We must put ending violence against women at the heart of our G7 presidency
Last week’s Budget saw the Chancellor document the enormous damage that Covid-19 has inflicted upon the country’s finances and the steps that we must now take together to put public spending back on to an even keel.
However, the impact of Covid has not been confined to our economy. The pandemic has decimated businesses, destroyed livelihoods, and exacerbated a myriad of pre-existing crises such as that of violence against women. As nation after nation entered lockdown, the United Nations estimated that each month would result in an additional five million cases of gender-based violence, two million more cases of female genital mutilation and 13 million more children forced into child marriages.
It is easy to dismiss this worrying trend of increased violence against women as an issue confined to developing countries, but a recent report by Women’s Aid highlights that almost two-thirds of women living with a domestic abuser during lockdown reported that their abuse had worsened. The cold reality is that gender-based violence remains as much an issue at home as it does abroad.
Here in the UK, the government has been quick to act. At last week’s Budget, the government announced a £19 million funding increase for tackling domestic violence, which will support a network of Respite Rooms for homeless women and deliver a programme to prevent those who commit domestic abuse from reoffending. This funding, coupled with the latest improvements to the Domestic Abuse Bill announced by the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland last week, will go a long way towards ending violence against women in the UK.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of our international approach to fulfilling our Millennium Development Goals of reaching gender equality or eradicating gender-based violence. Of the £14 billion spent on international aid, just 0.3% is invested towards ending violence against women and girls. Important programmes such as the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, set up by William Hague and Angelina Jolie, have been steadily downgraded, underfunded and left to flounder.
This inaction has come at the very same time as the international landscape has become more fractured, divided and scarred by conflict and crises. The ongoing conflict in Yemen, the suffering of the Yazidis, Rohingyas and Uighurs are but a few. The lack of appetite in the West to enforce the rules-based order has only set to embolden the dictators, the despots and those with no moral values.
International Women’s Day can serve as an opportunity to reengage and reignite the international community’s appetite to support and protect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. President Biden, who has previous form having championed the US’s Violence Against Women Act of 1994, will be a powerful voice for women’s rights on the world stage. But Britain can also lead.
This year alone we have chaired the UN Security Council and we will be hosting both the G7 and the global climate conference, COP26. These major forums are arenas of power and opportunity for us to engage and call for international cooperation and action. Women’s rights should be at the top of our agenda at the forthcoming G7 summit. But what should we be calling for?
First, just as with our creation of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, we must be bold. If China and Russia continue to use their veto at the UN to prevent action to tackle violence against women, we should create a new international human rights body to achieve this. Such an organisation, based here in the UK, could document crimes of sexual violence, support survivors and lead international prosecutions to deliver justice. No longer should any nation be able to hide behind outdated multilateral organisational rules.
Second, the disparity between the funding and the enormity of gender-based violence must be addressed. The government should dedicate 1% of our country’s aid budget to protect victims of sexual violence. Not only would this triple our current spending, it would also show global leadership and incentivise other countries to follow our example.
Third, we must maintain our 0.7% foreign aid commitment. Not only was this a promise made to the world’s poorest and a manifesto pledge, but it is an example of Global Britain’s moral duty to tackle the greatest international injustices. The proposed cut to 0.5% will inflict untold damage on thousands of aid projects around the world and in all likelihood cost us a great deal more in the future.
We are no longer a superpower, but we are a global leader when it comes to development, diplomacy and defence. These three pillars of British foreign policy must not be chipped away at, least of all during a time of national revaluation and international need.
In previous years we have shown an appetite to tackle the most complex of issues, to garner international action and to create the necessary diplomatic resolutions. We must do so again, or the global pandemic of gender-based violence, around long before Covid, will remain long after the virus has been defeated. Taking meaningful action on this issue now will show the world that Global Britain is more than just bravado.
Anthony Mangnall MP is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative.
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