Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 5:52 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Goudie Baroness Goudie Llafur 5:52, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for all the work he has done over the last years, in particular just recently, on sexual violence in conflict by visiting countries that many people would be quite afraid to go to in order to negotiate with people and keep this agenda going, and for the other acts he has done to promote women and girls’ education and employment around the world. I do not think many people in this House know the work he has done. He is always there, and if he cannot be, he is on Zoom or something else. He has done magnificent work for this country, and I know that, across the divide, people will give him that support.

With regard to foreign policy, the Government have listed their intention to prioritise building resilience and strengthening security, domestically and abroad. Important progress has been made in recent weeks via the Windsor Framework and with the Irish Parliament. I remind the Government to respond to the findings of the inquiry into regulatory divergence and the Windsor Framework.

The UK holds a prominent position as a leader in soft power. It is important that we leverage this influence to cultivate opportunities for collaboration among nations, sharing our values in pursuit of the common good. We must always keep talking and keep all the doors open. This is often highlighted by the sustainable development goals. Hard power seems to be the name of the game these days, and we can see where that has got us. Rather than succumbing to the allure of strongman policies, we must harness the positive soft power of our culture, values and ideas to forge enduring connections and facilitate dialogue across borders, creating a more peaceful and stable world for us all.

The impact of recent global shocks, including the Covid-19 pandemic, the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, and climate-related catastrophes, has led to a concerning decline in the UN Human Development Index for the first time in 38 years. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on his pivotal role in fostering consensus around development, particularly by upholding Britain’s commitment to the 0.7% target set by the Labour Government. However, the recent decision by the Government, under the direction of Prime Minister Sunak, to reduce the development target to 0.5% and slash funding from vital aid programmes is deeply concerning. Such actions are counterproductive if our aim is to address vulnerabilities and promote resilience. Instead, we must adopt a long-term approach that addresses vulnerabilities at their roots and reduces our susceptibility to crises and hostile actors.

It is imperative to recognise that women and girls have borne a disproportionate burden of the consequences of past decisions. The intersections of climate change, conflict, and gender inequality highlight the urgent need to meaningfully reinstate development aid before harm occurs. Although there is a growing acknowledgment of the unique vulnerabilities women face in environmental and humanitarian crises, their voices continue to be marginalised in the decision-making process. I ask the Government to continue the approach that no decisions of any type should be made without women at every table.

Conflict exacerbates existing inequalities in societies and breaks down social networks, making women more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation. Research shows that, in fragile and conflicted countries, only 44% of women are likely to be in paid work, compared with 66% of men. Globally, women are less likely to have a bank account, to participate in the labour market, to have access to social security or to be entrepreneurs, and they are paid less than men. However, they are more likely to work in informal and vulnerable labour markets, and to undertake unpaid work that is vital for a working economy.

We cannot forget the women of Afghanistan especially, who are subject to a cruel form of gender apartheid. Decisions to bar girls from middle school through to higher education have led to the closure of schools and the erosion of education and opportunities. What will this do to the society of that country, which we hope will one day be at peace and working with us? Movement restrictions and a lack of access to healthcare facilities and legal safeguards have left women at risk of serious harms, especially in maternal and reproductive health, and vulnerable to violence and abuse. Women’s ability to engage in gainful employment outside their homes has been significantly curtailed, which not only undermines their economic independence but contributes to rising poverty rates among Afghan families and to suicide.

When women in emerging settings are held back, the entire process of peacebuilding and reconstruction is jeopardised. Stable economies are paramount to the transition that a country makes from war to peace and can help prevent conflict breaking out in the first place.

I ask the Foreign Secretary to outline the steps being taken to ensure the meaningful inclusion of women in every aspect of decision-making about Britain’s overseas involvement and development spending. Each decision that crosses his desk must be evaluated based on its impact on the empowerment and success of women and girls worldwide. I urge him to consult resources such as the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security’s index to gain an insight into the pressing needs of women globally. I ask him to support the request from my friend, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, for more funding for the peace team in the Foreign Office.