Saturday, November 19, 2011

World Toilet Day

Today is World Toilet Day. A day which most people won’t have heard of and fewer would understand. Let me explain. Today almost two fifths of the world’s population does not have access to even a basic toilet. That’s 2.6 billion people.

A combination of a lack of safe water and sanitation means that people are forced to live in conditions which are unhygienic at best and life-threatening at worst. Diarrhoea caused by unclean water and poor sanitation is the biggest killer of children in Africa.  That is more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. It is entirely preventable. We can, and must do our bit to change this.

To really deal with poverty we have to understand two things: one, that all issues are interconnected, and two, that the role of women is crucial. There are few things we can do that cut across health, education, economics and social mobility like water and sanitation.

It is women who bear the brunt of a lack of safe water and sanitation. When there is no easy access to water women and children, mainly the girls, are tasked with the drudgery water collection. This can involve walking for hours in the baking heat to collect water which can be muddy, polluted or contaminated with parasites and animal waste. This is not only physically demanding, but also takes up time which could be spent earning an income, at school or looking after the family. A lack of separate toilets for girls in schools is also a hugely overlooked issue which reduces the number of girls going to school. When girls reach the age of puberty they need somewhere private and clean to manage this. Many girls simply drop out of getting a vital education for something as simple as a toilet.

Women and girls suffer the most when communities don’t have basic sanitation, facing the indignity of having to go to the toilet in the open and, in many cultures, having to wait until after dark to do so, risking sexual assault or animal attacks.

Further to this poor water and sanitation costs Sub-Saharan Africa around 5% of its GDP each year, equivalent to the amount of aid the continent currently receives from donor nations.
Yet all this can be prevented. With good sanitation facilities and safe water available close to home, precious hours that were once spent recovering from illness or walking to find water can be spent in more productive ways, from working to earn a living to looking after children or going to school and getting an education. This is what makes water and sanitation such a good investment – for every £1 spent £8 is generated in increased productivity.

We can and must stop this crisis. The scale of the problem may seem vast, but there are proven, cost effective solutions available that can not only save lives but transform them, providing the first, crucial steps out of poverty. The UK Government has already achieved much through its own investment in water and sanitation, and the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of its national income on aid is going to save and transform more lives in years to come.

Sadly, there is still a long way to go. At the current rate of progress, the UN Millennium Development Goal to halve the proportion of people living without basic sanitation by 2015 will be missed by a billion people. This simply isn’t good enough, and shows that thus far political will hasn’t been strong enough to push this issue forward. We will not succeed in a more if we do not invest in water and sanitation.

To mark World Toilet Day, international charity WaterAid is launching a campaign, Water Works, to highlight the life changing impact of sanitation and safe water ahead of next April’s High Level Meeting on water and sanitation in Washington DC. High level involvement from the UK Government is critical to the success of this meeting. I’ll be putting my support behind the campaign, and you can too at

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Project Umubano: Conservative Party volunteers in Sierra Leone

By Theodora Clarke, Conservative Future Liaison for CWO

This summer I was lucky enough to take part in Project Umubano, the Conservative Party’s social action project in Africa. Set up back in 2007 by the Rt Hon David Cameron MP and Andrew Mitchell MP the initiative has highlighted the party’s commitment to international development. For the last few years volunteers have visited Rwanda to provide valuable expertise in the fields of education, justice, health, community and business. More recently a sister project was launched in Sierra Leone, led by David Mundell MP, as a mark of the close ties between the West African country and our own.

This was an exciting year to take part in Umubano as we were launching a new education project. Our team consisted of teachers, students and professionals who were based in Makeni, several hours drive inland from the capital. Makeni is a quiet, tree-filled town which was the headquarters of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the Sierra Leonean rebel forces, during the civil war. The region is now dominated by the mining industry which has concessions for diamonds, gold, bauxite and granite.

We were partnered with a local organisation called Street Child of Sierra Leone which is working to take children of the streets, provide them with a good education and where possible to re-integrate them back into their families and homes. It was quite an experience turning up at the centre on the Monday morning to be welcomed by 120 students and the local headmaster. The pupils were thrilled that we were there and performed a welcome song when we arrived.

The first day was not at all what I expected. Instead of merely assisting a Sierra Leonean teacher, a fellow volunteer and I were introduced to a class of nearly fifty boys and girls and left to get on with teaching them English grammar, maths and science armed with just a blackboard and chalk. Teaching is little more tricky without any textbooks or the ability to quickly google an exercise or answer! However, we embraced the challenge and ended up having a great two weeks with our students.

Every morning after a breakfast of cassava or rice, we taught three hours of core subjects and in the afternoon we played sports, sang songs or did arts and crafts. I was responsible for the latter every day which was enormous fun. The children were so excited to have so many different materials to play with ranging from coloured pens and paper to stickers and tracing paper. They all made beautiful pictures but it was sad to see how memories of the war still haunted them; a large number of children started drawing UN helicopters and stickmen armed with guns. We wanted Project Umubano to leave a lasting reminder of our stay so towards the end we painted a white wall on the side of one of the central buildings and got each child enrolled our classes to plant their handprints on the wall.

During the first week we had a special visit from Stephen O’Brien MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, who came to the school to see all the work the Umubano volunteers were doing. The children in my class were very excited to meet a Minister and asked him many questions about the differences between the UK and Sierra Leonean Parliaments. My class became so interested that we later taught a special lesson on Government and Politics to explain about the role of MPs and Peers and the differences between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Sierra Leone is a beautiful country which was ravaged by civil war up until 2002 and it still ranks the highest in terms of poverty in the world. July is the rainy season and the weather was extremely hot and humid. It was heart-breaking at the end of each day to see my students who had been so eager to learn and worked so hard to have nowhere to go to after class. All of them slept outside at night in the pouring rain in the streets wherever they could. It is clear that Street Child of Sierra Leone is doing invaluable work in the country helping the most needy children to get an education and showing them love and care. One of the highlights of the project was when, on the penultimate day, we organised an inaugural sports day for the school. The children loved competing in traditional races such as the 100metres, relay and even more so when we introduced them to English games such as stone and spoon races and rounders!

Two weeks is a short time but the difference in our students by the end was noticeable in their increased confidence and their ability to read and write and do basic arithmetic. On our last day one of my youngest pupils, a ten year old girl, came up to me and gave me a hug saying that she could not believe that we had come all the way from England just to teach her. It was a moving day when we had to finally say goodbye.

Next year we hope to expand the project to Maburaka, a nearby school, and to have several satellite education projects based near Makeni. I hope that many CWO members will take the opportunity next year to come on Project Umubano and to do something a bit different with their summer. It has been a life-changing opportunity for many of the volunteers and I for one hope to be back.

For more information and to register your interest in joining Project Umubano 2011, please contact Abigail Green at and visit

Details on Street Child of Sierra Leone can be found here

Monday, August 15, 2011

Abortion Amendments to the Health & Social Care Bill

The entire bill has been wrapped in controversy and is expected to reach the Report Stage in the House of Commons on the 6th of September.

Nadine Dorries MP has sponsored 3 amendments. These say that a women who is looking to have a termination must be counselled independently by an organisation that either does not provide abortions or is a statutory body, stripping abortion providers of the ability to give advice.

She wrote in the Guardian in July: "At present, the only place a woman can receive pre- or post-abortion counselling paid for by the state is from an abortion provider – who has a clear financial interest in the ultimate decision the woman makes. Often women have to return to the abortion clinic where the procedure took place to receive their distress counselling. What caring person can believe that to be right?".

For "abortion provider" list the NHS for one, and "return to the abortion clinic" read NHS hospital, where many terminations take place.

As "an abortion provider" the NHS, as a statutory body, would be allowed to continue to give advice, carry out terminations and give post-abortion advice - but they do so for many institutions who have got the time and specialist counsellors to help women.

But even those will a financial interest, such as BPAS, give independent advice and do research into family planning - but if a woman decides to go through with a termination, they overwhelmingly do not charge: They have no financial incentive to encourage terminations but will be banned from giving out advice. BPAS state on their website that "Over 93% of the women we see don’t have to pay for their treatment as it's funded by the NHS". Either the NHS pay directly or indirectly. If clinics can't be counsellors then it will fall to the NHS - a strain that could overwhelm departments - any other solution would cost millions we can't afford.

Google "abortion advice uk" and you'll see a list of counsellors, which give women information on all the options on their websites and through advice lines - none of which charge for the information.

The vast majority of unwanted pregnancies are classed as "lifestyle" abortions. Around 90% of terminations take place before 13 weeks and 80% before 8 weeks. These amendments would lengthen that time and would force women to go through yet another hoop, which only increases anxiety. Delaying abortions can lead to infertility and psychological problems - so why heap more pressure on a woman if she feels she's done all her research and considered all the options?

You still need two doctors to authorise a termination. Both of them weigh up the patient's decision and will only sign if they believe that she has come to the decision independently and has considered all other choices - they would be negligent if they didn't.

Instead of making abortion physically and mentally harder for women in the UK, we should be looking at prevention and education - and by this I do not mean we need to teach graphic details to 13 year olds and give lessons with condoms and bananas. Parents need to take a bigger part in the education of their children and talking about sex appropriately when they're young is the best way to de-stigmatise it.

The fact is that the health and welfare of women would be affected in a bill that doesn't mention termination once in its 420 pages.

I urge every MP, woman or man, on whatever bench, to allow women to choose for themselves. I urge every constituent to contact your MP to get your voice heard.

VOTE AGAINST the 3 amendments and do not allow the government to introduce any other comparable legislation.

UPDATE 29-Aug-2011: The subject has been discussed in both The Telegraph and the Mail - with a quote from the above being included.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Journalist Deficit NIMBY's

Sandra Parsons in yesterday’s Daily Mail did an excellent job at regurgitating the themes of Melanie McDonagh’s piece in this week’s Spectator (not online) with both writers feeling that the Conservative Party is either desperate (McDonagh) or frantic (Parsons) in its efforts to regain the support of women.
With regard to child benefits, McDonagh explains how the higher tax bracket child benefit cut was “one of the few times when you felt you were getting something back from the state, just by virtue of the fact you had children.”
So, parts of yours and my hard-earned taxes have been used for McDonagh and her friends to celebrate their fertility. And all this time I’ve thought the privilege of having children was actually having children and not a handout.
But McDonagh doesn’t see the loss of benefits to be a problem in itself as they “aren’t much, in the great scheme of things”. Instead, she infers that women aren’t able to lower their expenditure by “an extra 10 or 20 quid a week”. If it’s true that expenditure rises to meet income, then I am living proof that the opposite can also be achieved.

On the same subject, Parsons, though, just becomes hysterical: “Ill thought through and frankly disgraceful” and how it showed “how little Dave and George Osborne understand the real world”. That would be the “real world” where Osborne is trying to get the deficit under control. Yes, it is frankly disgraceful that he considered the country as a whole, rather than Parsons personally.
Most private sector employees have endured years of pay-freezes, so they already know what it’s like to lose out. They have done this because they preferred to have a job at the end of the year - not because of some God-given right.
Let’s hope these two aren’t the start of a plague of Deficit NIMBY commentators. We want no more women journalists deciding that all this cost-cutting is fine, except if it affects them.
Another thing they both agree on is that fewer women are supporting the Conservatives than in December last year, which is true. According to McDonagh, this “has created something like consternation right at the top of the government”. Parsons, instead, read this as a personal aversion to David Cameron by the women of Britain – although she only evidences her own change of heart towards him.
A tad of research would have shown Parsons that Cameron remains, by far, the most favoured party leader with women, which makes a joke of the title of her article: “We women are falling out of love with Dave”. Not when you’ve got Ed and Nick to choose from, they’re not.
I’m not going to deny that the party has lost favour with women since the election, but rather than be hysterical about it, the party is getting on and doing what any good party does: identify where your support is waning and adjust campaigning efforts to improve it. I’m afraid it’s not hysterical, frantic or even frenzied.
But wait. They both have proof of the Tory histrionics in regaining the support of women. Apparently “Cameron is ditching just about any policy that he thinks women might not like.” (McDonagh) and “In a panic, they've executed more U-turns than a dog chasing its tail” (Parsons).
Ignoring the difference in literary style, have they both forgotten that the Government is made up of a coalition of centre-left and centre-right parties? The union negotiations must be a doddle compared to what goes on in Number 10 every day. The country didn’t vote for one party to govern on its own, but maybe next time, it’ll realise what an idiotic way of running a country it is.
But Parsons isn’t finished with Cameron yet. She thinks that DC is “patronising” towards women. (McDonagh also calls the Conservatives patronising but never fully explains why.) Parsons' proof comes from Cameron starting some of his sentences with “Now, look…”
“Now, look” is not patronising to women. The phrase is in all politicians' vocabularies as a way of avoiding saying “That’s a bloody idiotic question” in answer to a journalist - but after writing recent highbrow pieces on the Duchess of Cambridge and Cheryl Cole, I will forgive her for not knowing this.
The premise of both articles, however eerily similar, is that we’re losing the support of women and I mind that a great deal – although, as McDonagh points out, women are the “major consumers of public services… and the major providers of them”, so of course women will be disproportionately affected by any reduction in public services and public sector jobs in the short term. This hasn’t come as any big surprise to me, the party or David Cameron. Just as it wasn’t a surprise when men came off 475 times worse during the recession because of all the financial services and manufacturing jobs lost.
They say that a day is a long time in politics; well, if the only poll that matters is the one on 7th May 2015, we have 1,407 long days to regain the support of women – but without the dramatics please.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Slut Walking Around the World

The first time I heard the phrase "Slut Walking", I've got to admit, I was taken aback. Had women, seriously, set up a new protest movement to highlight sluts?

But it wasn't the movement that named themselves, it was a Toronto police officer by the name of Michael Sanguinetti, who, when giving advice to women students, said that they should "avoid dressing like sluts" to stay safe on the streets.

Everyone knows what he was trying to say - but it came out all wrong. Of course, women have to do everything they can to protect themselves but does it follow that just because a woman wears skimpy clothes she can be described as a slut and be "asking for it"? No.

Although it is sometimes used by young women (usually relating to another girl who's just started dating their ex-boyfriend), it's at its most derogatory when used by men, as there is no correlative response.

Even in the 21st century, a woman who has multiple partners is labelled a tart or a slut, whereas a man is sowing his seed; doing what comes naturally; scoring another notch on his bedpost; a hero with his mates; has had a good Friday night (or all of the above). But women have bigger problems in the world than name calling.

Do I feel uncomfortable about the name Slut Walk? Yes. But if they had called it Women Against Victim Blaming, the viral nature of the campaign - needed for it to be a worldwide Internet and media success - would have failed. What the inclusion of the word slut does, is to get people talking about Violence Against Women again. This is one of the cases when the end does justify the means.

No matter how a woman dresses, she has no right to be sexually assaulted. Indeed, there is no correlation between the two: In repressive countries such as Saudi Arabia, rape is just as prevalent. Children are raped. Older people are raped. Men are raped. One in five women in the UK will be sexually assaulted at some point in their life. They are victims, not procurers.

But women also don't want double standards. All women wish we had the Diet Coke break window cleaners to look at every day, so we can't (or shouldn't) complain if men give women a wolf-whistle or a friendly Cor blimey luv! if they're looking particularly good on a night out. It's a healthy appreciation for the opposite sex.

Hopefully, a defence lawyer arguing that it was how the woman was dressed that enticed their client to rape them, is confined to the annals of history. You don't hear many lawyers defending a client who's accused of stealing a Lamborghini Gallardo saying: "It was the car's fault for looking so good".

After starting as a Toronto campaign, the Slut Walkers are now a global movement and the Sluts and Allies include both women and men. They're marching in Scotland this Saturday and in London (@slutwalklondon) on June 4th.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

AV Referendum: why you should vote NO

Theodora Clarke is the London Youth Organiser for the cross-party NO to AV campaign.

There are less than ten weeks to go until the referendum on a change to the voting system for Westminster Parliamentary elections. On May 5th the public will be asked whether they wish to replace the current system of First Past the Post with the 'Alternative Vote' (AV).

Only last week the Prime Minister spoke out against the dangers inherent in replacing our current, tried and tested voting system with one that was “unfair, expensive and discredited". AV, he said, "allows candidates who finish third to steal elections".

So first of all what is it? Under AV the voters get to rank candidates in order of preference and anyone getting more than 50 per cent in the first round is elected. If that doesn't happen, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their second choices are allocated to the remaining candidates. If no candidate at the second stage has a majority of votes, the next lowest candidate is eliminated and their votes are redistributed. This process keeps on occurring until a winner emerges.

What this means is that if you vote for a fringe party who gets knocked out, your other preferences will be counted. In other words, you get another bite of the cherry. However, if you vote for a mainstream candidate who is top of the ballot in the first round, your other preferences will never be counted.

This would cause election results to be based on passive approval rather than active acceptance. As the PM says, it would lead to "a parliament of second choices".

The Liberal Democrats demanded this referendum as part of the Coalition agreement - but the Conservative Party are actively campaigning for a 'No' vote. It is not clear that the Liberal Democrats even want this change. Just two weeks before the last election, Nick Clegg dismissed AV as a “miserable little compromise”.

Connor Burns MP (Bournemouth West) has joined the campaign just this week as a spokesman. Here are his reasons for voting NO to AV:

“Under First Past the Post, a winning party can implement the manifesto on which they were returned without recourse to backroom deals, leading to programmes never endorsed at the ballot box. The Alternative Vote is the compromise that no one genuinely wants. Britain is better by sticking to a system that we know, we trust and that works."

David Cameron said this is a referendum that will determine Britain's future. A Yes vote would be bad for democracy, politics and accountability.
I would like to appeal to all CWO members to vote no in the referendum and to lend their support to the campaign. Together, we can win this referendum and save our voting system.
Without your help, Britain's traditional voting system could be ditched for something that is unfair, expensive and allows candidates that finish third to win elections.


  • AV is unfair. With First Past the Post, everybody gets one vote. But under AV, supporters of extreme parties like the BNP would get their vote counted many times, while other people's vote would only be counted once.

  • AV doesn't work. Rather than the candidate with the most votes winning, the person who finishes third could be declared the winner.

  • AV is expensive. Calculating the results is a long, complicated process, which would cost the taxpayer millions.

  • No-one wants AV. Even the 'Yes' campaigners don't actually want AV - they see it as a convenient stepping stone to yet more changes to how we vote.


  • Go to the No to AV website and sign up to receive emails

  • Ask your local Conservative Association how you can help their campaign against AV

  • Join the NO to AV group on Facebook or follow them on Twitter

David Cameron explains why he is voting NO to AV

Graduate Recruitment - Report from the Forum

On February 15th the CWO along with Conservative Future (CF) held a successful Forum on "Graduate Recruitment" in Committee Room 5 of the House of Commons. A panel of four speakers including Andrew Stephenson MP, two recruiters from leading UK firms and a current student led the discussion.

More than fifty members of the public attended to hear the difficulties that young people face in the jobs' market today. The panel discussed the problems that graduates face in an increasingly difficult market where there are nearly 70 applicants for every job. During 2010 one in five students left university without a job as graduate unemployment soared to its highest level since the mid-90s.

Official figures published January 2011 showed 20% of ex-students were without work in the third quarter of 2010, with graduate unemployment increasing faster than the jobless rate among the UK as a whole. The Office of National Statistics' data suggests graduates have been hit harder by the economic downturn than the UK as a whole. These recent shocking statistics were the impetus being CWO and CF joining forces to discuss the pressing issue of graduate recruitment.

Pauline Lucas, CWO Chairman, welcomed everyone to the evening on behalf of the CWO and explained to those attending, that the Forums were established to give women the opportunity to debate topical subjects and challenging issues that affect women and their families every day.

Serene Richards, a current student at UCL spoke of the challenges she faced in finding a job and the gruelling application process. She spoke of a new generation of disillusioned graduates who believed that having a degree entitled them to a job. Many graduates, she said, found this to be false when after leaving university they struggled to find employment. Ms. Richards raised the question of the importance of internships and said that the reality was that many students could not afford to do unpaid work experience to climb the jobs' ladder.

The next speaker was Lucy Chamberlain, recruiter and director at Angela Mortimer Plc. She spoke of the increasingly competitive marketplace for graduates. Academic achievements, she suggested, were no longer enough with only 5% of CVs getting through to the interview stage. Ms. Chamberlain argued that graduates needed to learn to market themselves more effectively to employers and learn to use recruiters to find them a job.

Another headhunter, Tim King, the founder of Matchking, highlighted the importance of networking and online media. Many firms advertise opportunities online and use social networking sites to recruit and select candidates such as Linkedin. Mr King stressed the need for a professional online profile and the importance of a CV. Too many graduates, he said, had basic spelling mistakes in their CVs and failed to target their applications to the job or firm.

Finally, Andrew Stephenson, the Member of Parliament for Pendle and Vice Chairman of Conservative Future, spoke on the challenges facing graduates today. He explained that the Government was working hard to help get young people into jobs with schemes such as mentoring and the Job Centre Plus. He talked about his own experiences and difficulties in finding work that people face in his own constituency. He recommended that graduates should consider other paths to employment such as setting up your own business and called on those present to become the next generation of young entrepreneurs.

It was a lively discussion with contributions from current students, recent graduates, employers, parents, careers advisors and recruiters. Questions from the floor included concerns about the lack of careers guidance at schools and universities. There was a general consensus about the importance of work experience and the need to develop skills in addition to having a degree. The audience voiced concerns about the lack of opportunities for graduates and debated whose responsibility it was to tackle youth unemployment.

After an energetic discussion Pauline thanked everyone for participating and the speakers for their valuable contributions.

[You can read the complete minutes on the CWO Website at

Theodora Clarke, February 2011