On a three-day visit to India earlier this month, UK’s first Special Envoy for gender equality Joanna Roper said her role was created to ensure that the voices, the needs, the experiences and contributions of 50 per cent of the population were taken into account to make UK’s foreign policy as sound as possible. Appointed in 2017, Roper, who was on her second trip to India, told The Indian Express that going ahead, the focus on climate change and its effects on women and children will be sharpened, which, among others, will be an area in which India and the UK will work together.
What are the kind of engagements you have had during your visit to India?
The main focus was to take part in the Raisina dialogue, held in Delhi (earlier this month). We touched upon female leadership, the role of men as champions and allies, covered a whole range of topics. Around that, I had a programme in which we talked to Indian officials in Delhi, we had a roundtable discussion with business about safety at the workplace, sexual harassment at the workplace and the POSH legislation, which I thought was very interesting. Then I came down to Mumbai where I had a conversation with the LGBTQ community as well. I was also at a school (St. Stanislaus, Bandra) where we talked about, in an age-appropriate way, about gender and respect.
Have you identified any particular areas of mutual interest between India and the UK?
The conversation I had with the officials at the ministry was about the sexual harassment at the workplace legislation that has come in, the work that they have been doing for one-stop centres and here in Mumbai there is a big focus on LGBTQ. There is also a UK-India dialogue that takes place through which we are able to see where we can collaborate. In India, we work with a number of stakeholders on LGBTQ rights. This work is carried out across our extensive network of Deputy High Commissions including Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata.
In the future, what are the areas that you would like to sharpen your focus on?
One of the big things for both governments (India and UK) is around climate change. There is a recognition that the effects of climate change have a greater impact on women and children. So we can definitely talk about where we are headed. As a part of our Raisina delegation, which was majority female, we had a big delegation on climate change. We will oversee all the arrangements for COP26 (The 26th edition of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Climate Change Conference) in November in Glasgow. We had a conversation about what we can do to alleviate or allay the impacts of climate change.
What are the notes that India and UK can exchange over mainstreaming the LGBTQ+ community?
Learning from each other on this is really important. The UK approach is that our domestic policy is led by the Government Equalities Office and that looks at all of the domestic legislation and practice and policy for women. They also look at the LGBTQ policy work. We did a consultation with the community with over one lakh respondents to that, which is a wealth of data about the challenges, lifestyle, what the LGBTQ community would like to see from the government. We are getting the data and evidence to build our policy.
How many LGBTQ+ members does the UK have in positions of leadership in government?
The UK now has the highest number of openly LGB parliamentarians in the world. 45 MPs, from across the political spectrum (19 Conservative, 19 Labour, 7 SNP) and elected in June 2017, describe themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
What can government and non-government organisations do differently to enable women to rise in the ranks?
It is not just about placing women into positions. It is also about creating a structural pipeline and equip them and other under-represented groups with the skills, confidence and capabilities. I think it’s all about creating a level playing field, not to disadvantage one group from another but to open up the opportunities to people to be able to get there on their merit. Mentoring, sponsorship, coaching all of those active engagements and support mechanism are really helpful and it pays off.
Post Brexit, how will the UK’s outreach programmes such as these be affected?
The things to remember is that we want to continue our big and important relationships in gender and equality. There is a lot that we could talk and continue to work on. We talk about global Britain and the shared values that we have and I think this is one of those areas in which we can certainly hope to work very closely with partners such as India.
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