Aid Budget: Going Backwards, Standing Strong On Gender

May 17, 2018

Budgets tell us about priorities. Investment decisions tell us about which areas and issues are most important. Each year, the federal Budget shows us what the Australian Government is prioritising on our behalf, and how commitments are being turned into action.

Last week, the Australian Government released its 2018-2019 Budget. It’s the first one since the Government declared that gender equality is a core national value, and that we must ensure women’s empowerment is a top priority if we want to achieve global prosperity, peace and security.

So what does this year’s budget tell us about Australia’s commitment to gender equality, particularly in the context of aid and defence?

Aid budget: going backwards, standing strong on gender

This year’s budget entrenches Australia as one of the world’s lowest contributors to Overseas Development Assistance.  We now rank 19 out of the 29 nations that give aid. We are slipping ever further away from the once bipartisan commitment to increase our aid to 0.5% of GNI and we are leaving far behind the global aspiration of dedicating 0.7% of our GNI to ODA. A record number of countries, including the UK, have now reached this target. And in our own neighbourhood, NZ announced a 30% increase in their aid budget on the same day our budget saw Australia’s aid budget going backwards. By 2022, we will dedicate just 0.19% of our GNI to ODA. This reveals a wide generosity deficit for a nation as wealthy as ours.

Shrinking the aid budget and the support to ending poverty will disproportionately affect diverse women and girls in our region and the world, as globally, women and girls are more disadvantaged across many dimensions of poverty. Less money for education means fewer girls in school. Less money for health programs means fewer women accessing contraception or neonatal care. While it is positive to see gender equality prioritised within the aid budget, we cannot get away from the fact that cuts to aid hurt women and girls.

That said, the budget this year maintains the commitment to funding the $55 million investment in the Gender Equality Fund, and figures show that our family planning expenditure is tracking up again (after falling in recent years). Projects to focus on leadership, women’s economic empowerment, and violence against women were all identified as aid expenditure priorities in the Budget Papers, although the identification of gender equality expenditure priorities, particularly in the Pacific, was uneven.

The Australian Government has a strong commitment to gender equality in the aid program, currently expressed through a target that 80% of investments effectively address gender issues. This is one of ten performance targets for the aid program. But it is the only one that hasn’t been met and is going backwards. To do better, introducing spending targets in addition to the performance targets would be useful.

Defence allocation: all guns blazing

While the aid program is going backwards, defence funding is to “grow to two per cent of GDP by 2020–21. The Government will provide Defence with $36.4 billion in 2017–18 and $160.7 billion over the Forward Estimates.” The Government’s lack of vision for international engagement to build peace, justice and equality, stands in stark contrast to its ambition for weapons. By 2021, for every dollar we spend on aid, we will spend $11 on defence.

While the DFAT budget papers flag some spending at a country-level on women, peace and security initiatives (for example, in  Myanmar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, The Philippines and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in PNG), the Defence Budget Papers make no reference to gender equality. This is in a year when the Second National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security is under development, and the Minister for Defence, the Honourable Senator Marise Payne, has affirmed that: “we need to make the women, peace and security agenda an inseparable part of the DNA of all of our peace, security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, and our conduct in combat zones.”

Read our full analysis here.

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