Tuesday, December 7, 2021

2020 Federal Budget fails women in world’s greatest Covid crisis

Global women’s rights organisation, ActionAid Australia says the 2020 Federal Budget will set back progress on global gender equality by decades by failing to adequately respond to the devastating consequences of COVID-19 on women globally.

ActionAid Executive Director, Michelle Higelin welcomed a small boost to the Gender Equality Fund in the Foreign Aid Budget but called Treasurer Frydenberg’s budget “woefully inadequate” as women are being hardest hit by the biggest global emergency the world has ever seen.

“At a time when gender equality is deteriorating worldwide at an alarming pace, Australia is shirking its global responsibility to take leadership on the disproportionate impact this pandemic is having on women,” Ms Higelin said.

“This was a moment for the Government to rise up rather than turn its back on some of the world’s poorest people.

“Women worldwide are experiencing the worst impacts of the economic and health crises brought on by COVID-19. The Government has committed $1.3 billion to gender equality initiatives yet at just 32 per cent of the overall foreign aid budget it is a major step backwards from its previous 80 per cent performance benchmark on gender.”

Ms Higelin said women are being hardest hit by COVID-19 on several fronts including widespread job losses and increased unpaid care work, gender-based violence and school dropouts.

“One billion women workers are estimated to be out of work due to this crisis as women are overrepresented in low paid and precarious employment and are the first to lose their jobs in economic downturn. Without social protection they are being pushed further into hunger and poverty.

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“The Government is leaving the world’s poorest countries to tackle this crisis alone.”

The Government continues to make cuts in regions where women face persistent gender inequality, alongside the growing impacts of the pandemic. Afghanistan, where one in three people are estimated to have COVID-19, has lost $27 million while the Sub Saharan Africa budget has been halved as the region struggles with a widespread hunger crisis.

ActionAid research has shown a shocking spike in violence against women worldwide since the emergence of COVID-19 with almost 10 times as many requests by women for support from protection shelters during lockdowns.*

An increased school drop-out rate for girls is likely to be another long-term impact of COVID-19 school closures. A recent ActionAid survey of teachers in 14 countries reported that unpaid care work, child labour, early marriage and teen pregnancies are preventing girls from returning to school.**

“Decades of progress on gender equality is at stake,” Ms Higelin said.

“Combined with the impacts of climate change, this crisis will have disastrous far-reaching ramifications for women and girls globally for generations to come unless wealthy nations like Australia step up their financial support and target it to addressing these gendered impacts.”

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This is the seventh straight year without an increase to the foreign aid budget at a time when Australia is boosting defence spending and handing out tax cuts. Despite the critical emergency the world now faces, the Government has only provided $304 million in new funding for COVID-19 responses in the Pacific and Timor Leste.

“Australia remains at our stingiest in a time of urgent global need,” Ms Higelin said.

“While increased support for the Pacific is welcomed, as a global citizen, Australia has a responsibility that reaches far beyond our immediate neighbours to where there is greatest need. COVID-19 is a global challenge that requires international collaboration and targeted funding to address widening gender inequality.

“Australia’s leadership is vital to support women and girls to rise out of poverty globally. Women are leading local responses to COVID-19 but they urgently need our scaled-up support.

“This budget is failing women,” Ms Higelin said.

“Instead of record spending on defence the government should be investing in sustainable women-led, solutions to redress the gendered impacts of converging health, economic and climate crises to ensure no woman is left behind.”

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