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Australia’s aid effort to focus on women

24 August 20160 comments

Women will be the focus of Australia’s revamped foreign aid effort after Foreign Minister Julie Bishop pledged that empowering women would be the key pillar of the government’s policy.

Ms Bishop said that despite cuts to Australia’s foreign aid budget of more than $1 billion, Australia’s aid overseas was still significant and would also have a regional focus.

“We are able to achieve a considerable amount with our aid budget, as I indicated; we are the 12th largest donor amongst OECD countries with comparable economies,” she said.

Julie Bishop

Julie Bishop

“We have targeted our aid budget where we can make the biggest difference and I’ve been very pleased with the outcomes that we have been able to achieve under our new aid paradigm,” Ms Bishop said this week, as she announced the appointment of Frances Adamson as new Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Secretary.

“We will focus in particular on women’s economic empowerment – on promoting women’s leadership in politics, business, communities and families and on eliminating violence against women and children.

“One of our performance benchmarks is that all of our aid investments must assess gender issues with at least 80 per cent focused on support and empowerment of women,” Ms Bishop said.

She said Australia must maintain a bold vision for its aid delivery.

“Our aid program will have an unmistakable regional focus. In the past, it’s been spread far too thinly across the globe for reasons often not related to poverty alleviation, thus putting at risk our ability to achieve results in the geographic region where I believe we have a primary responsibility – the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific,” Ms Bishop said.

“We must direct our aid to where we can make the biggest difference and align it with our national interest.”

Ms Bishop said the government would invest more than 90 per cent of the aid budget in the Asia Pacific region.

She said it would also try to engage the private sector which generates 90 per cent of jobs and funds over 60 per cent of investment in the region.

“We will harness the private sector in those countries, so that Australia’s aid program promotes the major driver of poverty reduction – economic growth,” she said.

“We will strengthen the way we assess the performance of contractors, NGOs and multilateral organisations delivering Australian aid.

“We will build on what works so that funding will increasingly flow to the best performing organisations,” Ms Bishop said.

She said the program would have two principal strategic goals for recipient countries – human development and private sector development and she identified six core priority areas:

“First, infrastructure and trade. Australia will give high priority to tackling infrastructure bottlenecks in our region which are hampering economic growth. Projects that help developing countries enhance their trade in regional and global markets – including aid-for-trade projects – and they are particularly important,” Ms Bishop said.

“Second, we will invest in agriculture, fisheries and water management projects – areas where we have particular expertise. These sectors provide the livelihood for millions of people and are critical to improving food security and nutrition, which in turn enhances economic participation.

“Third, we will focus on effective governance to help development partners strengthen accountability, transparency and the rule of law.

“For example, when Indonesia rolled out 3G mobile services Australian aid helped ensure the 3G auction was transparent and fair. Now, mobile internet services deliver more than $600 million in government revenue and Indonesia is the twittersphere capital of the world.

“Fourth, we will focus on education and health. While I firmly believe that private sector-led economic growth has a great effect on poverty reduction, this is not just about lifting productivity or maximising exports. Our aid program will invest in people so that they can create and take advantage of economic opportunities.

“Education creates a skilled and productive work force. We will support partner governments to improve the quality of education so that school leavers benefit from employment opportunities. And scholarships will be a key pillar of our program – With around 4,500 scholarship recipients through the aid program this year alone.

“Protecting human health also empowers people to make meaningful contributions to the development of their communities. From 2014-15, Australia will spend around $30 million a year from our aid program on health and medical research. This is the most we have ever invested in this area in a single year and it complements the Government’s Medical Research Future Fund, announced in the recent budget.

“Fifth, we will increase our humanitarian assistance. This year, we have increased humanitarian spending by almost 30 per cent to appropriately $340 million and that’s right given the calls on our support.

“And finally – our sixth and perhaps most important priority and one that is a personal passion. Our aid program will promote the empowerment of women and girls in our region. When women are able to actively participate in the economy, and in community decision-making, everybody benefits.

“Training women for employment, building their capacity and challenging barriers to their participation will deliver social and economic benefits to all societies. Evidence shows that it is women who spend extra income promoting the health, education and well-being of their families,” Ms Bishop said.

She noted the government’s appointment of former Senator Natasha Stott Despoja to advocate on gender issues, regionally and internationally, as Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Reporter