I will not congratulate my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall on securing this debate, but certainly I commiserate with him on the need to discuss this tragic subject. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister has found my hon. Friend’s case as powerful and persuasive as I have.
Sadly, I have on too many occasions sat, in distant, dangerous places ravaged by war or suffering a poverty of effective state structures, with women whose painful stories have left my cheeks wet. Over the course of the covid-19 pandemic, it has become glaringly apparent that cases of violence against women and girls have increased dramatically. Globally, 35% of women have experienced either physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner or non-partner in their lifetime. That statistic, however, does not take into account sexual harassment.
According to a report by ActionAid, 87,000 women around the world were intentionally killed in 2017. Of those, 50,000 were killed by a family member or a significant partner. That is an outrage. Globally, 650 million girls and young women alive today are married before their 18th birthday, with Niger, Central African Republic and Chad having some of the highest figures.
[Christina Rees in the Chair]
The covid-19 pandemic has only served to intensify some of these issues throughout the world. Domestic abuse cases have increased exponentially throughout the lockdown period. In April, the charity Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day.
The recent merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development presents an opportunity for the United Kingdom to formulate a new strategy in tackling violence and discrimination against women across the globe. We do, of course, have a track record to be proud of in the United Kingdom. Aid and development spending has had a significant impact on reducing violence against women. Through aid programmes, more than 14 million children—6 million of them girls—have gained a decent education. Since 2015, nutrition-relevant programmes by the Department for International Development have reached 60.3 million women, children under five and adolescent girls. One UK aid project reduced rates of domestic violence from 69% to 29% across 15 remote villages in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo—a place I know—over a two-year period.
I object to the cut in the foreign aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of UK GDP. The potential repercussions for our ability to tackle violence against women and girls are such that it is likely to have significant and long-term negative consequences. However, I do accept that aid is only one tool at our disposal that can be used to tackle violence against women. Applying significant pressure to Governments with poor track records on women’s rights and domestic abuse is an alternative. If we are to redetermine and reposition our place in the world following our departure from the European Union, Her Majesty’s Government should ensure that we do not shy away from our obligations to those most in need, most vulnerable and most impoverished. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to utilise their membership of the high-level panel on women’s economic empowerment and our leadership role in the UN action coalition on gender-based violence, to demonstrate our, the United Kingdom’s, commitment to tackling this very serious issue.