Women and Girls: Employment Skills in the Developing World - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 1:57 pm on 26 January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Loomba Lord Loomba Non-affiliated 1:57, 26 January 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the report published by Oxfam on wealth disparity, what steps they are taking to ensure that women and girls in the developing world are equipped with the right employment skills.

Photo of Lord Loomba Lord Loomba Non-affiliated

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for speaking in this debate and for the wealth of knowledge and ideas that I am sure will be forthcoming on what is a serious issue that we face in these unpredictable times.

As I am sure your Lordships are all aware, the Oxfam report highlights a truth that the world is becoming more, not less, unequal. For this to happen after one of the worst economic crashes the world has ever seen makes its theme that the wealthy few are keeping it all for themselves all the more unpalatable. While we face ever more political uncertainty, wealth distribution has not been addressed properly by successive Governments, both here and abroad. This point has been used to good effect by the new President of the United States, Donald Trump, who has sworn to give back power and wealth to the people.

It is welcome that poverty has been vastly reduced since the introduction of the millennium development goals. The sustainable development goals, building on the MDGs, aim to reduce poverty even further. However, the idea of relying on the concept of the “trickle-down effect” to facilitate some of the wealth trickling down from on high to those at the bottom does not work; it clearly goes against the aims of the goals if wealth is polarised in the bank accounts of the few. If wealthier nations are truly to embrace change and allow even more people to share in the wealth that is generated, more will need to be done to address these imbalances.

Although the obvious answer lies in how Governments deal with wealth, taxation and channelling help to those most in need, there is also a great need to ensure that the people who need the most help have the correct skills to take up employment opportunities so that they too can share in a fairer distribution of wealth. This point is more acute when the situation of women and girls is addressed. It is a well-known fact that it is women and girls who suffer most from poverty and from a lack of support to empower them and provide the ability for them to help themselves.

The DfID bilateral development review, published last December, emphasises what education is being provided to young people, and this is to be welcomed. DfID’s key objective is to end extreme poverty and spread prosperity—an objective which is particularly linked with having the correct skills to access employment opportunities. DfID aims to address,

“the chronic need for jobs and economic livelihoods for young people”.

But what of the many adults who have not been able to access any education and are now illiterate and lack the skills to be employed? And what about the general acknowledgment that it is women and girls who suffer most when it comes to a lack of educational opportunities that lead to employment? Women and girls in developing countries are more likely to be held back from education for financial, family or cultural reasons. Many more women and girls grow up without any education at all in the developing world, and it is they who need our help and assistance the most.

A key message of the review in relation to the sustainable development goals is:

“We will invest in people, leaving no one behind”.

Facilitating schooling for the many displaced refugees in conflict states is a very worthwhile project that helps the children who are suffering now through conflict. But how are we to ensure that “no one is left behind” if we do not provide the best opportunities for the many people, particularly women and girls, who have already grown up without an education and face a lifetime of illiteracy?

Here, I declare an interest as chairman and founder of the Loomba Foundation, which was set up to help impoverished widows and their children worldwide. It is now acknowledged that widows face double discrimination when trying to rebuild their lives after the death of their husband. In the foundation, we have a specific scheme to tackle head on the issue of widows who are held back by adult illiteracy, with help given to some of the poorest widows in India. We are planning to work with the Rotary Club to set up facilities in all 30 states in India to help 30,000 widows—1,000 in each state. Providing this tuition is a way forward to opening the door to employment and ensuring that opportunities are not lost through the sheer inability to read and write.

A further question to consider in this increasingly globalised world is: do we create opportunities for women and girls to access tuition in the English language so that they are truly well equipped to tackle the problems and situations that they face in becoming self-sufficient? I was recently asked to provide my perception of an empowered woman, to which I replied, “An empowered woman is one who can make her own way in the world unhindered by prejudice, abuse and cruelty, and who is considered of equal worth by her peers and her community”. To that, we can surely add: an empowered woman is also free from the tyranny of illiteracy and able to read and write to an acceptable standard.

Photo of Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Conservative 2:05, 26 January 2017

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for raising this important subject today.

Tonight, one in nine people will go to bed hungry. In spite of much progress in recent years as a result of the millennium development goals, there are still 700 million people, mostly women and girls, who remain below the poverty line. It is women in developing countries who are often denied the opportunities to earn a living and thus lift themselves out of poverty. The OECD concluded in a 2012 study that greater gender equality in economic opportunities is key to sustainable economic growth and social cohesion. Thus, ensuring that more women are able to get into the workplace is crucial to helping transform developing countries. However, it is not just about building their skills; it is also about creating conditions that enable women to work.

At the core of inequality are entrenched cultural attitudes towards women. In some countries, it remains taboo for a woman to even talk to a man outside her own family or to walk down the street unaccompanied by her husband. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have a saying: a woman’s place is in the home or the grave. Thus, employment outside the home can be almost impossible.

In most countries women are expected to be the care-givers. On average, women do two and a half times more unpaid care work than men. Societies do not value this unpaid work, even though it is estimated to be worth $10 trillion a year globally, and it limits the time that women have available for paid work.

Access to basic infrastructure is often also a problem. It is estimated that women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa spend 40 billion hours a year just fetching and carrying water to use in the house. They may also be expected to collect the family’s firewood or to work in the fields—all unpaid.

Of course, the journey to employment begins with education. Girls’ education benefits the next generation as well, with children born to educated mothers being 40% less likely to die before the age of five. Although there have been improvements in recent years, there is still a long way to go. Girls in Africa are still much less likely than boys to start secondary education, and two-thirds of the world’s illiterate are women.

In 2011, UNICEF found that each additional year of primary school boosted girls’ eventual wages by 10% to 20%, and an extra year of secondary school by 15% to 25%. But too often girls fall out of school, frequently because of issues such as a lack of girls’ lavatories, insufficient numbers of female teachers and negative classroom environments.

I remember talking to mothers in a village in Sierra Leone. They did not want their girls to go to secondary school. The school was in another town and they were worried that their girls would be attacked on the way there or that they would be raped in the school by teachers or fellow pupils. Once a girl in Sierra Leone was pregnant, she was unmarriageable and a lifelong burden on her very poor family. Thus, they felt it was better to marry her off to protect her from sexual harassment and unwanted pregnancy. In developing countries, one in three girls is forced to marry before her 18th birthday. Child marriage restricts the lives and livelihoods of millions of girls each year.

To protect women, systems of law and order are required, with laws that are implemented at local level. Too often national laws are not known about in villages, with customary law being in the hands of the male elders. I remember hearing in a village in Liberia that a woman who had been raped was not able to report this to the police. The nearest policeman was in the next village and she could not go unless given permission by the village elders, who preferred to “sort things out themselves”.

So how can we help? DfID must continue to fund programmes that help address some of these issues. Developing countries must be helped to build their capacity to educate and encouraged to have laws that protect women and prevent early marriage. Women need to be trained in economic-generating skills and helped to gain access to microfinance and markets for their products.

We must, however, work with the men in these countries by explaining the benefits of caring duties in the home being more equally shared, which will release women to help bring income into the family. Employers need to pay women equally: the global gender pay gap is still 23%, with the gap higher in poorer countries.

To conclude, achieving greater female employment in the developing world, with the resulting positive economic growth, will help lift families, communities and countries out of poverty and contribute to the SDG aspiration to “leave no one behind”.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Liberal Democrat 2:10, 26 January 2017

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, on securing this debate. I am particularly struck by how appropriate it is to be debating this issue following last Saturday’s worldwide women’s marches. Solidarity with the rights of women in particular and human rights in general was underlined by those marches. The achievement and realisation of those rights has been a struggle. For many women in the world, it is still a far off dream. After the march, I read some comments in the Guardian from a woman in the Central African Republic. She said that even to know about the marches was difficult for them, because they are not connected to the rest of the world.

Why the election of President Trump has been such a setback, beyond the man himself, is that it has unleashed a swathe of voices that feel able to be anti-choice and anti-equality, taking us to a nasty, supremacist world in which women are diminished—a world that we thought we had left behind to fade into history. Many of your Lordships will have seen the picture of all the men gathered round as Trump signed away aid for organisations involved in abortion work. That picture said it all. As somebody wryly wrote, “When did you last see a group of seven women writing into law what men can do with their reproductive organs?”. I ask the Minister whether the Government will consider supporting the initiative in the Netherlands to create a worldwide fund to fill the gap in reproductive health that will no longer be covered by contributions from the US. The strength of support for the marches worldwide showed that, for women in particular, the efforts to undo the progress in equality of the past two generations are simply not acceptable.

The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, underlined the importance of education. Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty. Educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will, less likely to die in childbirth, more likely to have healthy babies and more likely to send their children to school. As UNICEF underlined, an extra year of primary school for girls can increase their eventual adult wages by 10% to 20%, and an extra year of secondary school increases those wages by 15% to 25%. Education is absolutely vital. Will the Minister confirm that the UK Government will continue to fund the programme they announced in July 2016 to help 175,000—that was their aim at the time—of the world’s poorest, most marginalised girls to get a quality education? That programme, through the Girls’ Education Challenge, helps girls who have dropped out or never attended school due to a whole number of pressures that have made life really difficult for them. I hope that DfID will continue to fund educational programmes in general, but that that programme will be especially protected.

I conclude with another question for the Minister. Do we actually know satisfactorily what is happening for girls and women in different countries? As far as I understand it, fewer than 50 countries can provide data disaggregated by sex from vital statistics and civil registration systems. If so few countries can produce gender statistics on, for example, informal employment, entrepreneurship and time use, it will be very difficult to measure progress. The Minister may have better statistics than that. It is very important that, in funding educational programmes, we can measure their results to be sure they are addressing some of the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, in her important contribution—for example, in the sectors of unpaid work and agriculture.

Photo of Baroness Flather Baroness Flather Crossbench 2:15, 26 January 2017

My Lords, it is said that women form half the population of the world, do three-quarters of the work, own 1% of the property and get 10% of the world’s wages. This may or may not be exactly true, but to some extent we know that women do not earn much and do more work than men.

For the past 10 years, I have focused not on educated women who are doing well or who are entrepreneurs but on the needs of poor women in developing countries. The two areas I have focused on are the Indian subcontinent and Africa. I know the Indian subcontinent well personally and I have visited many countries in Africa. In Africa, you see the women working, working, working, and you see the men standing outside a shop or a place where they can get drink, chatting with other men. It is quite depressing to think that these men can enjoy their life to such an extent and all the work has to be done by the women. I have not been to Nigeria, but I am told that, there, a man will marry three wives: one to look after the children, one to look after him and one to do the agriculture. This is not the world that we should be looking at in the 21st century.

Everybody agrees that in developing countries women’s lives are not good, that they are not doing well and not getting an education. Who is taking the initiative to fight this? I know that DfID is doing what it can, but we have to work with the Governments of these countries and say, “Look, your women are not in the economy—you are not using a valuable resource in your economy”. If China did not have women in its economy, would it have done as well as it has? No, it would not. Indian and African women are not in the economy.

I know that my noble friend Lord Loomba’s particular interest is in widows, and Indian and African widows have a terrible time—all widows have a terrible time. Without a man, they lose their identity and lose whatever the man might have owned. Some Indian widows are taken to places of pilgrimage and left there. They literally have to sing for their supper. It is horrible. The lives of women in developing countries are appalling, and even those of us who think we understand, through the newspapers and our own knowledge, do not understand. The reality is far, far worse than we think it is.

With that in mind, the year before last I set up the charity Women Matter—we are still working on trying to make it happen. Its main concept is skilling women and girls and finding them paid employment. In India and Africa, women are not seen as normal employees. I know of a woman from Kenya who went to the city and got a job. When she came back to her village, they refused to let her in. There are so many stupid things that do not help anybody, including the country that the women live in. My proposal, through this charity, is to try to find big companies that will meet their CSR by employing women. India has set aside 2% of net profits for CSR. It could all be used to help women, but I am sure it will not be. We will talk about it for ever, but I do not know how we will make that happen. How will we make people realise that women, who are crucial to the world in every way, are treated so badly?

I have always spoken in debates tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, because I will speak in every debate which gives me an opportunity to speak about the situation of women. But please let us not just speak about it; let us see what each of us can do and what each of us can add to the value of women.

Photo of Baroness Manzoor Baroness Manzoor Conservative 2:20, 26 January 2017

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for securing this important debate. It is important that economic and social empowerment and labour rights, which are critical if women are ever to play as full a role in the labour force as men, are addressed.

Today I will talk about women’s and girls’ access to education and nutrition as the foundation from which they can develop crucial skills and knowledge for success in the workplace. The day a girl is born, she is already placed at a competitive disadvantage as regards her male counterparts. Discrimination and socially defined gender roles will narrow a girl’s opportunities from infancy, creating a knock-on effect throughout her life.

When a family living in poverty is faced with school fees, parents are far more likely to send their sons to school over their daughters. Daughters will also face a much higher burden of domestic chores. At present, some 31 million girls worldwide do not attend primary school. We all know that there is a strong link between early child development and success in later life. The rate of return on school fees for earning per additional year of schooling is 9.7%. Those girls may never even learn how to read or write—a huge lost potential.

I commend DfID’s considerable support for helping girls, and particularly marginalised girls, access education. Between 2010 and 2015, the department supported 5.3 million girls, but there is still a significant financing gap in education and it is often the girls who miss out. If we are to widen the employment opportunities available to women, DfID needs to focus on supporting the delivery of free, quality and inclusive education systems that address gender inequalities and do not leave children behind. Even if a girl manages to complete primary school, the barriers to accessing secondary education will multiply. As other noble Lords have mentioned, an adolescent girl’s education is too often cut short by forced marriage and early pregnancy.

The parallel problem of undernutrition, which hampers the physical and cognitive development of so many teenage girls, cannot be ignored. Good nutrition is essential for improving school retention and academic achievement. I visited India in a delegation with RESULTS UK last year. It is a country where more than half of all adolescent girls are anaemic and just under half are underweight. I saw at first hand how a lack of basic nutrition can undermine a girl’s chances of staying in education and developing skills for the future. An undernourished girl is more likely to experience pregnancy-related complications, causing serious health issues or even death. At the same time, early and frequent pregnancy will stunt and slow her growth and harm the health of the infant once born. Too many girls are trapped in a vicious cycle and locked out of the labour market before they even reach adulthood.

I understand that the department recognises the intersecting obstacles that girls face, but this needs to be reflected in the design and delivery of all its programmes if we are to address gender inequality. Although I am pleased with DfID’s commitment to improve the nutrition of 50 million people by 2020, I must emphasise the importance of integrating nutrition into health interventions—particularly sexual and reproductive health interventions. This would present a unique opportunity to reach the most marginalised girls and deliver a number of vital interventions that would significantly improve their health and development.

As I said, good nutrition and education set the stage for women’s economic and social empowerment. Girls who have access to school and healthcare will have more choices: the choice to complete education, the choice to have fewer children and the choice to pursue a wider range of employment opportunities.

But we are falling short. In most countries around the world, women earn between 60% and 75% less than men. Women are more likely to work in low-skilled, unpaid or informal employment. If we want to give women and girls the right employment skills, we need to address the gender disparities that affect a girl’s life from day one and aim to rectify them at every stage of her development. I would welcome the Minister saying how this is being achieved throughout our aid budget.

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development) 2:25, 26 January 2017

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for securing this very important debate. The impact of the economic empowerment of women on a family in the developing world is well documented and I will not dwell on it here too long, other than to mention a fact that caught my eye when I read the UN Women report included in the excellent briefing note prepared for this debate by the House of Lords Library. A 40-year study using data from 219 countries found that, for every additional year of education for women of reproductive age, child mortality decreased by 9.5%. That says it all. When share of household income controlled by women rises, children benefit.

I was therefore delighted to see the Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, commit the UK to continue to play a key role as part of the UN high-level panel which aims to help women around the world get jobs, overcome discriminatory laws and reduce the burden of unpaid domestic work. However, I was less delighted when the Secretary of State capitulated to the Daily Mail’s vitriolic campaign against funding for the Ethiopian Yegna project by the NGO Girl Effect. This project works to break the cycle of intergenerational norms, to change the way that individuals, families and communities think, feel and act towards girls—a point touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger.

All too often, we treat the symptoms of poverty but overlook the cause. We focus on services such as schools and health clinics—which of course are important. But research shows that girls are consistently passed over or are denied access to the services they need. They fail to take up immunisations or drop out of school.

Using storylines that confront real-life issues such as early forced marriage, violence and barriers to education, the Yegna brand provides role models and inspiration. It gives voice to girls’ desire to stay in school, stay safe and healthy, have economic opportunity and participate fully in society. Yegna today reaches 8.5 million people—50% of the population in Addis and the Amhara region of Ethiopia—and is helping to change the lives of some of the hardest-to-reach and most disadvantaged girls in the world. Seventy-six per cent of girls who listen to Yegna say that this has inspired them to continue their education, and 95% of boy listeners—so important—say that they would speak out against a girl being forced to marry.

DfID has consistently recognised Yegna’s impact. The project has received an A grade in its annual evaluation for the past three consecutive years. The Secretary of State, appearing before the International Development Committee, said:

“UK aid in Ethiopia is combating forced child marriage, violence, teen pregnancies—all those really big, substantial issues. We are doing a range of work there. That is just one project”.

It is a pity that the Secretary of State no longer feels able to support a programme that was transformational on many levels, and capitulated to the Daily Mail’s campaign to withdraw from it. Who is responsible for policy decisions at DfID—the Daily Mail or the Secretary of State? Will the Minister confirm that the Daily Mail’s campaign to undermine the 0.7% ODA spend will not succeed and that the Government remain committed to it?

Funding to change the norms within which women in developing societies are viewed and empowering them to believe in themselves is crucial if we are to meet the sustainable development goals and leave no one behind. Women’s economic empowerment is crucial, as study after study shows that when they have money at their disposal the whole family benefits: the elderly, the young and the disabled.

In the few seconds that remain to me I will touch quickly on the election of Donald Trump as President of America, which has really put fear into the hearts of many NGOs that work in sexual reproduction and women’s health. The global gag rule brought in by previous US Presidents has been not just reinstated by Donald Trump but significantly expanded. The Government in the Netherlands have already announced the creation of a fund to counter the global gag rule. What role will DfID play to counterbalance the global gag rule?

Photo of The Bishop of Derby The Bishop of Derby Bishop 2:32, 26 January 2017

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, and congratulate him on the splendid work that his foundation does in targeting widows, who are some of the most vulnerable people. I also congratulate Oxfam on producing such a helpful report. Many noble Lords have spoken about the issues. I want to stress the fact that this is not just about inequality and discrimination; the report shows that they are both growing. That growth is the context in which we look at this debate.

I will ask three brief questions about our approach. The Oxfam report rightly talks about the importance of companies. The Minister knows a great deal about my work on modern slavery, as we were partners on the Modern Slavery Act. As we know, given what is happening to companies in an age of tight margins, agency working—because you want a flexible workforce—and desperately vulnerable people needing work, it is very easy to exploit human beings. In fact, as modern slavery increases as a crime, so people become commodities in an economic process. That commodification of people is reinforcing the cultural commodification spoken about by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, whereby women and girls especially are treated as bits of equipment—as cooks or those who run agriculture, or whatever their role is. There is an urgent need for companies and the consumers on whom they rely to raise important questions about the value of human beings, especially the neglected such as women and girls, and to push back against a force which is accelerating and which treats human beings who are vulnerable as commodities. The place of women and girls especially is being reinforced at the bottom of the chain—something that has been culturally true for so long.

The Oxfam report also talks about the importance of government in creating a frame for taxation. One issue we have to face is that in our society, as in others, it is non-governmental actors who call the tune. In some countries, sadly, that is by military action, but multinational companies are also non-government actors that call the tune. But of course there is a noble and strong tradition—we need to bless and work with DfID on these things—of churches, faith groups and volunteers being non-state actors who can make a difference.

In the diocese where I work in Derby, we have partnerships with churches in Calcutta and Delhi, for instance. At this very moment, we are working in partnership to create employment and education for women and girls because all the evidence shows, as I know from visiting these projects, that when you put the energy and wisdom of women and girls into the mix, things take off. That is often because the economy has been slow and leisurely, with its male-dominated kind of norms—so this is a very important thing. Good things can happen and are happening. I hope that the Government and DfID can recognise that non-state actors such as charities, churches and faith groups are already doing important work and can get under the radar of some of the problems with government policy and multinational behaviour. They can begin to empower people from the grass roots up—which is where women and girls make such a difference.

My last point is one that I want to bring home much more to us in this Chamber, and to the people whom we serve in government. One key which the Oxfam report points to is taxation: that is, raising money for the common good. If we are honest, we all live in a culture where nobody wants to pay any tax. Governments get elected by promising the lowest taxation margin that they think they can get away with. There is an urgent need to help people understand that to be mature is to be a citizen who sees it as a joy and a privilege to pay tax into a common pool for a common life—one that will look out especially for the vulnerable, such as women and girls in our own culture, let alone in others. That common pool will create funds for us to invest in DfiD, in the United Nations and in the well-being of people in our own society.

We have to speak up on this issue because if we take it as normative that nobody wants to pay tax and somebody else will pick up the bill, the inequality and discrimination that is increasing as we speak will just accelerate, along with the commodification of people. The small efforts of churches and faith groups will be less and less effective as the problem expands. So I would be interested if the Minister would comment on the possibility of appealing to people to be good citizens and to contribute gladly to a common good, especially for those who are vulnerable.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 2:37, 26 January 2017

My Lords, I too start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for securing today’s debate and I pay tribute to his tireless commitment to these issues. Women in countries across the globe still face, and fight against, endemic social and economic discrimination and gender-based violence. It is a personal tragedy for every woman and girl who is undervalued, not safe in her home or at work and not allowed to realise her potential. It is a shared tragedy for the communities and economies which miss out on such a vast array of their own talent. We are proud of the record of successive UK Governments in tackling global violence against women and girls, and leading the push for an explicit commitment to gender equality in the post-2015 framework. Your Lordships’ House is all too aware, after last weekend’s women’s march, that this is no year in which to be complacent about women’s rights.

The fifth sustainable development goal reads:

“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

Goal 8, to promote inclusive growth,

“and decent work for all”, is vital to achieving opportunity and personal security. Recent news has not all been encouraging. According to the World Economic Forum, gender equality in the economy moved backwards last year, to 2008 levels. The Oxfam report highlights levels of wealth inequality which have had a hugely detrimental effect on women. We must be careful not to give the impression that women are not already working. Women and girls shoulder the burden of the majority of household and care work, taking on three times more unpaid work than men. The millions in paid work tend to be employed in sectors with low pay and poor working conditions.

We know that the barriers to economic advancement are multiple: violence, infrastructure, access to education and training, access to capital—I could go on. The Minister will be aware that the UN High-level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment has identified seven key drivers for economic empowerment, including positive role models, legal protection, a redistribution of unpaid work and changing business practices. Is the Minister able to update the House on what the Government are doing to consider each of these drivers and to build on the work the UK is already doing?

Access to education and training is clearly vital. The UK has led on work to get more girls into primary and secondary school. Will the Minister say what work is being done to replicate any successful policies from these schemes to improve access specifically to technical and vocational education as a means of moving into employment?

The theme of the sustainable development goals is “no one left behind”. I pay tribute again to the excellent work of the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, in raising the plight of widows. What work is the Minister’s department doing to look at rural women and older women and what can be done to remove the specific barriers to training and employment that affect these groups? I have a particular interest in this subject because of my wife’s involvement with Sreepur Village in Bangladesh. It was formed by a movement led by a former British Airways stewardess, Pat Kerr, some 28 years ago, and has taken in homeless and destitute women and their children. Many are single mothers who have extreme problems in such societies. For three years, the women receive training and their children receive schooling before they settle back into the community. There they are able to utilise their skills and gifted equipment, such as sewing machines, to support themselves and their children. This is an outstanding example of how investment in women has a powerful wealth multiplier effect. Whether we men like it or not, investing in women often has much higher rewards than investing in the general community.

Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon said,

“Gender equality remains the greatest human rights challenge of our time”.

I welcome today’s debate as an opportunity for noble Lords to keep building momentum and awareness, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development 2:41, 26 January 2017

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for securing this debate and for his consistency in raising these issues over many years in this House and giving us an opportunity to talk about them. However, there is much more than talking going on, as the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said, as in the case of Lady Tunnicliffe’s work in Bangladesh. Many other noble Lords who spoke in this debate did so not from a theoretical perspective but from practical experience which they have had in their charitable work around the work, which we recognise and to which we pay tribute.

Inequality is not just the subject of two of the sustainable development goals, as the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, referred to, but is at the heart of everything DfID does through its mission to eradicate extreme poverty. Taxpayers in this country expect that aid should go to those most in need of it in another country, and this is why the Secretary of State has made it her objective to challenge and change the global aid system so that it properly serves the poorest people in the world.

The Oxfam report makes a good contribution to the debate on inequality and has generated substantial media interest in inequality, but we need to move away from and beyond simple headlines and dig deeper to find international solutions. This debate is helpful in doing that. We agree that effective taxation is critical for inclusive growth. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby rightly pointed out, people need to be good citizens in paying their taxes and corporations need to be good corporate citizens in paying their taxes, but taxation cannot be the answer on its own because without wealth creation it is axiomatic that there is nothing to tax. Nowhere has defeated poverty without sustained economic growth. Reference has been made to China, which has lifted more people out of poverty than any country in human history, not necessarily through a tax policy but through sustained economic growth and investment in social and physical infrastructure. We need to empower and equip the poorest to work and trade their way out of poverty, a point which my noble friend Lady Hodgson raised. Countries need trade, investment, infrastructure, energy and strong institutions to reduce poverty and inequality and to be self-sufficient in the long term. That also means a healthy civil society, and the importance of church and faith groups as part of that society is recognised and noted. They are integral to our approach to economic development, which supports inclusive growth and tackles inequality by creating jobs and opportunities across society.

For this, our focus on women and girls is critical. No country can achieve sustained economic development by denying economic opportunities to half its population. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, described the contribution of women as integral. It is a fact that no country can lift itself out of poverty while leaving half its population behind. As Oxfam’s report highlights, the global economy does not treat women and men equally. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, referred to this. It is a fact we all know, particularly in the labour market, where women are 25% less likely to be in employment. As my noble friends Lady Hodgson and Lady Manzoor said, women do significant additional work in caring for others and looking after the home, yet they find that their wages are significantly less.

Education, particularly beyond the primary level, is a key part of improving women’s lives and their livelihoods. Educating girls brings incredible returns. Reference has been made to the financial and economic returns not only for girls and women themselves, but for their families, communities and economies. Educated women marry later and have fewer children. Their children tend to live longer, partly because education brings the importance of nutrition into the family home, as my noble friend Lady Manzoor pointed out, and they are more likely to attend school. If they are more likely to attend school they are more likely to be employed, and if they are more likely to be employed they are more likely to work their way out of poverty, so we know the system works.

Significant progress has been made since 2000 on getting girls into school, but gender inequality in education persists. My noble friend Lady Manzoor and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to this. There are entrenched cultural barriers to girls’ education. For example, boys are still 1.5 times more likely than girls to complete secondary education in Africa and south Asia, areas in which the Loomba Foundation works. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for mentioning the girls’ education challenge, and I will come back to that in a minute with a specific answer to her question. DfID has prioritised getting more girls access to education, staying in education and making the critical transition from primary to secondary school, where the benefits are greatest and where they can learn and develop the skills to access employment and allow their families and communities to prosper.

My noble friend Lady Manzoor, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, welcomed and highlighted the success so far of the girls’ education challenge programme which is supporting up to 1 million marginalised girls across 18 countries. It is a ground-breaking programme. With all ground-breaking programmes—this is a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, when she referred to other programmes we have had—there is an element of risk when you are trying to reach the most marginalised girls and get them into education. We are therefore mindful that the girls’ education challenge needs to improve further. A recent Independent Commission for Aid Impact report on the girls’ education challenge found that we still need to do better, but the reality is that we are doing a lot better than we were, and the girls’ education challenge is providing an important part of that. That is why we announced an extension to that fund.

Education is one aspect of equipping women and girls with the right employment skills. It is also imperative that we look towards technical and vocational education, including working with the private sector, to ensure that they have the right skills that are valued in the labour market. DfID’s skills for oil and gas Africa programme is an example of working in partnership with industry to promote skills development for local people so they can access jobs and business opportunities linked to oil and gas investments in east Africa. It is traditionally a male-dominated sector, and DfID’s intervention aims to create 84,000 jobs for women and girls—40% of which will be for young people aged between 15 and 24. There are of course many other examples, and the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, gave some of his own in partnership with the chamber of commerce in India.

We are also helping to remove women’s financial constraints to self-employment. An example of this is the joint DfID and Coca-Cola enterprise scheme in Nigeria that is helping 18,000 young women with financial and leadership training. My noble friend Lady Hodgson mentioned the importance of microfinance in this regard, which we are also supporting, there and elsewhere.

Success in a fast-changing world requires a mix of skills throughout a child’s learning cycle. The underprivileged children’s educational programme in Bangladesh gives four and a half years of education and business-related training to some of the neediest families in urban slums. Graduates are placed into employment or provided with loans to set up in small business, creating better lifetime opportunities and combating child labour. We work on modern slavery, and there is the important work that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby has done in that area. Combating modern slavery and trafficking is not only at the heart of our mission at DfID but also the Prime Minister’s passion, which she is following through across all government departments.

Investment in skills is important, but it does not create jobs and does not overcome the barriers women face in accessing jobs and moving into better positions. Our work across economic development and gender equality recognises this and aims to address the fundamental barriers that prevent women from having a voice, choice and control over economic decisions and resources. We work to increase women’s access to productive assets, including land and financial services, and to tackle discriminatory regulations that prevent women from doing business.

We are having a real impact. For instance, we have reached more than 35 million women with the access to financial services that help them work their way out of poverty. Investments by the CDC—a Bill on which was supposed to be before your Lordships’ House yesterday, but because of the interest in it, it is now being brought forward on 9 February—have created more than 300,000 jobs for women in 2015 alone. We have enabled 3 million women to secure land rights in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and other countries.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, also mentioned the important work of the High-level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. It has issued a call to action to global leaders across business, government and civil society to tackle behaviours and laws that keep girls and women back, to make the changes in the workplace and supply chains that will give women more opportunities, and to ensure women have access to resources and time to make the most of their talent.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson and Lady Sheehan, were concerned about some aspects of sexual and reproductive health. This is something DfID is a world leader in, and we have a specific commitment to ensure that people get access to sexual and reproductive health advice. I can also say that this is why we plan to host a global summit on family planning in 2017, aimed at reaching the most marginalised and those affected by it, including conflict survivors and victims of modern slavery. That will be a very good and timely forum to discuss the global response to these issues.

DfID’s work on girls and women does not limit itself to economic opportunities but works to support girls and women at all stages of their life, to enable them to take control and determine their own future and contribute to a more prosperous, equal and peaceful society. I think that is fairly close to the definition which the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, had of empowerment of women. It means that they take control of their own lives and are able to make their own choices, for them and for their families, and benefit the whole of wider society in the process. I pay tribute to the noble Lord and all noble Lords who contributed to the debate.