My Lords, it is clear that many women around the world still lack equal rights and empowerment opportunities. They face discrimination and violence. As parliamentarians, what can we do individually to change that? One way is to be an active member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. All of us here today are automatically members of that by virtue of being parliamentarians. The IPU feels strongly about achieving gender equality, recognising the link between democracy and the equal participation of men and women in parliaments and civil society.
Travelling overseas with the British group of the IPU or taking part here in the inward programmes for overseas parliamentarians gives us all the opportunity to work for gender equality. We can demonstrate the advantages of the progress already made here in the UK and support the work of DfID in developing countries. We have made good progress in the UK, but we have much more to learn—we can do that—from other countries to make gender equality a reality worldwide.
In the February recess, I took part in the IPU visit to Ethiopia, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and Pauline Latham MP. Our objective was to strengthen the relationship between the UK and Ethiopia at a time of political change and reform. In his first year in office, the new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has appointed women to 50% of Cabinet positions, appointed the first ever female President, appointed a woman as Speaker of the House of the Federation and put a woman at the head of the Supreme Court.
Despite these changes and Abiy’s determination to carry out widespread reforms rapidly, many worry that they will not sufficiently address the deep-seated bias against women in the country, which is near the bottom of the UN rankings on gender equality in sub-Saharan Africa. DfID’s annual budget in Ethiopia is £300 million. That is its largest budget in Africa and its second-largest worldwide.
The Ethiopian Government have used international aid and their own resources to lift millions out of poverty over the past decade, but it remains a country with enormous development needs. It still has high rates of chronic childhood malnutrition and maternal mortality. That, combined with female genital mutilation and early marriage, leads to acute gender inequalities.
I was therefore keen to learn about DflD’s work on education and health. Access to both transforms the lives of girls and women. We visited a UK aid-supported elementary school and health centre built on the same site in Ada’a district. One of the barriers to girls’ attendance at school has been a lack of access to water and toilet facilities. DflD’s water and sanitation strategy is vital. DfID also gives financial and technical support to the health centre to procure essential maternal and child health medicines, including vaccines and family planning aids. The centre is staffed by a clinical officer, nurses, midwives and auxiliary health workers, and there is an ambulance to bring mothers to the health centre to give birth.
Against this background of genuine improvement in reducing maternal and child mortality, much more needs to be done. At our DflD pre-brief in Addis, Pauline Latham asked the officials what work was currently being done by DflD to eradicate FGM. She had visited Ethiopia a few years ago with the Commons Select Committee and seen DflD’s work on FGM projects. It was having some success. But the surprising answer to her question was that DflD officials were not aware of any UK development aid-assisted projects on FGM in Ethiopia now. I hope that that is not the case. Can my noble friend the Minister outline the current work of DflD or DflD-funded projects to eradicate FGM in Ethiopia? If that work really has stopped, why is that, given that FGM is still so prevalent?
DflD’s programme in Ethiopia remains vital to the country’s development and for improving the prospects for women and girls. We can do much to assist progress there towards gender equality, but at the same time we can learn how we can make even better progress ourselves and practise what we preach.