It can sometimes feel like the struggle for gender equality is getting more and more difficult. Women in Iran are harassed for the way they dress, girls in Afghanistan are prevented from going to school, and stories of horrendous sexual violence are emerging from the battlefields of Ukraine.
The UK is putting women and girls at the heart of everything we do. Advancing gender equality, preventing gender-based violence, promoting women’s rights and freedoms is not just the right thing to do – it is a policy from which everyone benefits.
In North Macedonia, we work with UNFPA to set up a system of prevention and protection against gender based violence in line with the new law and the Istanbul Convention. The project supports the implementation of the new legislation through the design of implementing regulations, working on increasing capacity of all service providers including the civil society organisation and challenging harmful norms in society through campaigning and working with perpetrators.
This week together with the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, the Mayor of Strumica and UNFPA partners, I visited the Skaj Plus Shelter Centre for women victims of domestic violence to see first-hand how the model for cooperation between various stakeholders works to the benefit of victims and survivors. Strengthening capacities of service providers across sectors for victims and survivors, in partnership with all key stakeholders is of utmost importance and we are happy to have been able to contribute. This work is important and showcases how local government, the business sector and the religious leaders of the community can work in partnership to help address this issue.
We also work with the National Youth Council of Macedonia and Stella Network, to enable equal opportunities for girls and young women in North Macedonia. Through a public awareness campaign, mentoring, career counselling, creating new work opportunities for young women, the project we support, will increase the understanding of gender concepts, empower women and girls to strive for equal social status and engagement in society.
Working with the Macedonian Chevening Alumni Association, we have supported Chevening alumni gender experts from the Western Balkans to form a network of gender equality experts to share expertise and knowledge on gender policies.
We have also supported women from North Macedonia to attend the “Women into Leadership Conference” in Birmingham, UK to promote the further development of women leaders in the Western Balkans. We are currently hosting women from the region again at the second Conference which is taking place in the UK.
To mark International Women’s Day the UK government announced a new strategy the “International women and girls strategy 2023-2030” focused on tackling gender inequality across the world and countering any rollback on women’s rights and freedoms.
Launching the strategy in Sierra Leone during a visit to see some of our Women and Girls programmes, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said gender equality was the “fundamental building block of all healthy democracies”.
As part of this new plan, the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office has committed to ensuring that at least 80% of its bilateral aid programmes will include a focus on gender equality by 2030.
We are also going to work more closely with women’s rights groups. These organisations are closest to the work on the ground and know what is most needed to secure sustainable change. They can often be poorly funded; in 2021–22, only 1.25% of the UK’s Official Development Assistance for gender equality went to women’s rights organisations and movements. We’re changing that, with a new global programme.
And we have just announced a new sexual health programme that will reach up to 10.4 million women in sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest rates of fertility, child marriage and maternal mortality in the world.
Our strategy focuses on the 3 Es:
- Educating girls, and standing up for every girl’s right to 12 years of quality education
- Empowering women and girls and championing their health and rights, whether that is through access to adequate sexual and reproductive health, civil and political participation, women’s peace and security, or economic empowerment.
- Ending gender-based violence, such as conflict-related sexual violence, early and forced marriage, modern slavery, trafficking, online violence and female genital mutilation.
Our strategy will target investment towards the key life stages for women and girls, to secure the greatest life-long and intergenerational impact.
It will mobilise support for women impacted by crises such as wars and natural disasters, and strengthen the political, economic and social systems that play a critical role in protecting and empowering women and girls.
We are well placed to drive efforts to help in the battle for gender equality. Since 2015 we have helped educate more than 8 million girls; since 2013 we have helped secure pledges from over 27 million people to abandon Female Genital Mutilation; and since 2018 we have helped 25 million women and girls access family planned advice.
We know this will not be easy, and we cannot do it alone. Please join us in protecting the rights and freedoms of women and girls around the world, so they can reach their full potential.