Lib Dem international development minister Lynne Featherstone is currently on a trip to the southern African country of Zambia. Her first visit was to the capital, Lusaka, and to a UK-funded empowerment programme for adolescent girls.
Over to Lynne:
This programme is supporting more than 1,500 of the most vulnerable girls, providing safe spaces and mentoring to help build their confidence and life skills.
The girls I met told me they were learning about their rights as women. One 16 year old girl said she now felt more confident to say no to unwanted approaches from boys. Another said the girls now understood that if a spouse or boyfriend attacked his partner, she had the right to go to the police. This is a much-needed message in a country where 63% of women aged 15-24 report wife-beating to be justified under certain conditions.
Perhaps most inspiring are the girls’ hopes for the future. They are encouraged to dream big. When I asked the girls what they wanted to do in life, hands shot up around the room. The wanted to be doctors, lawyers, journalists, nurses, teachers – one even said President of Zambia, to much applause.
On her second day in the country Lynne then travelled to the Southern Province of the country to visit a number of programmes designed to improve, among other things, the health and education systems:
I wanted to meet those most directly impacted by these programmes and to hear their stories.
For example, Metiness Chandi, a disabled mother of three in Monze district, who now receives income support through the Government of Zambia’s social protection programme. Metiness has used this income to build hard-roof housing for her family, to buy chickens, and to send her children to school. Her life has changed from desperation to hopefulness.
60% of Zambians live on less than $1 a day. In rural Zambia, 57% live in extreme poverty and are unable to meet basic food needs. Through the social protection programme, 99,000 recipients (84% of them women) will be reached by 2015 – over 60% funded by UK aid.
* Nick Thornsby is Thursday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs here.