The announcement to merge the Department for International Development into the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has come at a worst possible time. This unfortunate decision – which was made without transparency, consultation or accountability – came in the midst of a national and global crisis and will damage the UK’s ability to respond effectively to the biggest crisis we have faced in a century. It is likely to sabotage the gains we have on women’s rights, and it will have a devastating impact on some of the world’s most vulnerable communities and populations, including the lives of millions of women and girls living in poverty.
ActionAid knows from our work on the ground that women and girls suffer disproportionately in any emergency. As primary caregivers and health workers, women are at the forefront of fighting the Covid-19 crisis and two-thirds of health-care workers globally are women. The reality is that those living through poverty, climate change and disease – especially women and girls – will bear the brunt of the decision to dismantle a well-functioning, expert, world-leading department and we must ensure that UK Aid continues to reach the most marginalised groups.
According to the Aid Transparency Index, the only independent measure of aid transparency, DFID scores in the ‘very good’ category, while the FCO has consistently been rated as ‘low’ on transparency and effectiveness. The UK’s continued commitment to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on Official Development Assistance (ODA) must have a specific focus on helping the world’s poorest– those affected by conflict and other humanitarian crises and UK Aid must have the primary focus of tackling poverty and gender inequality.
Over the past 23 years, DFID has shown excellent global leadership and has made a huge difference around the world, from responding to Ebola and malaria, providing water and sanitation, to tackling climate change and improving the rights of women and girls. DFID’s expertise and hard-won gains in the area of women and girls’ rights, including girls’ education, freedom from violence and resilience in the face of the climate emergency, must be upheld in the years to come.
The new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has an opportunity and an obligation to make UK aid even better. The policies and practices of delivering overseas aid through the new department must rise to match – and even exceed – the high standards established by DFID, rather than falling to FCO’s low levels of transparency, efficiency, and impact. We are reassured that the Foreign Secretary has promised that proportion of the foreign aid budget to the world’s poorest countries will continue to be significant and look forward to receiving further details on this commitment in the coming months.
By Girish Menon’s CEO of ActionAid UK