Media Centre - Opinion Piece - 5 October 2020

Australia must commit budget funding to aid girls and young women in our region

Girls with soap, exercise books and pencils from Plan International

Opinion Piece by Susanne Legena

Our generosity must extend beyond a commitment to sharing a global vaccine. We also have a moral responsibility to help those hardest hit around the world, particularly in our region.

Every year the budget is about winners and losers. But this year, as our world has faced challenges beyond what we could have ever imagined wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s budget response must be different.

The World Bank estimates that up to 100 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty by the end of 2020. A recent report by UN Women and the United Nations Development Program has revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to further widen the poverty gap between men and women, with women and girls being hardest hit socially and economically.

If there is one thing that the pandemic has taught us, it is that no person, no country or global economy is immune to its devastating impacts. Borders cannot contain our collective sense of loss and grief, but nor should they contain our acts of generosity.

Australia’s commitment to share a vaccine with our nearest neighbours, including countries that have fragile health systems and limited access to medicines, is just one example. As Scott Morrison said in his UN General Assembly speech we have both a “global responsibility” and a “moral responsibility” to be generous to our neighbours in these times of crisis.

However, our generosity must extend beyond a commitment to sharing a global vaccine. We also have a moral responsibility to help those hardest hit around the world, particularly in our region.

As a charity for children and girls’ equality, Plan International is witnessing the disproportionate impacts the pandemic is having on children and young people, especially girls and young women.

A staggering 1.6 billion children and young people have been affected by school closures globally since the pandemic. Sadly, this means many girls’ hopes of completing their education will not be realised, as they are forced to find work to financially support their families, take on the burden of domestic chores or care for sick family members or younger siblings.

Girls are unlikely to return to school due to a surge in child marriage, with estimates that an additional 13 million more child marriages could take place in the next decade as result of COVID-19.

Young people, and particularly young women, have been hardest hit by job losses due to the pandemic, with many working in insecure and informal jobs in hard hit sectors like hospitality and tourism.

Already treated as second class citizens in many countries, young women are the least likely to return to school or find a new job following the pandemic, and most likely to suffer abuse and violence at home when the protective umbrella of education and care systems are no longer in place.

In our region alone, the Asian Development Bank estimates that between 10 and 15 million youth jobs may be lost across 13 countries in Asia Pacific in 2020 and could result in youth unemployment rates doubling.

Part of Plan International’s ongoing work involves education and training programs all around the world with young people to get them “job ready”, to ensure that young women have the same economic opportunities as young men. But when millions of jobs dry up owing to the economic damage wrought by CODID-19 – what will happen to those millions of job ready young people?

This is where a rich country like Australia must play a crucial role in supporting poorer countries in our region, and especially in these times, that commitment must be part of our budget commitment.

Australia’s new Partnerships for Recovery framework sets out Australia’s global response to COVID-19 with the three pillars of health security, stability and economic recovery.

We must not overlook the critical role that girls and young women will play in driving the economic recovery in the Indo-Pacific. Getting girls back to school and providing economic and employment opportunities for young women will be central to building back better economies and societies.

This year’s budget is an opportunity for us to fulfil our global and moral responsibility by ensuring our aid budget helps these girls and young women get back to school and work. Anything less would be a dereliction of our duty as responsible global citizens.

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