Leader Profile: Gillian Merron, U.K. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

The Department for International Development (DFID) is Britain's bilateral aid agency. Now on its 11th year, the agency commits to fulfilling the country's pledges to bolster the global fight to eliminate extreme poverty by 2015. These include reaching the aid target of 0.7 percent of the gross national income by 2013 and focusing its attention on the poorest nations particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Gillian Merron is the leading DFID official on matters relating to Africa as well as those on human development, governance and social development, growth and investment, communications and human Resources. U.K. premier Gordon Brown appointed her as a member of the agency's ministerial team on January 24, 2008. Prior to that, she served as Cabinet Office Minister and Minister for the East Midlands at the Cabinet Office and Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Transport.

At a speech in the House of Commons last month, Merron affirmed the country's commitment to improve access to quality primary education in developing countries:

"Quality primary education makes good sense ? for ALL children, regardless of where they live, or who they are. In a recent visit to Ghana I was struck by the depth and persistence of inequality between the regions, including significant differences in enrollment levels. The truth is that the education Millennium Development Goals will not be achieved unless the children that are hardest to reach ? in remote or conflict affected areas, or those that have a disability or excluded in some way ? receive an education ? a decent one at that.

"It is not just what children learn in the classroom, it?s about the effect it has on their whole life. For example, an educated woman is 50% more likely to have her children immunized. Education is the single most significant factor in preventing the spread of HIV in the next generation - it's been described to me as a "social vaccine" against HIV. In Swaziland, two-thirds of teenage girls in school are free from HIV, while two-thirds of girls out of school have HIV. That tells you all you need to know. Truth is, educated girls are more empowered to say no, get married later and more able to persuade their partners to use prevention means. Also they are more likely to understand treatment of HIV and more able to access it."

Merron reminisced her experience as a VSO volunteer in Guyana, where she "witnessed all too frequently children being taught in schools with no drinking water, insufficient working toilets, intermittent electricity ? where teachers were ill trained, poorly motivated and poorly rewarded." She said "this story is repeated through much of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa."

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