Australia - Gender equality

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Gender equality is a policy priority for Australia but funding is impacted by overall budget cuts

In 2019, Australia spent US$786 million (39%) of its bilateral allocable official development assistance (ODA) on development activities that targeted gender equality as a principal or significant goal, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD’s) Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) gender equality policy marker (DAC average: 47%). In 2019, Australia’s spending on gender equality decreased compared to 2018 (US$1.2 billion or 55% of bilateral ODA) to the lowest point since at least 2015. Despite a policy commitment to gender equality, cuts to Australia’s overall development budget (see ‘ODA trends’) undermine the country’s ability to meet its goals. Gender funding has been affected by the shift of ODA flows away from Asia (specifically Nepal and Pakistan) which had large gender components. Australia is also investing more heavily in large development assistance facilities (‘system strengthening’ investments), making gender equality targets more difficult to meet and more challenging to measure.

 


Gender policy marker: Projects which “advance gender equality and women’s empowerment or reduce discrimination and inequalities based on sex” are tagged in the OECD’s Creditor Reporting System (CRS) database.

Recent research by Oxfam found that around 25% of projects self-reported by donors using the gender equality marker were mismarked. This has implications for the validity of funding figures.

The marker rates projects based on three possible scores:

  1. Principal, meaning that gender equality is the main objective of the project or program;
  2. Significant, for projects in which gender equality is an important and deliberate goal but not the main objective; or
  3. Not targeted, used in cases where programs do not target gender equality.

Not all projects are screened against the gender marker; this funding falls into the ‘not screened’ category.


 

Until May 2020, ‘Gender equality and empowering women and girls’ was one of Australia’s six development priorities. In the recently released ‘Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response’ policy, gender equality is not among the three main pillars of Australia’s development strategy, which is now completely oriented toward the COVID-19 response and recovery. Nonetheless, the policy commits to investing in gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, especially given that women are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) during the pandemic are also highlighted as priorities in this new policy. The ‘Pacific Women Lead’ program — funded with A$170 million (US$118 million) and announced before the budget’s release — is highlighted as an important mechanism through which Australia is supporting gender equality in its region.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT’s) Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Strategy, released in February of 2016, outlines three priorities to guide DFAT’s work on gender: 1) Enhancing women’s voice in decision-making, leadership, and peacebuilding; 2) Promoting women’s economic empowerment; and 3) Ending violence against women and girls.

Australia’s development performance framework outlines that at least 80% of DFAT’s development cooperation investments should effectively address gender issues. According to ‘Performance of Australian Aid’ (POA) reports, this target has never been met; the POA 2017/18 and 2018/19 indicate 77% of development assistance investments effectively addressed gender equality in implementation. A 2018 OECD Development Co-operation Peer Review commended Australia for its policy commitment to mainstreaming gender, underpinned by strong performance targets.

Australia’s gender-focused ODA mirrors the sector and regional allocations for the country’s bilateral ODA overall (see ‘ODA breakdown’). Government and civil society and humanitarian assistance (the second and third highest funded sectors overall) were top recipients of gender-related ODA in 2019, receiving US$212 and US$141 million, respectively. As in Australia’s development policy overall, the Indo-Pacific receives particular attention. An annual A$55 million (US$41 million) Gender Equality Fund was established in FY2015/16 to strengthen women’s economic empowerment in the region. Allocations for the Gender Equality Fund increased to A$65 million (US$45 million) according to the FY2020/21 and FY2021/22 budget.

In addition to its bilateral contributions, Australia channels some funding for gender equality through multilaterals including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA; see Sector: ‘Health’) and UN Women. In 2019, Australia contributed more than US$14 million (according to official conversion) to UN Women making Australia the ninth-largest donor.

Funding for projects with a principal gender focus dropped in 2019; screening of ODA against the gender marker has improved

Of the US$786 billion spent on gender equality in 2019, only 5% (US$38 million) went toward projects and programs that targeted gender equality as a principal goal. This corresponds to 2% of Australia’s overall bilateral allocable ODA and puts Australia below the 2018 DAC average of 6%, putting it in 24th place in terms of its principal gender spending relative to total ODA, a huge drop from third place in 2018. Australia’s funding for projects with a principal gender focus had been increasing since 2014, reaching a peak of US$373 million in 2018, but in 2019 principal funding plunged below 2014 levels.

Australia spent another US$749 million (37%) of its bilateral allocable ODA on projects that included gender as a significant objective (DAC average: 41%). Significant gender funding did not decline as dramatically as principal funding between 2018 and 2019, meaning that the steep decline in overall gender funding was driven mostly by reductions in principal gender funding.

The remainder of Australia’s bilateral ODA (US$1.3 billion or 61%) was spent on projects that did not target gender at all, and US$1 million (less than 1%) was not screened against the gender marker in 2019. OECD data reveals that Australia’s screening of projects has improved in recent years. In 2016, only 88% of bilateral allocable ODA was screened.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sets policy; Australia's Ambassador for Gender Equality promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment in diplomatic, development, and regional security efforts

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) manages development policy, budgets, and program delivery (see ‘Main actors’), including those with a gender equality focus. Currently, the Minister for Foreign Affairs (responsible for directing Australia’s development program), is also the Minister for Women. The Minister for Women’s role is to ensure that gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights are taken into consideration in policy and program development and implementation, mainly at the domestic level. Meanwhile, Australia’s Ambassador for Gender Equality advocates for women’s empowerment internationally.