International Widows Day - Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 26 June 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Loomba Lord Loomba Crossbench 2:37, 26 June 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to respond to the United NationsInternational Widows Day, specifically with regard to measures to empower widows and their dependants to achieve economic independence.

Photo of Lord Loomba Lord Loomba Crossbench

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare my interest as a founder and chairman trustee of the Loomba Foundation.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the UK recognises that widows can face multiple forms of abuse, stigmatisation and hardship following the loss of their partner. The FCDO’s new international women and girls strategy will support grass-roots, women-led civil society organisations to reach the most marginalised women and girls. Using the full range of the FCDO’s levers, we are challenging harmful social norms and advocating for gender-focused policies, systems and laws that support women and girls’ rights, freedom and potential.

Photo of Lord Loomba Lord Loomba Crossbench

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Given the critical importance of eradicating discrimination against widows to achieving the UN sustainable development goals of ending poverty and hunger, achieving gender equality, reducing inequalities and creating sustainable communities, will the Government continue their long-standing support of the campaign to achieve justice for widows, in particular through British expertise and research to help UN member states develop and implement effective, evidence-based policies and programmes?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, under the strategy I mentioned in my Answer, the FCDO will continue to stand up and speak out for women and girls’ rights and freedoms on the global stage and in our bilateral relationships. It also commits us to ensuring that at least 80% of the FCDO’s bilateral aid has a focus on gender equality by the end of this decade. We will target that investment towards the main life stages of women and girls to secure lifelong, intergenerational impact and strengthen political, economic and social systems that play an important role in protecting and empowering women and girls.

Photo of Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Conservative

My Lords, as my noble friend has stated, widows suffer particular discrimination in so many countries of the world. I am delighted to hear that we offer them special help, but can he give us a bit more detail about this, especially in the area of property rights? All too often, families will seize their property and cast them out.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I will struggle to provide details on the property issue, but it is certainly true that the UK rightly recognises that older widows in particular face a wide range of discrimination. That is why the international women and girls strategy adopts a life-course approach, targeting investment at the key life stages of women and girls to ensure that we secure the greatest possible intergenerational impacts.

Photo of Lord Hussain Lord Hussain Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in Indian-administered Kashmir, tens of thousands of men and women are being held in custody for long periods of time under notorious laws such as the Public Safety Act. There are as many as 3,000 women known as “half-widows”, whose husbands either were picked up by the Indian forces or have gone missing in mysterious circumstances. Their families do not know their whereabouts and these half-widows are living under huge distress, fear and agony. Will the Minister raise the release of these men, or at least informing their families of their whereabouts, with the Indian authorities?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I will certainly convey that message and request to the Minister for Asia. We are proud that the UK is recognised as a global leader in tackling violence against women and girls in all its forms, by pioneering approaches around the world that have shown measurable reductions in violence of around 50%, proving that violence against women and girls is preventable. We are investing up to £67.5 million in the “What Works to Prevent Violence” programme, which will systematically scale up proven approaches to prevent violence against women and girls worldwide.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, on all his work on behalf on International Widows Day, his ongoing work with the review and the Loomba Foundation’s work on the World Widows Report. That recent report focused on how important the SDGs are to the welfare of widows. Unfortunately, the last national voluntary review we conducted in 2019 into implementing the SDGs did not mention widows at all, or the specific problems that the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, mentioned. When are we likely to see the second voluntary national review? Will it include the important work that the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, has drawn such important attention to?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I echo the noble Lord’s compliments in recognition of the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for the work his foundation has done. The noble Lord is right to make the point that, in many respects, the sustainable development goals are particularly relevant to women and girls, especially elderly women. I am afraid that the second national review is something I am not directly involved in, so I do not know when it will be produced. I have very little doubt that when it is produced, it will encompass all the issues raised in both the previous questions.

Photo of Lord Laming Lord Laming Chair, Accommodation Steering Group Committee

My Lords, at the heart of this Question is the status of women and the recognition of all the work that has yet to be done to improve their status in every country across the world. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government are doing everything they can to address these issues?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, at the Commission on the Status of Women in March 2019, the UK directly helped secure the first-ever UN-level recognition of the need to invest in adequate measures to protect and support widows. The UK also helped to ensure that widows’ rights were recognised in the 2022 Commission on the Status of Women’s agreed conclusions.

Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat

My Lords, we know that widows are some of the poorest and least economically empowered people in the world, particularly in developing countries. What effect has the cut in the foreign aid budget from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5% had on widows specifically?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, it is difficult to work out exactly how much of the funding directed towards women and girls is focused specifically on widows. That number does not exist, and I am not sure it could exist. However, the work of women’s rights organisations and movements is critical to advancing gender equality. It was calculated that in 2021-22, just over 1% of the total global figure dedicated to gender equality—a figure of $56.5 billion—went to those women’s rights organisations and movements on the ground. That is something we are challenging in our own work bilaterally, but also through the multilateral institutions.