Insights from 4th annual report card from the Civil Society Coalition on Women, Peace and Security

Mothers of children participating in activities as part of International Peace Day from local schools in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka. Photo by: Conor Asleigh / DfAT / CC BY

Launched in 2012, Australia’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security provides a plan enabling all levels of the Australian government to play an important role in the implementation of the United Nations women, peace and security agenda. It sets out the actions Australia will take to integrate gender into peace and security efforts, protect the rights of women and girls, and promote their participation in conflict prevention, management and resolution — both domestically and internationally.

The national plan, which will end in 2018, has helped in getting gender on the agenda. Collaboration is an important component in its strategy, and it has delivered important outcomes to progress advancements of women and girls.

Since 2014, the Australian Civil Society Coalition on Women, Peace and Security has released an annual report card on Australia’s progress against the global WPS agenda. The fourth report, released on May 11, provides important insights, analysis and recommendations for Australia to learn from their first action plan and implement a stronger, robust second version, which will guide Australia in its WPS actions to 2025.

Achievements since 2012

Since the introduction of the Australia’s action plan in 2012, there have been a number of highlights in Australia’s actions to promote, protect and advance the rights of women and girls.

During its term on the U.N. Security Council, Australia played an important role in promoting the WPS agenda. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been a strong advocate for foreign aid to support gender initiatives, and has participated in global summits and even incorporated tough gender targets on all aid spending.

Domestically, the action plan has identified the importance of cross-government collaboration, bringing together a range of departments and levels of government to identify and respond to issues affecting women and girls. And it goes wider, drawing strongly on the work, support and guidance of civil society — both formally and informally. For each year the plan has been in place, associations between government and civil society have continued to grow and strengthen with the aim of supporting women and girls.

An interim review of the national plan, released in 2015 by the Office of Women, found that Australia’s strategy was effective in implementing the WPS agenda. Its broad actions enable the Australian response to be flexible and adjust to changing domestic and global issues facing women and girls.

But there were a range of flaws identified, and addressing them is important to overcome persistent gaps and barriers which will be pushed by civil society partners as part of consultation processes to develop the second national action plan.

Persistent gaps in Australia’s response

Funding is the key criticism of the action plan identified by the Australian Civil Society Coalition on Women, Peace and Security in their fourth annual report card.

Following on from a 2015 global study stating the failure to allocate sufficient resources and funds to implement women, peace and security agendas, the Australian review has found a similar barrier at home. Lack of dedicated funding, the report says, has restricted the implementation of the national action plan — and this affects its ability to make impact on the lives of those it seeks to support.

Agencies supporting the action plan, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Australian Federal Police who operate globally, have instead had to support implementing priorities within their normal budget. It is a model the report calls “unsustainable.”

Existing processes to determine the impact of strategies and solutions supporting women and girls is described as the “single biggest failing” of the current action plan.

Monitoring and evaluation was also identified as a weaknesses in Australia’s response. Existing processes to determine the impact of strategies and solutions supporting women and girls is described as the “single biggest failing” of the current action plan.

Understanding and monitoring impact is an important part of not just determining what works, but measuring progress of the Sustainable Development Goals and sharing best practise internationally. Previous reports and reviews have recommended precise measures to track the progress of actions, development of a theory of change, building a baseline of data to assess progress against, and introduce qualitative analysis as part of impact reporting.

The second action plan is an opportunity for Australia to provide leadership in this space, to effectively identify whether policies and strategies are making a difference.

Both are issues the report says are global, not just local, impacting a number of countries with WPS action plans.

Strategies for future progress

According to the report, 2016 was a “quiet year for the international WPS policy agenda” within Australia. But as it is an important time to begin consultation and discussion for the second action plan, 2017 is not going to be a quiet year.

To make the second action plan stronger and more effective, the report recommends a robust consultation process operated by government and civil society that will engage a wide sector of stakeholders to identify the needs of women and girls. These include conflict-affected women, NGOs, indigenous groups, youths and diaspora.

Focus groups will allow a range of data to be collected, contributing to a draft report with time to review and respond. And the hope is for an action plan to be released in 2019, that will be a global leader for the WPS agenda.

But discussions on strategies to improve the plan are important now, with the report card identifying a number of strategies supporting future progress within Australia.

Strengthen associations

As collaboration — both across government and with civil society — is important to the development and delivery of Australia’s action, strengthening associations and formalizing relationships is important as part of the second iteration of the action plan. Understanding roles, values and converting informal relationships with the civil sector to formal relationships will enable strengthened workflow processes and shared resources.

Civil society partners overwhelmingly support making them a signatory to or implementing agency for the second action plan to achieve this.

It is an important strategy to ensure future action plans continue making an impact and can continue at scale.

Strengthen high level engagement

Questions from civil society on the buy-in from Australian government of the action plan are linked to questions about informal working group committees meeting “ad hoc,” and lack of high-level membership.

Implementing policy shifts and developing new programs to better target interventions supporting women and girls requires a top down approach for a whole-of-agency support.

A strengthened national action plan to 2025 should see formalization of members, including civil society partners, to formal interdepartmental working groups meeting on a regular basis. And members at the top of agencies would not only demonstrate commitment but would better lead to change, monitoring and evaluation.

Align policies

The action plan can impact the lives of women and girls domestically, through strategies to reduce gender-based violence within the home and in society. Since 2015, domestic violence and systematic failures to protect women has been a hotly debated topic of Australian politics — at its center was the tragic murder of Tara Costigan in Canberra, killed while holding her newborn baby, her two young sons nearby. The killer was her former partner, against whom she had taken a domestic violence order one day earlier.

Regionally, Australia is similarly questioning the best approach to support and enhance women, providing them with greater opportunities for independence, equality and playing a vital and vocal role in society. The issues needing to be addressed in the domestic and internal space remain similar — forced displacement, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, sexual and reproductive health are the top three priority issues for both domestic and international responses.

Aligning domestic and global strategies in the second action plan can identify overlaps and streamline approached to cross-cut a range of political policies, agendas and obligations, including the SDGs and refugee convention.

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About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.