UN Women — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:03 pm on 10th January 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Prosser Baroness Prosser Labour 3:03 pm, 10th January 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of the launch of UN Women on 1 January, what plans they have to provide a financial contribution to the new agency and when an announcement will be made.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The Government welcome the establishment of UN Women and recognise that it has received strong cross-party support. UN Women should help to deliver the development commitments to which Governments signed up at last year's MDG summit. A decision on all relevant DfID funding commitments will be made when the Government's multilateral aid review concludes early this year. In the mean time, we have offered UN Women transitional support.

Photo of Baroness Prosser Baroness Prosser Labour

I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she agree with the research that was conducted by the Department for International Development, which showed that families and communities gain better value from money spent directly on women and girls? Does she therefore agree with me that it would represent a sound investment towards global peace and security if the United Kingdom Government provided financial support to UN Women to at least the level of funding allocated to UNICEF?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I pay tribute to what the noble Baroness has done in this field. The Government very much agree with her point that supporting women and girls is central to development, as 70 per cent of those in dire poverty are women but only 30 per cent are men. Therefore, one can see that efforts to redress the balance have not yet worked. A lot more needs to be done, and supporting women and girls is central to that.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

Will the Minister clarify whether this body replaces the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, on which my noble friend Lady Trumpington and I served-I followed her-and whether it replaces UNIFEM or is an entirely different body? I do not think that many of us are very clear about exactly what this body is.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

This body takes into itself both those organisations, and others. UNIFEM will operate within it. Because it is clear that the position of women has not been properly addressed, it was decided when reforming the United Nations that this umbrella organisation was required, and that the existing organisations overlapped; they were rather fragmented and needed to be brought together under UN Women-and they will be. That is why this new organisation was supported. There is cross-party support for its development and we very much support its future development.

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat

Does my noble friend agree with international agencies which say that the lessons learnt from conflicts as far away as the Congo and Haiti show that tackling violence against women has to start at the very earliest stages of the relief effort and must form part of an integrated international relief programme? What therefore is the Government's position on providing this hard-won experience as a model for other agencies to use throughout the world when tackling these emergencies? Will the Government make sure that this new UN women's agency takes this message forward as part of its programme?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

UN Women has only just been established and is working out its strategy, but the United Kingdom is on the board of the executive and is therefore helping to develop that strategy. The organisation's very existence is based upon the problems that the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, points to. It is extremely important that the position of women is addressed, particularly where there is conflict. That is increasingly recognised, and we have to make sure that the United Nations and the UK are as effective as possible in addressing those problems.

Photo of Lord Boston of Faversham Lord Boston of Faversham Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge that today is the anniversary of the first sitting-in, I think, 1947-of the United Nations General Assembly? I should perhaps declare an interest as one of your Lordships' former parliamentary representatives at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Would it be too much to ask whether the noble Baroness has any plans for the UN General Assembly to resume its sittings here in London?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Lord for that. It would be an interesting development, but I cannot see that it would have universal support. However, I can always feed that suggestion through. It is clearly an extraordinary development that the United Nations exists at all. When one bears in mind the international problems that we face, we need to build on the strengths that the UN already has, make sure that in future it can do even more to resolve international conflict, and ensure that, where there is poverty, it is addressed.

Photo of Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Labour

Does the noble Baroness accept that despite the enormous support that the UN has had, women still work two-thirds of the hours worked across the world, but actually receive only 10 per cent of the income, and that in those circumstances the new agency is very important? If we are to achieve the millennium development goals and see real development, we must have a strong women's organisation at the UN to drive that. Can she assure us that the Government understand that and are determined that women take their rightful place in negotiations and in the money that is allocated at the UN?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I could not agree more. The Government are very seized of that and will certainly take that forward.