Violence against women and girls – at home and abroad

Here’s my latest Ham and High column on my work at home and abroad to protect women and girls from violence. Also available here.

Last week, I represented the UK at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. I have always been committed to tackling violence against women and girls – and since taking on a ministerial role in the Department for International Development, I have been able to make it a UK government priority.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have led to remarkable achievements in alleviating poverty over the last 15 years. But for all their good, the MDGs omitted a crucial element – a target for ending gender-based violence.

I’m proud that the coalition government is committed to the principle that every woman and girl has the right to live free from violence or the threat of violence. And that every woman and girl should be empowered to take control over her own life.

So in the post-2015 international development framework discussions at the UN Commission, we were focused on pushing for a stand-alone goal to empower girls and women and achieve gender equality. Within this, we are pushing for a target on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

Over the last year, I have spearheaded a new multi-million pound programme to tackle one of the most extreme manifestations of gender-based violence – female genital mutilation (FGM). And because of this solid foundation of work and momentum, this July the prime minister will host a major summit to tackle FGM as well as early and forced marriage – both domestically and internationally.

Our aim is to get political and popular support to end early and forced marriage and FGM within a generation. An ambitious goal, but women’s rights campaigners have always been ambitious! And I believe this goal is achievable – but only if we work together and ramp up our efforts to support this African-led movement.

There is work to do in the UK, too. Young girls who live in the UK are sent abroad to be “cut”. It has been estimated more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK each year, and that 66,000 women in the UK are living with the consequences of FGM.

As the local MP in Haringey, I have called a roundtable – with officials from the local council, health services and police – in order to discuss an integrated strategy to protect girls in our borough.

Ending gender-based violence has been and will continue to be a long-fought struggle. This includes addressing the entrenched social norms and gender inequalities that drive violence against women and girls.

It will take time, and we’ve got a long road ahead. But I believe if we all, men and women, work hard enough together we really can create a world where women and girls no longer live in fear of violence.