Response to UK Aid cuts
6 May 2021 | Brita Fernandez Schmidt, Executive Director, Women for Women International - UK
Last Wednesday, I was deeply disappointed to learn that the UK government’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) had cut the promised funding for a new grant they had awarded last year to Women for Women International in Afghanistan, due to begin last month and which our global teams have spent many weeks preparing for. Just moments later, I saw a tweet from the UK Ambassador in Kabul stating: “Some 18 million people in Afghanistan are now in humanitarian need. A ceasefire and political settlement to end the conflict has never mattered more. #UKcommitted to providing humanitarian support and working for peace in Afghanistan.” The UK commitment clearly does not extend to honouring their funding promises to organisations like Women for Women International working on women’s rights and development in Afghanistan. The project funding pulled by the FCDO would have supported 6,000 of the most marginalised Afghan women.
However, the news we received on Friday last week was even more devastating. On a group call with a number of other NGOs doing vital work around the world to help the poorest and most marginalised, we learnt that the FCDO grant we were awarded in 2019, to help 3,600 women in Bauchi State, Nigeria, was being cut with immediate effect. This project is halfway through implementation, with a second cohort of 1,200 women over halfway through our 12-month Stronger Women, Stronger Nations training programme. The third cohort of 1,200 women will not get the chance to start the programme. My colleague Buki, the Country Director in Nigeria, has shared more detail about the devastating impact this will have for the women and the communities.
We were asked to submit a close-down budget within 2 weeks, for a project that has 17 months left to run. And the FCDO instructed us to act responsibly towards our beneficiaries when planning an exit strategy. I ask where is their responsibility to keep the promises they made to women who are most at risk of being left behind?
Over the weekend I was left speechless, after watching Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab telling The Andrew Marr Show that the FCDO is cutting “nothing that we have legally committed or made a formal commitment to… we are keeping all of those obligations”. This is categorically untrue; we have a signed three-year contract with the FCDO for our project in Nigeria. On Friday 30th April we received a termination letter stating: “This letter is formal notification of the FCDO’s decision to terminate the Accountable Grant Arrangement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland acting through the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (“FCDO”) and F2JK-JZBU-GM: Empowering Marginalised Nigerian Women Through Livelihood Opportunities and Improved Participation.”
The formal commitment made by the FCDO to the most marginalised women in Nigeria has been broken. I am deeply concerned about the devastating impact this will have on women in Bauchi State, one of the poorest and most conflict-affected areas of Nigeria. Not only has the UK government broken its promise to the women currently taking part in the Women for Women International programme, and those who were due to enrol with FCDO funding in October this year, it has also put at risk all the results and impact made in the first 18 months of the grant. This does not represent value for money, it represents a devaluing of women’s lives.