We need global MPs committed to well-spent development aid

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Baroness Jenny Tonge

In its election manifesto launched last week, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) pledged to slash the UK’s development aid budget. We don’t need parliamentarians with this myopic mindset, writes Baroness Jenny Tonge.

Baroness Jenny Tonge is President of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development and a politician from the Liberal Democrats party.

Britain, and the world, needs globally minded MPs committed to generous levels of development aid spent in the right way.

In June of this year, the world’s leading advanced economies – the Group of Seven (G7) – will meet in Germany. In advance of that, some 90 MPs from 50 countries gathered in Berlin last Friday to send the G7 a powerful message. In an agreed appeal presented to the German G7 Sherpa, they emphasised the importance of accelerating the global development agenda and outlined the best way of lifting the world’s poorest out of misery; by empowering women and girls.

It won’t surprise you to learn that no UKIP MPs or MEPs were in attendance. Small-minded UKIPers would have been fish out of water at such a gathering.

The parliamentarians who met in the German capital were all dogged advocates for the world’s most vulnerable. They came from all regions of the world, form developing countries and from donor countries. Amongst them were Brazil’s only openly gay MP, who is a vocal campaigner for a women’s right to choose a safe abortion; an Afghan woman who is one of that country’s most prominent members of parliament and an outspoken champion for a girl’s right to a quality education; and the first female speaker of Parliament in Bangladesh, who believes that securing women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights should be at the center of the development agenda. These are leaders who recognise that if humanity is to sustainably progress, politics must not only be local, it must be global too.

There is one thing that these forward-looking parliamentarians and UKIP candidates would agree on – the need to get value for money from investment in development aid.

If they were in Berlin on Friday, UKIP MPs would have heard that prioritising women and girls in a development aid budget is proven to be money extremely well spent.

The Copenhagen Consensus Centre think-tank recently conducted an economic analysis of hundreds of types of development spending and found that investments in women and girls were some of the most cost effective. According to the research, eliminating violence against women and girls, making family planning available to all, improving gender equality in business and politics, and increasing a girls’ education by two years would each pay back $15 or more for every $1 spent. That is real value for money.

Investing in women and girls turbo-boosts developing economies. Empowering women to achieve a good education leads to more skilled people for the workforce, which, in turn, generates economic growth. Women spend 90% of their income on their families in purchasing things like food and medicine. They also spend it on education for their children. Indeed, educated women are twice as likely to send their children to school as mothers who have not received an education.

Changing how women and girls are viewed in developing countries is also absolutely crucial in tackling violence against women and girls – which ranges from domestic violence, to female genital mutilation (FGM), to sexual violence, to the appalling case of the kidnapping of hundreds of girls in Nigeria.

Boosting economies and vindicating the human rights of women and girls is the very real impact of aid in developing countries. The UK being the first G7 power to enshrine in law a commitment to spend 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on aid every year is something of which the British people should be justifiably proud. What we need now is MPs, like those attending last week’s meeting in Berlin, who will fight to maintain and increase development spending and focus on how to invest it in the most cost effective way.

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