Gender focus in Coalition’s White Paper welcome, but where’s the detail?

The Federal Government’s Foreign Policy White Paper, released today, is a step in the right direction but lacks detail in the important area of gender in aid, international girls’ rights organisation Plan International Australia says.

The White Paper sets Australia’s foreign policy for the next 10 to 15 years. It includes more than 30 references to gender equality and girls and women: a group the charity says is absolutely crucial to target to eliminate poverty.

Plan International Australia’s Deputy CEO Susanne Legena said the focus on women in the highly anticipated White Paper was ‘encouraging’ but not outlined in enough detail.  
“It’s fantastic to see a focus on gender equality throughout this paper, but it’s time we saw an action plan on how that commitment will play out,” Ms Legena said.

“There’s also very little reference to girls and adolescent girls in particular, a group who are often overlooked in foreign policy. Make no mistake that unless we prioritise girls in development we’ll never achieve equality or even progress towards eliminating poverty and suffering.

“Plan welcomes current commitments to gender in the Pacific, including work on a new ‘Pacific Girl’ program but if Australia is serious about promoting economic development, peace and security in our region, it must work harder to ensure adolescent girls in particular are educated, healthy and empowered to make choices about their futures. This is precisely how to break intergenerational poverty.”

Ms Legena noted the Foreign Policy White Paper also has a strong focus on development in Papua New Guinea and acknowledges the challenges to come, particularly a growing population of young people (18 million by 2050). 

“However, we are disappointed there is zero commitment to addressing extraordinarily high rates of gender based violence. Papua New Guinea is arguably the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman or girl, with an estimated 70 per cent of women and girls experiencing rape or assault at some point in their lives.

“Despite these shocking statistics, there is no recognition of this as a major challenge to be addressed through foreign policy and aid and development in the Pacific.”

Ms Legena pointed out that a focus on gender in foreign policy is sorely needed in 2017 – a year that has seen an almost unprecedented winding back of women’s and girls’ rights around the world.

“In Bangladesh – a country where more than half of girls are married before they turn 18 - a new proposed child marriage law has been reversed to allow girls under 18 to marry in ‘special cases’. In Timor-Leste, a new law to prevent unmarried women from accessing birth control is currently being considered.

“There is a phenomenal amount of work to do. It’s great to see gender is a high priority of the Coalition Government and we look forward to hearing more about how the Government proposes to tackle such a huge and important issue.”

Plan International Australia has also pointed out an important opportunity was missed to underline the important role development assistance plays in achieving our broader foreign policy goals, particularly in the South Pacific where Australia is the dominant regional power. 

Plan Australia media contact:  Jane Gardner - 0438 130 905 - jane.gardner@plan.org.au