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New gender equality bill for UK development aid

The UK government says the bill sets an international benchmark
The UK government says the bill sets an international benchmark

This week, a new bill means the UK becomes the first country to expect development aid to reduce gender inequality.

A private member’s bill on gender equality has just passed its third reading in the House of Lords this week, receiving cross-party support and endorsement by the international development secretary, Justine Greening. Proposed by the MP, Bill Cash, the International Development (Gender Equality) Bill now only requires royal assent to become law, which should be a mere formality.

The new legislation places a duty on the UK government to consider ways in which its development and humanitarian funding helps to build gender equality in countries receiving financial assistance from the UK. Speaking to the Guardian, a spokesperson of one leading campaigning organisation on women’s rights said “by making gender equality a criterion in overseas development, the UK has taken a pioneering step towards ending the greatest human rights abuse of our age, that of gender inequality”.

A new emphasis for development programmes

The bill has received widespread approval from a number of development agencies, some of whom helped draft the wording. Every day agencies witness how girls and women in developing countries such as the Central African Republic, Guatemala and India are disproportionately affected by poverty, violence and discrimination. Apart from helping to protect and promote women’s rights and reducing injustice, equity between men and women is viewed as essential for successful human development.

The move by the UK government follows the Department for International Development’s adoption of the United Nations ‘gender mainstreaming’ strategy (proposed at the fourth world conference on women held in 1995) a decade ago. Once passed, the new legislation should ensure all decisions on UK aid will have to consider the impact of spending on gender equality. As well as possibly leading to more projects which promote women’s rights, such as campaigns against child marriage, domestic violence or female genital mutilation, the bill could also have an impact on broader development programmes. For example, when health programmes are supported by UK aid, they may be expected to encourage both men and women to bring their children for vaccinations and check-ups, with promotional materials showing images of men in childcare roles.

According to the Guardian, Bill Cash asked David Cameron if he believes the new UK bill will establish “a statutory benchmark for other countries”, to which the prime minister responded with a resounding affirmative.

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