Supporting women and girls is everyone’s business

Author, Vicky Ford. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • I am personally committed to seeing transformation in the freedoms of women and girls, by working together with our partners across Africa.

Every year on March 8 the world celebrates International Women’s Day. But this year we need to do much more than just celebrate women and girls; we need to break the biases. The past two years have demonstrated why this action is critical. 

We’ve seen the devastating impact that Covid-19 has had on the livelihoods of women and access to education for both boys and girls. Disruption to health services has driven a surge in unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and maternal and new-born deaths. And during lockdowns we saw a shocking rise in violence against women and girls. 

Educating girls, empowering women and ending violence against women and children is a moral imperative for us all, and one that will have a direct positive impact on the world’s economy, health and security – accelerating inclusive growth across Africa. 

We cannot do this alone.  A combined effort from businesses, communities, citizens and the international community is needed to tackle the discrimination, violence and inequality that hold women back.

Covid-19 has also seen dramatic increases in girls dropping out of school. The World Bank estimates that 2.6 million girls across Africa are at risk of not returning to school. In January I was in Wakiso in Uganda and had the pleasure of meeting the girls who had just returned to Onwards & Upwards School for the first time in nearly two years. Seeing their own ambition for their futures was inspiring.

If girls do not get 12 years of quality education, this doesn’t only affect their employment prospects – it also makes them more susceptible to early childhood marriage, domestic violence and violence in conflict.  

This is why the UK Government invested £430m in the Global Partnership for Education at the Global Education Summit in London last year, co-hosted with Kenya. Together, we raised an unprecedented $4 billion for the Global Partnership for Education.  

Women and girls are best placed to have control of their bodies; choosing if, whether and when to have children, so they can complete their education, build livelihoods and fulfil their potential.   

That is why we are extending the Women’s Integrated Sexual Health (WISH) programme across Africa, enabling women, including women with disabilities, to realise their sexual and reproductive health rights. 

We will use every lever we have to empower women and girls with the freedoms they need to succeed – including promoting women’s leadership and agency to ensure our voices are heard at all levels, from community level to national politics.

And those aren’t the only places where we want to see more women. The UK will continue to push for the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in all peace efforts, including as mediators and negotiators. 

There’s great work going on. But sadly, despite all this, we all know that violence against women continues in different forms. 

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is one such act of violence. At least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, and between now and 2030, more than 45 million more girls are at risk of FGM. 
 The UK is proud to partner with grassroots activists, survivors and African-led movements to end FGM.

Thousands of communities have made the choice to abandon the practice – but population growth means the numbers of girls undergoing FGM continues to rise. 

This year the UK will play a leading role in ending violence against women and girls, including hosting an international conference and building momentum towards a new global treaty to stop the use of rape and sexual violence in war.

I am personally committed to seeing transformation in the freedoms of women and girls, by working together with our partners across Africa to educate girls, empower women politically, socially and economically and to eradicate gender-based violence so women and girls can reach their full potential. 

These are all the ways the UK Government intends to #breakthebias this International Women’s Day. How will you?

Vicky Ford MP, Minister for Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean