Policy watch: which party is promising the most for women and girls in our region

emma.clarkgratton@mariestopesinternational.org.au Country, News

We know that policy can have a big impact on the lives of women around the world. Trump’s latest cuts to US foreign aid are having a devastating effect on reproductive health services in developing countries. Marie Stopes International is facing a AU$100m funding gap globally through to 2020, resulting in an estimated 600,000 life-threatening unsafe abortions and almost 1.8 million unintended pregnancies globally.

In Australia, we are heading into a federal election. While foreign aid spending doesn’t get the same media attention as domestic policies, it has a real life impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our neighbouring countries.

Below, we’ve outlined the three major parties’ official commitments and past comments on international aid and reproductive health.

The ALP has vowed to strengthen Indo-Pacific relationships, and increase aid spending. Labor leader Bill Shorten said in a speech at the Lowy Institute in October: “This isn’t just our humanitarian responsibility – it’s an investment in our regional and national security.  A Labor Government I lead will seek to engage with the Pacific through partnership, not paternalism.”

Labor has also committed to funding a domestic sexual and reproductive health strategy with a $9.3 million initial commitment, although has not committed specific funding for sexual and reproductive health programs as part of the foreign aid budget.

In a speech at the Australasian Aid Conference in February last year, Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister  Penny Wong highlighted the specific health challenges facing women in the Pacific.

“The maternal death rate in the Pacific and Timor Leste remains unacceptably high,” said Wong. “We know maternal death rates can be reduced through properly funded sexual health and family planning programs.”

At the ALP National Conference in December, Wong stated that Labor “are committing to increasing aid as a percentage of gross national income every year that we are in office starting with our first budget.” The specific commitment is for a gradual rise in aid so spending eventually reaches the international standard of 0.5 of 1 per cent of gross national income.

The recently released federal budget saw a focus on the Pacific, with funding for an infrastructure financing facility chewing up the aid budget.

Under the Coalition, Australia’s aid spending will drop to an all-time low, falling from $5.05 billion in 2013/14 to $4 billion in 2019/20. Total aid expenditure will fall by $117 million over the next four years, with parts of the aid budget being reallocated to focus on financing infrastructure development in the Pacific.

Nearly $100 million will be cut from Australian aid to Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal and Pakistan to be re-directed towards a $2 billion infrastructure fund for the Pacific. $500 million of the infrastructure fund will be used as grants for major infrastructure, while the rest of the fund will be used for loans.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement that the budget was about “advancing Australia’s national interests by protecting our security and prosperity”.

The Greens have released a comprehensive overseas aid policy in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals. This includes the establishment of an independent Australian aid department, separate from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In a speech at the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University, Greens’ leader, Senator Richard Di Natale outlined a policy initiative to raise Australian development cooperation spending to 0.7% of gross national Income by 2030 and increase climate financing to $1.6bn per year.

The Greens’ policy also includes the reinstatement of a Minister for International Development and the Pacific; consultation with the sector on and creation of an independent, dedicated government agency for development cooperation; and a commitment to Australian fair share contributions to global humanitarian crises and local leadership.

The Greens also seek to implement the 1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, which includes increasing Australia’s contribution to programs that empower women and increase their access to a wide range of safe family planning options and ensuring that overseas aid to the world’s poorest, which often include women, is focussed on clean water and sanitation, education and high quality accessible health services, including sexual and reproductive health services.

Regardless of the outcome, we’ll continue to do the work for women and girls. Women like Sophie, who has six children and found it difficult to access contraception.

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