The 2017 election: a chance to stand up for women’s rights | ActionAid UK

Girish Menon

Chief Executive, ActionAidUK

With the snap general election only weeks away, this is a chance for all political parties to lay out their vision for our country, and the role Britain can play in the world. Our shared values of equality, compassion and fair play demand that we aim for a world without poverty and injustice. And with global progress on women’s rights in real danger of being rolled back, it is vital the UK keeps championing the rights of women and girls internationally.

ActionAid supporters stand up for women's rights at January's Women's March on London.
ActionAid supporters stand up for women's rights at January's Women's March on London.

Over the past year we’ve seen some huge political shifts – here in the UK with Brexit, in the US with the election of President Trump, and around the globe. In a world that feels increasingly unpredictable we need our political leaders to stand up and show that one thing is non-negotiable – the human values of equality, fairness and compassion that define British society.

These shared values mean looking outwards. They mean committing to using our voice and influence to help achieve a world without poverty and injustice – as we have done in the past.

British aid has played a leading role in halving the number of people living in extreme poverty. We have helped to immunise 67 million children against preventable diseases, sent 2.5 million girls to school and made huge progress on issues like ending female genital mutilation (FGM).

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For the world’s most marginalised people, it is vital that the UK stick to our promise of spending 0.7% of our national income on ending extreme poverty and giving life-saving help in humanitarian crises. And for the long run, rather than relying on foreign aid, we need to campaign with developing countries to raise their own taxes, so they can pay for essential public services like hospitals and schools.

Protecting progress on women’s rights

One area where the UK has played a leading role on the world stage is as a champion of women’s and girls’ rights. But we’ve seen a lot of warning signs recently that global progress is in real danger of being rolled back. Whether that’s new legal loopholes allowing child marriage in Bangladesh, where ActionAid works, or President Trump reinstating the ‘Global Gag Rule’, restricting access to abortion for some of the most vulnerable women in the world. There is a global urgency to make sure women’s rights are protected and advanced, not eroded.

It is still the case that one in three women and girls will experience violence in their lifetimes. Women are still earning on average 23% less than men, in more insecure, part-time, low-paid jobs. They also bear the brunt of unpaid care work, doing nearly 2.5 times more than men.

There is so much more to do, and it is essential that Britain keeps up its role as a champion for women’s and girls’ rights internationally.

The global humanitarian system is also being stretched by more natural disasters, greater unpredictability as a result of climate change, and conflict. Women and girls face particular challenges - we know that domestic violence goes up during humanitarian crises, and many women are forced into marriage to reduce the number of mouths to feed. Too often women’s and girls’ voices are not heard and they are excluded from peace building processes.

Distribution of emergency kits in Jeremie Commune with ActionAid local partner KPGA

But local women’s rights organisations often have invaluable cultural knowledge, skills and experience to bring – they should be leading response work. The UK, with its strong record of stepping up with humanitarian aid for those who need it, is well-placed to lead on tackling these challenges. This includes championing new approaches to emergencies and conflict which promote the role of women.

Using your voice for women and girls

Over the past few months we have seen ordinary people take to the streets in demonstrations for many different issues – for refugees and migrant rights, against rising racism and xenophobic rhetoric, and of course those up and down the country who joined the global women’s march.

At the heart of this is a demand that we keep to our values of equality, compassion and fair play. Regardless of which party each of us votes for on June 8th, those of us who share these values do not want to see the world’s most marginalised people lose out.

As we head towards the election, all parties have an opportunity to show that they are willing to help take on the world’s biggest challenges. This is why, as an international charity, we are speaking out. Not to promote one party or candidate over another, but because the stakes for the women and girls we work with around the world couldn’t be higher.

At ActionAid we are calling on all those standing for election to stand up for women’s rights worldwide. And, whoever wins, these pledges must be turned into real action.

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