Leader Profile: Gillian Merron, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for International Development, DFID

The Department for International Development (DFID) is the British government’s development arm, whose primary objective is to promote sustainable development and eliminate poverty worldwide. The International Development Act of 2002 became the primary guideline governing DFID functions. The Act prohibited the use of tied aid, and made poverty alleviation the driving force of the agency’s work.

Gillian Merron is the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for International Development. Upon her appointment in January, Merron underscored the need to focus on the persistent challenges presented by AIDS and reproductive health. “Today’s generation of young people is the largest in history - accounting for nearly half of the world’s population ? and that more than 4 out of 5 live in developing countries. I think that it is a really big deal that 40% of all people who are newly infected with HIV worldwide are young people? And if that isn?t bad enough, girls and young women are three times more likely to be HIV infected as young men. This is another challenge for all of us,” she said at the Advocates for Action event, a conference hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group.

Merron pledged continued DFID support for a series of initiatives designed to improve the welfare of those infected by HIV, and plagued by crippling diseases. “I want to tell you that this government most certainly believes that young people across the world, as part of their decision making should be able to get comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services ? including education on sexuality and safe sex, condoms, family planning - which are designed to respond to the realities of young person?s lives. Wherever we live, male or female, it is essential to protect you and young people across the world against HIV infection, other sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.”

The undersecretary pointed out successful DFID programs in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, whose efforts have yielded positive results. “The Young People We Care program in Zimbabwe trains young volunteers to support community members affected by HIV and AIDS. They help those orphaned by AIDS, giving them hope for the future, and they themselves also feel a great benefit from the program. We also support Population Council?s First-time Parent?s project in India. This supports young married girls - an often neglected group - helping them to make informed decisions about their own and their families? futures. In Afghanistan we support an innovative youth-led radio project called ?Straight Talk?. They produce a weekly program on issues chosen by - and therefore of real interest to - Afghan teenagers. The programs reach many thousands of young people each week. A similar approach has also been successful in Indonesia with a focus on the environment,” she proudly illustrated.

Despite the far-reaching success of global campaigns launched by donor agencies and financial institutions to improve the overall plight of people in developing countries, Merron recognizes that more needs to be done. “Clearly we recognize that there is still much more to do. It is incumbent on bodies like the UN and the World Bank and donors like DFID, national governments and civil society groups like SPW to work together better, and pull together to create and strengthen policies and institutions to give more opportunities to people across the globe.”

Prior to her appointment as DFID Undersecretary on 24 January 2008, Merron served as Cabinet Office Minister and Minister for the East Midlands at the Cabinet Office and Parliamentary Undersecretary at the Department of Transport. She holds a degree in Management Sciences from Lancaster University.

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