Today, as the UK announces a new G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council led by Liz Truss and signals its intention to continue to be a global leader on gender equality, as it hosts the G7 and UN Climate Change Conference (Cop 26), it is simultaneously implementing devastating and widespread cuts to its aid budget around the world - up to 70 per cent. Cuts are being made to services that the women and girls fleeing conflict or displaced by climate change overwhelmingly rely on to survive and recover from crises. This is happening at a crucial time, as Covid-19 threatens to roll back much of the progress made on gender equality around the world. It is also happening in defiance of UK law.

We have already seen an impact of the cuts in IRC programmes where women and girls are affected. In Sierra Leone, the budget for one of our programmes was cut by 60 per cent. It reached over three million direct beneficiaries – mostly adolescent girls and included family planning outreach and community sensitisation activities. In Sierra Leone, where one in 17 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, these programmes are essential.

Today, more than ever, the UK must not withdraw funding from violence prevention or the consequence on the roll back on gender equality will last for generations. It is a critical time for the UK to show leadership and commitment on women’s rights and gender equality around the world, as a new analysis from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) finds that 15 million people in need, mainly women and girls, are currently left out of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) service provisions.

Women and girls must be central to global aspirations to ‘build back better’ after Covid-19, to prevent further erosion of women’s safety, their jobs and their leadership. This is particularly important in the absence of a Minister for gender equality in the FCDO.

This International Women’s Day, we call on the UK government to use its Presidency of the G7 to catalyse collective action in support of gender equality for the most marginalised women and girls living in conflict zones or displaced by climate change.

As it is hosting the upcoming G7 Summit and COP26, the UK is in a pivotal role to drive meaningful commitments for crisis-affected women and girls. It has the opportunity to lead renewed pledges to gender equality in humanitarian settings and decisive action to support women’s access to COVID-19 vaccines and economic opportunities. Including women refugee leaders in the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council, is one tangible way to elevate concerns and commitments on women and girls to the G7 leaders summit in June.

We also call on the UK government to maintain its aid commitments to humanitarian crises, including support to local women’s rights organisations to play a leading role in Covid-19 has minimum a secondary objective on gender equality.

IRC UK’s Executive Director Melanie Ward, said:

“The approach recently taken by the UK Government is in stark contrast with the need for leadership and commitment to women and girls around the world. Instead of slashing aid for lifesaving services for women and girls in warzones, the UK Government should be showing exceptional leadership that is fit for these exceptional times. Lives will be lost without a rethink.

We are especially concerned that, as humanitarian needs increase overall, more women and girls in vulnerable conditions are being left behind.

This International Women’s Day, the UK should step up and use its Presidency of the G7 to lead commitment and action in support of gender equality for the most marginalised women and girls.”