Last year I was fortunate to visit Laos as a guest of Gavi, the global Vaccine Alliance. In a rural village on the outskirts of Vientiane, I was fortunate to witness Australian aid dollars in action at the local clinic.
Young girls, primary school girls, were lining up with their little yellow vaccination books receiving the HPV vaccine well aware that the vaccine was protecting them and reducing the likelihood of developing cervical cancer later in their lives. Those were Australian aid dollars at work making a difference to young girls in our region.
In June of last year the Minister for Foreign Affairs declared that a priority for the government would be the empowerment of women and girls. At the moment the government is reviewing the aid budget—reviewing its priorities for the delivery of aid throughout our region. Unfortunately, under this government we have seen an unprecedented attack on Australia's foreign aid—$11 billion of cuts have diminished our nation's contribution to the world's poor by an embarrassing 22c in every $100 of national income. Worse, according to a new analysis of the government's figures by the child rights organisation Plan International Australia, girls in the developing world will be hardest hit by Australia's government's aid cuts.
Drawing on data released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Plan International's modelling reveals that in the next financial year alone the government's latest cuts could mean 220,000 fewer girls will be enrolled in school; 400,000 fewer girls will be immunised; 3,150 fewer classrooms where girls can learn will be renovated or built; 157,000 fewer girls will see improved access to safe drinking water; and 750,000 fewer textbooks will be made available for girls.
Plan's CEO, Ian Wishart, said that the government's cuts will hinder the empowerment of girls and their need to escape poverty. He said it:
… is deeply dispiriting because we know from experience and research that investing in girls is the most effective way to lead developing nations out of poverty.
We know, for example, that each extra year of secondary school increases a girl's potential income by 25 per cent, and research shows that they are most likely to invest in their community, their families and their countries. There are many people the government owes an explanation to, and it is a great tragedy that the developing world's girls are on that list.