British High Commissioner's speech on International Women's Day

British High Commission Ghana Commemorates International Women’s Day.

Honourable Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection – Nana Oye Lithur, Distinguished Panellists, Colleagues from the diplomatic community, representatives from civil society and the media, ladies and gentlemen, all protocols observed.

Yesterday, 8 March, countries around the world celebrated International Women’s Day. It is a day where women are recognised for their achievements and a day where we celebrate the progress that has been made in achieving gender parity. It is also a day for us to reflect on the huge amount of work that remains to be done to unlock the potential of girls and women and commit to step up our individual and collective efforts to advance women’s rights.

The 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights sets out that rights are both universal and equally applicable to everyone, everywhere. Yet discrimination and violence against women and girls remains perhaps the single most widespread human rights abuse globally.

It is therefore befitting that this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Pledge for Parity”. This theme seeks to encourage everyone - men and women alike - to pledge to take concrete steps to accelerate the empowerment of women and girls. This could mean helping women and girls achieve their ambitions, calling for gender-balanced leadership, and developing more inclusive cultures—these are all areas requiring further progress and which our panel members will speak to shortly. For my part, I have pledged to work towards ending all forms of conscious and unconscious bias at the British High Commission, as part of the inclusive UK-Ghanaian cultural atmosphere we aspire to emulate there.

I understand that events were held across Ghana to commemorate IWD 2016. I am delighted to welcome you here this afternoon to continue the rich conversations from yesterday, including the discussions on the inheritance rights of women at the 3rd National Gender Dialogue hosted by the sector minister.

In the UK, the Secretary of State for International Development (Justine Greening) and our Ministerial Champion for tackling Violence Against Women and Girls (Baroness Verma) also marked the day. They did so by participating in a series of high profile events to motivate audiences to step up progress on women and girls, underscoring the UK’s commitment in this area.

Since 2011, the UK has driven forward its commitment to do more to address gender inequalities. This includes the 2014 London Girl Summit which we co-hosted with UNICEF to mobilise international efforts to end Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM) and Female Genital Mutilation. This Summit saw many countries, including Ghana, make tangible commitments to end abuses against girls. I would like to congratulate the Government of Ghana for translating the commitments to end CEFM into actions including launching a national campaign to end the harmful practice. But harmful it still is – 1 in 4 Ghanaian girls still marry under the age of 18; and 1 in 17 under the age of 15, despite Ghanaian law clearly stating that anyone under 18 is a child. And while Ghana has an admirable set of laws in place, let’s pause to remember that a third of the world’s 195 countries have not outlawed domestic violence; and over two thirds of them have not criminalised rape within marriage. So, the campaign to address gender inequalities is desperately needed.

The process leading to the Global Goals on Sustainable Development which replaced the MDGs last year also exemplifies the UK’s global leadership in the area of women’s rights and empowerment. The UK, championed by the Prime Minister, advocated for targets that tackle the root causes of gender inequality such as ending violence against women and girls, CEFM and FGM. These were included in the final set of goals adopted at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015.

The bottom line is clear: FGM and CEFM are abhorrent practices that seriously curtail girls’ life chances. That should never be a partisan political issue – it should be something everyone can agree on. But there are plenty of other gender-related issues of interest here in Ghana. For example, some female MPs from both major parties have expressed concern to us that the already low female representation in parliament may drop further this year, to below 10%. That’s a very far cry from the gender parity already achieved in the parliaments of, for example, Rwanda or Bolivia.

For our part in the UK, though we have the most gender balanced parliament in our history, we, too, are well short of parity amongst the people’s representatives. And, mindful that this year marks the 150th anniversary of the 1866 petition to parliament for women’s suffrage, we must recognise that now in 2016, we still have a median gender pay gap of 19%, even if that is the lowest figure in our history. So, progress can be slow and only incremental, but it must be pursued until real parity is achieved.

The UK’s Gender Equality Act 2014 puts existing commitment to gender equality on a statutory footing and ensures that gender equality remains at the heart of our development assistance. Through our Department for International Development (DFID), we work closely with the Government of Ghana and other stakeholders to address key barriers to the attainment of gender parity.

Our Girls’ PASS programme (worth £47 million) provides scholarship packages to 86,000 girls at significant risk of dropping out of school. These scholarships enable girls to complete their cycle of secondary education. Our Complementary Basic Education programme (£17.9 million) targets out of school children, including girls, and provides them with a second chance at education.

In health, the UK remains a key partner in promoting, protecting and supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights. Our Adolescent Reproductive Health programme (worth £17 million) works with vulnerable girls in the Brong Ahafo region to improve their knowledge and behaviour around reproductive health.

We have a new programme which will focus on preventing violence against adolescent girls in Ghana. And as part of the UK’s commitment to tackling child marriage, we approved a £36 million programme in 2014 to accelerate action to End Child Marriage in 12 priority countries with high prevalence of child marriage. Ghana is one of the 12 countries of focus under this programme.

Next week the 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women will kick off in New York. Both the UK and Government of Ghana will be represented and our ministers will meet their bilaterally to discuss our further cooperation. I hope that today’s discussions will serve as a useful prelude to some of the deliberations that will take place next week for those attending.

On that note, I would like to end here by welcoming you once again to today’s event and thanking you all for accepting our invitation.

Thank you.