8th March 2013

‘A promise is a promise’

Today, we are celebrating annual International Women’s Day.

This is an important occasion to raise awareness about women’s rights and to commemorate women who have fought for equality. (Something which I think of whenever I see the grave of Sylvia Pankhurst, campaigner for women’s suffrage in the UK, at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa.) Improving access to education for girls; eliminating gender based violence; and encouraging more female participation e.g. in business are common topics that still arise as we try to create an equal world.

The theme this year is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.” We hope the focus will be on taking measures to instigate change and to put a stop to violence against women. We have heard of appalling attacks on women reported in international media all over the world. It damages them, but it also damages their countries, who are robbed of future doctors, teachers and leaders.

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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg talking to a student at Kokebe Tsebah School

Last month, our Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visited Kokebe Tsebah School in Addis Ababa.

He sat down with teenage girl students to discuss their impressive aspirations and dreams. He also launched the DFID Girls Education Challenge Fund which will allow 50,000 girls living in rural areas to go to school. We believe that education leads to many other opportunities and that the educational achievements of women can have positive ripple effects within the family and across generations.

Deputy Prime Minister with Bethelehem Tilahun at her shoe factory
Deputy Prime Minister with Bethelehem Tilahun at her shoe factory

Nick Clegg then visited a young and innovative female entrepreneur called Bethelehem Tilahun. Her brand “soleRebels” is the first Fair Trade company that sells shoes made from environmentally friendly materials. Her vibrant business is a symbol of the important role women play in encouraging economic growth and creating employment.

She has 120 employees at her factory and  predicts that her team will keep on growing as she expands the number of  her international retail shops.

It is important that we keep to previous undertakings made to create safer, more equal and empowering societies for girls and women. International Development Secretary Justine Greening recently called on the international community to take action against violence against women in a letter to the head of UN Women ahead of the UN Commission on the Status of Women meeting later this month.

But we need to make progress beyond this too – which is why Foreign Secretary William Hague’s initiative on Preventing Sexual Violence in conflict is so vital: we will be taking work on this forward as part of the UK’s G8 Presidency  this year.

Let’s keep our promise to make violence against women history.