British aid cuts hit women hardest but British leadership could change that
The cause of gender justice runs through multiple, overlapping crises faced by the G7. Britain must champion equality across the world and deliver on the vision for a more inclusive future.
As host of the G7, Britain was given a historic opportunity to set the global agenda in a year when humanity begins to turn the tide against the devastation of the pandemic. To this end, campaigners have been highlighting both the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on women and girls, and the opportunity to – in the words of the Prime Minister – “build back better” while advancing the cause of gender justice.
Unfortunately, the run-up to the summit was overshadowed by severe cuts to UK aid, which have had a devastating impact on women and girls, and will lead to hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths.
By championing the cause of girls’ education as the “Swiss army knife of international development”, Boris Johnson raised ambition and expectation ahead of hosting the Global Partnership for Education replenishment summit with Kenya this summer. But at the same time, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has cut girls’ education programmes by 40 per cent this year, leading to 700,000 fewer girls receiving a quality education.
The pandemic has put gains made in gender equality over the past decades at risk
Girls’ education programmes are vital because investing in girls during adolescence has profound effects on their future wellbeing, including delayed marriage, reduced risk of HIV/Aids, increased family income, improved survival rates, health indicators and educational outcomes for future children, and lower rates of domestic violence. But how can we expect other countries to commit to these transformative investments if we are cancelling our own?
So many of the cuts the FCDO is making are counter-productive at best and, at worst, represent a series of damaging acts of diplomatic self-harm. Cuts to humanitarian assistance mean 2 million fewer people will be supported, while the recruiting sergeants of violent extremist groups will be emboldened. Famine-stricken Yemen and war-torn Syria have not been spared.
The pandemic has put gains made in gender equality over the past decades at risk. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, a shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls has grown and intensified. Unpaid care work and job losses have fallen predominately on women. These cuts make it harder to reverse setbacks from Covid and make progress across all sustainable development goals, including the pledge to reach the furthest behind first.
Worryingly, 7.4 million fewer women will be supported to access clean water and sanitation as a result of 80 per cent cuts to UK aid. During a global pandemic where we prevent its deadly spread through increased handwashing and hygiene, that just doesn’t make sense.
Another devastating decision is the FCDO’s cancellation of support for family planning and reproductive healthcare. The UN Population Fund has seen an 85 per cent reduction in support from the UK. This funding would have helped prevent nearly a million child and maternal death, 47 million unintended pregnancies, and 1.4 million unsafe abortions.
A promise made to a woman attending a clinic to access modern methods of contraception must be kept. Yet those running programmes on the ground say clinics will be closed, trained medial staff laid off, and medical supplies will not be reordered. What will women who walk miles to return to the village clinic that once displayed a Union Jack think of us, when it is time for their implant to be removed?
Ahead of the G7 summit, charities and civil society came together to form a coalition called Crack the Crises, calling on the UK government to demonstrate leadership on the global stage. The coalition unites nature, development, climate change and UK social justice groups with a shared strategy: urging a just and green recovery. The cause of gender justice runs right through all crises faced by the G7.
Having taken on the presidency of the G7 for 2021, Britain has an opportunity to play a key role on the global stage and remain a true champion of gender equality and women’s rights. We must not miss this opportunity.
Caroline Nokes, Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, and Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee.