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Baroness Flather: My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for initiating this debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to say something about my favourite subject. All noble Lords have spoken about poverty, poor countries and poor people, but nobody has yet spoken about the poorest of the poor. These are not the dalits, by the way, but women. In every poor country, they suffer more from poverty, disproportionately, than the men. I do not know how many of your Lordships are aware that in developing countries, women's health overall is twice as bad as men's. The health of the wives is twice as bad as that of the husbands.
The Chancellor has recently been to Africa; we all know about that; and he, too, has discovered that women can be agents of change. Maybe we will see a new era when people will start to focus on those agents of change. So far as I know, there has never been a real concerted effort to focus on women and see how they can contribute to family prosperity and poverty alleviation in so many different ways. Whenever the NGOs have tried different kinds of projects, they have been hugely successfulamazingly successful.
Grameen Bank was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Eden. It started in Bangladesh as a normal lending bank, but very soon realised that money came back only from the women, so it became a bank lending to women alone. Hundreds of thousands of women have been helped to acquire independence and self-worth through the lending policies of Grameen Bank.
It is clear that women benefit as soon as they can bring in some money from outside the familyand that they benefit from the interaction that they have with the other women. It gives them the fundamental necessity for all human beings, which is a sense of self-worth. Most of those women have been brought up to believe that they are not worth anything and are just there to look after the family. They are the last ones to eat and be looked after, and a means of getting a bit of money into the family gives them all those opportunities.
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I have mentioned Grameen, but I should like to mention Opportunity International as well, with which I know the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, is involved. That organisation has 487,000 clients, out of whom 84 per cent are women. Grameen has become a very big bank, although it did not start as such; it is producing mobile phones and does all sorts of other things. That is also the policy of Opportunity Internationalrecycling money, so that a small loan, or micro-credit, comes back and is given to someone else. It does not involve huge sums of money being put in continuously.
I have been involved with an Indian charity called Seva Mandir, which has set up in a village in Udaipur and given the women some piecework, such a embroidery and sewing. I went to see those women, and it was a joy to see their upbeat appearance and the way in which they behaved. They have managed to get themselves a place to wash and bathe. Noble Lords may well ask, "Don't they have a place to wash and bathe?" No, they do not; they cannot even ask for that because they do not have any self-worth to begin with.
I personally feel very strongly that the millennium development goal on education and Western notions about equality have held back some of the initiatives. Unless women begin to realise that they can achieve something and are capable, they will not look to education or think in terms of other aspects of life. Equality is a very long way off and we do not have the time to wait for those concepts to become part of their life. Let us get them started on the roadthat is the key thing.
I cannot tell noble Lords how many women have told me that they want their children to be educated and that they do not want them to have a life like their own. Men have never said that to meand do not forget the peer group pressure on men and women. If you give men some money, what will they do? At least part of it they will drink, part they will gamble, and they will come home and they will beat up their wife. This is not a jokeit is a fact. Women on the other hand will save the money and try to help the family and improve the situation.
I have no time to tell noble Lords about all the things I wanted to talk about. However, one fact that I would like to leave noble Lords with is that a lot of monogamous women in India are HIV positive. Many of them are not allowed to go to the clinics because it brings shame on the family. Those who are very against family planning and abortion should remember that 200 women die every day from unsafe abortions. So do let us think about the poorest of the poor, the ones without any human rights, including the dalits. They do not treat their women well. Those who are discriminated against should not discriminate. And for those who are interested in goats, they make very good curry.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Whitaker on securing this debate and inspiring so many noble Lords to participate. My
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brief contribution will be about the importance of the education of girls in reducing poverty and improving the life chances of whole populations. That follows on appropriately from the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Flatheralthough it was not planned, I assure noble Lords.
I was glad to see a new DfID strategy for girls' education called, appropriately, "A Better Future for All", launched this morning. That will please the noble Baroness, I believe. My own interest in this matter stems from working for some years as the DfID project officer in health education and reproductive health in a variety of countries.
The UNICEF report Childhood Under Threat points out that around 121 million children, mainly girls, do not attend school and are denied their right to educationa right to which their governments committed themselves under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The failure to meet millennium development goals will be that 75 million children70 per cent of them in sub-Saharan Africawill be denied their right to primary education in 2015.
So is the world willing to tackle this? Will the Minister tell the House what sums DfID intends to spend on the education of girls in its new strategy and also whether there are examples of good practice to educate girls in developing countries? For resolving this issue will take imagination and dedication as well as more funding.
The challenges for educating girls are many and include, as the DfID strategy points out, the accessibility of schoolsare they within reasonable distance? Are they safe for girls? Are there appropriate teachers? Some girls may learn better with a female teacher. Is the girl healthy and able to learn, or is she burdened with household chores or working to supplement the family income? Is she expected to marry and have children early? Does she have parents who can support a family? Do they value education for girls and can they afford it? Will the girl's standing in the community rise with education and will there be new opportunities? If not, her parents may not be interested in educating her.
Girls themselves may need more than basic education. They may also need, as a report from the Forum on Marriage and the Rights of Women points
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out, to develop skills and confidence and have an enabling environment where they can feel empowered. That may benefit reproductive health decisions and contribute to removing the cycle of poverty, early marriage, too many children with little space between them, and, in turn, a low priority on education because it is not affordable.
We should not forget that sexual and reproductive health problems account for 18 per cent of the total global burden of disease, 32 per cent among women. For every male child infected with HIV in Africa, between three and six girls are infected. In Uganda, children who have been to secondary school are four times less likely to become HIV positive. Those are telling figures and show that education is a powerful tool in improving health outcomes as well as for itself.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child views the child as both an individual and as a member of a larger community. It confirms that governments have commitments and communities have commitments to all children, and this should not be gender specific. Much progress has been made since that declaration; for example, reductions in child mortality, increases in immunisation programmes, access to safe drinking water, fewer child deaths from diarrhoea and a reduction in cases of polio.
The UN General Assembly special session on children, in May 2002, pledged to accelerate progress on child development, including quality education, protection from abuse and combating HIV/AIDS. Those commitments resulted in the agreement "A World Fit for Children".
The education of girls can have a significant impact on the health and welfare of children and their families. The education of girls contributes to gender equality and to the recognition that children have rights. I hope that the Minister will be able to say in his summary that DfID will play a leading part in sustaining progress on the education of girls and on the welfare of children. This surely will have an impact on poverty as great as any other measures.
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