The departure of William Hague and Allan Duncan from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the U.K. Department for International Development, respectively, will surely usher in a new area for British foreign aid, but U.K.-based NGOs are hopeful their successors will continue their legacy and decent track record on some poverty eradication efforts.
Angela Salt, director of VSO UK, commended Hague for his global leadership and “galvanizing the international community to action” on women’s rights and ending sexual violence in conflict, as well as for recognizing young people as “critical actors” in international development.
“Today’s young people make up one quarter of the world’s population, and 90 percent of them live in developing countries. They are shaping social and economic development, challenging social norms and values, and of course building the foundation of the world’s future,” Salt told Devex, adding that involving young people in the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative Summit in London last June demonstrated Hague’s commitment to engaging the youth in a global initiative he spearheaded and that he will continue to be involved in even after departing the FCO.
Returned VSO youth volunteer Jessica Ewing, who attended the summit, said the highlight for her was working with other young people, many of them victims of conflict or living in conflict-affected countries, and all firmly behind the same goal of putting an end to sexual violence in conflict.
Salt expects Hague’s replacement, former Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, to continue his predecessor’s “strong ‘cross working’ across government, championing of human rights, good governance and the rule of law.”
She hopes that under the new leadership, the British government through these two offices will do even more to champion women’s rights — especially women’s participation in public and political life in the developing world — and also push for a specific target on this in the post-2015 framework.
“Women currently make up two-thirds of the people living in poverty, yet all too often are locked out of the decisions which impact upon their lives. We know that when women have an equal voice in developing legal frameworks, it is more likely they will ensure that the laws do not discriminate against women,” Salt noted. “Having women in decision-making roles helps to raise awareness of the issues and concerns that are specific to women … from the mechanics around water collection to the burden and impact of unpaid care.”
As for Desmond Swayne, Duncan’s successor as minister of state for international development, Salt said she’s encouraged by his first-hand experience in development aid projects in Rwanda and his commitment to spending 0.7 percent of gross national income on foreign aid, a goal which the United Kingdom finally achieved last April but has not yet enshrined into law.
The VSO official said that next year will be “pivotal” for international development and a test for the new British aid minister.
“With the U.N. member states coming together to decide upon the next set of goals to replace the current Millennium Development Goals, it will be essential that both departments [DfID and FCO] work together to secure a new framework that will be universal, ambitious, transformational and human rights-based, putting people (particularly the poorest and most marginalized), at the center,” Salt said. “We also hope that Swayne will work hard supporting the United Kingdom’s commitment to the policy of spending 0.7 percent of GNI on development.”
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