Liberal Democrats

Lynne Featherstone's speech to Autumn Conference

Can you imagine what it is like to be raped or sexually assaulted and know that there's no point going to the police?

At best they won't care. At worst, they can be just as likely to abuse, harass or rape you.

Go to your village chief instead?

I met a woman in Darfur who went to her Chief to tell him of her husband's brutality. His ruling was she should go back to her husband and be a better wife.

But tackling one issue above all – because it is totemic – It is a symbol of the oppression and suppression of women - is my priority.

And that is ending Female Genital Mutilation.

FGM – cutting off female genitalia - is one of the most severe forms of gender-based violence there is. It is violence against women.

And it is a problem we in Britain share with many countries around the world.

130,000 British women have been cut and another 20,000 of our girls are at risk each year. Thirty million more girls in Africa alone are at risk of being cut over the next decade.

This is despite the fact that twenty-five African countries have already made FGM illegal,
and despite the African Union taking a resolution to the United Nations which passed – banning the practice worldwide in December 2012.

So I decided that we in the UK needed to support this African-led movement.

And ending FGM within a generation has become a mission – to support the brave and amazing women champions who have spoken out and broken the silence. Women like Nimco Ali, Layla Hussein and many many others.

Just six months in to my time at DFID, I announced a £35million programme to support this movement for change – it's the biggest single investment any country has ever made to end FGM worldwide.

And I kicked off a national campaign too, helped by The Sunday Times, Times, Evening Standard, Guardian and Channel 4 all giving fantastic coverage to this issue.

Thank you media!

Conference, from Burkina Faso and Kenya to Cardiff and Bristol, I've seen firsthand why this investment is so important.

And we are making progress. Prevalence rates are falling in parts of Africa. The UK's first prosecution is underway.

And FGM has quickly made its way up the international agenda.

I spoke at the United Nations in March and found myself surrounded by ministers, NGOs and young people from across the world, all of us discussing how to end FGM.

And I was so delighted that my mission and campaign became so popular that the Prime Minister himself decided to join me and focus this summer's Girl Summit on ending FGM, as well as Child, Early and Forced Marriage.

Liberal Democrats, where we lead David Cameron can't help but follow!

At the Girl Summit, Nick Clegg announced that all frontline workers in the public sector- teachers, social workers, health workers, police - will have compulsory training on FGM, and on how to protect and prevent.

This Liberal Democrat initiative is a huge step forward, and for so long has been the missing link when trying to tackle FGM in this country.

Frontline workers need this confidence in order to be able to walk all over the cultural eggshells that have kept them from protecting the girls who need them so desperately.

Conference, ending FGM - once and for all - is our promise for the next general election and beyond.

Of course, there are many other so-called traditions that keep people locked in oppression.

After all, it is not only your gender that the power-hungry find threatening, but also who you love.

LGBT persecution is about power – about keeping people in their place.

At home we've made incredible progress.

Words cannot describe the overwhelming joy I felt attending two beautiful wedding ceremonies on that historic day in March when finally, love became equal before the law.

And now, whenever I speak at an event, someone, usually a young man, approaches me at the end and says thank you for what you did.

It's emotional – I cry, he cries – and we both know that our country is a better place than it was, now marriage is equal.

This was the culmination of a long journey in the UK. But as we celebrate our victory, we mustn't forget those LGBT campaigners around the world whose journey is still desperate.

From day 1 in my role as DFID minister, strengthening the department's LGBT rights strategy has been one of my top priorities.

DFID's approach has rightly been led by local gay campaigners in each country, and they've asked that we take a subtle approach.

So, respecting their wishes, that's what I've done – raised my concerns in private with African ministers and prime ministers, and met privately with local LGBT groups in country.

But we can do more.

I instructed every DFID country office in Africa to report back to me with details of what they're doing, and what more they will do, for LGBT rights.

And now DFID is going further.

In Africa, as the freedom to love who you wish sadly comes under greater and greater threat, DFID will do more to connect campaigners across the world – from South America to Africa to Asia – so that they can share their techniques and learn from each other.

We can help be the catalysts for their change.

We will help defend and promote human rights everywhere.

Because that is what this is about.

I meet inspiring campaigners everywhere I go.

All any of them want is human dignity – that the universal values of tolerance, love and mutual respect are upheld.

And it is our duty to support them. That's why Liberal Democrats will always be committed internationalists.

That's why we've kept our promise to reach the UN's target of dedicating 0.7 per cent of national income to international aid.

And because of Mike Moore's private members bill, we are finally close to enshrining this in law.

Conference, because of the Millennium Development Goals, we've seen the greatest progress in human history to lift people out of poverty and give a voice to the powerless. But the job's not done.

The MDGs expire next year and the international community has a once in a generation opportunity to finish it. More so – I believe we have a duty to finish it.

Especially for people like Dorothy – a young girl in Uganda, who is blind and unable to walk. For years her father carried her two and a half kilometres to school and back every day.

Once at school, she was bullied, especially when she had to use the general latrine. Because of DFID and support from NGOs like WaterAid,

Dorothy now has a wheelchair and her school has an accessible toilet.

This small contribution from us makes a world of difference to children like Dorothy everywhere.

And in DFID, I am making sure children like Dorothy are never again an after-thought.

I have announced that all school construction directly funded by DFID will have universal access.

And I have used the influence I have to ensure that global funds like the Global Partnership for Education also put disability at the heart of their programs too.

I want everyone on board with this. I want the World Bank, the African Bank, the private sector and the NGOs to make sure that whatever they do – they include disability rights in their programs.

If we don't do this – who will?

So as the international community agrees a new framework to replace the MDGs, I believe the principle that must underpin all our future work is 'Leave No One Behind'.

No one – regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, race, sexuality, disability or station in life.

This is the principle that binds us too, Conference.

No matter what the aid sceptics say, there really is no 'them and us'. There are many foreign languages are spoken here in Glasgow.

There are over 180 languages spoken in my London constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green.

We're all connected – to events around the world and to each other.

We all want a better future for our children and grandchildren, and a chance to get on in life. And that's exactly what Liberal Democrats work hard to secure.

Remember that over the next seven months.

Remember it when you're delivering door to door in the rain; remember it when you're stuffing your ten-thousandth envelope; remember it when you're talking to voters on the doorstep day in, day out.

Liberal Democrats stand for fairness, for justice – for empowerment - both at home and abroad.

Thank you.

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