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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Austria

8th March 2017 Vienna, Austria

How to break the barriers that hold back women and girls

When I was in Kyiv, some Ukrainian colleagues used to express scepticism about International Women’s Day. They saw it as tokenism; a relic of the bad old days when Soviet authorities gave lip-service to women’s rights while men dominated positions of power.

One result was that although I wrote several blogs to mark International Women’s Day, we tended not to refer to the date in the blog.

The UK cares about gender equality.  This is not only on moral grounds, important as that is.  It is because empowering women and girls improves peace and stability; enhances economic growth; and reduces poverty.  All this is in the interests of the UK, as well as the interests of other countries around the world.

A recent op-ed by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson cites a United Nations study which found that if all women went to secondary school, infant mortality world-wide would be cut in half; three million young lives would be saved every year; and about twelve million children would not have their growth stunted by malnutrition.

Increased attendance by girls at school would also help control population growth.  Women in sub-Saharan Africa who never attend school give birth an average of 6.7 times, compared to 3.9 times for those with secondary education.

So what is the UK doing about all this?  Past actions have included the UK’s work to tackle sexual violence in conflict; female genital mutilation; and forced marriage.  The UK also provides wide-ranging programme support to organisations working to promote and protect women’s rights around the world.

The UK’s Department for International Development is helping six million girls to attend school in Pakistan, and the UK has also helped two million girls to go to school in Afghanistan.

The Foreign Secretary also announced on 27 February the appointment of a Special Envoy for Gender Equality, Joanna Roper, to help provide a robust and coherent international approach to ensuring the rights of women and girls.

The UK now has its second female Prime Minister in Theresa May; and has just appointed Cressida Dick as the first female Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police in the 188-year history of the organisation.

No country can ever claim to have eliminated all discrimination. But we can try and make a difference.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.