Following a turbulent British election campaign, no party has an overall majority of MPs. This is known as a hung Parliament, and means that no party can pass new laws on its own. The Conservatives are the largest party and right now it seems that the most likely outcome is that they will form a minority Government, possibly with the help of smaller parties such as the DUP. But what will that mean for the rights of women and girls in developing countries? We take a look at what the new Government might look like and what we can expect from it.
Whatever happens in party negotiations over the next few days, it is vital that the next Government ensures the UK remains an outward-looking and compassionate country, playing its part in tackling poverty and injustice around the world.
At ActionAid, we will continue engaging with whichever party or parties form the Government in order to promote the rights of women and girls around the world. We will continue to partner with the government on the ground to respond to humanitarian crises and on longer-term development projects, as well as campaigning to hold them to account to ensure they are doing everything in their power to tackle global poverty.
Commitment to 0.7% aid spending
Before the election, all the major parties rightly pledged to keep our promise to the world’s poorest people by continuing to spend 0.7% of our national income on life-saving aid, through responding to humanitarian emergencies and supporting longer-term development projects.
This means that whoever forms the next Government, our commitment to international development spending will be safe. British aid has transformed the lives of some of the world’s poorest women and girls. Since 2011, UK aid has helped 5 million girls into school, provided midwives at 3.5 million births and helped 10 million women access justice.
The Conservative manifesto
As the largest party, the Conservative manifesto is most likely to form the basis for the next Government’s agenda. In their manifesto they set out what they would do in Government if re-elected – including how they would work to combat poverty in developing countries.
The Conservative manifesto pledges to continue “leading the world in development”, and promises to carry on promoting women’s rights – including through providing an education for girls, working to end the subjugation and mutilation of women, combating modern slavery, and leading global efforts to tackle sexual violence in conflict. This is vitally important because the denial of women’s and girls’ rights is a gross injustice. No country can really succeed when half its citizens are denied the rights enjoyed by the other half.
However, their manifesto also says that they would seek to make changes to the rules which decide what is counted as aid. Currently the UK follows rules set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – an organisation representing richer, developed countries – which defines what does and does not count as aid for the purpose of the 0.7% target.
The Conservative manifesto pledges to continue “leading the world in development”.
While the OECD rules aren’t perfect, they are important because they ensure that overseas aid has as its main objective improving the welfare of people living in poverty. ActionAid supports keeping the current OECD aid rules, but if the next Government is going to change them, any aid rules must strictly ensure that aid spending has a laser-like focus on tackling poverty and promoting development.
Given the complicated situation facing the new Government, and the imminent start of Brexit talks, these rules may not be top of the agenda — but we will be keeping a close eye on any developments as they could have a big impact on tackling global poverty.
The Labour manifesto
Given the surprise result yesterday and the increase in Labour seats in Parliament, the Labour manifesto also bears serious consideration. Labour’s manifesto lists women’s rights as one of its top international priorities – promising to develop a “development agenda based on the principles of redistribution, social justice, women’s rights and poverty reduction”.
ActionAid’s recent Fearless campaign called on the UK Government to champion the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, on achieving gender equality, by properly funding the vital work of feminist and women’s rights organisations and movements in developing countries. These groups are on the frontline, leading the fight for gender equality.
We therefore welcome Labour’s commitment to develop a cross-government strategy for ensuring the SDGs are implemented, as well as to reinstate the Civil Society Challenge Fund to support women’s rights and other civil society organisations which Labour say “are the most effective forces in winning human rights”.
Another issue that ActionAid has campaigned on is tax dodging in poorer countries. Labour put forward an ambitious plan to tackle tax avoidance. A number of these measures will help to tackle tax avoidance around the world, not just in the UK. This includes Labour’s plans to force UK-linked tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands to be more transparent, as well as their plans to strengthen anti-tax haven laws (known as Controlled Foreign Company rules) – both these measures would help poorer countries to clamp down on tax dodging and raise more money for public services.
What we want from the next Government
Whatever the make-up of the next Government, it is vital that we as a country continue to stand up for the rights of women and girls in the poorest countries around the world.
Over the coming days and weeks we will get a clearer sense of the make-up of the new Government will be. We will likely have a Conservative Prime Minister, and must ensure that they keep the pledge in the Conservative Manifesto to be a world-leader in international development, and a truly Global Britain.
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