Let’s be smarter about the way we deliver aid
Tony Abbott’s suggestion of cutting aid to Indonesia to fund Queensland flood reconstruction was met with immediate fury from aid experts, who declared the decision morally bankrupt.
Yet Mr Abbott’s announcement has raised an important issue that should not simply be brushed under the carpet: the need for aid effectiveness.
When he announced the proposed cut, Mr Abbott said funding would be “deferred” subject to a full review of the effectiveness of the program.
The aid budget has been steadily increasing since the Howard Government committed Australia to achieving the Millennium Development Goals in 2000.
In short, the goals commit Australia to working with the international community to halve hunger, get kids into school and ensure families have access to basic health care.
Part of our commitment to reaching the goals is to increase our aid budget to 0.5 percent of gross national income by 2015. In real terms, that means doubling our aid program over the next five years.
That makes the need for ensuring the money is well spent all the more important. We shouldn’t just be spending more money, but be spending it more wisely.
Effective aid is a reward in itself, as it delivers justice to more of the poor more quickly. But ineffective aid not only slows the efforts to end poverty, leaving the entire aid program at the mercy of short sighted politicians.
Currently, our aid program is based on the belief that economic growth is a primary driver for eradicating extreme poverty. But as ActionAid’s experience in countries like India shows, economic growth alone is not sufficient for the eradication of poverty.
Often economic growth simply exacerbates inequalities between the rich and poor.
Over a billion people today live in absolute poverty, the majority of them in middle income countries, such as China and India, where the unjust distribution of resources is an acute violation of human rights and results in high levels of inequality and injustice.
To address this, we need to be less concerned with the wealth of nations and much more focused on the fundamental rights of human beings – in particular women, who universally bear the greatest burden of poverty.
Take the example of a forced marriage in a country like Afghanistan, in which AusAID has spent $106 million this year. The marriage of young girls is common practice to solve disputes or to ease financial pressures on families.
She won’t have further opportunities for education and will have children young, continuing the cycle of poverty. She will never have a say in her government, won’t own land and will probably never see a government service provided to her.
This cycle entrenches poverty and it can be broken. It is exactly the cycle that Australia’s aid program has the ability to confront.
Countless studies have shown that women are the key to ending poverty. They prioritise educating all their children, both boys and girls; when in leadership roles they reinvest in the community at higher rates than men and it has been proven that educated women’s children live longer.
That’s why non-government organisations such as ActionAid have increasingly put women at the heart of all of their work. With sustained, strategic support, women are the key to eradicating poverty.
The Australian aid program needs to have strategies to explicitly confront the oppression of women and put women at the centre of the program to maximise the effectiveness of our aid.
If we take this direction I’m confident the results will speak for themselves and Australians will be justifiably proud of their efforts to end extreme poverty.
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