UK Government to focus on women in developing countries

The UK government intends to reorientate its entire aid programme to put the lives of women in developing countries at its heart, the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, will tell a United Nations summit.

Government leaders will meet in New York next Monday for a three-day assessment of progress towards alleviating global poverty, poor education and ill-health. They will hear that the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), agreed by the G8 in 2000, will not be met by 2015 without considerably more effort.

Clegg, whose government has ring-fenced aid and promised to increase it to the UN target of 0.7% of GDP by 2013, will call on other nations to play their part while offering to lead the way, particularly in helping women become active contributors to their own society and economy.

The goal that is furthest off-track is MDG5: to slash the number of women who die in pregnancy and childbirth and increase access to family planning. In the past year a third of a million women died in pregnancy or childbirth. This in turn reduced the chances of existing children being educated and staying healthy.

Clegg will commit to doubling the number of lives of women and babies saved through UK aid by 2015. As a result of the new strategy, he believes, at least 50,000 more women and 250,000 babies will survive and 10 million more couples will get access to family planning. He will challenge other countries – both donors and developing nations – to do more.

“The Millennium Development Goals are one of the great causes of our age and the deadline to meet them is just five years away,” Clegg told the Guardian. “I am proud that the UK is playing its part – but it’s time for other nations to step up their efforts. We need to save more lives in the year to come by bringing more than just words to the table in New York – we need concrete action. A child is dying every three seconds and wealthy countries cannot simply stand by. Women are often the heart of the family and without healthy mothers, families, communities, and societies fail.” A review, already under way, will scrutinise the Department for International Development’s programmes to see whether more can be done for women and babies. DfID cites research in Bangladesh which found that giving women tokens to exchange for midwifery care increased the numbers who delivered at a maternity unit.

But the coalition also favours a results-based approach to aid, using financial incentives and lessons from the private sector. DfID cites a project in Rwanda where aid was tied to success in enabling women to give birth at a health facility. The numbers went up steeply as a result.

The government also hopes new technology can speed development, which it believes is about wealth creation, private enterprise and jobs – not just aid.

Read more at The Guardian’s website here

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