Cuts to Australia’s foreign aid budget are costing lives because of their impact on programs aimed at reducing violence against women, a Save the Children spokesman says.
Mat Tinkler, the organisation’s director of policy and public affairs, says: “The cuts have been extremely damaging, it has a real impact and it costs lives basically.
“The overall funding for aid has decreased dramatically and we have had to scale down programs.”
Other agencies share his concerns about the damaging impact of cuts to the aid budget.
It is at its lowest level in history, falling to 0.22 per cent of Gross National Income – which has led to the scaling back or elimination of campaigns addressing gender inequality and violence against women.
Hollie Miller, spokeswomen for ActionAid Australia, says, “It is really problematic.
“ActionAid has seen one of the biggest programs that they been working on for six years come to the end of its funding and it won’t be renewed.”
The campaign, African Australian Community Engagement Scheme (AACES), benefitted 450,000 women and girls, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) says.
Miller says that the program being eliminated is really “disappointing and problematic.”
“That work coming to an end is cutting off all the potential for women’s lives to be transformed and that also includes addressing violence against women,” says Miller.
Tinkler says, “We have a moral obligation to do much more and we can afford to.”
All political parties place gender inequality and women’s rights at the forefront of their policies.
In the Coalition’s 2016–17 budget, funding for the Gender Equality Fund was increased by $55 million. Gender equality and gender violence in Papua New Guinea was allocated $12 million.
Tinkler says, “There’s a huge amount of need, particularly in our neighbouring countries like Papua New Guinea, Solon Islands and Indonesia.”
Martha Macintyre, Professor of Anthropology, at the University of Melbourne, says, “I have had direct experience working in Papua New Guinea.
“My work has involved studying the effects of violence and working on advisory committees. For women in rural areas there is very little they can do in circumstances where they’re being dealt with violently,” she says.
In Pacific countries almost two in three women experience violence from an intimate partner, according to DFAT.
“Men in many countries see violence as an appropriate response to interpersonal conflict.
“They hold the view that they’re entitled to inflict serious injury on their intimate partner,” says Macintyre.
Miller says, “We have a responsibility to try and uphold gender equality, to protect women’s rights at home and abroad.”
Lauren Rosewarne, feminist and senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, says, “I think violence against women is always going to be there.
“We are in a culture where it isn’t tolerated in a lot of Western countries, but that’s not universally true.”
Macintyre says, “Alas, I believe violence can’t be totally eliminated. Some forms have violence have become unacceptable, torture, cultural punishment in schools and the death penalty has been abolished in many countries.
“Attitudes have changed, all these changes involved are eventually expressed in laws.”
According to UN Women, even when laws exist, they are not always compliant with international standards and recommendations or implemented.
“The appropriateness of violent response have changed, we can hope that violence against women becomes entirely unacceptable.
“Certainly I think it’s a possibility,” says Macintyre.