Speech

The Girl Effect: Why tackling gender inequality can transform the developing world

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

The inaugural international development annual public lecture delivered by International Development Secretary Justine Greening at the University of Warwick.

Introduction

Thank you for that introduction. And thank you to the University of Warwick for inviting me to speak at your first annual international development public lecture.

I wanted to come to Warwick because what this university is about - and what the Department for International Development is about - are basically one and the same thing.

While this university is about enlightening and improving the world around us through the people that come to learn and work here, my department is about British public servants working across the world to save lives and improve the prospects of the very neediest.

We’re both about not settling for the status quo. We’re both about building a better future.

A future where it’s not where you come from or who you are that counts but what you do and how you conduct yourself. And above all, a future where there is genuine equality of opportunity.

When Nelson Mandela died recently, we all reflected on what he had achieved and the dignity and leadership he had shown. He took on powerfully the unacceptability of apartheid, the system that had double standards for people based simply on their race and skin colour.

One of my earliest memories of my outrage at inequality was at my comprehensive school in Rotherham, in South Yorkshire.

I was no more than 11 years’ old - a first year in secondary school. I was queuing up at lunchtime to get a new text book when I saw some older white boys physically throw a younger Asian boy out of the queue in front of me for no reason other than he wasn’t White.

I was shocked, upset and I just thought “this is completely wrong”. But I was this small girl and didn’t know what I could do to stop it.

It did, however, leave me with a deep sense of frustration at not being in a position then to do something about it.

That incident may have been more than a few years ago but there are still hundreds of millions of people today who have different rights, a different say, and different prospects in this world purely because of what they are: a woman.

And it is tackling this unfairness - gender inequality - that I want to talk to you about today.

The UK is helping girls and women across the developing world to have voice, choice and control over their lives so they can live up to their potential. Their potential: this is what it’s all about.

And I want to set out how this year Britain will lead the way in tackling 2 critical issues that have in the past been thought of as just too difficult to deal with: the first is child, early and forced marriage; the second is female genital mutilation.

Finally I’m going to say a few words about everyone here can get involved and help push these issues up the global agenda in 2014 and beyond.

The challenge

Inequality starts from the word go. Across the world, 31 million girls of primary school age have never been to school. Not for one day.

And when a girl reaches adolescence - whatever might happen to her brothers - her world really shrinks.

While 74% of primary school-age children in Africa are now attending school – a big increase in recent years – the record for secondary schools remains pretty dire.

Only 31% of secondary school-age children are receiving education. It’s the girls who are dropping out. And as for getting to university – well, that’s a pipe dream. And this is no small part due to the fact that one in three girls in the developing world are married by the age of 18, and one in nine is married by the age of 15. And some child brides are as young as 8 years old.

And of course, once they’re married they will often come under pressure to have children while still children themselves and well before they are ready.

Girls who give birth before the age of 15 are 5 times more likely to die in childbirth than girls in their twenties. And the offspring of child brides are 60% more likely to die before their first birthday than the children of mothers who are over 19.

A little known problem that these girls suffer is obstetric fistula. That’s when a girls’ body isn’t ready to carry and give birth to a baby, so when they do, the baby’s head gets stuck and it can’t get out. It is excruciatingly painful. The baby generally dies and it damages the girl. The bladder gets torn and it means permanent incontinence. For the women affected, they end up being shut away because they smell. It’s a life sentence of being ostracised. Fortunately a simple medical operation can fix the problem and that’s now getting much more investment.

Outside of marriage, for girls and women dreaming of building a future outside of the home - who want to get jobs to support themselves and their families - there are a number of other barriers that hold them back.

These include laws, regulations and customs that restrict women’s ability to own land, register a business or open a bank account. How can women set up their own businesses if they can’t do those things?

It’s also the case that women too frequently hold an inferior position to men in their own communities so their voices will often go unheard. In some countries the legal testimony of a woman carries less evidentiary weight in a court than that of a man.

But perhaps worst of all is the devastating levels of violence girls and women face which mean that around the world 1 in 3 girls and women will be beaten or raped in their lifetime. A really damning statistic.

The Girl Effect

So we can’t shut our eyes to how far we have to go on gender equality. And we recognise it is not going to be easy to change some of the deeply-rooted mindsets and cultural norms that hold girls and women back, that keep them poor, marginalised and excluded.

Quite simply, we need to change the way girls are treated and perceived, the way they are defined and limited by their families and communities from the moment they’re born.

I’m also clear that pushing for change isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing. It’s one of the best investments we can make. Because when you look at what happens when you do invest in girls and women, a much brighter picture emerges for them and their countries.

When a girl in the developing world receives 7 or more years of education, she marries later and has fewer children and these children are more educated and healthier.

It is estimated that half the reduction in deaths of children under-5 over the last 4 decades can be attributed to basic education for girls.

Female economic empowerment matters for economic growth – for example, through its impacts on companies’ performance, agricultural productivity and generation of tax revenues. Think what would happen to the UK economy if us women just downed tools all of a sudden.

In India, the states where there are more women in work have seen faster economic growth and the largest reductions in poverty.

We know from World Bank research that almost half of women’s productive potential globally is underutilised, compared to just a fifth of men’s.

Other research shows that raising female employment levels in Egypt, for instance, would increase GDP by as much as 34%.

And I believe that if we want to help countries lift themselves out of poverty for good by supporting inclusive economic growth, then we need to build the kind of societies and economies where girls as well as boys can grow up to be leaders, businesswomen, doctors, teachers.

The bottom line is that no country can develop if it leaves half its population behind.

Choice, voice and control

Since becoming International Development Secretary, I have made the rights of girls and women and achieving gender equality a core priority across the department.

I’ve said that I think it comes down to 3 issues of choice, voice and control.

Giving girls and women a choice means ensuring they have an education so they can build their own future outside the home.

DFID will support up to 9 million children at primary level, at least half of whom are girls, and 2 million children at secondary level by 2015.

In addition to this our Girls’ Education Challenge programme is focused on getting an extra one million of the world’s poorest girls into school by 2016 and giving them a better quality education while they’re there.

This programme helps girls like Shakila from Afghanistan… who had given up her dream of being able to read and write because she lived too far away from the nearest government school. Thanks to the Girl’s Education Challenge working with the District Education Department she now attends community-based primary classes and aims to become a teacher herself one day.

As well as choice, we’re determined to give girls and women more control so they can live a life free from violence.

DFID is scaling up our work, with targeted programmes in more than 20 countries to tackle and prevent violence. And I have launched a new Research and Innovation Fund to better understand what works in preventing violence against women and girls so we can target not just ours, but everyone’s investment into the actions that work best.

Last November – following the devastating typhoon in the Philippines - the UK brought together governments, charities and UN heads to sign up to a ground-breaking principle that protecting girls and women in emergencies was a life-saving priority.

In the past, protecting girls and women during conflict and humanitarian disasters has been treated too much like an afterthought in ensuing relief efforts. Even simple but important steps for preventing violence - such as having separate toilets for women that can be locked from the inside and adequate lighting at night - had been forgotten. But in the future, international relief efforts will consider girls and women’s needs right from the start.

The Foreign Office is also doing important work addressing sexual violence in conflict - and 140 countries have now endorsed the UN’s Declaration of Commitments to End Sexual Violence. This is another important step forward.

We are also aiming to give girls and women a voice in their communities… by helping more women to vote, ensuring equal legal rights and greater access to justice.

We’re working with the Nike Foundation on an innovative programme called the Girl Hub, which is using the power of brands and media to project a new and progressive image of girlhood into society.

This programme is helping to build up girls’ self-esteem, looking at role models, developing a sense of value through radio shows, magazines and talk shows, while also changing the way their community perceives them. This is important because it means we’re also engaging men and boys as allies in ensuring girls can reach their potential.

And we are focused on giving girls and women more control over their futures with a number of programmes that focus on economically empowering girls and women.

This includes getting millions of women access to financial services like banking and insurance, and helping women strengthen their property rights.

We’re also assisting women-run businesses and women entrepreneurs to get the funding to start and grow their businesses. Alongside the Islamic Development Bank we have designed the Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund that will fund programmes to improve women’s access to business loans, banking services and insurance.

FGM and Child, Early and Forced Marriage

I’m proud of all of this work but I’m also clear that we’ve got to go much further.

And there are 2 issues that are really critical symptoms of the low status of adolescent girls – a bit like a litmus test of how far we’ve got. These are 2 issues which have too often gone unacknowledged and untackled in the past: those issues are female genital mutilation and child and forced marriage.

In the past these issues have been considered too complex, too taboo, maybe too entrenched, too much about culture to do something about.

Their roots lie in culture and tradition, poverty and economic pressure, sometimes religion.

But I believe it’s time for us to break the silence and take action. Female genital mutilation, child, early and forced marriage - these are no longer side issues. If nothing changes, by 2020 an estimated 220 million more girls will have been married whilst children and at least 40 million girls will have undergone female genital mutilation. And just this week you may have read in the newspaper that a law is being proposed in Iraq to allow girls as young as 9 to be married. I know that many people were shocked to hear of an 8 year old Yemeni girl who had died from internal injuries following her wedding night.

These are just some of the reasons why there is a growing movement for change across the developing world itself. Girls and women themselves are now speaking out.

A girl called Janet in Somalia recently ran away from home for 6 days after her father wanted her to be circumcised. Charity Action Aid is now helping her go to school for the first time and she hopes will be able to support her parents through a job rather than a bride price one day.

And it’s not just girls and women; men and boys, leaders and communities are calling for change. In most countries where female genital mutilation is practised the majority of women and girls, and men and boys, think it should end. And we are seeing thousands of communities in West Africa deciding to abandon female genital mutilation.

Zambia’s First Lady Dr Christine Kaseba recently launched her country’s campaign against child marriage. And in December last year Ministers of Education and Health from 21 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa committed to eliminating child marriage by 2020.

But there is still a long way to go. And it’s up to us to support this Africa-led movement and accelerate the pace of change.

Our country is one of those that is trying our hardest to help support the movement and accelerate the pace of change.

The UK is already leading the way as the world’s biggest supporter of activity to end female genital mutilation. Last year DFID launched a £35 million programme that will work in 17 countries to support the Africa-led movement to end female genital mutilation. This programme aims to see a reduction of cutting by 30% in 10 countries over 5 years.

On child, early and forced marriage, DFID has a flagship programme in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, which focuses on engaging with the whole community to change attitudes. It works directly with girls and boys through programmes in schools, including girls’ clubs, mentorships, economic incentives to encourage girls to enroll and stay in school.

It is early days for this programme but there are already parents who have changed their minds on the value of education for their daughters, and decided to keep them in school. And we know there have been over 600 marriages that have been cancelled since the start of that programme.

But we know we need to do much, much more and I’ll be announcing later this year how we plan to scale up this work. I believe child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation are, as I said, a litmus test for us.

If all of us can work to give girls and women voice, choice and control, then girls won’t face FGM and they will be able to decide who and when to marry, how many children to have and when.

Girls Summit

But we can’t do this alone and it’s clear we need to bring these issues up the global agenda in 2014 and beyond if we are to succeed.

That is why this summer Britain will host a Girl Summit to galvanise international efforts to end female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage.

This will take place in London on July 22 and we’ll be bringing together governments, NGOs, charities, activists, businesses and young people to rally a global movement in order to consign child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation to the history books.

At the event we’ll be hearing from girls and women and community leaders about their experiences. We’ll be looking at what programmes have worked and launching new programmes and research.

And our ambition is to secure a huge range of commitments from governments, businesses and charities - with everyone agreeing a declaration to end child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation in a generation.

If we can all collectively rise to the challenge, this event could be a breakthrough moment for generations of girls and women.

In the run up to our Girl Summit, we’ll also be hosting a special youth event prior to the summit for young people with ideas about how we can take this campaign forward.

I recently launched a competition called Shape the Future to get ideas from schools across the country about how we can change the lives of girls and women in developing countries. And the winning entry will get to present their ideas in front of world leaders and campaigners at the youth event.

Challenge to young people

So, there is a huge opportunity for everyone who is interested in these issues to get involved and help us campaign for change.

I particularly want to see you, our next generation, young people in this country, including at universities like this one, being part of that movement to end child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation in a generation.

We’ve seen how effectively many people of your generation can support developing countries through DFID’s youth volunteering programme.

The International Citizen Service sends thousands of young people out to the world’s poorest countries to work on development projects. And 97% of our partner organisations say these volunteers make an effective contribution to their work.

And when I speak to young people in this country - girls in particular - I’m struck by how strongly they feel about issues like female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

They wouldn’t put up with them for themselves and don’t think girls abroad should have to.

Let’s be clear. We in the UK are also having to get our own house in order. We know these issues affect British girls as well. More than 20,000 girls are at risk of female genital mutilation every year in the UK and thousands are vulnerable to forced marriage.

So it is time to speak out and for young people to be a powerful force for change. If you want to make your voice heard, the Girl Summit will be a unique opportunity to put a spotlight on leaders around the world and demand change. Use twitter, and follow my twitter account, follow DFID on Twitter or via our Facebook page if you want to keep up to date.

If just one of you here today decides that you are going to get involved, change your mind about something, or do something to help us make things better then my trip here has been worth it.

Conclusion

We can’t leave any stone unturned on our work to improve the prospects for girls and women in the developing countries that DFID works in.

Whether it’s our work to get rid of the scourge of child and forced marriage and female genital mutilation, our work to prevent other forms of physical, sexual and psychological violence against women, or the investment helping women entrepreneurs get finance and land rights, on family planning, and on education.

All of it will - bit by bit - bring about change for the better.

And by bringing all these issues together and mobilising other donor countries, the developing world, civil society, the private sector. You. I believe that in time we can give girls and women around the world a voice, choice and control over their lives: the chance to write their own future.

In doing so we will have also ensured a better future for their countries too, and for all of us.

Gender inequality is the greatest unmet human challenge of the 21st century. So let’s work together and make our country the one to lead the way in righting that wrong.

Thank you very much.