Justine Greening: Gender in the post-2015 agenda

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech by the International Development Secretary delivered to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Debt, Aid and Trade in London

Speech by the International Development Secretary Justine Greening on putting gender at the heart of the post-2015 agenda, delivered to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Debt, Aid and Trade in London.

It is a pleasure to be with all of you here tonight particularly on the eve of the first proper meeting of the High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda which will set the tone for the future. I am very proud that the Prime Minister will co-chair along with Presidents Yudhoyono of Indonesia and Ellen JohsonSirleaf of Liberia. I know there has been a lot of interest in these events and I very much welcome Actionaid’s support.

The High Level Panel on Development

As you may be aware, the meetings that the High Level Panel will hold in London over the next three days will focus on household poverty. The Panel will focus in particular on human development and jobs and livelihoods. This meeting will be followed by two more substantive meetings in early 2013: one in Monrovia, focusing on national development, and one in Bali focusing on global partnerships.

In my mind, it is significant that household poverty has been chosen as the first theme for High Level Panel discussions. It is an essential for the High Level Panel to start from the perspective of the individual and the household in order for it to deliver on its mission to propose a bold and ambitious agenda on poverty eradication.

What this meeting in London provides is the opportunity to think about what can drive prosperity and provide equal opportunities for those whose voices are all too often lost - for children, young people, students, entrepreneurs, farmers, and of course, for girls and women.

I want to use this opportunity to set out some thoughts specifically on what makes gender so important in the Post 2015 agenda. I will talk about three things, the lessons from the MDGs, the challenge ahead, and the prize to be won.

Joytara - a ‘golden’ example

I want to sharing with you the story of Joytara, a woman from rural Bangladesh. Joytara is a rarity in Bangladesh - she owns land in her name. She also runs a successful business as an ‘Aparajita’, which literally means a ‘woman who will not accept defeat’. Supported by a DFID-backed project, she travels from home to home selling products ranging from toiletries to mobile phone packages and shoes.

As a successful business woman, Joytara knows she is respected by her community and by her husband. She can make critical decisions for herself, her business, and her family. And she chooses to spend her profits on sending her two children to school.

Joytara is successful for many reasons: because she understands her customers’ needs, she is able to buy her products at a fair price, direct from private wholesalers, and because she is able to use new technology to develop her business. But first and foremost, I think Joytara is successful because she has been given the opportunity to participate fully, on equal terms, in her economy and her society.

Our promise on girls and women

As all of us here know, too few girls and women across the world have the same opportunity to participate in the way that Joytara does. This represents a violation of their rights, and puts a brake on growth. So, tonight, let me reiterate to you the Prime Minister’s promise, made at the London Family Planning Summit in July, to ensure that the fight for the empowerment of girls and women is at the heart of this international process.

Lessons from the MDGs

First, we must acknowledge the important way in which the gender MDG - MDG 3 - has been critical in creating shared political framework for the pursuit of gender equality.

Secondly, significant progress has been made for girls and women. More girls are now going to school, women are living longer, having fewer children and participating in the labour market more. But there’s so much unfinished business. The current MDG 3 target of equal boys and girls in primary school has not yet been achieved. Worldwide, more than 32 million girls of primary school age are out of school. A further 34 million adolescent girls across the globe don’t have access to secondary education. Every year over a third of a million women die in pregnancy and childbirth.

MDG 3 did not address the full participation of girls and women in social, economic and political life. The global figures are a stark reminder of the extent to which girls and women are often ‘locked out’. Women make up just 19% of parliamentarians; they perform 66 % of the world’s work - but earn only 10 % of the income, and own less than 10% of the world’s property; almost two thirds of the 750 million illiterate people in the developing world are women; and one in three girls or women has been beaten or sexually abused.

These are real lessons we need to consider.

The challenge ahead

So we know that investing in girls and women is the right thing to do, and it is the smart thing to do, and that we must do it well. But we cannot do it well unless we start to tackle the root causes of why girls and women remain the poorest of the poor. When I visited Kenya and Somalia recently, I saw girls and women bearing the brunt of poverty, the limited opportunities they have, and the limits this puts on development for their countries as a whole. But I also saw the energy and the skills that girls and women have if they are able to apply it.

But what does this really mean for girls and women in relation to the Post MDG agenda? It means putting in place the building blocks of prosperity - what the Prime Minister has referred to as the ‘Golden Thread’ of development. The key building blocks that make up open economies and open societies. Societies that are richer, freer and fairer. As the Prime Minster has said, “where the potential and perspective of women are locked out of the decisions that shape a society, that society remains stunted and underachieving”.

So building open economies means enabling women to have decent work through equal working conditions. It means fair access to markets for girls and women, without fear of corruption. It means unleashing their business savvy: more women in business, through access to finance, technology, and quality education and training. And more women in senior positions, and on boards.

And building open societies means challenging those who think that the voice of girls and women is somehow less valid, less important. And allowing girls and women to take a place at the table in peace agreements, in parliaments, in local governments, in the media. But also in their communities and households. It means that girls and women must be treated equally in the eyes of the law.

The prize to be won

Ultimately, all this means creating an enabling environment where girls and women can seize their opportunities to lift themselves and their families out of poverty and where poverty is less likely to be ‘passed on’ to the next generation.  For example: investing in girls and women means that their children are healthier and better educated; and ncreasing the share of women with secondary education by a mere 1% can boost annual per capita income growth by 0.3%.

It is what DFID’s Strategic Vision for Girls and Women is delivering, with its focus on a strong enabling environment that supports women’s voice and leadership, and new areas of work, such as the prevention of violence against women and girls. Something the Foreign Secretary has also talked about as a priority.

In the last year UK aid has provided nearly three quarters of a million women with access to financial services; supported over 2.5 million girls in primary school, and a quarter of a million in secondary school. We have improved property and land rights for nearly quarter of a million women; supported 1 million additional women to use modern methods of family planning; and helped 300,000 girls and women to access security and justice. It is through UK support that Joytara is no longer an exception, and that 2,400 other women are now benefiting from the programme ,with an aim to reach a further 12,000 by 2014.

Just as DFID is putting girls’ and women’s empowerment at the heart of our work, and in turn, our Government is committed to ensuring that it is at the heart of the Post MDG process. If it is not, girls and women will continue to bear the brunt of poverty, and we all stand to lose. So this is not an optional extra. It is absolutely fundamental to fulfilling our promise to the poorest in the world.

It is all the more critical in a climate where there is a risk of losing hard won gains in progress on women’s rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. We saw this all too clearly at this year’s Commission for the Status of Women which failed to reach any agreed conclusions.

There will be many opportunities for us to work together on this agenda for the years to come. First, by working together to set out our views and ideas to the High Level Panel. I know that the co-chairs and panellists are committed to leading a transparent and thorough consultation process, to ensure that the views of all stakeholders contribute to their recommendations on the post-2015 development agenda.

It is only by working together in this way that we can, as a global community, agree to a development agenda that will drive poverty eradication and by putting woman and girls at the heart of our work, we have a real opportunity for gender equality to finally become a reality.