Smart Economics – ICRW Evaluates Australian Aid Support for Women’s Economic Empowerment

Article Date

30 September 2014

Article Author

Ibadet Reller

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Since its founding nearly 40 years ago, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) has expanded understanding of how gender equality is both a human right and smart economics.  When women have equal economic opportunities – and are empowered to act on those opportunities – they raise healthier and better-educated families.  Their communities prosper and entire nations benefit.

Research continues to prove that development efforts to combat poverty can only succeed if women are empowered and enabled to contribute to economies. Not only do countries become more prosperous when women are fully involved in economic development, countries also become more equitable.

Over the last few years, the government of Australia has been increasing its focus on women’s economic empowerment. The Office of Development Effectiveness (ODE) at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia commissioned ICRW to evaluate Australia’s aid support for women’s economic development. ICRW assessed the effectiveness of the aid program, identified factors that facilitate or constrain effectiveness of the aid program’s support for women’s economic empowerment, and made recommendations for improving the aid program’s ability to translate its gender equality strategy into successful development efforts.

The report finds that the Australian aid program has strong gender equality policies that are well aligned with global best practice.  The aid program focuses on improving women’s access to economic resources while also mitigating barriers to women’s economic empowerment. The report also found that through its aid program, the government of Australia has seen some success in promoting women’s economic advancement. For instance, one microfinance project reached more than 52,000 women and gave them greater control over assets, increased household decision-making and even contributed to a reduction of violence against women.

But while Australia has had some success in promoting women’s economic empowerment, the aid program overall is less successful integrating gender equality into its key economic sectors – agriculture, energy, rural development, trade and business and banking – compared to other sectors such as education and health.

ICRW and ODE make four key recommendations aimed at strengthening Australia’s efforts to overcome barriers to women’s economic empowerment and create more effective aid programming.

Summary of recommendations:

  • Strategic economic sector investments: The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) should invest more strategically in all economic sectors.
  • Gender equality strategies and economic diplomacy: DFAT should articulate clear commitments for gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in its program strategies, program designs and economic diplomacy efforts.
  • Capacity, resources and incentives: DFAT should build the capacity of the Australian aid program to implement existing policy relating to the inclusion and empowerment of women in the economic sectors.
  • Performance and evaluations: DFAT should improve monitoring and evaluation in the economic sectors to capture results for women’s economic empowerment.

“Women and girls are the key to a flourishing economy and a healthy community, which benefits everyone. The government of Australia is doing great work as a leading donor in promoting gender equality in its aid program. With this report, we were able to explore the successes and missed opportunities of a leading bilateral aid program’s women’s economic empowerment programming. I hope these findings and recommendations will improve future efforts by Australia as well as other governments to champion women’s economic inclusion and empowerment,” said ICRW’s Katherine Fritz, Director, Global Health and lead author of this report.