Monday, 25 February 2013

Changing the Lives of Women and Girls around the World

Foreign Aid and Australia’s Future 
Changing the Lives of Women and Girls around the World 

University of New South Wales, Sydney 
Sunday, 24 February 2013


As Ben Chifley famously said:
"We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand".

1.4 billion members of the human family (one fifth of our number) today suffer the degradation of poverty.

Two thirds of these are within our region.

As Australians it is not in our nature to be indifferent to the sufferings of others, be that at home, or abroad.

Our belief in a fair go does not stop at the Australian continental shelf.

Our aid program is a product of our values.

But we are also hard-nosed enough to do so in a manner which supports our nation's interests.

We want to build stability in our region because that enhances the security of us all.

For the same reasons we want to enhance regional prosperity because prosperous regions make for stable neighbours and they also, in time, make good economic partners.

Also, both as an expression of our values and our interests, we also believe in good international citizenship.

We want to sustain and enhance the international order.

A properly functioning international order benefits us all – including Australia.

Great powers may be able to look after themselves by national means alone.

But for small and middle powers, we rely on the predictability of the international order and the morns that underpin it.

That includes the international humanitarian order. Where would we be today for example without the UNCHR, the WFP, the ICRC.

It also included the international economic order – on trade, investment and development; the World Bank, the Asian, African and Latin American Development Banks, the UNDP.

In the absence of these agencies, and the order and agreed norms they represent, there would be a recipe for chaos.

Every person, and every country, simply fending for themselves through a beggar thy neighbour approach and a global ‘norm’ of survival of the fittest.

The large scale dispersals of peoples from one point of the world to another, of the type we have seen throughout much of world history, would continue on grander scale than ever before.

And with potentially disastrous consequences for us all.

We therefore have deep national interests and values at stake in building a global rules-based order that deals with humanitarian disasters, that deals with entrenched poverty, that deals with human rights and human development, that deals with a free and fair global economic order, that deals with security of all states and peoples from the threat of aggression.

Never forget: the global alternative to the current order is anarchy.  

Back before the 2007 election, Bob McMullan and I had many long conversations about what sort of aid program we would like to have in the future.

We wanted one that was aligned to the Millennium Development Goal. Before that, it was not.

We wanted one that helped to stop children dying from diseases that we can easily prevent.

We wanted one that would help give every child an education.

We wanted an aid program that gave women an equal chance in life rather than being treated as second class citizens or as the property of men without rights of their own.

We wanted an aid program that put people first, including people with disabilities.

We wanted an aid program that was effective — one that delivered measureable results.

We wanted a transparent aid program so that the Australian tax payer could see how their dollars were being spent, and to be transparent about our successes and our failures.

We wanted an aid program that involved Australians NGOs and individuals more, given that government has never had a monopoly of wisdom on how to best deliver effective aid abroad.

And we wanted a program of which all Australians could justifiably be proud.

And since 2007, we have been working diligently in this direction.

Australia's aid expenditure for the financial year 2012/13 will be a record $5.2 billion - $300 million more than the previous year and an increase of nearly $2 billion, over 60 per cent since 2007-08.

Ours is  global aid program because if we are serious about global poverty reduction, we must be serious about Asia, Africa and the poorest parts of Latin America.
The Asia Pacific region remains the area of focus for Australia's development assistance program.

It is the region which we believe that we can be most effective in.

It is the region where two thirds of the world's poverty currently lies.

It is the region where the rest of the world often expects Australia to provide leadership.

And it is the region of the world where our most direct, strategic and economic interests lie.

With programs aimed at promoting equal opportunities for all, sustainable economic development, effective governance, humanitarian and disaster response and, saving lives.

By 2015-16, Australia’s aid budget to East Asia will reach an indicative level of $1.95 billion. South and West Asia will receive a further $725million.

This Government’s commitment to the region has resulted in tangible success stories.

This includes supporting and improving the quality of life for women and girls.

I have witnessed first-hand the strength of women and girls in all corners of the globe in the face of huge social, political and economic challenges.

The Asia Regional Trafficking in Persons project has resulted more than 8,100 police, judges and prosecutors have received training in detection and prosecution.

I have seen women in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Somalia during the worst of the famine whose feet were cut to ribbons after walking for weeks in search of food and safety for their families where Australia was one of the largest donor countries.

In Afghanistan, I have also seen girls who were going to school for the first time under a program Australia is funding in partnership with Save the Children.

All these stories and many, many more are testament to the determination shared by women and girls around the world to improve their lot in life.

Of the ten specific development objectives the Government defined after Independent Review into Aid Effectiveness in 2011, within the key development objective of saving lives, there is a central focus on women and children, namely:
“Saving the lives of poor women and children through greater access to quality maternal and child health services; and supporting large scale disease prevention, vaccination and treatment.”

The Government also agreed to develop objectives of promoting opportunities for all. Once again, there is a central focus on women and girls,
“Enabling more children, particularly girls, to attend school for longer and better education so they have the skills to build their own futures, and in time escape poverty”

And elsewhere,
“Empowering women and girls to participate in the economy, leadership and education because of the critical untapped role of women in development.”

Dealing with the development challenges of women and girls is not only right in itself, it is also central to the economy as well.

A UN ESCAP study in a 2007 calculated that the Asia-Pacific region is shortchanged in excess of $40 billion a year in GDP because of the untapped potential of women; because of restrictions on women's access to employment.

Supporting gender equality and women’s empowerment is therefore an integral part of Australia’s entire AusAID program.

As of 2011/2012, 52 per cent of all of AusAID’s development assistance centered on initiatives with the primary or related objective of improving gender equality and empowering women.

More than $2.6 billion each year.

67 per cent of that was on health, education and enhancing the rights, protection and legal support of women.

Australia’s efforts in supporting women through our Aid program is founded on 4 pillars
1.       Women’s health challenges and education services;
2.       Women’s economic empowerment and security;
3.       Ending violence against women.
4.       Women in decision making, leadership and peacebuilding;

Examples of these programs include:
Through the GAVI Alliance, through the Federal Government’s provision of $200 million over three years, the Australian Government has pledged to;

  • fully immunize 7.7 million children against major diseases
  • help GAVI immunize 588 million children against rubella
  • Prevent 3.9 million future deaths from preventable diseases.
As of January 2012, Australia is the sixth largest government donor to GAVI.

Further work has been done in the field of maternal and child health with the provision of 91,000 maternal and child health services and over 730,000 family planning and sexual reproductive health services in in South and West Asia.

In Bangladesh alone, supplying 12 hospitals which provide more than half a million women with anti-natal care.

SPRINT, or Sexual and Reproductive Health Programme in Crisis and Post-Crisis Situations, working not just in East and South East Asia but also Africa and the Pacific have successfully integrated Sexual and Reproductive Health into 23 country guidelines, trained 4,500 people across 95 countries and responded to 32 humanitarian disasters, where woman are often most at risk.

We have partnered with Indonesia to support with construction of 2100 junior secondary schools, increasing enrollments by ½ million, half of whom are girls.

In Bangladesh, Australian aid has assisted over 376,000 school children complete their pre-primary and primary school education - 64 per cent of whom were girls, with an additional 312,000 children (63 per cent of women) enroll in school in 2011 alone.

Microfinance is a key way of helping women overcome poverty.

It is that is a successfully proven method for reducing poverty.

Its success lies in its ability to increase increasing employment, household production and small enterprise development.

An example of its success, and Australia’s support of microfinance initiatives is the story of Ms. Nguyen Thi Hoang. Ms Hoang lives Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Ms Hoang is the carer of her elderly parents and three mentally ill brothers.
Hoang would assist in providing for her family by peeling cashews. One kilogram of cashews would earn her VN$4,000 ($0.34)

Through a microfinance loan made available to her through the Australian Government, Hoang received VN$2million – the princely sum of $170.00.

With that she was able to purchase a sewing machine. Now spending her days making clothes, Hoang earns up to VN$30,000 (about $2.50). She is now the family’s breadwinner.

Through the Capital Aid Fund for Employment of the Poor ( CEP), of which Hoang is a member, Australia has provided nearly 40,000 loans for poor households in Ho Chi Minh City.

That’s why Australia’s supplying microfinance initiatives right around the world.

Then there is the scourge of violence against women.

In the 2011-12 Budget the Australian Government committed $96.4 million investment over four years in an effort to reduce violence against women and, just as importantly, to support women affected by domestic violence in developing countries.

Of the $96.4 million, $32 million has been allocated to our neighbours in South East Asia.

The projects funded by this allocation are vital and varied.

In Cambodia, we are funding the development of a new national Action Plan to End Violence Against Women. Aimed at strengthening law enforcement, it will also coordinate service delivery for victims of domestic violence including shelters, legal and medical support and counselling. 

We are also contributing $1million to Partners for Prevention which is a conglomerate of UNDP, UN Women, UNFPA and UN Volunteers which promotes policy advocacy in tackling violence against women.   

We’re also enhancing the role of women in governance in states where women never traditionally had such a role. For example in PNG we have increased the number of local female magistrates from 10 to 6000 since mid 2004.

Finally, there is the new, critical role of global advocacy of women through UN Women. In 2012, Australia donated over $10 million to UN Women. UN Women, led by the formidable Michelle Bachellete does remarkable, arguably unparalleled work in accelerating the global promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women.

We believe UN Women will have an increasingly powerful voice for impoverished and oppressed women across the world which is why we will continue to support it.


The Australian government sees women and girls as central to the global development task.

That is why women and girls are central to the Australian aid budget.

Across all areas: maternal and child health, vaccinations, assisted birthing programs, equitable access to education, microfinance for development because the development data is clear that women are better savers and investors than men, protection from domestic violence, sexual abuse, as well as enhancing the role of women in institutional and political violence.

I am proud of what we have done.

The hundreds of thousands of women’s and girls’ lives have been transformed through the Australian aid dollar.

That is why the sign of a humane Australia is on in which we as a wealthy country, mindful of our national values and interests, continue to grow our aid budget in the future and realise our agreed national target of 0.5% of GNI.

I tis a concrete symbol to the world of who we are as a people – that we are a people with both hard heads but also soft hearts.  


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