17 February, 2015 - Australian aid cuts: Govt abandoning women victims of violence and rape

Plan International Australia Deputy CEO Susanne Legena is available for interviews and grabs. Please call Adam Cathro on 0488 202 945 to arrange.

Tens of thousands of women and girls in the developing world who have been victims of domestic violence and rape could be abandoned if the Federal Government goes ahead with planned cuts to Australian aid, according to an analysis of government figures by child rights organisation and NGO Plan International Australia.

The government announced late last year that it would cut Australian aid in the next financial year by around 20 per cent. Drawing on data released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Plan’s modelling reveals that in the next financial year alone the latest cuts could mean 22,250 fewer women in the developing world who have survived violence will receive vital services like counselling.

The analysis also finds that 3,589 fewer police may be trained – police who could be directly involved in addressing violence against women.

Within just the last month, Prime Minister Tony Abbott described domestic violence as “a very serious problem”. He said tackling violence against women in Australia is an urgent priority of his government: “I am determined this won’t simply be a statement, this will mean action.”

“The Prime Minister is on the record about his concerns on violence against women in Australia, but the scourge of violence against women is far from a problem in this country alone. Sadly, the government’s actions show that there is little concern about violence against women beyond our borders, even though it is a problem we can solve and, indeed, have been working for years to solve,” says Susanne Legena, Deputy CEO of Plan International Australia.

“We certainly acknowledge that violence against women is a problem in Australia which deserves to be tackled as the highest priority. But what sort of nation strives to defend women at home, and then abandons them in the face of violence overseas?”

“Violence against women poses a significant and ongoing threat to women in developing countries. It is a very real, a very large and – for the millions of women living with violence – a very frightening issue. We cannot stand by and allow Australia simply to forget these women and girls and leave them to face their fate on their own,” she says.

“Many of these women are in neighbouring countries - right on Australia’s doorstep. They are looking to Australia for support in escaping violence and we as Australians can be proud that they have been receiving it – until now. Because as our analysis shows, thousands of women are now going to be left to face that violence alone and without support.”

Rates for intimate-partner violence against women are very high in Africa – at 36 per cent – and in South East Asia – at 37.7 per cent. But some of the very worst rates of violence against women are to be found here in the Pacific.

In Papua New Guinea, an estimated 55 per cent of women have been forced into sex against their will, while 58 per cent of women have experienced physical and emotional abuse within relationships. In Tonga, it is estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 women are victims of intimate-partner violence each year – between 31 and 62 per cent of women. In East Timor, one in four women has been assaulted by her partner in the past 12 months, and 16 per cent of married women reported sexual coercion by their husbands over the same period.

“Foreign Minister Julie Bishop frequently highlights violence against women in the developing world as a serious issue but it appears the government is merely paying lip service to the problem. While the government has pledged to support individual projects it’s simultaneously ripping $11 billion from the aid program, which has worked over decades to address the systemic causes of violence against women.”

“Arguably one of the saddest aspects of all this is that we have made real progress towards dramatically reducing violence against women, but the Coalition’s cuts threaten to not just halt that progress but reverse it,” Legena says.

The latest analysis on the impact of aid cuts follows recent modelling by Plan showing that 220,000 fewer girls could be enrolled in school in the next financial year, while 400,000 girls could miss out on life-saving vaccinations due to the disproportionate cuts to the aid budget.

Editors’ notes:
Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world, founded 75 years ago, working in 51 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 21 donor countries. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.

Media contact: Adam Cathro, Plan International Australia, Media Relations Manager, 0488 202 945