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International aid organisations have told the Turnbull government to place women and girls at the centre of Australia's new foreign policy initiative.
Concentrating on educating girls aged 10 to 19 would also give families living in neighbouring countries the greatest chance of moving out of poverty, they say.
US foreign aid can't be used to support contraception or abortion - Stephanie Peatling says it may become a political issue in Australia.
“Greater gender equality delivers stronger economic growth and security. It is strongly correlated with greater peace and stability,” Care Australia chief executive Sally Moyle said in the organisation's submission to the white paper process. “It is beyond doubt that supporting gender equality internationally, and particularly in our Indo-Pacific region, is in Australia's interest.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is looking to establish a new “philosophical framework” to guide Australia's engagement with the world.
In addition to the public consultation process, Bishop recently recalled all of Australia's heads of mission for a meeting to discuss the government's diplomatic approach.
In 2015, the government of Sweden announced it would put feminism at the centre of its foreign policy.
Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallstrom has since explained that gender equality is a “prerequisite” for achieving Sweden's foreign and security policy objectives.
Plan International Australia, an organisation committed to the rights of children around the world, said the Turnbull government should "be informed by Sweden's feminist foreign policy, where gender equality is recognised as not only a goal in itself but also essential to achieving peace, security and sustainable development”.
The Australian Christian Lobby recently urged the government to adopt Donald Trump's ban on foreign aid money being spent on abortion.
But other organisations have told the government women and girls in developing countries need better access to reproductive health services - including abortion - if they are to have any hope of getting an education and finding work as a pathway out of poverty.
Care, Marie Stopes International, Plan International Australia and the Burnet Institute, among others, are urging the government to make gender equality a key focus of its foreign policy.
“Although boys are at a greater risk of recruitment to violent groups and networks, women's role in reducing conflict is well regarded. As such, interventions should ensure both boys and girls have the best start in life, are healthy and educated and are empowered to participate positively to their communities. Through improving health, school retention and employment, family planning is a powerful precursor to realising women's empowerment and gender equality, and assuring women's and girls' roles in civic life and the promotion of peace and stability,” Marie Stopes International wrote in its submission.
The women's health charity advised the government to concentre on safe pregnancy programmes in its regional aid programmes.
“Multiple, successive births, particularly amongst young women, significantly increase the risk of pregnancy-related deaths and disability. Family planning is widely recognised as one of the most cost-effective approaches to improving maternal health ... Adolescent pregnancy however, is a major contributing factor to poor school attendance and completion. Reducing unintended pregnancies, particularly amongst girls, supports improved educational and employment opportunities. In fact, for every year a girl past the age of nine spends in school, her income potential increases 20 per cent.”.
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