The Albanese Government’s new International Development Policy, published today, includes a greatly-needed focus on gender equality and addressing the climate crisis – however it has missed an opportunity to address the unique and urgent needs of adolescent girls and young people, according to Plan International Australia.
This critical policy acts as a guiding light for how Australia engages with the world – and for how we can work together to overcome some of the biggest issues impacting our global community. Its release today provides clarity around the focus, decision-making and investments in our country’s critical foreign aid program, and how humanitarian organisations such as Plan International Australia develop life-changing programs.
As the leading charity for girls equality, Plan International Australia welcomes the policy’s focus on addressing climate change, and the new commitment that at least half of all investments over $3 million will have a climate change objective from 2024, with the goal to reach 80% by 2028. We know that girls are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis, so this policy’s acknowledgement that climate change is one of the greatest contributors to poverty and inequality, especially in our own region, is important.
Particularly welcome is a new emphasis on Australia’s humanitarian response through a subsequent humanitarian strategy, with gender equality, social inclusion and a locally led action noted as core to this approach – however within this there must be a strong consideration of the specific needs of adolescent girls given the unique and urgent risks they face during crises.
Plan International Australia also applauds the renewed focus on civil society through the establishment of a new Civil Society Partnership Fund and a commitment to multiyear funding to local organisations. It is critical that women- and girl- led civil society organisations are prioritised through this funding.
However, Plan International Australia is disappointed that the policy does not include stronger consideration of children and young people, particularly girls, given they are the fastest growing population group in our region and are disproportionately impacted by poverty, COVID-19 and climate change.
Susanne Legena, Plan International Australia CEO, said the new policy needs to be supported by a standalone children and youth focused policy to address this gap.
“It is fantastic to see a focus on gender equality and climate in this policy. However, these issues will affect young people, particularly girls, more than anyone else. There are currently an estimated 600 million adolescent girls aged 10—19 in the world, with 40 per cent living in the Middle East and Africa. Almost one-third currently live in South Asia and the Asia Pacific region – the region at the very centre and heart of Australia’s development program,” Ms Legena said.
“This policy will set the scene for the next decade, where we will see the compounding impacts of poverty, inequality and climate change remake the world as we know it, and this inequality will impact children and young people, particularly girls, the most. We must invest in children and young people – it is their rights and wellbeing that will catalyse progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, gender equality and climate justice in our region.
“Adolescent girls, in all their diversity, are agents of change in their communities, leading movements for climate justice and resilient communities; fighting for their right to be heard in political forums; and demanding their right to be safe in their homes, online and in public places.
“However, they are held back from realising their full potential as change leaders because of deep rooted gendered norms. They are disproportionately affected by poverty, climate change and hunger. They are at particular risk of gender-based violence, exclusion from education, child, early and forced marriage, early pregnancy and labour exploitation – all risk factors that were only heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This policy is a step in the right direction, but we can and must do more. Adolescent girls are consistently overlooked and under-resourced in traditional aid and development programs that are aimed at the gender-neutral category of “children” or the ageless category of “women”,” Ms Legena said.
Less than 5 per cent of Australia’s aid program is directed towards programs that meet their specific needs and they are invisible in current strategies, including the Gender Equality Strategy.
Given the unique risks they face, Plan International Australia is calling for the new development policy to be supported by a standalone children and youth strategy, to ensure a targeted approach across our aid program and to maximise the potential of this group for sustainable development, poverty alleviation and gender equality.
“The Australian Government has the opportunity to now develop a child and youth specific strategy, supported by measurements, indicators, budget, and DFAT technical capacity with a focus on key areas of concern for children and young people – as determined by them,” added Ms Legena.
“We look forward to and are ready to work with the Australian Government on the implementation of this strategy, to ensure that the needs and rights of children and young people are a much stronger focus in our aid program, and that the potential and leadership of girls is centred when it comes to tackling some of the biggest priorities in the aid program – gender equality, climate justice and poverty alleviation.”
Plan International Australia youth activist Rhiannon said that the protection and enshrinement of the rights of children and young people is crucial for the long-term success of our development policy.
“Investing in their education, safety, wellbeing, healthcare, and other basic needs is essential, and the Australian government must consider the unique challenges facing children and young people in the Asia Pacific region,” said Rhiannon.
“Australia’s aid program should better support initiatives that promote children’s rights and protection and engage with young people to gain a better understanding of the challenges they face. The Australian government must prioritise the needs of young people and ensure that their rights are enshrined and protected both at home and abroad, working collaboratively to create a better future for all.”
For more information or to arrange interviews please contact: Claire Knox, Plan International Australia media and ambassador manager: 0452 326 549 / [email protected]
Notes to editors:
- The UN Population Fund has recognised girls aged 10 as the key group whose potential, if unlocked, will create the economic and social conditions needed to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Education is one of the strongest investments our government can make to empower girls and alleviate poverty – if girls were able to complete 12 years of education, it could produce $15-$30 trillion to the global economy from lifetime opportunity and earnings.
- Plan International welcomes the opportunity for consultation on upcoming policies, such as the Gender Equality Strategy, to ensure an intergenerational approach to gender equality, because adolescence is a critical time for girls and can determine the trajectory of the rest of their lives. It is a period during which gender roles and norms intensify, and therefore ideal for engaging adolescent boys alongside girls to disrupt harmful gender norms and promote gender equality.
- Following the release of this policy, it is an opportune time for the Australian Government to show their commitment to children and young people, and fund key initiatives that will support girls in our region, such as a commitment to Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the UN Global Fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. ECW supports and protects every child’s right to access an education, especially when it disrupted by circumstances outside of their control, and the Australian Government can do their part by making a pledge to the fund of $23 million over three years .