Asia-Pacific Profile: Susi Pudjiastuti

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Susi Pudjiastuti, Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Indonesia at the Our Ocean Conference in Washington, DC. Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson

Who is she?

Susi Pudjiastuti has been the Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries in Indonesia since 2014. She is known for her strong personality and tough stance on illegal fishing. Prior to being appointed as Minister, Ms. Susi had seafood export and charter airline (Susi Air) businesses where she gained notoriety and amassed a fortune, despite being a high school dropout.

Why is she in the news?

On September 19, the World Wildlife Foundation presented Minister Susi with their Leaders for a Living Planet Award, recognizing her as a “champion for the oceans.” Minister Susi was recently in Washington, DC to participate in the Our Ocean Conference hosted by the U.S. Department of State, September 15-16. She announced that Bali, Indonesia will host the conference in 2018.

Minister Susi has shepherded the Jokowi government’s policy of destroying foreign boats illegal fishing in Indonesian waters. According to Minister Susi, at any given time, Indonesia has 15-25,000 illegal fishing vessels in its waters. Since 2014, the government has destroyed more than 220 boats, with some incidents captured and presented online. At the Our Ocean Conference, she described the policy as stemming from Indonesia’s experiences curbing drug smuggling.But it is also a way to tackle corruption in politics and business.

How does her work impact Indonesia in the Asia-Pacific?

Stemming illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a top priority for many governments and organizations, as demonstrated at the 2016 Our Ocean Conference. Additionally, actions are being taken to mitigate ocean acidification and create marine protected areas. Representatives announced commitments of at least 136 new initiatives on marine conservation and protection valued at more than $5.24 billion, and new commitments on the protection of almost four million square kilometers (over 1.5 million square miles) of the ocean.

Illegal fishing is estimated to cost Indonesia $3 billion per year. It is no surprise then that Indonesia supports the Safe Ocean Network and is party to the Port State Measures Agreement. As a global initiative seeking to “combating all aspects of the fight against illegal fishing, including detection, enforcement, and prosecution,” the Safe Ocean Network ‎includes 46 governments and organizations and more than 40 projects worth over $82 million over 5 years. The Safe Ocean Network aims to “strengthen monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) efforts through the integration of existing and emerging technologies, expanded use of internet-based tools, enhanced coordination and information sharing, and capacity building.”

What is her impact on U.S.-Indonesia relations?

At the 2016 Our Ocean Conference and at other venues in September, the United States announced new measures to protect the ocean, stem pollution and support sustainable fisheries.To inform its policymaking, the U.S. government intelligence community produced its “first ever unclassified assessment on the drivers and global implications of IUU fishing.” The U.S. is influenced by its allies in the Asia-Pacific who face threats from IUU fishing which impact their economy, security and society.

In particular for Indonesia, among other commitments, the U.S. is providing Port State Measures Agreement implementation training for officials and managers and will aid with curriculum development and training for officials in the country’s major ports.

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Why Marine Protected Areas Matter

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Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve, Oregon, U.S. source: Flikr

On August 26, 2016, the Obama Administration announced the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument northwest of Hawaii from 360,000 to 1.5 million sq km. It is the largest no-take marine protected area (MPA) and the largest protected area in the world, land or sea. Coming at the end of the administration, the executive order demonstrates President Obama’s desire to have conservation as part of his legacy. More importantly, it is a reminder to the American public that its government must take measured steps to protect against the changing climate and support sustainable fisheries.

MPAs are not new, and are an important tool in government policy for conservation and fisheries management. In the U.S., they include a variety of environments, including open ocean, intertidal zones, estuaries, coastal areas and the Great Lakes. Many U.S. MPAs are mixed use, but some are no-take, which prohibit commercial and recreational extraction to enable ultimate protection for marine ecosystems. MPAs protect all types of habitats, plants and animals within U.S. waters, and even includes protection of shipwrecks or other cultural resources.

The purpose, management and legal authorities of MPAs also varies in the U.S. In 2000, President George Bush issued Executive Order 13158 which supported a comprehensive system of MPAs and established the MPA Center; yet it did not contain a mandate to override federal or state regulations or procedures. President Bush also originally designated the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in 2006, and as well as the Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments in January 2009. Overall, in the U.S., the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the Department of Commerce oversees a majority (97%) of MPAs.

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The National Marine Protected Areas Center maintains a Classification System which functionally describes MPAs using five characteristics common to MPAs: conservation focus, level of protection, permanence of protection, constancy of protection and scale of protection. These areas of classification dictate the purpose of establishing an MPA, “what it is intended to protect, how it achieves that protection, and how it may affect local ecosystems and local human uses.”

According to NOAA, the U.S. has more than 1200 MPAs which cover 26% (3.2 million sq km) of U.S. waters. No-take MPAs cover about half of that area, or 13% (1.5 million sq km). In comparison, about 14% of land in the U.S. is protected, and U.S. waters are 1.4 times greater than the country’s land area (12 million sq km).

There are no federal mandates to set aside a specific percentage of the U.S. marine environment for protection, but some proponents of conservation believe there should be targets. In a recent statement, President Obama acknowledged that Pacific islands are at the forefront of the impacts of climate change with rising sea levels and rising temperatures. At the IUCN World Congress, Palau President Remengesau announced his desire for 30 percent of global waters to be protected (currently only 2 percent is protected). In Palau, 80 percent of its maritime territory has been designated a sanctuary to stem the effects of overfishing. With the State Department-led Our Ocean conference upcoming, this issue of global expansion of marine protection should stay on the agenda.

In part because they can be designated or classified in different ways (i.e. some areas can be more protected than others), MPAs are not controversial and receive bipartisan support. Importantly, they also require minimal effort from the American public; they do not require modification of the majority’s everyday lifestyles, but their complicity shows in a way that Americans care for the environment.

Marine protected areas will experience the same impacts from climate change as the wider ocean and coastal areas; but the intention is to create a pristine and protected laboratory to learn from these changes as well as to regenerate marine populations decimated by overfishing, IUU fishing, and bycatch. Protection from commercial and in some cases recreational fishing creates a space where coral and fish alike can take refuge. Ocean acidification continues to threaten species, especially coral reefs, and MPAs are intended to support ocean resilience. Scientists plan to monitor the fragile environment, and hope that by expanding the monument, it will also help nearby ecosystems to adapt.

Pacific Small Island States Unify for Climate Finance

While much of the world is still thinking about Brexit and its implications for their economy, Pacific island nations are racing against the rising waters as well as funding opportunities for climate resilience. As I’ve written previously, small island states must learn from each other in order to benefit from the complex world of climate finance. Leaders from the Pacific Islands Forum Smaller Islands States (SIS) [which includes Cook Islands, Kiribati, ‎Nauru, ‎Niue, ‎Palau, the Republic of the ‎Marshall Islands, and ‎Tuvalu] are heeding that call, having solidified avenues for closer cooperation as part of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism. While all the areas of collaboration are what one would expect in the Pacific, the coordination on climate change is the most important and essential. By working toward creating a joint proposal to organizations like the Green Climate Fund, SIS will be able to leverage internal expertise and build a robust platform for future climate financing applications.  

At a Special Meeting of the SIS on June 24, 2016 in Palau, leaders agreed to the SIS Regional Strategy to enable greater attention to unique vulnerabilities of the SIS. Host Palau President Tommy Remengesau has been one of the greatest advocates for SIS and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in international fora. The new framework that SIS will operate under will complement existing policy advocacy with the technical component of climate finance. Additionally, the Pacific Islands Forum’s March 2016 accreditation to the Green Climate Fund as an observer presents an opportunity for internal knowledge creation.

Individual states have learned from the climate finance process as well and will be able to build off their experiences and share best practices. For example, Tuvalu was recently granted $36 million for its Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project; but it took more than one round of applications to succeed, because the country filed its technical specifications incorrectly. With the support of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) and the UN Development Programme, they were able to highlight the country’s vulnerability and correct technical aspects, creating a winning the application.

For the SIS group, the Cook Islands has also had an important success with the Green Climate Fund. In March 2016, the Cook Islands was the first Pacific country to receive readiness grant to help strengthen its National Designated Authority in order to work with the Green Climate Fund. The Cook Islands can use its experiences to inform SIS neighbors and others at the Pacific Islands Forum.

Finally, this move by Pacific states to work together on climate finance is important because governments have been urged to accelerate funding applications for the Green Climate Fund. This call is a signal that other countries have had difficulties with their applications outside of the Pacific and can benefit from shared best practices. It acknowledges the lack of a level playing field for smaller states that are constrained by physical and human capital.

Spending by Country

Source: http://www.climatefundsupdate.org/regions

With or without the benefit of large internationally-funded projects, Pacific states will continue to find ways to adapt to the changing climate and the threats being posed to their livelihoods. But it is in their best interest to continue to seek international funding, when everyone else is doing it. The amount of approved project spending in East Asia and the Pacific shows Indonesia, China and the Philippines have been the largest recipients of climate financing. Importantly for smaller countries, regional mechanisms do exist such as through the SPREP. Yet it will be the job of individual leaders to form not only greater unity around policy advocacy for climate change but also to ensure the relevant departments collaborate effectively on the bureaucratic and technical aspects of the finance application process.

Asia-Pacific Profile: Myint Swe

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Photo credit: Taro Taylor; Creative Commons

 

Who is Myint Swe?

Born June 24, 1961, Myint Swe is a retired general and one of two newly-inaugurated Vice Presidents of Myanmar. His resume includes posts as the head of the military security department in the previous government (intelligence body) and more recently the chief minister of the Yangon region. In 2012, he was nominated to replace a Vice President who was against reforms, but was never confirmed for reasons that are disputed .

Why is he a newsmaker?

On March 30, Myanmar’s new civilian president, Htin Kyaw was sworn in along with his two Vice Presidents and 18 Cabinet Ministers, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Myint is in the news particularly because he is also a close ally of former junta leader Than Shwe. He took part in the crackdown of student protests last year and Buddhist monks in 2007. After his nomination was announced this month, social media websites became sites of significant criticism, citing the military’s continued influence over the country.

Because he has a son-in-law with Australian citizenship, there were questions originally surrounding his eligibility for the role. The constitution, written by the military, bans top government officials who have foreign relatives.

How does Myint Swe’s position impact Myanmar’s new government?

The military is still heavily entrenched in Myanmar’s political and economic systems. While the Parliament is dominated by Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, the military has a right to nominate a Vice President. The military maintains sufficient veto power as it is also guaranteed three ministries (Border Affairs, Home and Defense) and control a quarter of parliamentary seats.

New President Htin Kyaw, hand-picked by Suu Kyi, will lead Myanmar’s first civilian government after 54 years of military rule. Suu Kyi will meanwhile take on important portfolios in the ministries of education, foreign affairs, electric power and energy and the president’s office. Land confiscation, national reconciliation and a transition to a more open economy are just a few issues that the new government aims to tackle. The public has welcomed new government with open arms, and has high hopes for its civilian leadership. Leaders affiliated with the previous regime will have to adapt if the country is to move forward economically and politically.

How does Myint Swe impact US policy toward Myanmar?

The U.S. Government has welcomed reforms to Myanmar’s political and economic systems. Yet as a feature of the old regime, Myint Swe remains on a U.S. Treasury Department blacklist that prevents U.S. companies from doing business with certain businessmen and senior military figures. The military’s grip on power also still enables its control over release of political prisoners, a critical issue for relations with the U.S. to improve. At this stage, the U.S. State Department has not appeared to indicate whether Myint Swe’s role in the government would affect diplomatic relations.

Samoa Elections: Slow Advance for Women

In elections on March 4, Samoans showed their resounding support for the governing Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP). Under the leadership of long-time Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, the HRPP won 44 of the 49 seats in parliament. Among those elected only 4 are women. Leaving little room for opposition, these elections demonstrate that barriers still exist for women to enter parliament. This International Women’s  Day, we consider the slow advancement of women in Samoan politics.

The number of women running for parliament has fluctuated over the past 3 elections, in part because of discouragement after only a few women have been successful. In 2006, 22 women candidates ran, and 3 served as cabinet ministers.   The 2016 election saw the most women run for parliament in Samoa’s history (24). Nonetheless, only 4 were elected. Thanks to a 2013 law mandating 10 percent of parliamentary seats be reserved for women, a 50th seat will be created for the losing female MP candidate with the most votes. Compared to the previous election in 2011, the large number of women contesting the election has been seen as a small victory.

Gender quotas for Samoa’s parliament may help to normalize women in politics over time, but are not a singular solution. Quotas are intended to be a fast-track way to ensure women’s perspectives are heard when they might otherwise be left out. While they are not effective in all countries, quotas have been successful in Rwanda, India and Norway, among others. In addition to the gender quota, Samoa should look to its other cultural traditions that hamper women’s participation.

There are no legal barriers to entry for women to become an MP in Samoa. Yet, traditional cultural and institutional barriers still exist. Samoa only achieved universal suffrage in 1991. Prior, matai (chiefs, or family heads) were the only members of Samoan society who could vote. While everyone at least 21 years of age can now vote, matai continue to receive favoritism because they are the only ones able to stand for parliament. In a country of almost 190,000, there are more than 16,700 matai, but only 923, or 5.5 percent, are women. The need for MPs to be matai is related to Samoa’s tradition of customary land, whereby matai are the administrators of the family property.

On a more local scale, villages in Samoa have a women’s committee representative to liaise with the government on issues related to women and children. For development projects, organizations like the United Nations have used these committees to facilitate early detection of non-communicable diseases. These institutions provide pathways for women’s involvement in formal politics, but also reinforce traditional gender roles. For example, Prime Minister Tuilaepa has previously reminded women seeking to enter government not to neglect their “God-given” duties as mothers. These roles and pressures from Samoan society hamper women from going further in their political quest. 

After the 2016 elections, Samoa is basically a one-party state, but there are signals that a wider public voice is needed. The most candidates in the country’s history ran as independents. HRPP stood 83 candidates, Tatua stood 25 candidates and 63 ran as independents. Opposition Tautua Samoa Party will no longer qualify as a political party, retaining only 3 of its 12 original seats. In addition, its leader, Palusalue Fa’apo II, did not win his electorate. Many independents have been left on the sidelines.

In order to create a vision of progress and connect with the public, the HRPP chose an establishment female to become the country’s new deputy prime minister. Fiame Naomi Mataafa is the longest-serving woman in parliament. She will now hold the highest executive position for a woman in the history of Samoa’s government after 30 years of service. As the daughter of the first prime minister of Samoa, with a mother also a figure in Samoan politics, Fiame should be primed for leadership. As early as 1988 she was the first female cabinet minister, and during the previous term, she was the justice minister.The HRPP has held power since its formation in 1982, and Fiame has been the only woman consistently  part of their rule.

Samoa is not alone in the Pacific for its underrepresentation of women in politics. According to the organization Pacific Women in Politics, “women have never comprised more than 10% of the membership of Pacific national parliaments in Forum Islands Countries since Independence.” Women currently make up 5.9% of total Pacific national parliaments. Perhaps surprisingly, Fiji, one of the least democratically-inclined Pacific Island states, has the most women represented with a total of 8 in parliament. The global average of all elected members is 22.6% women and 77.4% men.

 

Countries Number of MPs Number of Women
Fiji 50 8
Kiribati 46 3
Niue 20 2
PNG 111 3
Palau 29 3
Cook Islands 24 4
Samoa 50 4
Tuvalu 15 1
Tonga 26 0
Marshall Islands 33 3
Solomon Islands 50 1
Nauru 19 1
Tokelau 20 0
Federated States of Micronesia 14 0
Vanuatu 52 0

Source: Pacific Women in Politics

The transition of women into politics in Samoa has been slow, but there continue to be new ways to measure progress. In the first election with a gender quota, it was needed to reach a minimum number of women parliamentarians. The record number of women and independents running shows Samoans’ propensity for change, despite the landslide victory for the establishment party. For Samoa as well as the wider Pacific, new Deputy Prime Minister Fiame hopes to inspire and encourage more women to participate in politics.

Top 5 Stories to Follow in the South Pacific in 2016

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Auckland, New Zealand, where the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be signed. Photo Credit: Genevieve Neilson

 

  1. National Elections

This year, there will be national elections in Australia, Kiribati, Nauru and Samoa. Australia’s relatively new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be tested at the polls, and we are yet to see whether the public concentrates on the candidate’s personality or international issues, specifically, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and immigration. Pacific island voters face local issues like storm recovery, welfare and some big personalities of their own.

On January 22, Vanuatu held snap elections because 14 Members of Parliament, including the Prime Minister, were involved in a corruption scandal last year. Kiribati goes to the polls on January 30 to replace President Anote Tong (due to term limits), who has been at the forefront of international advocacy for action on climate change. Next, Samoa will hold elections on March 4, with Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele a “reasonable bet” given that he has held office since 1998. Last year, Nauru was plagued by concerns over its rule of law; because of this its leaders have asked for support from the Commonwealth Secretary when the country holds elections in June. Elections in Australia are not yet scheduled, but should take place before the year is over. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was ousted in September 2015 and replaced by Malcolm Turnbull; the new leader is seen as more open to debate than Abbott, who is contesting his Parliamentary seat again this cycle. Locally, Australia’s Northern Territories will vote in August to determine whether the government can lease the port of Darwin to Chinese company Landbridge.

Bonus: NZ Binding Flag Referendum

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key is behind the referendum to change the national flag. Critics call the move a vanity project in legacy building, in the absence of meaningful debates about New Zealand culture, Maori rights, or becoming a republic. In shocking news to many, late entry and hipster crowd favorite Red Peak did not make the final vote. There will be a binding referendum between March 3-24 requiring voters to select between the current flag or a silver fern design by Kyle Lockwood. Voters in Auckland confused about which design to select will get a demonstration on the Auckland harbor bridge.

  1. West Papua

The separatist movement in West Papua is as alive as ever, and human rights abuses committed by Indonesian forces have reportedly increased under the Jokowi government. In an address at the United Nations General Assembly in October 2015, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to step up monitoring and investigating efforts for human rights abuse and violations in Papua and West Papua. In November, Human Rights Watch published a 73-page report condemning the government of Indonesia for the lack of access for foreign journalists in the region. Meanwhile, in December, the Indonesian government warned other countries to respect its sovereignty and reportedly ordered international NGOs to close their offices in Papua. Much of the wealth from the resource-rich province goes to Jakarta, leaving West Papuans relatively poor.

There seemed to be a small amount of traction in the case for peace. Having spent the last 10 years in prison, West Papuan separatist leader Filep Karma was released from prison five years early. Yet, on the same day that Indonesian and Australian defense ministers met to declare closer ties, a young West Papuan was shot by the military while protesting a palm oil company. Pacific Islands Forum may be a platform for intervention, particularly when it releases information about its “fact finding mission” agreed to at the last Leaders Summit.

  1. Pacific Fisheries

Overfishing has been a significant problem for the Pacific Island region, leading to competition for depleted fish stocks. Ineffective international management of the Pacific tuna supply, strong consumer demand and weak monitoring of vessels have led to overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and bycatch. And, in some cases, operators of IUU fishing vessels disregard basic labor standards.  Illegal fishing cannot be solved unilaterally; Pacific Island Countries will need support from their island neighbors, larger international actors like the United States, Indonesia, Japan and Australia, as well as support from non-government groups.

Marine sanctuaries are one option for island states to protect local fisheries and recover populations lost due to overfishing.  In October 2015, Palau created one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries that covers 80 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). You can read my article focusing on Palau for the Islands Society here. Palau lacks the enforcement ships to ensure its sanctuary is protected. In addition, the United States government has reneged on a fishing agreement with Pacific island nations which will leave them in a budget shortfall. Island states like Palau hope to replace declining income with an increase in tourism by wealthy travelers and will need international support to maintain sovereignty over its fisheries.

Among other groups, the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency is responsible for coordinating these efforts, and should be more vocal internationally this year.

  1. Trade Agreements

The signing ceremony for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is scheduled for February 4, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. Meanwhile, the fate of the agreement is still uncertain. Protesters in Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the United States among others continue to demonstrate their displeasure for the 12-nation pact. As Canada’s government recently made clear, “signing does not equal ratifying.” In fact, ratification could take up to 2 years. Even in the United States, passage of the agreement through Congress is anything but certain; in an address in Washington, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull lobbied the American Congress on the agreement. But what does the TPP mean for the Pacific? Australia and New Zealand are the only South Pacific countries party to the agreement, yet the agreement allows other states to join in the future.

The Pacific is currently negotiating its own free trade agreement, Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, or PACER-Plus, which focuses on removing tariffs and duties. Last September, PIF leaders agreed that they wanted negotiations for PACER-Plus to conclude by mid-2016, yet cohesive political leadership is lacking. Fiji and Papua New Guinea have warned about the potential inability to regulate and protect specific industries; PNG believes it will hurt its manufacturing sector. Additionally, non-government groups have questioned the ability of the agreement to produce significant benefits for island countries under its current status; while it enables Australian and New Zealand access to Pacific countries, it may not similarly provide support mechanisms for local producers to get their goods to the market.

As larger island countries and regional leaders, Fiji and PNG may have too much to lose if they walk out on PACER-Plus, much the way some states feel that have already agreed to the TPP. As these processes unfold, Pacific states will be watching how the TPP impacts smaller and less diverse economies.  

  1. Climate Change Leadership

Since 1992, sea levels have risen nearly 8cm according to Nasa, and the Pacific has experienced a faster increase than other areas.  The plight of Pacific Island states has been well-documented by The Guardian and Pulitzer Center. Maintaining international commitment, funding and access to funding for climate change will be critical to adaptation and mitigation efforts. Kiribati President Anote Tong has reiterated that climate negotiations are not a game but “a matter of survival.” In part because of the persistence by Pacific island leaders, the latest UN climate agreement in Paris set a target of 1.5 degrees Celsius as opposed to the 2C limit preferred by industrialized states.

For 2016, the Pacific will need to continue to speak with a unified voice. Kiribati President Tong and Palau President Tommy Remengesau have led advocacy efforts, and increasingly Fiji under President Frank Bainimarama is making its voice more prominent. The Pacific Island Development Forum (PIDF) hosted by Fiji is now an observer in the United Nations; leaders have used the PIDF to caucus because it excludes Australia and New Zealand. The group came together for the 2015 Suva Declaration on Climate Change because, according to Bainimarama, “We in the Pacific tend to speak softly. It is in our nature. But on this issue, we needed to cry out with one voice, enough is enough. And we have. And it is all the more powerful for that.”

In June 2017, Fiji will host the United Nations Conference on Oceans and Seas. Throughout the year, but particularly in the lead up to regional and global meetings, look for Fiji to take an aggressive advocacy position.

Gender Equality in Australia’s International Development Program

This post is part of a longer research paper.  It was adapted for the Australian and New Zealand Studies Association Conference in Dallas, Texas, on January 31, 2015.

The Australian aid program follows the international convention of pursuing gender equality as part of its core mission using a gender and development framework. But how does this goal align with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s goals of achieving efficiency and investing in women as ‘smart economics’? By examining how Australian aid defines, administers and implements its gender policy, this presentation will assess the organization’s assumptions about gender relations and social transformation in development programs. Australia is committed to gender equality throughout its development policy, but the restructuring of AusAid into DFAT and new strategic directives could have mixed impacts on Australia’s development approach and capacity.

Background: Australian Aid

Between 2013 and 2014 the Liberal Abbott Government restructured the aid agency, launched a new development policy and announced the government’s largest ever multi-year aid cuts (33 per cent) and largest ever single year cuts (20 per cent and $1 billion in 2015-16). AusAID was previously Australia’s autonomous aid agency whose mission was to help people overcome poverty. In 2013 AusAid was integrated into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, officially to enable the closer alignment of the aid and diplomatic arms of Australia’s international policy agenda and to better serve the interests of Australian taxpayers (Lowy Institute, 2014).

DFAT defines its gender policy over multiple strategy and policy documents, releases and websites. The organization still largely follows concepts from the 2011 document. Notably, DFAT is changing what and how aid is delivered as exemplified in the 2014 policy document. I also examined a paper commissioned by the Office of Development Effectiveness evaluating the Australian government’s support for economic empowerment.

Approaches to Gender and Development

Gender is an essential consideration in development. It provides a way of examining how power structures and social norms impact the lives and opportunities available to men and women. Acknowledging “that men and women, boys and girls experience poverty differently, and face different barriers in accessing services, economic resources and political opportunities” and decision-making “helps to target [development] interventions” (Kangas et al. 2014, 4).

Defining the Gender Policy

As a government agency within a developed country, Australian Aid’s policies must follow norms and trends perpetuated by the (OECD), United Nations and World Bank that it helped to create, such as gender mainstreaming, the gender and development approach and women’s empowerment. First, Australian Aid explicitly follows the GAD approach because it sets out to serve the practical needs and strategic interests of women and girls, men and boys in development programs. Using a GAD approach denotes that the Australian government understands the impacts of power relations between men and women.

Australian Aid emphasizes gender mainstreaming, a standard mechanism in development since 1995. The United Nations explains “Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in all areas and at all levels” (Patel, Fritz, Mehra, Golla, Clancy and Cheney 2014, 21).  In this way allocation of appropriate resources can be tracked and evaluated (Patel et al. 2014, 21).

Also promoted by neoliberal institutions, Australia supports the ‘efficiency approach’ that gender equality and women’s empowerment improves economic productivity (Patel et al. 2014, 18). Termed ‘smart economics,’ it rationalizes investments specifically in women for more effective and efficient development outcomes (Chant and Sweetman 2012, 518). Smart economics champions the neoliberal perspective in seeing business as a vital vehicle for change.

Second, for Australian Aid, gender equality means that men and women should have an equality of access to opportunities. Gender equality is linked not only to human and economic development but also to women’s rights because gender inequality can be a rights violation and impediment to poverty reduction, good health, and safety, among other areas (AusAid 2011a, 1; Patel et al. 2014, 16).

Third, the policy emphasizes that women’s empowerment must be addressed in multiple areas to combat the effects of the unequal distribution of power in gender relations (Patel et al. 2014, 16). Changing dynamics of gender norms and power relations through access to new opportunities contributes to women’s empowerment, but a focus on economic empowerment as the key to ending poverty can place an added burden on women when they are already responsible for both formal and informal labor.

Administering the Policy

Australian Aid targets its policy investments to advance three pillars: “women’s voice in decision-making, leadership, and peace-building, women’s economic empowerment, and ending violence against women and girls” (DFAT 2014, 23). A fourth pillar of “advancing equal access to gender-responsive health and education service” present in the 2011 policy was removed from statements in 2014 (Patel et al. 2014, 16; DFAT 2014, 23). To improve women’s voices and political participation, Australia’s first pillar focuses on capabilities; it aims to build women’s capacity to participate as candidates and voters, as individuals, communities, and at the state level. For example, in Vanuatu, Australian Aid found that it was essential for women to have representation on water management committees, leading to their participation in other forums (AusAid 2011a, 12).  Building women’s capacity to participate in decision-making can increase their agency, which is an essential component of improving gender inequality as seen through the capabilities approach.

The second pillar of Australia’s gender policy is women’s economic empowerment and livelihood security, using a targeted approach where mainstreaming gender considerations alone will not suffice. The organization calls for gender roles and norms for both men and women to be changed in order to succeed (AusAid 2011b, 11). Yet the focus continues to be on providing women with access to credit, encouraging employers to hire women over men, and finding ways to provide alternative care for children and elderly, enabling women to have more employment opportunities.

According to the third pillar, violence against women “is a result of unequal power distribution between women and men, exacerbated by lack of functioning laws, policies, and institutions in place to deal with perpetrators of violence and provide services to survivors” (AusAid 2011a, 15). Therefore Australian Aid seeks to work with men and boys, women and girls, community organizations and legal frameworks to prevent violence against women, and expand counseling services (AusAid 2011a, 15-16).

Women’s capacity to improve society including changing cultural norms is a central theme for Australia’s gender policy. However, the gender policy document does not detail the differing roles for men and women of different classes, ethnicities, sexual orientation or age groups (AusAid 2011a, 4). Using economic efficiency arguments for development projects where women become active producers and consumers in an economy has become more appealing in an age of government austerity and public scrutiny of foreign aid budgets. The consideration of investing in women because it is ‘smart economics’ highlights women as the solution to crises which stem from structural problems. Chant and Sweetman argue that “women are enlisted as foot soldiers to serve in battles whose aims are not related directly to their interests, consigned to the role of ‘conduit for policy’ in the service of others” (Chant and Sweetman 2012, 524). In another respect, efficiency can lead to investments in young women, forgetting about those who will at some point become ‘unproductive.’

Relying on women’s economic empowerment to change cultural norms places a heavy burden on women; for instance, programs must be careful to ensure that women do not face increased violence for their newfound empowerment, as those not selected for programs can become resentful and cause harm. Solidifying women’s rights through legal institutions then becomes increasingly important and can take time to establish progress.

Implementing Gender Policy

Australian Aid has systematic methods for implementing gender policy based on OECD policy markers. Australia participates in and encourages partner countries to join UN human rights conventions such as CEDAW. With fewer funds to work with, Australia’s DFAT is now more critical of programs that do not achieve visible, measurable results. Australian Aid screens all projects using its database AidWorks, and codes them as one of the following: not focused on gender equality; having gender equality as a significant objective; or having gender equality as a principal objective (Swiss 2012; Esplen and Hedman 2014; Patel et al. 2014, 22). These statistics are compiled based on the OECD DAC gender equality marker. Projects that are considered focused on gender equality (principal or significant) accounted for 55 percent of investments from 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. The government aims to have 80 percent of all aid programs address gender (Wroe 2014). In 2007, a Gender Advocate was appointed to promote gender equality and empowerment. In 2011, they appointed an Ambassador for Women and Girls (Patel et al. 2014, 19). While Australia’s development organizations dealt with challenges from institutional restructuring, the changes have made Australian Aid more focused on core goals of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

In changing how aid is delivered, Australian Aid has a new “Value-for-Money” performance framework where 85 percent of investments must achieve effectiveness and efficiency standards using tailored benchmarks for each country or regional program. If programs do not improve within a year they will be cancelled. Targets apply at the strategic level, one of which is empowering women and girls. Moreover, partners such as contractors and nongovernmental organizations, increasingly scrutinized (DFAT 2014, 25-26). In strategy documents, some programs, such as the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development initiative are explicit that transformation of gender relations will take decades to be resolved. (Parpart et al. 2000, 142).

Implications and Conclusions

Australian Aid’s capacity to implement the gender policy is determined by its approach, independence and external influences. That Australian Aid is no longer an autonomous agency changes its former independent perspective; a greater reliance on public-private partnerships and stimulating private sector development will also provide more power to external influences.

It is clear from the way that Australian Aid defines, administers and implements its gender policy that the organization values gender equality. Further, the 2014 development policy highlights the importance of engaging a gendered approach based on the social, political and economic benefits to communities. As such, the increased focus on gender in Australia Aid’s programs is an encouraging sign. Of the three pillars, Australia appears to prioritize women’s empowerment to participate in the economy, education and leadership because it values the ‘untapped’ economic role of women in development. This new economic focus may, however, have negative implications as part of a bid to secure private sector involvement, pursue measurable gains and provide ‘value for money.’ The transformation of gender norms can be difficult to measure and changes may not correspond with the ideals of DFAT’s Value-for-Money framework. There is also a worrying trend towards individualizing gender issues and reducing them to economic equations.

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