FOREIGN Minister Julie Bishop must back a new bill ensuring that the Federal Government stands by its promise to put the rights of women and girls at the heart of Australia’s aid program, says NGO Plan International Australia.
Plan International, along with the Australian Council for International Development, Care, International Women’s Development Agency and Oxfam, will be advocating in a Senate inquiry in Canberra for legislation to enshrine gender equality aims in Australian aid.
The Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has received 15 submissions on potential such legislation, of which 14 have supported it. The only dissent has been from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, notes Plan International Australia’s Policy and Engagement Manager, Siobhan McCann.
“It is remarkable that the very department that oversees Australia’s aid program – and which has vowed to put the rights of women and girls at the heart of that program – is the only voice arguing against legislation which will hold the department to its word,” says McCann, who will be arguing for the legislation before the Senate Committee today.
“Similar legislation was introduced in the UK last year, and the government there argued against it, too. And yet a review one year since the legislation was passed has found that it resulted in a powerful and visible commitment to gender equality by the UK government,” McCann says.
“In fact, it’s now recognised as positive legislation by the very UK government department that argued against it a year ago,” she adds.
“This legislation is not about telling the government exactly what it should do with every cent of our aid budget. It is simply about ensuring the government is accountable and guaranteeing that it keeps to its word when it promised to use our aid program to promote gender equality,” McCann says.
The potential legislation would require that the Department report annually on the aid program’s contribution to advancing gender equality.
“The Department argues that it has systems and processes already in place that capture this information, but we don’t believe they actually fully capture all the work that could be done within our aid program to advance the rights of women and girls,” McCann says.
“The Department’s systems only track aid programs specifically aimed at advancing the rights of women and girls, ignoring programs that are designed with other purposes in mind but that could be adjusted to still make sure that gender equality is a key component,” she says.
“For example, few people would immediately see an Australian aid program that builds a bridge in the developing country as a program that can advance the rights of women and girls. But what if a certain percentage of the jobs generated by the construction of the bridge were reserved for women? What if the safety of women and girls using the completed bridge were taken into account when building it?”
“These seemingly minor considerations can make a big impact on women and girls, but they are not taken into account at the moment – and legislation could address that and motivate the Department to make relatively minor changes that have a great benefit for women and girls,” McCann says.
“We know that Foreign Minister Bishop is a powerful advocate for the role of Australian aid to advance the rights of women and girls – she has said that herself many times. Now we want to see her back legislation that holds her and the government to their word, and ensures that women and girls in the developing world get the support they need and deserve.”
Source: Plan International Australia