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.

 

Select Committee reports on DfID

In this guest post, Anas Sarwar MP writes again for LCID about the work being done on the International Development Select Committee.

Last week saw the publication of the International Development Select Committee report looking into DFID’s Annual Report & Resource Accounts for 2009-2010.  It offers a valuable insight into the key policy areas the coalition government wishes to pursue going forward.  

Some of the main policy areas it touches on include; a major push for efficiency, which will see DFID become the most cost-efficient development organisation in the world; the establishment of a new aid watchdog, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI), which has been set up to evaluate UK aid projects and programmes; and more work with fragile and conflict affected areas.

 Greater Efficiency and Greater Effectiveness

The Report begins by expressing the Committee’s support for the coalition Government’s commitment to meet the UN agreed target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) for Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) by 2013 which was put in place by Labour.  Unfortunately, the government hasn’t yet taken the final step and given a timetable for enshrining this commitment in law. That is what Labour and our campaign for international development must continue to keep pushing for.

The Government hopes to see DFID becoming the most cost-efficient development organisation in the world, by reducing its running costs to 2% of its total budget.  This is to be done through cutting DFID’s back office costs and increasing spending through multi-lateral organisations.  Although, the Committee’s Report welcomes efficiency, it is imperative that we do not compromise our long term strategic goals and objectives. 

As a Select Committee, no matter where we go or whoever we meet, we are always being told that DFID’s greatest assets are its staff.  I sincerely hope that the Governments efficiency drive will not undermine the fantastic image that DFID staff project of the UK all around the world and more importantly the incredible work of vital frontline staff.

A new aid watchdog, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI), has been established to evaluate UK aid projects and programmes.  The ICAI –which will be accountable to Parliament through the International Development Select Committee – builds on foundations laid out by Labour in Government, and should ensure that money being spent overseas is effective.  

Where should the focus be? 

At a time when 32 out of the 34 countries furthest away from reaching the Millennium Development Goals are in or emerging from conflict it is right to focus aid on such areas.  The Report therefore welcomes the increased priority being awarded to working with these areas as part of a broader development and conflict prevention/resolution agenda. 

However, it issues a cautionary note to the Government in the need for it to recognise the challenges that may arise in redirecting assistance from countries with good governance – where aid is likely to be better spent – to countries that are conflict affected where corruption and bad administration often mean the impact is more difficult to manage and even more difficult to measure.  This is important at a time when the Government is keen to ensure the effectiveness of aid.

Currently 90% of DFID aid goes to low income countries, many of which are graduating from low income to lower-middle income country status.  To support sustainable growth and development, and ensure earlier work is not wasted, we cannot afford to overlook the need for providing ongoing support for these countries, where the prevalence of poverty in the general population remains high. DFID should ensure they continue to focus on the people most in need, not just the countries most in need.

We must now press the government to enshrine the 0.7% commitment in to law, and we must provide strong scrutiny to ensure that defence or diplomatic spending is not compromised by being claimed as ODA.   Working with the Shadow DFID team and LCID we must ensure Labour remains the leading voice for development.

Harriet Harman’s letter to Mitchell

Harriet Harman, Shadow International Development Secretary, has written to Andrew Mitchell about topical questions at International Development Questions in Parliament. You can read her letter below and we all look forward to this change being implemented in time for the next International Development Questions on 16 February

Dear Andrew, 

I am writing to confirm your agreement that we should have topical questions at Oral PQs and to ask that we introduce the change soon – for Oral Questions next week if possible.

Of course oral answers to questions tabled up to three days ahead provide vital accountability to the House. But there are occasions, indeed there have been in the last two questions sessions, where there has been a sudden emergency situation overseas and where the House would like to hear of the government’s response from yourself and your ministerial team. We agreed when we met that topical questions can ensure that these questions can be asked without relying on the luck of the draw of tabled questions providing an opportunity to raise this. It is not desirable for the House not to be able to raise important emergencies or to have to do so obliquely to get the Question “in order”. Indeed doing it like this often leaves the rest of the House, and no doubt the public, baffled.

I am grateful for your agreement that we should have topical questions. I agree that proceeding by way of 10 minutes’ topicals at the top of the orals, followed by 20 minutes of tabled questions, is the best way of doing it. I understand that the Speaker and the Leader of the House have no objection to this.

I look forward to your support and action to make this change, if possible, in time for next orals on 16th February.

I am releasing this letter to the media.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP, Shadow Deputy Prime Minister and Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Harriet Harman to discuss the aid budget at LSE

On Thursday 3rd February, Harriet Harman, Shadow International Development Secretary will be speaking at the London School of Economics. The talk will focus on the aid budget and how, and why, the UK should honour its pledge to increase aid to 0.7 of national income in a time of economic downturn.

The event is free and entry is on a first come, first served basis.

Date: Thursday 3 February 2011
Time: 6.30-8pm
Venue: Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House

 

Don’t forget that LCID is hosting an event in Parliament with Harriet Harman on 16 February. If you would like to come along to the LCID event, please RSVP to eilidh@lcid.org.uk

Christian Aid calls on Mitchell to do more on climate change

Courtesy of Christian Aid

There is a very interesting piece over on Left Foot Forward on Christian Aid’s new campaign which calls on the World Bank to do more to tackle climate change.

You can lend your voice to Christian Aid’s and email Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, and ask him to use his position within the World Bank to support developing nations in the fight against climate change.

One notable part of the story on Left Foot Forward says:

Step forward, then, Mr Mitchell, who as the UK’s board representative can now have a significant say in how the bank’s financial institutions are run and how the money is spent. (The UK holds 3.75% of the vote, equal to France, while larger voting shares are held by the US, Japan, China and Germany).

Mr Mitchell must seize the chance to press the bank to put its billions into carbon-safe, clean ways of generating energy, such as solar and small-scale hydroelectric, and biomass projects which can deliver clean energy directly to poor people.

For to preserve any credibility as a force for good, the bank must be seen to be in the vanguard of supporting sustainable and renewable energy sources which would help avert climate chaos while meeting the energy needs of poorer communities to help lift them out of poverty.

You can read the full article over on Left Foot Forward. Here at LCID, we have written frequently on climate change as a challenge to developing nations and we welcome Christian Aid’s focus on the agenda.

 

Harriet Harman calls for aid for Sri Lankan flood victims

With floods in Sri Lanka driving 39,000 people from their homes, Harriet Harman, Shadow International Development Secretary, has called for the UK and the international community to help.

Though aid has begun to arrive in Sri Lanka, The Daily Mirror points out that only 6 tonnes of aid was moved on Friday.

Harriet Harman said:

“Sadly over twenty people have lost their lives in these devastating floods and  hundreds of thousands of people have been affected with many losing their homes and livelihoods. The priority now must be helping them.

“The floods will also cause longer term problems. They have destroyed acres of rice fields which could put food supply at risk and have raised the risk of water-borne diseases like typhoid.

“The people of Sri Lanka will need help, both immediately and in the long-term,  and the UK and the international community must be ready to  help provide that support.

“Many people in the UK will be worried about their friends and relatives in Sri Lanka and I am urging the UK government to do all they can to help them get in touch with their loved ones.”

Anas Sarwar writes for LCID on the 2010 MDG Review

By Anas Sarwar, Glasgow Central MP and  member of the International Development Select Committee

If you’d like to get up to speed on progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, the International Development Select Committee’s report on the 2010 Review Summit is the ideal place to start.

Published yesterday, it provides a detailed overview of where things stand and, more importantly, where the shifting sands of global policy will take us in the lead up to the 2015 MDG deadline.

The report looks at three strands: what has been achieved so far; the summit outcomes; and what needs to be done.

Initially, I was pleased to learn that progress toward eradicating extreme poverty and hunger has been generally good – the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 1.8 to 1.4 billion between 1990 and 2005. 

But when I looked at the figures in greater detail I was dismayed to discover that the number of people living in extreme poverty has actually increased during that same period if the millions of people pulled out of poverty by China’s surging economy are discounted.

This is just one reason why it was so important to bring together 140 heads of state at the recent MDG Review Summit.

You see, progress toward achieving the MDGs before the 2015 deadline has been lethargic.

The select committee report describes the indifference shown by both developing and donor countries in meeting their commitments and underlines the fact that we are no closer to establishing a new international framework to succeed the MDGs post-2015. 

All the while, volatile food and financial markets, more frequent natural disasters, and climate change are restricting development progress.

The committee’s report makes a series of recommendations to DfID. Two of the central suggestions encompass my vision for the future of development: to target development assistance at building democratic institutions and tackling gender inequality.

It’s absolutely vital that DFID supports democratic institutions in developing countries so that citizens can hold government to account. To that end I have stood up in the House of Commons and demanded that our government help developing countries strengthen their tax collection systems. I have also joined charities in campaigning for the introduction of new UK legislation similar to the US Dodd-Frank Bill which improves transparency and regulation of the US financial system.  That would help to give governments in developing countries access to a more sustainable stream of finance, and it would also promote stronger governance by fostering a more accountable state-citizen relationship. It’s what the long-term success of the summit and the MDGs ultimately depends on.

It is also crucial that we develop a global approach to tackling gender inequality. It’s widely known that maternal health is directly affected by the social, cultural and economic inequalities women face based on their gender. My grandfather reminded me recently of the importance of women in society by saying: ‘educating a boy benefits one man; educating a girl benefits a family. Countering gender inequality in the developing world is the key to unlocking many MDGs.

The Labour government accomplished much after setting up the dedicated Department for International Development in 1997.

We trebled the aid budget; cancelled debt owed by the poorest countries; and cut the link between aid and commercial interest. We were the first country to sign up to the UN agreed goal to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on development assistance by 2013; we ensured Britain became the world’s second largest bilateral humanitarian aid donor. We championed the case for development across the world and we cemented Britain’s position as the global leader. 

These are achievements we can be proud of. But if we are to stand any chance of reducing global poverty in the future it’s vital that these achievements are seen as a foundation to build on.

There is much building work to be done.

And global action to promote stronger governance and gender equality in developing countries must be the cornerstones.

Will Human Rights have their day in Bangladesh?

By Claire Leigh

You may not know it, but today (10th December) is World Human Rights Day. Coinciding the with the day that Liu Xiaobo fails to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for his tireless efforts to promote greater respect for human rights in China, this year’s celebration is a good time to reflect on the billions of people worldwide for whom the very concept of ‘human rights’ must seem like a meaningless abstraction.

I recently returned from Bangladesh, where I spent four days visiting projects supported by UK charity One World Action. Among other things, One World Action works with local NGO Nagorik Uddyog to promote the rights of the 5.5 million Dalits currently living in Bangladesh. Dalits (often referred to as ‘Untouchables’) represent the lowest castes in the traditional Hindu hierarchy, historically engaged in trades and occupations that are considered ‘unclean’ such as sweeping, cobbling, disposing of dead bodies and manual scavenging (a euphemism for sewerage work). In an endemically poor country, these people are the poorest of the poor; socially, economically and politically marginalised, Dalits are routinely denied even their most basic rights, ignored in public and despised in private.

The plight of Dalits living in India is well documented, having been brought to light by Ghandi as early as the 1930s. However, as most of the Dalits living in Bangladesh were brought in from India under the colonial regime, the majority-Muslim society has until recently regarded caste-based exclusion as an ‘Indian problem’ that does not concern Bangladesh, or at least a ‘Hindu problem’ that does not concern the vast majority of Bangladeshi society.

In the two days I spent visiting Dalit communities in and around Dhaka, the idea that Dalit exclusion is not a Bangladeshi problem became patently ridiculous.

Most Dalits in Dhaka live in so-called ‘colonies’, physically demarcated areas squeezed into the most crowded parts of the city. The entrance of the first colony I enter is marked by a discreet arch, covering a tiny alleyway which leads into a maze of narrow streets beyond. Like Platform 9 ¾, you would not know it was there unless you were shown. Hidden away like this the colony seems to physically embody the marginalisation and exclusion of its inhabitants; out of sight, out of mind. Our driver Mintu had no idea such areas of town existed and was visibly taken aback by what we saw.

The first thing that hits you in the confusion of smells; open sewers mixed with frying spices and fresh laundry hung over the already crowded alleys, creating a kind of bunting of colourful dripping clothes. Then the inhabitants- not only the dozens of children that we gather as we walk around, but the thousands of flies that make the colony their home. As we tour round a maze of streets we see houses which are no more than small rooms, often home to families of eight people or more. We see the temples and community halls that provide the only large spaces for the community gather. We walk past the toilet block, an open space for showering with no separate areas for men and women, meaning people are forced to wash over their saris and lungis, denied even the privacy of their morning ablutions. The shared WCs are so few in number that they attract an even greater density of flies, gut-churning smells and angry queues of people.

But among the chaos and the squalor you also get a keen sense of a community increasingly aware of its rights and increasingly able and willing to fight for them. I met young women who were studying for college degrees, and who had chosen, rather than escaping their roots, to come back into the community to teach and lead. I met mothers who had started women’s groups, providing the training, support and loans necessary to earn extra income and provide alternative occupations outside the traditional Dalit trades. And I met men and women who through groups such as Bangladesh Dalit Human Rights were advocating at the city and national levels to tackle Dalit exclusion, improve conditions and promote new laws to protect the human rights of all marginalised communities.

A rally organised by BDERM (Bangladeshi Dalit and Excluded Rights Movement) on my fourth and final day in Dhaka demonstrated just how far the movement has come in a few short years. Cars hooted their horns and cycle rickshaws rang their bells in solidarity as Dalit protesters marched past the National Museum proudly holding signs bearing a slogan that is hard to argue with: ‘Dalit Rights are Human Rights.’ As we marched with the crowd I looked to my left and saw that our driver Mintu had joined the protest, the newest convert to a growing movement.

Huhne can easily stay in Cancun: Call Ming or Charles!

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne today risked embarrassing the UK delegation at the UNFCCC talks in Cancun by threatening to return home to vote for a large rise in student tuition fees. The UK has taken a lead role in negotiating the future of the Kyoto Protocol.

Huhne has attempted to blame Labour Leader Ed Miliband for failing to pair him up with a Labour MP voting against the hike in fees. However, he seems to have conveniently forgotten to ask rebels within his own party. At least 10 Liberal Democrat MPs are expected to vote against the bill tomorrow, including former leaders Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell. He could also pick up the phone to Conservative party rebels and request to pair with one of them.

There is even a potential Liberal Democrat rebel MP in Cancun with the UK delegation – Martin Horwood MP told the BBC earlier this month he would likely vote against. Instead of pairing with Horwood, Huhne is cynically attempting to boost the Government position by asking Labour MPs to cancel out his support.

He has sought to spin his way out the Liberal Democrat’s internal fiasco by blaming the Leader of the Opposition.

David Taylor, Chair of the Labour Campaign for International Development said:

“This decision comes down to Huhne’s political priorities: Would he rather help broker a key global deal on climate change or hike fees on students? He could have called on one of his rebel Lib Dem colleagues to pair with him, or are relations so bad within Lib Dem ranks that he’d rather turn to Labour?

“The choice is his alone – and certainly not Ed Miliband’s.”

London turned red for World AIDS Day

by Matt More

Last night, landmarks around the world were turned red to commemorate World AIDS day. In London, County Hall and the London Eye were illuminated to raise awareness of (RED)’s goal of an AIDS free generation by 2015.

In 2008, approximately 430,000 children were born with HIV, roughly 18% lower than in 2001. This figure fell further in 2009 as UNAIDS estimated that approximately 370,000 babies were born with HIV. Under the last Labour government, DfID played a significant role in helping to reduce mother to child transmission of HIV. LCID calls on the Coalition Government to continue this commitment to combat HIV and AIDS globally, and ensure that the goal of an AIDS free generation is achieved by 2015.