UK 'leading charge' for equality

Banbury Cake: Prime Minister David Cameron visited the IGas shale drilling plant oil depot near Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, on Monday Prime Minister David Cameron visited the IGas shale drilling plant oil depot near Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, on Monday

Britain will "absolutely lead the charge" to promote equality for women around the world during 2014, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

Mr Cameron said the UK would use the "moral authority" which it has gained by meeting the United Nations aid target of 0.7% of national income to push for progress on issues ranging from sexual violence to women's property rights and female genital mutilation.

The Prime Minister co-chaired a UN High-Level Panel on development priorities for the years after 2015, which last year named gender equality and the empowerment of women as one of the 12 key goals which the international community should pursue.

The panel's report set out examples of targets which could be adopted by the UN, including the elimination of all forms of violence against girls and women, ending child marriage, ensuring equal rights of women to own and inherit property and halting discrimination against women in political, economic, and public life.

Speaking to the House of Commons Liaison Committee, Mr Cameron hailed the work of Foreign Secretary William Hague in leading the fight against the use of sexual violence in conflicts and International Development Secretary Justine Greening in tackling female genital mutilation.

Mr Cameron said: "There is a huge opportunity this year for Britain to absolutely lead the charge on women's equality, on women's empowerment, on the empowerment of girls and women worldwide.

"We have got so many things coming together. We have got William Hague's excellent work on preventing sexual violence in conflict. We've got the fact that I co-chaired the High Level Panel, which gave women's empowerment and equality such a high profile.

"We've got what the Development Secretary is doing on female genital mutiliation. We've got the fact that we are carrying forward an enormous commitment on health and on family planning.

"I want to bring all these things together - adding in proper property rights for women worldwide, the right to inherit property, women's entrepreneurship, all of these issues - and use the moral authority that Britain has got in the world from meeting our commitment to the 0.7% aid target to say 'We really want to make huge strides forward right across these issues in the year ahead'.

"I think we've got every opportunity to do that."

Mr Cameron added: "If you look at the appalling things that are done against women and against girls in conflict situations, from Kosovo and Bosnia to the Congo, there has been an unbelievably ghastly and depressing drumbeat of this through the history of the last 20 to 30 years.

"It's full credit to the Foreign Secretary that he has decided to use Britain's diplomatic, military, Foreign Office, aid budget, everything to corral all of this together to raise the profile of the issue but not just to talk about it, to get 138 countries to sign up to a declaration and then to use what we do have - in terms of action as well as words - to send teams of experts into situations like Kosovo, like Bosnia, like the Congo to try and have an effect on the ground."

With British combat troops set to withdraw this year, the Prime Minister told the MPs that progress on women's rights would not be the main measure of success in Afghanistan, but insisted it was an important consideration.

"The test for our presence in Afghanistan overwhelmingly has got to be what the National Security Council set out, which is that when we leave, is Afghanistan capable of maintaining security and preventing the re-emergence of terrorist training camps without the presence of foreign troops?" he said.

"That is the top line of what we are trying to achieve in Afghanistan, that is what we should measure overwhelmingly. Underneath that, I absolutely agree ... the role of women in Afghan society, the number of children going to school, the accessibility of medicine, access to health centres - all of that is important."

The Prime Minister was challenged about the lack of prosecutions for perpetrators of female genital mutilation in the UK.

He said the Crown Prosecution Service was considering six cases.

"This is an absolutely unacceptable practice, it is illegal in the UK, it is illegal for anyone in the UK no matter what their culture, their background or anything else, it is illegal full stop, end of story," he said.

An NSPCC helpline on the issue received 132 contacts, 55 of which were referred to police, he added.

Mr Cameron said the problem was getting victims to come forward and give evidence.

"It's not an acceptable situation, we know this is taking place, we know we have a problem, we have passed a law but we haven't had prosecutions," he said.

"I think we need to keep working at this and understand what more we can do to encourage people to come forward."

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