Lynne Featherstone, U.K. parliamentary undersecretary of state for international development speaks to survivors of gender-based violence in Uganda. Photo by: U.K. Home Office / CC BY

The ongoing 57th session of the Commission of the Status of Women, launched Monday, is focusing on preventing and eliminating violence against women, an issue that the U.K. international development arm appears to be increasingly championing and matching with funding, as well.

On Tuesday in New York, U.K. Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for International Development Lynne Featherstone announced a new Department for International Development program, worth up to 35 million pounds ($40.5 million), that is expected to reduce female genital mutilation by 30 percent in at least 10 countries over the next five years.

Featherstone spoke Wednesday morning at an ActionAid event on the status of women in Afghanistan, one of the many CSW side panel discussions that civil society and government leaders from around the world are attending this and next week in New York. Supporting women and girls is a “hugely important” part of DfID’s work in Afghanistan, said Featherstone, who spoke before a female parliament minister from Afghanistan.

She noted DfID’s recent 45 million pounds contribution to the Global Girls’ Education Challenge Fund in Afghanistan which will deliver education to marginalized girls living in poor, remote areas. Supporting primary health services, improving the Afghan judicial system and tackling violence against Afghan women were three other key programmatic areas Featherstone highlighted.

Devex caught up with Featherstone after the event. She provided details on how DfID will implement its new 35 million pounds program on female genital mutilation and explained how violence against women prevention programing will only become more apparent in DfID’s work and funding in the months and years to come.

Within the past year, there have been several announcements, like the creation of a new U.K. team of experts to investigate sexual violence in conflict, and other significant funding pledges to prevent or support victims of gender-based violence. Do you see this representing a new strategic shift for DfID?

DfID has always put girls and women right at the heart of all of its development programs. But in terms of the violence against women, I think that ramped up the world’s agenda. With the theme this year of CSW being violence against women … there is this opportunity. I think it has come to the top of the agenda and in a very timely way because there have been issues around the world, with the rapes in India and shooting of Malala, sort of focused world attention that hasn’t been focused before, but has always been part of DfID’s development program.

If not a new aspect of the work, will violence against women be an increasingly key part of DfID’s programming moving forward?

I think it is an ever increasing part of the program. Partly what we were saying there in terms of Afghanistan is that is now going to be a part of the structure, which is actually focused on violence against women. We have violence against women programs already running in 20 of our 28 countries in terms of DfID.

But I think it is not just the programs you run — it is world awareness. There are all these countries, including the United Kingdom, the U.S. [Violence against women] is a developed world and developing world issue. It is just the place on the continuum of oppression, suppression, and the violence is at different stages. And I think there is a source of international will to move that agenda forward.

How will the 35 million pounds you announced be translated into distribution on the ground, exactly?

It is up to 35 million. Part of it is going to be channeled through the U.N. program toward communities working in country to run programs. Part of it is about a communications and awareness programs at an international level to ramp it up. A very important part of it is a research program that will look and examine what works and what does not work for all the things that are running. I am particularity interested in this community abandonment in West Africa, in Senegal, that is having such success.

How does that program work exactly?

A whole community works for about 30 months — the religious leaders, the men, the boys, the girls — and they work on an agenda which is about rights and about behavior and how they want to treat each other. It is not just focused on FGM, but what has happened over the last few years is whole communities have come to a decision to abandon the practice. That has gone across Senegal. Now, there is only about 350 communities left that haven’t abandoned it. So, it is really, in terms of what ultimately is going to be, about behavior change.

That seems to me a very promising avenue, but we haven’t got very rigorous analysis. The research program is going to look at what works and what doesn’t work, so that the impact of further spending down the years can be focused on what works.

With the work you are hoping to do more of in Afghanistan, would that lead to more research, or more local, community-based initiatives?

At this point, that is still to be decided. There is a review next year; there is an internal review right now that will be part of the review as to where and how that will best be targeted.

Violence again will be one of the strategic pillars of DfID’s work. So, inevitably once it is in the architecture as an identified singular objective, the rest will follow.

Are there any other countries or strategic issue areas that you expect DfID may be focusing more on in the future?

It’s still to be looked at. We do have programs already running in Sudan, for example, already doing an FGM program, but we will come to that after we programmed the work to be more explicit about what we are doing.

At the moment, we have got the money, to be released next month — up to 35 million. It will be programmed and used in those four ways that I have described and then we will see how that roles. It is very important that we use our money where there will be maximum impact, with this first phase that we announced here that will guide us in the future.

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.