What does Justine Greening’s first speech as Secretary of State for International Development mean for women?
The Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham this week falls hot on the heels of the recent cabinet reshuffle, giving new government ministers a chance to set out their vision to party members and the public. It’s a tall order, as new ministers are often learning on the job, and none more so than Justine Greening, recently moved from Transport to her new and very different brief as Secretary of State for International Development.
“Development matters most to women”
It is therefore reassuring to hear Greening carry on the commitment of her predecessor Andrew Mitchell by putting women front and centre in her vision for development. In the opening lines of her first speech, she stated that “development matters most to women”.
Alongside the importance of maternal health and education, it was particularly welcome to hear Greening’s recognition of women’s “struggle for an equal voice and participation”. Participation for women – in politics, public life, and in post-conflict processes – is key to a world where women can access justice and claim their rights.
Listening to women’s voices
In terms of prioritising the work of the Department for International Development (DFID) Greening pointed to the importance of women’s voices.”It’s not about aid to half a country,” she said as she outlined her plan to direct DFID’s work along clear priority areas, “we can’t get priorities right if we don’t listen to women”.
This is another important commitment, but the devil is in the detail of course, and we’ll be watching how that works in practice. Our partners working in communities across Africa, Asia and Latin America have direct experience of tackling the issues that most affect women. Women’s rights organisations are key allies in identifying the priorities of women, and I hope Greening engages in open and constructive conversation with those women’s rights activists on the front line.
Learning what works and why
Another key point of Greening’s speech was her commitment to use the diverse research available on issues in development in order to understand what works and why. Womankind’s recent report, From the ground up (PDF), produced with ActionAid and the Institute of Development Studies, has important recommendations to support women building peace at local level which we hope the new Secretary of State will consider.
Of course there’s more we’d like to see, including more detail on tackling violence against women and girls, the plans for increasing women’s political participation as well as the commitment to do so, and assurance that women’s rights will be prioritised by the UK within whatever framework replaces the Millennium Development Goals. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and Greening’s commitment to women’s rights is the first important step to making them a reality.