Girls on a playground in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on Sept. 15, 2011. Photo by: Vicki Francis / Department for International Development / CC BY

The United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office is being urged to formally adopt a landmark gender equality strategy that campaigners say is crucial to improving the lives of women and girls.

The Strategic Vision for Gender Equality was introduced in 2018 by the Department for International Development, a predecessor of FCDO, after intense campaigning. It calls for “a greater focus on ensuring no girl or woman is left behind” and requires projects to take gender considerations into account.

But following the closure of DFID, there are fears the U.K. government is not taking the strategy as seriously, despite the fact that NGOs are understood to have been told it would be adopted at FCDO by department officials.

“Addressing gender inequality, especially violence against women and girls, has to be embedded in all the U.K. future aid projects.”

— Sarah Champion, chair, IDC

Asked by the International Development Committee — composed of members of Parliament who monitor development policy — on Tuesday about his department's plans to adopt the strategy, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab responded by highlighting the government's commitment to girls’ education and reading. Getting 14 million girls access to 12 years of quality education and supporting 20 million girls to read are global key performance indicators for FCDO, Raab told IDC.

He said that the U.K. would be co-hosting a global education summit with Kenya later this year and also that the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative is still a “major priority” for the government.

“Whilst I commend the government's focus on girls' education, unless they deal with the underlying issue of gender inequality, I’m concerned any scheme will fail to make lasting change,” said Sarah Champion, chair of IDC.

“Addressing gender inequality, especially violence against women and girls, has to be embedded in all the U.K. future aid projects. I find it shocking that in 2018, only 0.31% of aid spending went on preventing violence against women and girls. Unless this gross inequality is properly addressed, I fear true change will be hard to achieve,” she added.

DFID faces 'wake-up call' on gender equality strategy

An NAO report finds DFID's gender equality strategy is "ambitious" but poorly implemented. Gender experts, however, defend its work.

The strategy came after “years and years and years of work”, Brita Fernandez Schmidt, executive director at Women for Women International, told Devex. “DFID definitely had great commitment to improving gender mainstreaming and understanding how important it is to integrate it across all activities.” She said the strategy is the “best we’ve had,” adding that “we must not go back on this.”

Laurie Lee, chief executive at CARE International UK, said: “Girls’ education is an essential early foundation for gender equality. But it's certainly not enough to achieve gender equality.”

He said it was also critical to ensure women’s rights to sexual health and freedom from violence, as well as economic and political rights. The DFID strategy “understood that systemic approach, that you needed to address the inclusion and perspective of women in everything that you do,” Lee added.

“In every development program, if you don't think about the different ways that men and women and boys and girls are affected, then you might be making things worse, not better, from a gender equality point of view,” Lee said.

An FCDO spokesperson said: “Advancing gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights remain a core part of the U.K.’s mission, including fulfilling every girl’s right to 12 years of quality education. The government remains steadfast in its commitment to this agenda.”

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at william.worley@devex.com.