Why gender equality must be at the centre of international development

My bill would recognise the primary role of women in water and sanitation projects.

The whole question of the improvement of the lot of those in the developing world is, and should be, a major concern to all right-minded politicians. This is why I strongly support the aid programme and the 0.7% commitment, provided, of course, it is accompanied by a reduction in corruption and is focused on the right objectives, which is to help those who really need help and to help them help themselves.
In this, the role of women is paramount. I have been involved in promoting the interests of the poorest countries, particularly in Africa, for decades as chairman of various all-party groups, including sanitation and water, which I set up about five years ago and in which I work very closely with Wateraid and Tearfund.
On a visit to India a few years ago, and on which I wrote an article for the Guardian website, I showed how in the slums and among the ragpickers, it is women who are the driving force behind efforts to improve sanitation and water in Delhi and Mumbai. Dividing up the slum areas into sectors, they raise one or two rupees from these desperately poor people, including themselves; but because of the scale of those in deepest poverty, weekly and monthly they raise millions of rupees, which are then invested in localised water and sanitation projects. When I was with the ragpickers, particularly the women, and I asked them what it was they most wanted, they all cried out "Please, we beg of you, give us clean water. This is what we need!"
I have been working closely with GREAT Initiative on recent proposals, headed up by Mariella Frostrup and Jason McCue and their team, and with a fair wind and support from the government and the House of Commons which was evident yesterday when I introduced my Gender Equality (International Development) Bill, this Bill, if unopposed, could make it to the statute book. In a nutshell, it would embed the role of women in those areas where we give development assistance and humanitarian help as a prime element in proposed projects to which the Secretary of State would be required to have regard to the role of women. They are, after all, not only prime movers but also about half the population of the world. With goodwill and a mixture of government focus, international cooperation, this could make a real difference. 
A woman collects water from a handpump in the Geneva Refugee Camp in Dhaka. Photograph: Getty Images.

Bill Cash is Conservative MP for Stone and the autor of John Bright: Statesman, Orator, Agitator

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Would you jump off a cliff if someone told you to? One time, I did

I was walking across the bridge in Matlock park, which is about 12 feet high, with a large group of other kids from my year, in the pouring rain.

Ever heard the phrase, “Would you jump off a cliff if they told you to?” It was the perpetual motif of my young teenage years: my daily escapades, all of which sprang from a need to impress a peer, were distressing and disgusting my parents.

At 13, this tomboyish streak developed further. I wrote urgent, angry poems containing lines like: “Who has desire for something higher than jumping for joy and smashing a light?” I wanted to push everything to its limits, to burst up through the ceiling of the small town I lived in and land in America, or London, or at least Derby. This was coupled with a potent and thumping appetite for attention.

At the height of these feelings, I was walking across the bridge in Matlock park, which is about 12 feet high, with a large group of other kids from my year, in the pouring rain. One of the cool girls started saying that her cousin had jumped off the bridge into the river and had just swum away – and that one of us should do it.

Then someone said that I should do it, because I always did that stuff. More people started saying I should. The group drew to a halt. Someone offered me a pound, which was the clincher. “I’m going to jump!” I yelled, and clambered on to the railing.

There wasn’t a complete hush, which annoyed me. I looked down. It was raining very hard and I couldn’t see the bottom of the riverbed. “It looks really deep because of the rain,” someone said. I told myself it would just be like jumping into a swimming pool. It would be over in a few minutes, and then everyone would know I’d done it. No one could ever take it away from me. Also, somebody would probably buy me some Embassy Filter, and maybe a Chomp.

So, surprising even myself, I jumped.

I was about three seconds in the air. I kept my eyes wide open, and saw the blur of trees, the white sky and my dyed red hair. I landed with my left foot at a 90-degree angle to my left ankle, and all I could see was red. “I’ve gone blind!” I thought, then realised it was my hair, which was plastered on to my eyes with rain.

When I pushed it out of the way and looked around, there was no one to be seen. They must have started running as I jumped. Then I heard a voice from the riverbank – a girl called Erin Condron, who I didn’t know very well. She pushed me home on someone’s skateboard, because my ankle was broken.

When we got to my house, I waited for Mum to say, “Would you jump off another cliff if they told you to?” but she was ashen. I had to lie that Dave McDonald’s brother had pushed me in the duck pond. And that’s when my ankle started to throb. I never got the pound, but I will always be grateful to Erin Condron. 

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser