In response to the address by the Special Representative of the OSCE Chair-in-Office on Gender, Ambassador Holland outlines the UK’s commitment to improving the outlook for women and girls globally.

Neil Holland

Thank you, Madam Chair. I would like to welcome Special Representative Palihovici back to the Permanent Council, and to thank you for your insightful opening remarks.

Madam Chair, as we approach International Women’s Day in 2024, global progress towards gender equality remains contested. Over 800 women or girls die every day due to pregnancy or childbirth complications. One in three women will suffer physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Violence against women continues to grow online. And in the OSCE region today, horrific evidence continues to emerge of conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated through Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

The theme of International Women’s Day in 2024 is “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress”. This focuses on the challenges caused by the alarming lack of global financing for gender equality measures. The COVID pandemic, conflicts, climate disasters and economic turmoil have pushed an extra 75 million people into severe poverty since 2020, with a disproportionate impact on women and girls. If current trends continue, more than 342 million women and girls could be living in extreme poverty by 2030.

These challenges can only be addressed through solutions that empower women. Ensuring women’s and girls’ rights across all aspects of life is the only way to secure prosperous and just economies, and a healthy planet for future generations.  

The UK is committed to improving the outlook for women and girls globally. Exactly one year ago our (then-) Foreign Secretary launched the UK’s International Women and Girls Strategy, which sets out how the UK is putting women and girls at the heart of everything we do – domestically and internationally.

Since 2015 the UK has supported the education of over 10 million of the world’s most vulnerable girls. We have helped over 25 million women worldwide to access family planning advice. Through our flagship £38 million global programme, we have supported the work of over 600 women’s rights organisations. We are also helping to drive the global conversation, for example, through a series of Wilton Park conferences which place women’s rights organisations at the centre of the debate.

We know that urgent action is needed to accelerate progress to end gender-based violence. In November of last year, we announced a new package of support for women’s rights organisations to drive forward locally-led and survivor-centred approaches to tackling violence against women and girls, including in conflict and crisis settings. Since the launch of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative in 2012, we have committed over £60 million to tackling conflict-related sexual violence globally.

Empowering women and girls, and preventing violence against them, will remain a UK priority. We are committed to ensuring every girl receives at least 12 years of quality education, and to ending the preventable deaths of mothers, new-born babies and children by 2030.

Madam Chair, we can only build a fairer, freer, safer, wealthier and greener world if we put women and girls at the heart of the OSCE’s work. Women’s inclusion in leadership and meaningful decision making is essential for local, national and regional progress.

It is vital that we, as OSCE participating States, fulfil our commitments to gender equality – as set out in the 1999 Charter for European Security, and related decisions – and ensure adequate funding for OSCE executive structures working to implement the organisation’s gender equality commitments.

As the UK has stated previously, the principles we mark on International Women’s Day are not just for a day. Advancing gender equality is a policy from which everyone benefits, bringing freedom and peace, boosting prosperity and trade, building resilience and strengthening global and regional security. It is vital that we follow through on our commitments to ensure the equal rights of all women and girls.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Published 7 March 2024