LibLink: Lynne Featherstone in New York for the Commission on the Status of Women

New york police  Some rights reserved by Amiga-Commodore Development Minister Lynne Featherstone spent two days in New York earlier this week at the United Nation’s annual Commission on the Status of Women. She posted a series of blogs from the Big Apple. Here are some highlights.

Day One:

I’ll be attending a whole load of events as well as talking to my counterparts from around the world to ensure the CSW negotiations lead to a commitment to finish the job of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to support the inclusion of a stand-alone goal on women and girls in the development framework that replaces the MDGs when they finish in 2015.

Girls and Disability

Although DFID is already doing some great work on disability – particularly around inclusive education, water and sanitation, and social protection – I felt this work was not mainstreamed enough. That’s why I announced new DFID commitments last year: that all schools directly funded by DFID will be fully accessible and to improve the data on disability which is so essential to understanding where and what the exact challenges are. And I’m working on more new commitments, so watch this space over the coming months!

But this is a global challenge and it needs a global effort to tackle it.

We now have a once-in-a-generation chance to finally put disability high up on the global agenda. Over the next 18 months the world’s leaders will negotiate the post-2015 development framework, and I’m going to be doing everything I can to make sure that no one is left behind.

Everyday sexism

I pay tribute to the work of the Everyday Sexism Project, which has collected thousands of testimonies from across the world. Some of them are really chilling, others more banal. But of course the crux of the issue is the banality of the evil: that any one catcall can be shrugged off. But the cumulative impact of the drip drip drip of unwelcome sexual advances and unrelenting critiques of women’s bodies and abilities have a corrosive effect upon all of us – men and women – and on the societies in which we live.

From a very young age, most girls learn to mentally brace themselves before they walk out the door each day. Women and girls develop coping strategies – smile nicely, find a cheeky riposte, get angry, pretend not to hear, put our heads down and quickly hurry past. Frankly, we’re expected to be big girls about it and lighten up. Well, I’m not lightening up.

Gender based violence

67% of women will experience gender-based violence at least once in their lives.  This doesn’t just cause short-term damage.  It can silence women’s voices, stop them from accessing work and economic opportunities, and prevent them from making choices about their lives.  It closes down women’s freedom and opportunities, but it also has a knock-on impact on families, societies and countries as a whole.  This makes combating gender-based violence a prerequisite for achieving gender equality and reducing poverty.

This afternoon I had the chance to share the UK’s experience on tackling gender-based violence.

In 2010 the Coalition Government published its Call to End Violence against Women and Girls strategy.  This strategy is a public declaration by the government that violence against women and girls is unacceptable and is an issue that we are committed to tackling together – in the UK and overseas.  We launched our latest National Action Plan to deliver this strategy on 8March to mark International Women’s Day.

The UK government announced this weekend that we will hold a summit this year on FGM and early and forced marriage – two examples of gender-based violence that we are committed to eradicating, and that link the domestic picture in the UK with our work in developing countries.

Clean energy access for women and girls:

Women and girls’ limited access to clean energy has extremely negative consequences on their quality of life, as I’ve written before.  Put simply, without energy access, women and girls in the developing world are even more time-poor – time spent collecting fuel and water is time not spent on education or on paid work. They are least safe when they are out collecting fuel and water. And smoke-related illnesses are one of the greatest causes of ill-health for women and children.

That is why I have launched a DFID campaign to improve the economic opportunities, safety and health of girls and women through clean and affordable energy. I am working closely with the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative – which took up my suggestion to focus the first two years of the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All on women and girls. And I am working to raise the profile of the women and girls’ limited access to clean energy, and to advocate for the international community to do more.

FGM Event

I have learnt from some of the most inspirational women – campaigners, activists, leaders – many of whom were in the room today. Bold, ambitious women who believed that change could happen. And I was told by African women and leaders that they wanted support. Now, I have heard some amazing young people add their voices to that call – including a young brother and sister duo who both spoke passionately about ridding the world of this abuse.

The young people who spoke today told us that they have been desperately trying to get leaders to listen to their calls to tackle FGM for years – and that finally they are in the room, and telling us not to ignore them any longer. They have felt the fear as they or their friends or sisters have been carried away to be cut. They know the feelings of sadness and shame and fury that their bodies no longer belong to them. They asked for our support to help them end this violence.

I will rise to that challenge and support these brilliant young people, who are the agents of change.

The missing Millennium Development Goal – ending violence against women and girls

There is a great need for more robust evaluations of initiatives that engage men and boys as partners and that create new social norms. Men and boys are crucial – we’ll get nowhere if women continue just to talk amongst ourselves.

So we need to invest in evidence to understand the causes of violence against women and girls, so that it can be effectively prevented.

That is why I was delighted to announce today that DFID is investing £25m in a new research and innovation programme called What Works to Prevent Violence led by the South African Medical Research Council. This flagship programme will support national governments and the international community to understand better what works in preventing violence against women and girls. It will also fund innovation grants for new interventions that have the potential to be taken to scale.

All Lynne’s blogs, which contain much more detail and examples can be found here.

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