If the UK is concerned about women’s safety, it shouldn’t cut the GCRF

The cuts will hit organisations helping women and girls to evade violence and access justice, say Christine Chinkin and Sanam Naraghi Anderlini

March 29, 2021
A woman in a Kalahari village, Botswana
Source: iStock

Over the past two weeks, the UK has seen a resounding collective outcry over violence against women following the murder of Sarah Everard in London.

The government has previously committed publicly to gender equality and women’s rights at home and abroad, stating that it is “in the UK’s national interest” because “empowering women and girls through the government’s work improves peace and stability, economic growth and poverty reduction”. This should be a moment for politicians to act on those words and showcase their ongoing commitment to the United Nations’ Women, Peace and Security agenda.

Sure enough, in announcing the results of its Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy on 16 March, Downing Street reconfirmed its commitment to gender equality, promising to “build momentum” on sexual violence in conflict.

Yet such claims rang rather hollow given that, a few days earlier, a very different reality had emerged. The government’s decision to reduce Official Development Assistance from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product, it transpired, translated into a £120 million (70 per cent year-on-year) cut to UK Research and Innovation, the country’s largest funder of research to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – the fifth of which is gender equality.

Reneging on its financial commitments to gender, justice and security sends a clear signal that “Global Britain” – as the government calls it – does not value its partners and cannot be trusted in future projects. Hence, the move is likely to have larger knock-on effects on the UK’s foreign relations, security partnerships and global diplomacy.

More importantly, such deep cuts to the Global Challenges Research Fund and the Newton Fund will jeopardise the future of major research hubs working on global solutions to the toughest policy challenges facing us today. From climate change to conflict, health, migration, sustainability and violence against women and girls, these projects fill gaps in our understandings of the gendered dimensions of these global challenges.

Most urgently, the cuts will compound the gendered effects of Covid-19 by hitting organisations in conflict-affected countries that are working for women and girls to be free from violence and to have access to justice. Despite the 40 per cent rise in domestic violence seen in some countries during the pandemic, less than half the nations recently surveyed in a UN Women report are treating services to women and girls as integral to their national and local Covid-19 response plans. This feeds a culture of impunity and ongoing cycles of violence.

As a coalition of academics, practitioners, advocates and activists, the Gender, Justice and Security Hub, led by the London School of Economics, is generating innovative, policy-relevant research and analysis of law and policy. This work, funded by the GCRF, is crucial to address the causes and consequences of violence and inequality. The evidence is clear: the key to resolving many global challenges is to support women’s rights, enable women’s effective inclusion in decision-making and ensure that their solutions are heard and heeded.

The same government that has publicly committed to combating violence against women, then, is throwing away the very tools it needs to do it well.

Some may argue that cuts to overseas aid are inevitable given the economic downturn and domestic needs arising from the pandemic and Brexit – and the government itself claims that the reductions are only temporary. However, its budget priorities hardly inspire confidence. At the same time as announcing the ODA cuts, the government pledged to pursue a 40 per cent increase in the UK’s stock of nuclear warheads – from 180 to 260. Estimates put the cost in the region of £10 billion over the next 15 years.

The £120 million cut from UKRI is just over 1 per cent of that figure. It would be much more cost-effective to continue funding the essential work of women’s organisations and researchers working to tackle the root causes of violence, extremism and inequality in our societies. After all, failure to understand and address problems today only increases the cost of addressing them further down the line.

As for those warheads, whether we increase or reduce their numbers, the truth remains that they are useful to our collective security only if they remain unused: a vast waste of money that could have been used to promote global justice instead.

Christine Chinkin is professor emerita of international law and founding director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics. Sanam Naraghi Anderlini is director of the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security and the CEO and founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN).

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