FGM event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

If I needed any reminder of the degree to which female genital mutilation (FGM) has shot up the international agenda in the last couple of years, the scrum to attend this morning’s FGM event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women did the job. I was speaking alongside the First Lady of Burkina Faso, who I met on my recent visit there, ministers from Italy and Somalia, the head of UNESCO, NGOs and, most importantly, young people from across the world to discuss how to empower youths to end FGM. The energy in the room was palpable, and the panel represented some of the strongest commitment in the world to ending FGM.

FGM is one of the most extreme manifestations of discrimination against women and girls. It is violence against women and girls. I am very sure if we were talking cutting off men’s penises, this issue would be a priority – and it would have ended centuries ago! But FGM has carried on for thousands of years, and still goes on today.

That is why, as a DFID minister, I began my campaign to end FGM – a mission that fits well with my role as ministerial champion for tackling violence against women overseas. I have learnt from some of the most inspirational women – campaigners, activists, leaders – many of whom were in the room today. Bold, ambitious women who believed that change could happen. And I was told by African women and leaders that they wanted support. Now, I have heard some amazing young people add their voices to that call – including a young brother and sister duo who both spoke passionately about ridding the world of this abuse.

The young people who spoke today told us that they have been desperately trying to get leaders to listen to their calls to tackle FGM for years – and that finally they are in the room, and telling us not to ignore them any longer. They have felt the fear as they or their friends or sisters have been carried away to be cut. They know the feelings of sadness and shame and fury that their bodies no longer belong to them. They asked for our support to help them end this violence.

I will rise to that challenge and support these brilliant young people, who are the agents of change. I hope you will join me to end FGM in a generation.

 

The UK will help tackle the great neglect of disability

Here’s a further blog from the UN General Assembly in New York, also available on the Huffington Post

The biggest disability rights meeting in five years takes place in New York this week as part of the United Nations General Assembly. People with disabilities have long been the forgotten people when it comes to overseas development. This is a landmark opportunity to give them a voice and put their needs centre stage.

More than one billion people worldwide live with disability and suffer huge discrimination as a result. They face unequal access to education, employment, healthcare, social support and the justice system. Consequently, they are disproportionately some of the poorest and most marginalised people in the world – part of an unseen great neglect.

The internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have done a great deal to address global poverty, but the gap where improving the lives of people with disabilities should have been has hindered progress. Thirteen years after the MDGs were agreed, disability remains the poor relation amongst development goals.

This isn’t good enough. People with a disability face specific day-to-day challenges that the rest of us don’t. They need tailored measures, such as providing school texts in braille. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for them. It is telling that of the 57million children currently out of school in the world today, over a third have a disability.

That’s why I’m announcing this week that the Department for International Development will help address this by ensuring that from this day forward, all of the school construction we directly support is designed to allow disability access. This means building schools with easily accessible entry points, wide entry doors, wide aisles, and ramps with railings and handles. It will also ensure water points have easy access levers and that toilets are designed for easy access. In other words, children with disabilities will be able to access all of those schools.

But this is just the start. With the deadline for the MDGs fast approaching the world has now turned to the post 2015 development framework. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to finally put disability on the agenda.

The UN’s High Level Panel, set up to present the UN Secretary-General with a vision of what the development framework should look like after the MDGs expire, have set out that the post 2015 development agenda should ‘leave no one behind’, regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status. The world’s leaders are now negotiating and considering the Panel’s vision and the UK is determined to do everything possible to ensure the final post-2015 framework sticks with this single overarching goal.

This week’s meeting is a positive sign that the UN is serious about strengthening the rights of disabled people around the world. Drawing international attention to this issue and driving progress will be my key priorities for UNGA. As a global community, we have a duty to safeguard the most vulnerable and if we are to defeat poverty we must tackle the causes as well as the symptoms. In many countries and communities, the barriers people with disabilities face means they have no chance of lifting themselves out of poverty and reaching their full potential.

The Department for International Development is already incorporating disability into our programmes across Africa and Asia, and we have recently committed £2million towards an additional three years support to the Disability Rights Fund – the only grant-making organisation to solely and directly support disabled people’s organisations in developing countries.

But we know that at the moment it is hard to even assess the scale of the challenge when it comes to disability because of the lack of sound global data. Quite simply we don’t know where disabled people are and what their needs are. So the UK will work with our partners – those with the expertise and access – to get the data we need. We will particularly focus on improving the data on children with disabilities and their special educational needs, and on the data for access to water and sanitation facilities.

But the UK can’t do this alone. We will also be urging the governments in the countries we support to deliver on their commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

I believe we have reached a watershed moment on disability – one which we cannot afford to get wrong. Development progress is only as good as the weakest member and progress made across the world is diluted if the most vulnerable are left behind. If developing countries are to move forward into prosperity and greater self-reliance, they must take everyone on the journey. It is up to us, as leaders in the international community, to help them on their way.

Representing the UK at the UN General Assembly

The world came together today for the biggest disability rights meeting to take place in five years  – and I was proud to represent the UK.

With one billion people globally facing unequal access to education, employment, healthcare, social support and justice as a result of disability, this was my chance to demand an end to this great neglect.

But actions speak louder than words and, on behalf of the British Government, I announced a range of measures which will improve the lives of disabled people in the poorest parts of the world.

At the UN General Assembly in New York, I pledged that children with disabilities in the developing world will be able to access and use all schools built with direct UK funding from this day forward.

It is telling that of the 57 million children currently out of school in the world today, over a third have a disability.

So school construction the UK directly supports in the developing world will now be built using ‘universal design’, with easily accessible entry points and toilets, wide entry doors, wide aisles, ramps with railings and handles, and water points with easy-access levers.

We will also work with partners to improve the global data on disability, in particular focusing on children with disabilities and their special educational needs, and on information about access to water and sanitation facilities.

And I urged governments in the countries we support to deliver on their commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

As a global community, we have a duty to safeguard the most vulnerable. If developing countries are to move forward into prosperity and greater self-reliance, they must take everyone on the journey.

With the on-going discussion of what development should focus on when the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, we have a once-in-a-generation chance to finally put disability on the agenda.

My announcement came on the same day Britain reaffirmed our commitment to tackling three killer diseases with new support to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

Over the last year, I have seen the success of the Global Fund for myself during visits to Africa and assessed the life-saving role it plays.

So I was very proud that the UK committed £1bn to the Global Fund over the next three years so long as others join us in ensuring it meets its target of $15bn and our contribution is 10% of the total replenishment.

That will save a life every three years with antiretroviral therapy for 750,000 people living with HIV, 32 million more insecticide-treated nets to prevent the transmission of malaria and TB treatment for over a million more people.

In just one day, the UK underlined its commitment to those in greatest need. We have risen to the challenge – now we need the rest of the world to follow us.