people living on clearly very low incomes in islands that have a per capita income of over $42,000 a year; and the revealing conversation I had with a British man who told me how he was involved in “efficient tax planning” for companies and wealthy individuals.
In 2013, David Cameron stated “I do not think it is fair any longer to refer to any of the overseas territories or Crown dependencies as tax havens – they have taken action to make sure that they have fair and open tax systems.”
This is utter nonsense.
One thing is abundantly clear from the Panama Papers, is that some British Territories and Dependencies are at the heart of them. This government is simply not doing enough to uphold international standards of transparency. It is time for Cameron to follow through on the agreements made the 2013 G8 to ensure that British territories take action to tackle tax avoidance.
Nearly three years on, next to no progress has been made.
As my colleague Mike Kane has rightly argued – the key question now is whether the Prime Minister will step in before his Anti-Corruption Summit on 12 May to require registers of beneficial ownership in the UK’s Overseas Territories. This would further demonstrate the UK’s leadership on this issue.
But I believe we need to go further – it is our duty to call time on secretive British-backed tax havens and renegotiate our relationship, even if that means moving to more direct funding of the Overseas Territories in the short term to make up for lost “business”. It is only right and moral that UK Overseas Territories and Dependencies come into line with the British public’s expectations on tax.
The UK can no longer provide tacit shelter, heaven and refuge for the world’s rich, powerful and corrupt. The shadowy systems of secrecy which permeate our territories abroad must come to an end.
All of us who pay our tax – demand no less. And the poorest who lose out the most – deserve no less.
By Claire Leigh – Consultant at UNDP, 2015 Labour Parliamentary Candidate and former Chair of LCID – @
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.
At 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.
By Stephen Doughty MP, Labour and Co-operative MP for Cardiff South and Penarth and LCID Vice-President – @SDoughtyMP
Aid is risky. Let’s be honest.
But it is absolutely in our national interest, the global interest – and it is our moral duty.
If you are going to operate in unstable and impoverished communities and countries to address challenges like disease, poor education, corruption, conflict and instability – there are going to be mistakes. Try telling any small-business entrepreneur working in this country, let alone the developing world, that they have to get it 100% right all of the time.
If you are going to try and work in countries like Afghanistan or Yemen, Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo to support women standing up against sexual violence; to attempt to inoculate and educate children who would die before they are five years old, or fall prey to mass unemployment that could leave their hands idle to be exploited by extremists or criminals; to build up government institutions so countries can collect their own taxes and end their need for aid in the first place; then you are not always going to succeed.
If you are going to try and support refugees fleeing Dae’sh/Isis in the volatile regions surrounding the conflict, rather than see more make the perilous journey across the seas to Western Europe; or to attempt to support people in far flung communities in Nepal or Haiti hit by a devastating earthquake; it isn’t always going to work out like you might have planned in Whitehall. I saw that for myself visiting Afghanistan at the height of our military, development and diplomatic intervention there.
But it is a damn sight better to make that effort and succeed most of the time, than having not tried, or worse still taking the foolish decision to withdraw and ignore the turbulent and impoverished world around us.
A world whose convulsions have consequences for our streets and our cities. And a world whose horrors should shame every British citizen, whether the 800 women who die every day in childbirth due to preventable causes, or the 20,000 children who die every day under the age of five due to diseases like malaria or diarrhoea.
Any investigation or newspaper can find examples of where money is wasted, or where mistakes are being made – whether it’s in our local council, the NHS or in the overseas aid budget. It is vital such work continues.
It is absolutely right that any new allegations that have come to light are robustly examined, and action taken urgently where necessary, not least where allegations are made about money ending up in the hands of extremists – an allegation DfID has strongly denied.
I have every confidence that such an investigation will take place, and robust action taken if proven. This is because the Department for International Development is one of the most scrutinised and examined departments in government – including by specialised independent bodies that have been set up like the Independent Commission for Aid Impact which reports to Parliament, not the Government.
But – a leap from exposing specific faults, or even dangerous or corrupt practises, to making a general dismissal of our aid budget is a dangerous and foolish mistake to make in our volatile world.
The Mail on Sunday claim on the basis of a series of stories: “Rather than helping people who desperately need it, much of this money is wasted and…fuels corruption, funds despots and corrodes democracy in developing nations.”
Let’s take each of those lazy allegations in turn:
Corruption thrives in conditions of extreme poverty and insecurity. It’s no coincidence that countries like Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan hold up the bottom of the global Corruption Index produced by Transparency International.
We have withdrawn our aid (or never even permitted) support on occasions where we had clear evidence that corrupt or indulgent leaders or governments planned to misuse it – Malawi and Zimbabwe being just two examples in recent years.
And democracy will only truly thrive when people in the world’s poorest countries perceive a real link between voting and paying taxes, with governments that are able to improve their safety, job prospects, education and health to take but a few examples.
There are many things that this Tory government has done which I deride, but in all fairness, they have taken a number of crucial steps in the right direction to improve the scrutiny and effectiveness of our aid budget.
They have regularly reviewed the countries and international bodies that receive our support. They don’t always get this right (e.g. in scrapping aid to volatile Burundi) but other decisions such as scrapping aid to rapidly developing India, whilst a tough choice given the levels of poverty that remain, were absolutely right.
They have increased the independent oversight and scrutiny of the aid budget – which is widely regarded to be one of the most professional and impactful in the world.
And they have rightly increased the coordination between our defence, diplomatic and development activities under the National Security Council. The nonsense that there is a zero-sum game between military spending and aid must be taken head on. That doesn’t mean this government are always pulling in the same, or right direction – as the current and growing questions around UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia being used in Yemen shows.
But – I like many others am as strong a supporter of the 2% defence target, as I am in maintaining our extensive diplomatic network and aid spending. And the truth is that in 2014/15 defence spending made up about 75% of our total international focussed spending – with aid, diplomacy and intelligence making up 25%.
For all of our efforts on “soft” development and diplomatic paths – sometimes “hard” (and expensive) military intervention e.g. to cope with a barbarous regime like Da’esh / ISIS is crucial.
The Mail on Sunday make eight “recommendations”:
- First, they want to scrap the aid target. What the Mail don’t tell you (like many financial adverts) is that the new law means that the amount of aid can go down as well as up. The law passed to meet the 0.7% aid commitment will actually now result in the UK aid budget falling by £650million over the next few years due to declining economic growth.
- Second, they tell us to “only spend on what’s needed”. This is a vacuous suggestion that takes no account of disasters, complex conflicts or rapidly emerging situations like the Ebola outbreak. Of course DfID should not make up projects to spend money to a target, and there is a genuine challenge of coping with an increased budget with lower back office staffing.
- Third, they tell us to “hit the fat cat contractors”. This is one of the few areas where they make a good point. Like in many areas of the public sector under this Tory government, we have seen an explosion in poor value for money contracting out to profit-making enterprises delivering public goods. DfID need to get this under control.
- Fourth, they tell us to make sure that projects are reviewed and audited independently. They are.
- Fifth, they tell DfID to stop funding “despots”. The truth is the UK has for the last 15 years taken huge steps to ensure money doesn’t get into the hands of repressive or corrupt governments. There will always be an element of risk however, and there are inherent difficulties in judging a government such as Rwanda who has as many ardent supporters in the West as critics.
- Sixth, they tell DfID to end Programme Partnership Agreements – large grants to charities. They are already doing this, although some argue this will lead to less efficient support of charities, not better.
- Seventh, they say there should be an “independent whistleblower” and “hotline”.This already exists, and in my own experience of reporting allegations, these are dealt with thoroughly and swiftly.
- Eight, they want a “beefed up watchdog” to investigate aid. This already exists. And DfID is regularly and robustly scrutinised in Parliament.
On the basis of a list of poorly researched recommendations, the Mail on Sunday misleads its readers that none of these things are being done, and exhorts them to “stop the madness” and sign a petition to scrap the 0.7% aid target.
The usual suspects from the hard right of the Tories and Ukip have weighed in support, forgetting to remind us that they are equally as happy to slash support for the poor and vulnerable at home, regardless of the size of the aid budget.
But the growing chaos in Yemen, Somalia and across parts of Northern and Central Africa show exactly what the consequences of ignoring the gross poverty and instability in our back yard can be.
A tiny investment as a proportion of overall government spending, amounting to less than a penny in every pound of national income – helps us to tackle those threats, and help change millions of lives for the better. It also can show the world that Britain is at its best a compassionate and moral global power.
What would be madness is slashing the very budget focused on tackling the gross poverty, instability and insecurity that threatens our national and global security, drives people to flee their countries to drown in the Mediterranean, but most importantly – degrades us all as human beings.
This piece originally featured on the Huffington Post website – HERE
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.