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Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell: live webchat, Monday 9 July, 12.30-1.30

(76 Posts)
RowanMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 06-Jul-12 10:49:16

We're pleased to announce that the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, will be joining us for a live webchat on Monday 9 July at 12.30.

We're particularly happy that Mr Mitchell will be joining us in the week that the UK hosts the first global summit on family planning, focusing on what can be done to allow as many women as possible across the world to access appropriate contraception. As you may have seen, following Mumsnet poster and blogger MmeLindt's recent trip to Kenya, 222 million women in the developing world who want to access family planning currently can't get it, and every two minutes a woman dies of pregnancy-related complications; 40 per cent of those pregnancies were unintended. The Summit is hoping to give access to contraception to an additional 120 million women by 2020.

Mr Mitchell has been International Development Secretary since May 2010. Before entering Parliament in 1987, he served as a United Nations peacekeeper in Cyprus and worked in investment banking.

Do please join us on Monday; if you can't make it on the day, please post up your questions in advance here.

TheBlackShiksa Mon 09-Jul-12 12:16:21

What do you think of Andrew Murray bursting into tears yesterday- do you think our over sharing and emotional incontinence means the end of the great British reserve and the stiff upper lip?

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 09-Jul-12 12:27:19

Pleased to say that Andrew is here and on time and just getting himself settled in with a cuppa... so he'll be starting shortly.

AndrewMitchell Mon 09-Jul-12 12:30:39

Good afternoon everyone, it's a pleasure to join you today.

I'm looking forward to sharing with you my hopes and expectations for the London Summit on Family Planning and I hope that as many of you as possible will follow the event on Wednesday.

Every year the Coalition Government focuses on an issue that will be truly transformative for the lives of millions of the world's poorest people. Last year we hosted the GAVI replenishment conference which will result in the UK vaccinating a child every two seconds over the lifetime of this Parliament. Overall thanks to the GAVI summit a quarter of a billion children will be vaccinated.

This year we are shining the light on family planning. Thankfully contraception is easily available in this country but in the world's poorest countries we know that 222 million women who want to decide whether, when and how many children to have are simply unable to do so.

We are bringing together donors, Governments, NGOs and the private sector to change that and give 120 million additional women in the 69 poorest countries the access to family planning that they so desperately want.

I'll try to get through as many of your questions as possible - I'm just back in London having flown back overnight from the Tokyo conference but am raring to go!

AndrewMitchell Mon 09-Jul-12 12:35:51


Great that the UK is hosting a global summit on family planning!

I?m glad to see that other posters have pointed out that the issue is more complex than just providing access to family planning clinics.

I?d like to point out that poor parents in the developing world may actually choose to have lots of children: they fear that some may die young, and they need children to help out on their land and look after them in their old age. Of course, it?s a vicious circle: they then stay poor because they have so many mouths to feed?

Personally, I support NGOs that focus on empowering women/ families to become self-sufficient, look after their families financially and make decisions themselves as to how many children they want ? charities like Practical Action, Send a Cow etc.

So my question to Andrew Mitchell is: what is DfID doing to empower women (and families generally) so they can afford not to have so many children?

Thanks upwiththelarks, that's a really important question. We've put girls and women at the heart of what the UK government does on international development. We have a strategy on Women and Girls that covers the range of issues that will help empower women. For example we'll get over 4.5 million girls into school during the course of this Parliament, and help millions of women to access justice and be able to use financial services. In Rwanda we're helping women to get title to their land.

I agree that it's a vicious circle - the key is to turn it around so there's a virtuous circle. Although some families choose to have more children, we know that 222 million women want to use modern methods of contraception but can't get it. That's what our summit this week is focused on, but our day-to-day work addresses the broader issues too.

AndrewMitchell Mon 09-Jul-12 12:36:14


Hello Mr Mitchell, the subject of the summit sounds like a great idea, my hope would be that the any programme put in place would be sustainable, including long term reliaibility of advice and contraception and education. Would there be long-term funding considered for this?

The Summit is about building a global movement working closely with country partners which will halve the number of women today who want access to contraception but can't get it. The UK and others are committing funding up to 2020 to achieve the Summit Goal of enabling 120 million additional women to have access to contraception over the next 8 years.

Himalaya Mon 09-Jul-12 12:36:56

DJPB - did you mean the press release from the for the Protection of the Unborn Child

carrazz Mon 09-Jul-12 12:38:12

Around 80% of unprotected sexual encounters among young girls occur within marriage, so will your department also look at increasing your efforts to prevent child marriage, so it helps to delay early pregnancy and supports these girls to know more about their sexual and reproductive health and rights?

AndrewMitchell Mon 09-Jul-12 12:39:03


Hello Mr Mitchell,

Kudos to you and to DFID for hosting this conference. This blog post makes an interesting point about women's health; specifically, that it basically comes down to income - 'a rich woman in a poor country is more likely to have access to contraception than a poor woman in a rich country' (I guess the UK is an exception to this because of the NHS).

Do you acknowledge the importance of poverty and income in this debate?

Absolutely. This summit is all about the poorest women in the poorest places. We're focusing our efforts on the world's poorest countries and within that are seeking to meet the needs of the poorest and most marginalised girls and women - where the difference can be most transformational. We're really lucky to have the NHS in the UK so that any British woman can access healthcare and indeed contraception as they wish. We want the poorest women in the world to have that same power.

MmeLindor. Mon 09-Jul-12 12:41:46

Himalaya / DJ
Not exactly unbiased, that report.

Unsafe abortion is the largest contributory factor for high maternal mortality rates in Kenya. Limiting contraception increases abortion.

AndrewMitchell Mon 09-Jul-12 12:41:47


Hello Mr Mitchell,

Increasing access to family planning across the world is fantastic but I do question if it is being used to control populations rather than empower women and expand their choices.

What are you doing to ensure that we are saving womens lives and expanding control for women through access to birth control rather than controlling population growth?

I want to be absolutely clear that this is fundamentally about women's right to decide freely and for themselves whether, when and how many children to have. It is not for me or any politician to tell a woman how many children to have, what we need to do is make sure that she has information, services and supplies available so that she can achieve her desired family size. This Summit will seek to enable 120 million additional women who have an unmet need for contraception to gain access - reducing the current unmet need by half.

AndrewMitchell Mon 09-Jul-12 12:43:27


What do you think of Andrew Murray bursting into tears yesterday- do you think our over sharing and emotional incontinence means the end of the great British reserve and the stiff upper lip?

Sadly I missed it live as the plane back from the Afghanistan summit in Tokyo was just taking off as the match started. But I hear it was a corker and that Murray really held his own. Sadly the pilot didn't give us live updates! I'm looking forward to catching up on Murray's speech on iplayer - but I admit I probably would have had shed a tear or two judging by what I've heard. I'm not good on the stiff upper lip stuff!

cm22v077 Mon 09-Jul-12 12:44:42

Hi Andrew,

A silly question for you, what did you have for breakfast this morning?

Nice to have you here!!

Himalaya Mon 09-Jul-12 12:45:05

Mme Lindor - indeed.

Ottavia Mon 09-Jul-12 12:47:16

Hi Andrew - welcome to Mumsnet.
The government has made a big song and dance about it's commitment to maintaining the aid budget as proportion of GDP and has received lots of plaudits for that commitment, which in the current climate is indeed a noble aim to be applauded, in my view.

But isn't it the case that this government is trying to use the aid budget to pay for all sorts of things traddionally not seen as aid? For example there was talk of using it for maintaining a humanitarian force in Afghanistan?

AndrewMitchell Mon 09-Jul-12 12:47:40


Whilst I applaud the UK government's involvement in this issue, I have not seen any evidence that DFID has investigated the possibility of coercive practises increasing women's vulnerability to issues like marital rape and the poverty-based consequences of eugenics.

Action Aid, Amnesty International and a large number of NGOs working in this field have also voiced their concern on this issue [see quote below]. What is the UK government going to do to ensure that these concerns do not come to fruition?

"We, civil society organizations working to promote women?s and young people?s human rights, call on world leaders on the eve of the ?Family Planning Summit?, hosted by the UK Government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights are at the centre of all efforts to meet reproductive health needs, including family planning. Contraceptive information and services ? ?family planning? ? form an essential part of the health services that women need throughout their lives. Any steps to increase demand for contraceptives must actively support efforts to improve comprehensive and integrated sexual and reproductive health.
Contraceptives must be provided through primary healthcare, with full regard for women?s human rights and the specific needs of young and unmarried women and other groups. Our experience, built over decades of work around the world, has taught us that the failure to take actions guided by women?s human rights ? to health, to life, to live free from discrimination among others ? can have devastating consequences. Policies that accept or tacitly condone forced sterilization, the coercive provision of contraceptives, and the denial of essential services to the young, poor and marginalized women that need them every day have violated, and continue to violate, women?s human rights.

Nearly twenty years ago, governments at the International Conference on Population and Development agreed that respect for women?s reproductive autonomy is the cornerstone of population policy. Any return to coercive family planning programs where quality of care and informed consent are ignored would be both shocking and retrograde. The Family Planning Summit must ensure that the clocks are not put back on women?s human rights: women?s autonomy and agency to decide freely on matters related to sexual and reproductive health without any discrimination, coercion or violence must be protected under all circumstances. ..."

Thanks StewieGriffinsMom I also want to answer the question from fuzzywigsmum which raises similar points. You are absolutely right that this is not just above contraceptives (important though they are) and is all about women's sexual and reproductive health and rights. The UK Government is fully aligned with the 1994 ICPD Programme of Action and the importance of right's based programmes. We are completely against any coercive policies or programmes - and are all about giving women the power to decide for themselves.

AndrewMitchell Mon 09-Jul-12 12:47:54


Andrew Mitchell -

I was struck by one of the experts quoted in the DFID Results Framework document: "women are not dying because of conditions we cannot treat...They are dying because their societies have not yet made the decision that they are worth saving. The inconvenient truth that the scandal of maternal deaths is a question of how much the life of a woman is considered to be worth."

It is brilliant that DFID is putting money and leadership into maternal health and family planning.

But are there tensions within your  focus on results/value for money, supporting broader healthcare systems  and enabling women to have real choice and human rights?

... Is there a danger that women's healthcare will be thought of as a "low cost intervention" like delivering bed nets, rather than an issue where long term investments are needed, and attitudes need to change?

Himalaya, I get asked this question a lot but I don't think there is a tension between striving for results and tackling the complex issues. The reason I focus on value for money is to ensure that we really are making a difference on these complex things like strengthening health systems and empowering women. It has been fashionable in the past to announce sums of money and then sit back like the job's done - but governments should be held accountable for what they've actually achieved, so that's why we now make sure we set out what it is we're trying to achieve in the first place.

poppyseeds99 Mon 09-Jul-12 12:48:48

Hi Andrew,

Can I ask, what would you consider has been your biggest achievement thus far in your role as Secretary of State for International Development? And is there a country in particular which has got your special attention, either for personal reasons or humanitarian ones?

painterlyswoosh Mon 09-Jul-12 12:49:18

Hi Andrew, what do you think of Nick Clegg?

Honestly, no party lines please.

AndrewMitchell Mon 09-Jul-12 12:50:44


Around 80% of unprotected sexual encounters among young girls occur within marriage, so will your department also look at increasing your efforts to prevent child marriage, so it helps to delay early pregnancy and supports these girls to know more about their sexual and reproductive health and rights?

Your right early marriage is a really important issue that we are working to address. For example we are working in the Amhara region of Northern Ethiopia to provide support to keep girls in school and deter early marriage. Early evidence shows that nearly 100% success has been achieved.

strangerwithmyface Mon 09-Jul-12 12:51:08

Hello Mr Mitchell,

The connection between family planning and education is well trodden ground. Does the Summit plan to discuss the education of women and girls in developing countries as part of the talks on contraception?

AndrewMitchell Mon 09-Jul-12 12:51:19


Hi Andrew, what do you think of Nick Clegg?

Honestly, no party lines please.

I agree with Nick!!

poppyseeds99 Mon 09-Jul-12 12:52:02

Also, this morning Melissa Gates talked about birth control policy having to come from the ground up, and not from the top down. With this in mind, what are you doing to work with indiginous populations and to find out what they want in terms of birth control? Are these policies tailor-made for the women they involve - and can you provide any examples?

AndrewMitchell Mon 09-Jul-12 12:52:52


Hello! I'm very glad to see this emphasis on women's rights coming from the UK government. Other than this, what are your priorities in international development?

Thanks CinnamonStix. As you say we've put girls and women at the heart of our international development policy. The other key focuses we've stressed are tackling conflict and developing countries' private sectors so their economies grow. Afghanistan is a good example of all three priorities, where we're getting girls into school and building up livelihoods so that people can pull themselves out of poverty - as I saw last week at a project in Kabul which will help 7000 women become entrepreneurs. Eight years ago there were just three female defence lawyers in Afghanistan - today, not least thanks to British support, there are over 400. These are things that will really transform the country in the long-term.

MmeLindor. Mon 09-Jul-12 12:53:20

Don't underestimate the impact of something as simple as a bed net. They have had a massive impact in fighting malaria in Kenya.

Sometimes you have to start with the easy fixes then move on to the more complicated issues.

If you can save the lives of the women who might otherwise have died during an unsafe abortion, then you can move on to the issues of domestic violence, other illnesses, improving healthcare etc.

smellsofsick Mon 09-Jul-12 12:53:48

It seems that (quite rightly) the British Government contributes much in terms of aid and commitment to developing countries. I know it's less than 1% of the overeall budget but how much support do you have from leaders of developing countries themselves - specifically on this issue and would there be greater support if there was greater buy-in from other global powers?

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