Women in the Commonwealth: Trade and Investment

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 11th March 2020.

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Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact 4:30 pm, 11th March 2020

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I was very pleased that our Prime Minister made a commitment to support 12 years of quality education for girls around the world. Later in my speech, I will tackle some of the barriers that women face in developing countries.

Empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work is key to achieving the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and the sustainable development goals, particularly goal 5 on gender equality. The Commonwealth is an especially unique forum that the UK can leverage to further promote gender equality and bolster women’s economic empowerment in developing countries. With 54 countries and more than 2.4 billion people, the Commonwealth offers a more unified and structured network, sharing historical ties, values and language, and allows the UK to amplify its commitment to gender equality.

Commonwealth countries are more likely to trade and invest with each other than with the rest of the world. Collectively, Commonwealth members are less protectionist than other countries. Reduced trade costs and similarities in business, regulatory and administrative systems underpin the “Commonwealth advantage”. According to the International Monetary Fund’s forecasts, nine out of the top 25 fastest-growing economies are members of the Commonwealth, which demonstrates the trade potential of the group.

The UK chocolate industry is worth at least £4 billion each year, yet most cocoa farmers live in abject poverty. A typical farmer, such as those in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which account for 60% of the world’s cocoa production, earns less than 75p a day. That is well below the World Bank’s extreme poverty line of approximately £1.40 per day. When visiting farmers in west Africa, I was struck to learn that only 25% of women cocoa farmers own their land, and and that on average they work about a third more than men when childcare and domestic chores are taken into account.