It was. It was absolutely marvellous, and it gave me the opportunity to work directly with those women on their work in Africa. They worked through a network of women’s organisations across the continent, and I went with them to South Africa and Uganda. They wanted me to train women in media skills, lobbying skills and business skills. I was humbled, because what did I know of their situation? Indeed, I always feel that I learnt so much more than the women whom I trained.
I am pleased that the UN has named the theme of this women’s day as “Empower rural women: end hunger and poverty”. Rural women and girls make up a quarter of the world’s population, and rural girls are twice as likely to be forced into child marriage and experience teenage pregnancy as girls in urban areas. Despite the efforts of many laudable NGOs and charities, the problems of women struggling in poverty have not gone away, and the gains made are often fragile to say the least, although there have been improvements, about which we have heard this afternoon. Some 20 years ago, there was little understanding of the way in which development policies impacted on women and men, and boys and girls differently. Our capacity to make a difference has been hugely improved by the understanding that unless we tackle the cultural and legal obstacles to the education of girls—their health status, the age at which they marry and bear children, their access to land and resources, which should be on an equal basis to men—poverty and discrimination will persist, and persist for entire communities, not just for the women and girls in those communities.
Microfinance has been successful at providing women with access to the basic raw materials that will enable them to become more independent, and I hope that later in the debate we hear more on those matters, but my time is up.