POLITICS

Turnbull Government's 'Excellent Start' On Family Planning Aid

It has pledged more than $30 million overnight for women and girls in developing countries.

12/07/2017 10:33 AM AEST | Updated 12/07/2017 1:15 PM AEST
AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop: "The Australian Government is committed to the promotion and delivery of sexual and reproductive health services."

CANBERRA -- Aid groups and watchers are applauding the Turnbull Government for starting to fill the gap left by U.S President Donald Trump in developing nations by pledging more than $30 million for reproductive health services for women and girls at a major family planning summit in London.

The new commitments - which have also been welcomed by Labor - were announced by Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls, Sharman Stone, at a international donor summit which is expected to received more than $2.5 billion in pledges overall.

While Australia's pledges - $33.5 million over four years - have been welcomed, they pale next to Canada's $241.5 million overnight pledge for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) funding.

Canada has a feminist international assistance policy, a leadership position which targets gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Australia's pledges come after the Turnbull Government had been heavily criticised by aid groups for quietly halving the aid budget for family planning over three years.

In fact, all of the pledges are seen as a counter to Trump's January announcement of his reintroduction of the global gag rule that stops U.S government departments and international aid groups from receiving U.S aid if they provided information, counselling, or referrals related to abortion.

In a statement on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop revealed the money would be targeted at the Pacific through a specific new $30 million partnership with the UN Population Fund (UNPFA).

"Through this new program, the Australian Government and UNFPA will work with our Pacific partners to reduce the unmet need for family planning towards zero by 2030."

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

Australia has also announced a contribution of $3.5 million to support UNFPA Supplies. This an increase to the standard pledge to UNFPA from the Australian government. $2.5 million was provided in 2016.

"UNFPA Supplies is a vital mechanism providing essential drugs that save the lives of thousands of women and babies in developing countries each year."

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

Labor's international development spokeswoman, Claire Moore, told HuffPost Australia the pledges are a "valuable first step". She is concerned the international pledges won't meet what President Trump has taken out of the aid pool of funding because of the global gag rule's reintroduction.

"I think it is really important that Australia was seen alongside the nations taking a role," she said.

"I don't think it goes far enough and I don't think it does catch up to the reductions we have had.

"But it is more important to celebrate that we have made this commitment."

Senator Moore said the combined pledges send a message to President Trump about issues of poverty, inequality and women's rights.

"This international response goes a way towards saying 'yes we see this and we will continue to respond,'" she said.

"But I think if you are weighing it all up, the lack of the U.S engagement will continue to bedevil ongoing success in this place.

"It also reinforces the incredibly negative message from the current government of the U.S that women and women's rights are not important."

Elaine Pearson from Human Rights Watch has told HuffPost Australia the commitments are promising.

"These new commitments are an excellent start, especially since there have been drastic cuts to sexual and reproductive health funding over the last few years," she said.

"UNFPA, in particular, has been hard hit by the U.S. cuts to aid under Trump, so it's great to see Australia stepping up and making investments that will save lives."

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