2020 Budget response: Australia fails women in world’s greatest hour of need 


Global women’s rights organisation, ActionAid Australia says the 2020 Federal Budget will set back progress on global gender equality by decades by failing to adequately respond to the devastating consequences of COVID-19 on women globally.

ActionAid Executive Director, Michelle Higelin welcomed a small boost to the Gender Equality Fund in the Foreign Aid Budget but called Treasurer Frydenberg’s budget “woefully inadequate” as women are being hardest hit by the biggest global emergency the world has ever seen.

“At a time when gender equality is deteriorating worldwide at an alarming pace, Australia is shirking its global responsibility to take leadership on the disproportionate impact this pandemic is having on women,” Ms Higelin said.  

“This was a moment for the Government to rise up rather than turn its back on some of the world’s poorest people.

“Women worldwide are experiencing the worst impacts of the economic and health crises brought on by COVID-19. The Government has committed $1.3 billion to gender equality initiatives yet at just 32 per cent of the overall foreign aid budget it falls short of what’s needed to respond to the gendered impacts.”

Ms Higelin said women are being hardest hit by COVID-19 on several fronts including widespread job losses and increased unpaid care work, gender-based violence and school dropouts.

“One billion women workers are estimated to be out of work due to this crisis as women are overrepresented in low paid and precarious employment and are the first to lose their jobs in economic downturn. Without social protection they are being pushed further into hunger and poverty.  

“The Government is leaving the world’s poorest countries to tackle this crisis alone.”

The Government continues to make cuts in regions where women face persistent gender inequality, alongside the growing impacts of the pandemic. Afghanistan, where one in three people are estimated to have COVID-19, has lost $27 million while the Sub Saharan Africa budget has been halved as the region struggles with a widespread hunger crisis.

ActionAid research has shown a shocking spike in violence against women worldwide since the emergence of COVID-19 withalmost 10 times as many requests by women for support from protection shelters during lockdowns.*  

An increased school drop-out rate for girls is likely to be another long-term impact of COVID-19 school closures. In a recent ActionAid survey, teachers in 14 countries reported that unpaid care work, child labour, early marriage and teen pregnancies are preventing girls from returning to school.**  

“Decades of progress on gender equality is at stake,” Ms Higelin said.  

“Combined with the impacts of climate change, this crisis will have disastrous far-reaching ramifications for women and girls globally for generations to come unless wealthy nations like Australia step up their financial support and target it to addressing these gendered impacts.”

This is the seventh straight year without an increase to the foreign aid budget at a time when Australia is boosting defence spending and handing out tax cuts. Despite the critical emergency the world now faces, the Government has only provided $304 million in new funding for COVID-19 responses in the Pacific and Timor Leste.

“Australia remains at our stingiest in a time of urgent global need,” Ms Higelin said.

“While increased support for the Pacific is welcomed, as a global citizen, Australia has a responsibility that reaches far beyond our immediate neighbours to where there is greatest need. COVID-19 is a global challenge that requires international collaboration and targeted funding to address widening gender inequality.  

“Australia’s leadership is vital to support women and girls to rise out of poverty globally. Women are leading local responses to COVID-19 but they urgently need our scaled-up support.

“This budget is failing women,” Ms Higelin said.

“Instead of record spending on defence the government should be investing in sustainable women-led, solutions to redress the gendered impacts of converging health, economic and climate crises to ensure no woman is left behind.”


For interviews, please contact Liz Pick, ActionAid Australia’s Media and Communications Manager on +61 (0)422 105 840 or [email protected]




Notes to editors 

In August 2020, ActionAid surveyed 130 teachers working in 82 schools in Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somaliland and Zimbabwe. Key findings show that: 

  • Around three in five teachers surveyed say a higher drop-out rate for girls (59%) and poorer children (62%) will be a long-term impact of the pandemic.   
  • Nearly half are concerned about increases in early pregnancy (41%) and early marriage (45%) due to the Covid-19 crisis. Over a third (35%) are worried about rising hunger.  
  • Teachers say some of the biggest issues preventing girls from returning to school are parents unable to afford the cost (62%), unpaid care work (59%), child labour (51%) and early marriage (52%).  


*ActionAid is responding to the COVID-19 crisis in 40 countries around the world. Its frontline, women-led services have all reported increases in violence against women and girls since the start of the pandemic. Key findings from the Surviving COVID-19: A Women-Led Response report published in June 2020 show that: 

  • In Bangladesh, ActionAid’s network of support services, including in the Rohingya refugee camps, found a tenfold (983%) increase in sexual and domestic violence this April to May, compared to the same period last year. 
  • In Uganda, ActionAid was forced to temporarily shut down 10 of its shelters due to lockdown restrictions, even though caseloads doubled in March and April 2020 during the outbreak, compared to the previous year. 
  • In the Gaza strip, an ActionAid partner organisation reports supporting 700% more survivors of GBV through its counselling services this April-May, than in 2019. 
  • In Italy, a review of more than 228 shelters saw the number of women who asked for support through the government’s anti-violence hotline increase by 59%. 
  • In Brazil, 143 women were killed across 12 states in March and April this year with a 22% increase in femicide compared to last year, according to data from security agencies. In the Northern State, Acre, femicide is up 300%. 
  • In Nigeria, where the government has declared a state of emergency following a sharp spike in cases of femicide and rape, one women’s shelter reported a 700% increase in cases of violence since lockdown.