UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security — Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 7:47 pm on 24th February 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Prosser Baroness Prosser Labour 7:47 pm, 24th February 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made on the development of the UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

Photo of Baroness Prosser Baroness Prosser Labour

My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I stand to introduce this Question for Short Debate on women, peace and security, but not because the subject is a pleasing one. No, I am pleased because the more we debate these matters, the more we place our commitments and concerns on the record, the more likely it is that women in areas of conflict, who desperately need our voices and our support, will grow in confidence themselves and will feel stronger and more able to fight off the degradations and humiliations all too frequently suffered.

I can also express my pleasure at the work currently being done by our Government. The UK leads on the women, peace and security agenda in the UN Security Council, which is a very practical demonstration of commitment to this issue. During the period of our leadership two further Security Council resolutions have been agreed. Security Council Resolution 2106 notes that rape and other forms of sexual violence in armed conflict are war crimes and calls upon member states to comply with their obligations by investigating and prosecuting those who are subject to their jurisdiction who are responsible for such crimes. Further, the resolution recognises the need for accurate information and monitoring and, importantly, calls for further deployment of women protection advisers. A second resolution, UN Security Council Resolution 2122, unanimously agreed in October 2013, looks at the UN’s own responsibilities by, for example, strengthening the Security Council’s commitment to deliver this agenda by ensuring UN departments provide effective reporting and increase women’s participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes. It also reiterates the Security Council’s decision to hold a high-level review of UNSCR 1325 in 2015.

I am also particularly pleased by the Government’s commitment to the elimination of rape as a weapon of war, as demonstrated by the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. In November 2013, when announcing the global PSVI summit, William Hague said:

“We intend it to be the largest summit ever staged on this issue. We want to bring the world to a point of no return, creating irreversible momentum towards ending warzone rape and sexual violence worldwide”.

These are, indeed, welcome words.

We welcome the positive moves taking place which we are all pleased about and which give us confidence on behalf of our sisters around the world. Now here comes the “but”. With any such complicated initiative with far-reaching implications, both across and between Governments, nationally and globally, there will always be room for improvement, both by better co-ordination and clearer resourcing. This is, therefore, a two-stage process with immediate and longer-term objectives. The need to focus, in the first instance, on keeping women and girls safe is absolutely understood. However, this is a problem based on power and women and girls will not be safe while they remain powerless. Plans which build on women’s involvement and participation in the decision-making processes in their neighbourhoods, regions and countries will contribute towards shifting the power away from men and towards women and will help to bring about the cultural shifts which are so badly needed.

The national action plan and the review document published in October 2013 both recognise this argument and there is government commitment to putting women’s participation at the heart of the new national action plan. What is meant by participation? I would argue that participation must be seen in its deepest and widest sense: at local, regional and national level; in policy development around access to education, healthcare, employment, finance, et cetera; in the drafting of relevant legislation; in constitutional change and in access to democratic processes which enable women to become involved in all levels of public life. I am not always a fan of quota systems but they can kick-start a change to traditionally biased bodies and the need for the presence of women throughout society is so great that quotas would be essential. Will the Minister confirm that Her Majesty’s Government’s negotiation and mediation teams will be at least 30% female, in line with agreed best practice guidelines?

We also need to see meaningful and robust consultation with in-country women’s organisations. That way, national action plans can best be developed and implemented and progress monitored to ensure the delivery of the NAP objectives. This work must also ensure that women’s NGOs are invited to participate in official meetings, particularly when those meetings are attended by Ministers or other decision-makers, where local voices can well make the decisions taken more relevant and more easily implemented. Involvement of local women’s organisations also informs and guides priorities; changes to so-called social norms can best be led by these organisations. Continued efforts need to be made to build on the in-country workshops which so helpfully informed the 2012 national action plan review and which should set the template for the development of the 2014-17 national action plan.

Turning to the question of funding, there needs to be the political will to allocate ring-fenced resources for this particular work, and there needs to be exemplar interdepartmental co-operation to make sure we get the biggest bang for our buck. Although significant sums have been allocated to various programmes, some run by DfID, some by the FCO and others through the MoD, there have never been any dedicated or ring-fenced moneys allocated to the national action plan. This can cause uncertainty and can also lead to a less than strategic approach. For example, women, peace and security criteria have been included in Strengthening Alliances and Partnerships within the Conflict Pool as part of the Building Stability Overseas strategy but it does not ring-fence funding for thematic priorities such as women, peace and security. Also, the Conflict Pool does not have a centrally driven approach and, although local influences are invaluable, an overarching strategy must surely be key to achieving the best delivery outcomes. With this in mind, how will DfID, the MoD and the FCO be sure that posts are implementing projects and that they are aligned to the principles of the NAP?

In summary, much good work has been and is being done. I have tried to capture the need to shift our emphasis away from dealing with the results of powerlessness towards enabling women to drive the agenda by knowledge, education, participation and influence. We need to ensure that the funding strategy enables local decision-making which fits into the overall strategy of the national action plan and that all departments involved in this project are taking an integrated approach. Successful outcomes will change women’s lives and, in turn, will provide security to the lives of all in areas that for so long have suffered conflict and a lack of security.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, this is a rather tightly timed debate and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield has asked if he might speak in the gap. It would, therefore, be a help if all noble Lords could complete their speeches well before “6” comes up on the clock.

Photo of Baroness Jenkin of Kennington Baroness Jenkin of Kennington Conservative 7:56 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, having flown overnight from a different time zone, I was rather tempted to scratch from today’s debate and I now feel a bit guilty that I did not. However, as I was just discussing with the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, in the Prince’s Chamber, these matters are so crucial that, although we seem to debate them regularly, it is important for the rest of the world to know how much we in this Chamber care and worry about our sisters across the world. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate and thank the noble Baroness for so ably introducing it.

I will start by going back to basics with a reminder of what the NAP actually is. The UK national action plan provides a framework to ensure that the provisions of UNSCR 1325 and associated resolutions are incorporated into the Government’s work on violent conflict. The creation of a new UK cross-government plan provides an opportunity to outline how UNSCR 1325 can be integrated into wider defence, diplomacy and development measures, and adopted in armed conflict and post-conflict situations. It helps the Government to identify priorities, determine responsibilities and develop measurements against which progress can be measured at the national level.

Why do we need such a plan? The horrendous impact of conflict on women around the world has long been underestimated and, in many cases, brushed under the carpet. More than half of armed conflicts reignite within a decade of peace. At the heart of this problem lie flawed peacebuilding efforts which have often excluded 50% of the affected population: women. Over the past 50 years, the nature of conflict has changed; almost all modern conflicts are intra-state, although external dynamics still influence conflict realities. This means that it is more dangerous than ever to be a civilian in today’s conflicts.

As wars shift from the battlefields to communities, civilians now suffer more than ever. In World War I, approximately 10% of all deaths were of non-combatants; in Iraq, since 2003, civilians account for around 90% of all fatalities. These changes have impacted enormously on women and modern peacebuilding and security agendas must address this challenge. As Major General Patrick Cammaert—I hope I have pronounced that correctly—former military adviser to the UN Secretary-General, famously stated:

“It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict”.

I do not suppose I will be the only person using that quote today. It is time for the UK and the international community to recognise this and move forward to an era where women are free from impunity. The UN Security Council’s renewed determination to bring women into the centre of all efforts to resolve conflict and promote peace is to be welcomed. The goal is not merely to ensure that women have seats at the table of all conflict resolutions, but also to ensure that communities and societies as a whole can benefit from their expertise and knowledge.

I welcome and acknowledge the UK Government’s commitment to this issue, particularly the Foreign Secretary’s passion to achieve greater justice for women and girls. As he said at the launch of the “No Women, No Peace” campaign, no lasting peace can be achieved after conflict unless the needs of women are met. This means not only justice for the victims of crimes of war, but their active involvement in creating a society in which their rights are respected and their voices are heard.

In the short time available I am sure that others will speak in detail about the importance of June’s conference, where the updated NAP will be launched. I look forward to hearing from others with expertise on the subject.

Credit is also due to Ban Ki-moon for leading the way. He confirmed at the end of last year that women must be involved at every stage of efforts to reassert the rule of law and to rebuild societies through transitional justice.

“Their needs for security and justice must be addressed. Their voices must be heard. Their rights must be protected”,

he said, urging the council to deal with the full range of women’s rights violations during conflict. He is leading by example by appointing more women to senior positions throughout the UN. For the first time in history, five UN peacekeeping operations are led by women: in South Sudan, Liberia, Cyprus, Haiti and Côte d’Ivoire. He has also appointed the UN’s first woman lead mediator in a peace process: Mary Robinson, the UN special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa.

While that is much to be welcomed, it is important to look beyond the top leadership positions. We need to examine where women are in the overall architecture of peacekeeping missions. Those in middle-ranking positions are just as critical because they are the ones who directly interact with the local populations who are directly affected by the conflicts.

I am going to cut most of the rest of this so as to give the right reverend Prelate a fair whack. I will say only that the only way to combat the dire threat to women across the world is to include them in peace processes. Without their input, no peace will ever be lasting.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat 8:02 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, for securing this debate. I declare an interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Group on UN Women. In doing so, I immediately seek an assurance from my noble friend as to whether the All-Party Group on UN Women will be involved in the London conference in June 2014.

This has been a proactive Government in pursuing this agenda. Looking back over the 14-year period, the past three have probably been the most proactive that we have seen, the credit for which must of course go to the Foreign Secretary, who has taken such a personal stand and has championed this; and to my honourable friend in the other place, the ministerial champion for tackling violence against women overseas, Lynne Featherstone.

There has been a great deal of progress. We achieved a declaration on the issue for the first time at the G8 last year. Also last year, we had an inclusion in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting communiqué. I know well how difficult it is to get the 54 countries of the Commonwealth to come to any sort of consensus, so that was really quite a remarkable achievement. Nevertheless, these fine steps along the road of progress have not necessarily been followed by much action. I will give my noble friend some evidence for this.

Of the core group of the G8 member states, a significant one, involved in ongoing conflicts in the Caucasus, is Russia, which has not adopted a national action plan. In the Commonwealth, the evidence leads to even greater pessimism. Of the 54 countries of the Commonwealth, only eight have adopted national action plans to date. Three were among the old Commonwealth—Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom—so I think that one would expect that. However, the five remaining nations, of the new Commonwealth—Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Uganda—which signed up to these norms represent a council of despair. We know well that countries of the new Commonwealth, predominantly in Africa and south Asia, have very poor records of violence against women. Yes, we have come far but we still have a long way to go.

Particularly instructive about the absence of sign-up to national action plans is south Asia, as a region. Of the five countries in south Asia, four—India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka—have persistent, ongoing and long conflicts, yet not a single one of them has signed up to their commitments in this regard. Moreover, not a single country in the Middle East or north African region has signed up: not one Arab state is represented in the list of 43 countries that have developed national action plans. We might have made some progress, but we have done so within what I would describe as the “usual suspects”, rather than among those where the need is greatest. Looking at the extent of conflict in the Middle East now, our failure to achieve any progress there is significant. I ask my noble friend whether Her Majesty’s Government will now—having got this far, through its leverage as a UN Security Council member, its role in funding UN Women as extensively as it does and having such a fantastic Conflict Pool—contemplate some form of conditionality in the aid and assistance they give to some of these countries, to pressure and leverage them to move forward and to prioritise action against violence against women.

Finally, I turn to the role of civil society and cross-learning, upon which both the UN Secretary-General in his report and, indeed, we, have put quite a lot of emphasis. It is not clear to me how much of our funding supports cross-learning. As an example, I draw the House’s attention to a Zambian programme supported by Oxfam, called “I Care About Her”. The programme is an illustration of where they have given up on trying to educate men through the conventional methodologies—the church, educational programmes, leaflets and so on—and have decided to educate men in a rather different way: by asking them which women were important in their lives. The answer came back quite clearly that men in Zambia considered mothers, sisters and daughters to be the important women in their lives, not their wives. The greater extent of the violence against women was against wives. The re-education focused on showing that the women who were the subjects of violence were somebody else’s mother, daughter or sister. It has been a hugely successful programme, and Oxfam should be commended for it. I hope my noble friend will be able to tell us if they are funding cross-learning of that sort from one country to another.

In conclusion, I very much welcome this new United Kingdom national action plan which is to be developed and implemented through 2014 to 2017. While achieving a great deal across our own Whitehall departmental functions, the UK should also use its lead to influence, to cajole and, if necessary, to push this issue across other parts of the world. That will be the demonstration of its leadership.

Photo of Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Conservative 8:08 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, for securing this debate. I know that she has a long history of support for UN Security Council Resolution 1325. I am glad that in this debate we have the opportunity to highlight the important issues while Her Majesty’s Government are in the process of developing the next UK national action plan. I declare my interests as the chair of the advisory board of GAPS and a member of the steering board of the Foreign Secretary’s PSVI initiative.

The UK is a world leader in setting the women, peace and security agenda and played a crucial role in ensuring that UNSCR 1325 ever came into being. This resolution addresses both the impact of conflict on women, and the vital role that women do and should play in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and sustainable peace. This includes women’s role in preventing conflict, preventing violence against women, protection of women, and women’s social, economic and political participation. The new UK NAP provides a key opportunity for the UK to commit to an ambitious plan to take this forward.

Women’s participation in peace processes is a key element of UNSCR 1325, yet almost 14 years after its adoption there is still little progress in this area. Over the past 25 years only one in 40 peace signatories has been a woman, and only 12 out of 585 peace accords have referred to women’s needs. Therefore, I pay enormous tribute to our Foreign Secretary for speaking out so strongly about including Syrian women at the Geneva II peace process and his groundbreaking work through the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative that is making a huge impact with leaders around the world.

The next two years are key for women, peace and security both domestically and internationally, with the preventing sexual violence summit in June, the NATO summit in September, international drawdown of NATO troops from Afghanistan, the post-2015 framework, and the 15th anniversary of UN Resolution 1325 in October 2015. This new NAP gives an excellent opportunity for Her Majesty’s Government to consolidate and bring their women, peace and security agenda under one framework, maximising opportunities to ensure that women are at the heart of conflict prevention, peacebuilding and recovery.

Domestically, government co-ordination is central to enable the UK to meet its international women, peace and security commitments. To guarantee consistency of policy, the Government need a more joined-up approach to ensuring that all departmental policies and initiatives stem from the NAP, including policies relating to violence against women and girls, the PSVI and DfID’s call to action on violence against women and girls in emergencies.

Stronger mechanisms to mainstream gender and women, peace and security internally within departments need to be established, and gender training needs to be mandatory for some jobs in the UK and overseas. The Ministry of Defence has not yet developed distinct policies and training in line with UN Resolution 1325, and when the UK trains other national armed forces, all training should include women, peace and security. The PSVI summit in June will provide a good opportunity for the MoD to announce developments in this area, and for it to display its commitment to the women, peace and security agenda and preventing sexual violence on a global stage. At a country level, commitments to women, peace and security need to be reflected in FCO country business plans and DfID operational plans, and those commitments should be outlined in the new NAP.

As has already been mentioned, there is concern that the NAP has no dedicated funding. Neither do the Government currently use any systems to monitor their funding on this. For example, we know that the UK has women, peace and security programmes in many conflict-affected countries but we do not know how the UK prioritises this in its funding, and the use of the OECD gender marker would enable this.

As has already been mentioned, in-country consultation through talking to women and girls at grass roots is essential to ensure that the UK’s NAP and women, peace and security priorities reflect the needs of women and girls in conflict-affected and fragile environments. The new NAP should contain a plan for ongoing consultations in its focus countries. Most importantly, the NAP should acknowledge the role of local women’s rights organisations in prevention of conflict and violence against women, and their contribution to peacebuilding. Thus the NAP should commit to ensuring women’s civil society organisations have access to necessary funding including for campaigning and advocacy. This will transform their role and status so that they can fully participate in their community and national peacebuilding.

Monitoring and evaluation of the NAP is also important and the new NAP indicators should demonstrate impact, rather than just output, to enable identification of where its programming, systems and policies are effective, and where changes are required. The annual NAP report to Parliament is key and I hope that my noble friend the Minister can confirm that this will continue under the new NAP.

I am pleased to understand that Afghanistan remains a focus country, as women’s rights there was one of the reasons for our engagement, and we must not allow the gains that have been made for women there to roll back. The NAP provides an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate commitment to women’s rights in Afghanistan and support to Afghan women who so desperately need it. It is also essential that women from Afghanistan are included in the NATO summit in September so that their views are heard and that security for women is Afghanistan is not forgotten as NATO withdraws.

In conclusion, I congratulate the Government on all that they are doing on the women, peace and security agenda. This NAP is an excellent opportunity to push forward this work and to demonstrate the UK’s strong commitment, through funding programmes and ways of working, to ensure women truly are at the heart of conflict prevention, peacebuilding and recovery.

Photo of Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Labour 8:14 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, there is actually currently no dedicated funding for the NAP. The UN Secretary-General has called for 15% of peacebuilding funding to be allocated to women, peace and security. However, when the NAP was discussed in the other place, the Minister, Mark Simmonds, refused to make such a commitment, saying that the Government do not want to be restricted to any percentage amount. In view of this, will the Minister tell the House how we can be confident that women, peace and security is integrated into all funding in conflict-affected countries, and how funding is likely to be monitored, such as through a gender marker? Further, could we have clarification on whether the conflict, stability and security fund will include a focus on women, peace and security? Can we have an assurance that women’s protection and participation and the prevention of violence against women and girls will ensure that women, peace and security is a priority for the fund?

On leadership and participation, UN Resolution 1325 makes it very clear that there must be women’s participation and leadership in domestic and international peace, security and justice issues. The facts are, however, that since 2010 only one in five ambassadors has been a women; there has been very little representation of women in leadership positions in the Armed Forces and MoD; and there are no women as chairs or deputy chairs of the Cabinet committee. Against that rather discouraging background, how does the Minister consider that in the new NAP the issue of women’s leadership in the UK will be addressed? In addition, how will we fulfil commitments made to UN Resolution 1325? Women’s participation must feature as a priority across diplomatic, military and development policy and programmes, and must include women at grass-roots level. We need an assurance that this approach will be rigorously pursued.

We need to know what has been done to incorporate women, peace and security and UN Resolution 1325 into the MoD. It seems to me that specific and dedicated women, peace and security doctrine, including training for armed forces and staff, should be incorporated into training of other national forces. I hope that we will, this evening, have a reassurance that this will be a commitment under the new NAP.

On co-ordination, I remain concerned that we need, under the new NAP, to see all the WPS initiatives, including DfID’s various activities and the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, brought together under a broader women, peace and security agenda rather than being distinct policies led by different government departments. It would surely also be an improvement if the precise roles of the violence against women and girls champion, Lynne Featherstone in DfID, and the FCO lead on the NAP, Mark Simmonds MP, were to be included in the NAP, including the funding attached to each post. This would surely improve co-ordination between departments and bring some much-needed coherence to the process.

Addressing the root causes of violence against women and girls obviously has to be an essential element of efforts to build peace and stability. Is not it essential now to focus on those root causes—namely, gender inequality and discriminatory social norms?

I remain concerned about the murder and abuse of Afghan women human rights defenders and seek an assurance from the Minister that the recent high-profile killings are being raised forcefully with the authorities and that these brave women are being protected. In March last year, the DfID Secretary of State made violence against women and girls in Afghanistan a strategic priority. As we know, since then, things have become considerably worse for Afghan women and their rights. Eleven months after the statement, the Secretary of State is yet to announce what this priority will look like and how it compares with the financial commitment made to the other two strategic priorities for Afghanistan. Can the Minister therefore confirm that violence against women and girls will be a strategic priority in the new DfID operational plan for Afghanistan from 2015 and that women will be properly consulted in the development of the strategic priority?

As Syria is likely to be a focus in the next NAP period, can the Minister tell us how Syrian women’s future participation in the design, implementation and programming will be managed, prioritised and made more meaningful? It is surely time that the role of women in conflict prevention, peacebuilding and recovery is recognised, and is not the new NAP an opportunity to do exactly that?

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Independent Liberal Democrat 8:19 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on introducing this debate, looking forward as it does to the publication of the new action plan. Of course, I am very pleased that the UK is leading on this issue, but I want to widen the debate a little. We talk constantly of the empowerment of women, which is a very noble debate, but empowerment is hindered by two main factors. The power of men, of course, is the number one factor and very important. I remember in South Sudan years ago being asked to talk to the women of a certain area about their problems and possible ways of engaging them in decision-making. It took me all morning to persuade the men that we did not want them present at the discussions. A compromise was eventually reached in the end and the men encircled us, but at a distance where I thought that if we talked quietly they would not hear our conversation. I hope the women did not get beaten that evening, but they probably did.

The other factor holding women back is our own physiology. Women cannot be empowered if they have too many children and too much work to do. They have not the time to sit on councils and engage in decision-making at any level. As chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, I must impress on Ministers over and again that the most useful intervention that we can make to empower women is to ensure that family planning supplies are available to control their fertility voluntarily. Some 220 million women are still without access to contraceptive supplies, with 250,000 women dying in childbirth and millions more suffering chronic ill heath and injury as a result of there being no healthcare when their babies are born. There is no empowerment for them or for the women raped in conflict with no access to emergency contraception or safe abortion in conflict situations, even though humanitarian law and the Geneva conventions decree that it should be available. No empowerment either for the girls who leave education at puberty to be married and start having babies far too early for their immature bodies. Empowerment is but a dream. Therefore, engagement in any of these decision-making processes is impossible.

Look at our own history. Our less well-off grandmothers took little part in society or decision-making, even if they had accessed higher education, because of the burdens of unplanned pregnancies. Contraception freely available will also help to prevent overpopulation and diminishing resources, especially water. There is more and more evidence showing this. This is another and major cause of conflict—the battle for scarce resources. Too many youths in particular, with little hope of jobs, are fighting for scanty food and water, which means more conflict, more suffering for women and less chance of their empowerment.

This Government have made huge progress in reproductive health rights, maternal health, family planning and safe abortion provision, in particular, in the past three years, and I thank them and commend them for that. But I am concerned about this action plan, and I hope that, when it is published, it will keep up this momentum and acknowledge the importance of these issues if we are ever to give women a share in decision-making and contribute to peace and security in future.

Photo of The Bishop of Wakefield The Bishop of Wakefield Bishop 8:23 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, on securing this debate. I reassure noble Lords that I am not speaking simply to bring a modicum of gender balance to the Chamber.

Many years ago now, when we were living in the East Midlands, my wife was a volunteer at a women’s refuge. She was scrupulous in maintaining confidentiality about those who used the refuge. None the less, on occasion, she would return home shocked and distressed at the violence that women had experienced, even here in our own country. It was a phenomenon that did not relate to just one stratum of society.

More widely, my own experience internationally as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s International Secretary in the 1990s and, more recently, with the international links that I have nurtured since being a diocesan bishop, I have been appalled by many of the stories of violence and abuse of women across the world. From widespread genital mutilation in Ethiopia to violence against women employed in gold-mining ventures by unscrupulous individuals in Tanzania, the stories continued to be manifold. Also included was violence against women in the terrible civil war at the end of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia.

The churches have played a key part in addressing all these horrors, particularly the issue of genital mutilation. In the continuing conflicts in both the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, each tells its own horrific tale.

I was fortunate enough to secure a debate in this Chamber last March on just this subject. In that debate I paid tribute to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for his very important initiative on sexual violence in conflict, which has already been mentioned on a number of occasions. As we all know, the first National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security finished last year. Noble Lords have already heard, most notably from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, of the patchiness of plans across different nations on women, peace and security. As plans advance for the next stage of the national action plan, I ask Her Majesty's Government: will they conduct in-country consultations with civil society organisations, including faith leaders and churches, in each of the priority countries, before the development of the next UK national action plan?

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues) 8:26 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Prosser on this debate and, indeed, all the speakers across the House, who, as usual, spoke with passion and expertise about this subject. I also thank Womankind and the Library for the excellent briefings they produced.

Hardly a week goes by without reports of the effect of conflict on women and children, whether it is in Syria, Sri Lanka or Afghanistan. As this debate reflects and as all the speakers have said, the world faces dealing with the normalisation of rape and sexual violence in conflict and, too, the disproportionate impact the conflict is having on women and children. Yet the irony is that women always offer the best hope for building lasting peace in any conflict situation.

Women’s voices should be heard not only because they are the victims of war; their active participation in peace efforts is essential, because they are the most effective peacebuilders. As men take up arms, women hold communities together in times of war. That makes them stronger and better equipped to play a key role in securing real peace. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, said, Ban Ki-moon is to be congratulated on his recognition of the importance of women. As my noble friend Lady Kinnock pointed out, the importance of women is at all levels.

Peacebuilding involves not just political leaders, but all of civil society, including women. I think we would all agree that without their full support and participation, no peace agreement can succeed in the long run. We know from our own experience that women leaders can often be successful in what seem to be intractable situations; we can point to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in Europe and Iran.

The three-year review is very important indeed. I intend to spend most of the rest of my time listing questions that were in the briefings that we have been given and which have not necessarily been mentioned by other participants in the debate.

The right reverend Prelate was quite right in his question about the importance of consultation with civil society organisations. I, too, seek reassurance about that and on whether the Government are incorporating commitments to ongoing engagement and consultation with civil society organisations, particularly those to do with women’s rights, into the UK NAP to monitor and review its implementation and impact.

On capacity, co-ordination and consistency, will the Government seek a more joined-up reporting approach by departments in the new NAP? How will the Government ensure that desk officers, posts, country offices and the military use the new UK NAP content as guiding principles of their work? Will the new UK NAP link women, peace and security into the wider conflict and human rights work undertaken by the Government? Will there be commitments in the new NAP on how the UK will implement women, peace and security principles within its own security and justice systems, including the police and the military?

The MoD has already been mentioned by other speakers. Will it train UK forces on gender and incorporate WPS in efforts on security sector reform? Will the MoD appoint a gender adviser to take forward its work on WPS? Will it ensure that it includes WPS components when it trains other military organisations?

How will the Government measure the impact of their participation work? How will they work with and support local women’s rights organisations to support their capacity and participation? How will the Government ensure that women make up at least 30% of all negotiation and mediation teams in line with best practice guidelines? Finally, will the UK develop a roster of women whom it can nominate for peace negotiations?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development) 8:31 pm, 24th February 2014

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, for securing this important debate and for her tireless work in this area. I thank her and other speakers for the tributes they paid to the Government on the work that has been done, and note the comments about progress that is yet to come.

The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, is right to say that the powerlessness of women is at the root of this problem, which is why the education of women, ensuring that they are independent, have bank accounts and participate at all levels of society is key. As she said that, I found myself thinking about groups that I met in India over the past few days. I could see that DfID’s support for women and girls was transformational, but also how far we have to go. It is in the light of this that we need to assess what is happening in terms of women, peace and security.

We firmly share the view so powerfully expressed in this debate that women must be at the heart of peace and security. They are central to efforts to prevent violent conflict overseas and to build strong societies yet too often, as speakers have said, women and girls are excluded from peace processes and continue to be especially vulnerable to violence, with dreadful consequences.

The UN estimates that at least one out of every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in their lifetime. Although women and children represent 90% of casualties of conflict, only 8% of participants in peace negotiations have been women. Of nearly 600 peace agreements signed between 1990 and 2010, only 16% contained references to women. Looking more widely, women are too often marginalised in society generally. For example, they account for only 21% of parliamentarians globally, and would not be at that level but for quotas.

There is international consensus on what needs to be done. The UN Security Council set this out in 2000, in its Resolution 1325, and in the six resolutions since mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser. The council called for action under four pillars: women’s participation in building peace; preventing conflict and preventing violence against women and girls; protecting them; and making them central to the provision of humanitarian relief and a society’s recovery from conflict.

The UK can be pleased with how far we have come across government to put women and girls at the centre of policy. As my noble friend Lady Jenkin mentioned, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is leading an international effort to shatter a culture of impunity for sexual violence in conflict, building global momentum and taking practical action on the ground, including deploying experts to help in countries ranging from the DRC to Syria, and from Bosnia to Mali. The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, to which noble Lords referred, will take place in June, and 140 countries, international organisations and members of civil society will come together to discuss and agree what more we can do to tackle these terrible crimes. I will take back my noble friend Lady Falkner’s suggestion about the All-Party Group on UN Women.

My noble friend Lady Falkner flagged up those countries that do not have national action plans. I assure her that we are working bilaterally with such countries on security and justice reform, preventing violence against women and girls, empowerment, and tackling violence against women and girls in humanitarian settings. We are certainly encouraging those various countries to take that forward.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, mentioned Syrian women’s participation, and she will have noted that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been urging that women are included in the discussions on Syria’s future, and we will continue to do so.

The Department for International Development, as many noble Lords will know, works very hard to try to prevent violence against women and girls. Its strategic vision for girls and women promotes women and girls’ health and rights, and their access to economic resources and education—very much building upon the ideas that the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, outlined. It builds women’s political and civil participation and puts women’s and girls’ needs at the centre of our humanitarian response. It makes the policy arguments, including at the UN Commission on the Status of Women and in the debate about what follows the 2015 millennium development goals. Noble Lords will know that the United Kingdom is pushing hard for a stand-alone goal on gender. My honourable friend Lynne Featherstone is the Government’s champion on tackling violence against women and girls, and has led groundbreaking work in this area, including on tackling FGM.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the Ministry of Defence. Its goals cover personnel, training and operations, as noble Lords will know. It regularly reviews the employability of women in the Armed Forces and aims to ensure that gender is understood in all that the MoD does. The noble Baronesses, Lady Kinnock and Lady Thornton, flagged up this area in particular. The MoD constantly reviews training and includes sexual violence scenarios in pre-deployment. Operational planning for new theatres will take into consideration tackling sexual violence. NATO has carried out a lot of work towards integrating UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and gender perspectives into its command structure. This is a template that the Ministry of Defence can apply. We are also looking at the example set by Canada in terms of training overseas, and are seeking to see whether that can be brought into the way in which we do things through the Ministry of Defence. In terms of senior leadership, which the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, mentioned, we have, according to this note here, two female air vice-marshals in the Ministry of Defence, so we are making some progress but are acutely aware of the challenges that the MoD faces. I am sure that her comments will be taken note of.

Action at home is equally important, whether through the Home Office’s work to end violence against women and girls or the Government’s agenda to see women play a greater role in public life. We want women to represent half of new public appointees by the end of this Parliament, and we have reached a figure of 45%.

The noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, raised the subject of quotas and whether negotiation and mediation teams will be at least 30% female. The Government are reluctant to set a specific figure on women’s representation, but we are pushing hard to improve numbers. I am sure that this will be kept under review.

The UN Security Council calls for member states to deliver on all four pillars through national action plans. The UK adopted its first such plan in 2006 and we will soon, as noble Lords mentioned, launch our third plan, for the next three years. My noble friend Lady Hodgson is right that this needs to be strategic and joined up across government for it to have its best effect. I read with enormous interest the independent review of the previous national action plan, which makes this point very clearly.

The challenge for the next plan is to bring together all the work that we do—we recognise that—and to ensure that we deliver both globally and on the ground and test our plans against what those in this field are saying to us. We will bring under one framework our work on the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, the strategic vision for girls and women and the call to action on protecting women in emergencies, as well as our work at the UN Security Council and at the Commission on the Status of Women. I hope that this reassures noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, that that is the approach that we are taking. My noble friend Lady Hodgson asked about the review of the national action plan and whether it will continue to be reviewed annually and reported to Parliament. We will continue to report annually on this, as well as to hold frequent meetings about it.

We are also learning from what appears to be working. DfID has a fund of, I think, £25 million—I do not have the exact figure in front of me—which is a research and innovation fund. My noble friend Lady Falkner asked about what we were learning; that fund is seeking to analyse what works and, therefore, what should be taken forward further. We are seeking to bring all this together; I think that that is vital. We will deliver multilaterally, through the United Nations, NATO and the European Union and now also in partnership with the African Union. We will put in place stringent monitoring and evaluation to assess the impact and outcomes of our actions and to capture the changes that our national action plan will make for girls and women on the ground. We will integrate women, peace and security issues into the work of the new Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock.

I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, that there will be central guidance from the fund on women, peace and security, although our conclusion is that a ring-fenced allocation would in fact encourage programme designers to take a compartmentalised approach to women. We think that it is extremely important, as that review indicates, to look at this strategically and make sure that it runs right through all the various programmes, but I understand people’s concern and the necessity to make sure that is does indeed run though every programme.

We will also be consulting both in the UK and on the ground and we take very seriously the Associate Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security and Gender Action for Peace and Security. They were instrumental in delivering a successful workshop at our embassy in Kabul in December and will remain invaluable as we plan and carry out more workshops before April. We continue to be very engaged as far as the position of women in Afghanistan is concerned.

As we prepare to adopt and implement a new national action plan, we can be proud of what we have achieved but we recognise that we have much more to do and that we need impact that helps to shift general attitudes in society, protects women and girls and secures a better place for them in delivering peace and security. What lies behind all this, as noble Lords have made clear, is gender inequality. They are right that addressing this is fundamental to ensuring that women and girls are at the heart of all that we do, everywhere and in everything.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, we began this debate by having 62 minutes for a 60-minute debate, including the intervention in the gap. Thanks to the immense self-discipline of speakers—in particular, that of the opposition final speaker—we have now ended with three minutes to spare. Therefore, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 8.47 pm.

Sitting suspended.