Penny Mordaunt: UK aid is working to eradicate violence against women and girls in all its forms

Posted On: 
14th January 2019

The sheer scale of violence against women and girls around the world, and the terror and misery it creates, is a travesty. But we all have the power to change this injustice, writes Penny Mordaunt

A Rohingya woman crosses the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh
Credit: 
UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Every woman and girl in the world deserves the right to a safe childhood, to a quality education, to healthcare and to live their life without fear. These are the basics, which everyone, without question, should have access to.

Sadly, the reality is very different. 

One in five refugee women experience sexual violence. Worldwide, one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

We know these levels of violence get much worse in times of crisis and conflict. In South Sudan, a country ravaged by civil war, DFID found women were far more likely to experience domestic violence committed by their partners. With 132 million people expected to need humanitarian aid in the coming year, our job is to protect women and girls from some of the most systemic, horrendous and widespread human rights violations of our time.

These women who suffer appalling violence are less likely to complete their education, are more exposed to HIV and face a higher risk of physical and mental health challenges. This has damaging long-term effects, undermining the potential of individuals, families, communities and economies.

The sheer scale of violence against women and girls (VAWG) around the world, and the terror and misery it creates, is a travesty. And yet we all have the power to change this injustice. This is why UK aid is working to eradicate this scourge in all its forms – including domestic violence, sexual violence, female genital mutilation; and child, early and forced marriage. 

In South Sudan, UK aid is supporting the International Medical Corps to reduce women and girls’ exposure to violence and increase access to services for survivors. In our response to the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh, we have prioritised the protection and safeguarding of women and girls.

By working sensitively with women and men, girls and boys, we can challenge gender inequality and change lives. Set up in 2014, the UK’s flagship research programme, What Works to Prevent Violence, is the first large-scale study on how to prevent VAWG. This research is helping to stamp out violence by changing and challenging people’s attitudes towards violence so they are aware that it is completely unacceptable.

No one should have to face violence and no-one should tolerate it.

The What Works programme, which has discovered new ways to drive down rates of VAWG, found that by working with communities, faith leaders, couples, families, and schools, we can make a serious impact and reduce violence by up to 50%.

Women taking part in the programme in Ghana reported a 50% reduction in physical violence from their partners and a 55% reduction in sexual violence by a partner.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the programme worked with faith leaders and communities, leading to reduction in women’s reporting of domestic violence from 69% to 29%.

These programmes are having a very real effect on people’s lives.  We need to make further progress.

We need others to lean in and we need those who have done much to continue to do so.

It is crucial we engage with faith leaders to help us challenge deeply held beliefs and attitudes. Last year I visited the Vatican and met with the Holy See to progress ways of working together on saving the lives of women and girls.

Last month, I met with US Congressional Representatives to agree that the US should not roll back on women’s rights.

We want to give every girl and every woman in the world the power to take charge of their own lives, to seize opportunities, and to live without fear.

This work on VAWG is part of the UK’s wider campaign to improve gender equality. Last year, I launched my department’s new strategic vision for gender equality, which has tackling VAWG at its heart. By challenging child marriage and backing the Africa-led movement to end female genital mutilation (FGM), as well as upholding sexual and reproductive health and rights and helping girls get a quality education, we are giving girls and women the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

As part of this vision for gender equality, we announced £50 million of new UK aid funding to end FGM - the largest investment ever made to end FGM worldwide. This funding will support African-led movements and provide better protection for vulnerable girls in some of the world’s poorest countries. We can’t end FGM in the UK without ending it globally.

We are also working with the Foreign Office to end sexual violence in armed conflicts through the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. Last year Lord Ahmad announced £500,000 of UK aid funding to send experts to countries affected by conflict to help with prosecutions and legal reform, and to train police, peacekeepers and human rights defenders on sexual violence issues.

Defending the rights of women and girls around the world to live free from violence is helping them to lead safer, healthier and more productive lives and helping their nations to prosper. This is a win for everyone.

Penny Mordaunt is Conservative MP for Portsmouth North and Secretary of State for International Development