International alert series: The BIG Issues - Women's rights in Development

Women's Rights in Development

Building women's rights to achieve sustainable economies and livelihoods

Tuesday 7 February 2006

Presented by

World Vision Australia and AusAID 

and supported by

The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, UniSA

A series of bi-monthly forums, for dialogue, discussion and questions, on key international development issues involving and affecting the Australian community: July 2005 - October 2006

Women's Rights in Development

Come and hear the issues impacting women in developing countries, the stories of hope and vision and how you can play your part in alleviating poverty

While women 'hold up half the sky’, we know that women and girls are often the most disadvantaged, economically, socially, politically and culturally. Research over many years and settings shows us that access to work, training, education and health for women has a 'whole family' flow-on benefit. This is why many microfinance programs specifically target women.

Hear about the trends impacting upon women in developing countries and the stories of women whose courage and vision has transformed their lives and that of others.

Learn about how we can play our part in helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of halving poverty by 2015. There are easy ways to support programs that give women work, training, health care and access to education for their children, especially daughters, who so often miss out.

Women's Rights in Development - audio transcript available here (22.6Mb mp3 file)


Presentations where available are given in PDF format and Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to view and print.  You can download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader from Adobe.

Sun-Hee (Sunny) Lee, Director, Health, Population and Gender, AusAID

It is now widely accepted that gender inequalities in human capital hinder economic growth and development, while increasing gender equality helps foster it. At the same time, the costs of gender inequality are highest for low-income countries and within countries, for the poor.

In the last three decades, we have seen some remarkable progress in girls’ education and some of the women’s health indicators, especially in East Asia. Despite these gains, women today constitute nearly 70 per cent of the world's poor. Almost two thirds of all illiterate people in the world are women. Girls are twice as likely to die from malnutrition and preventable childhood diseases as boys. There are many countries in the Asia-Pacific region that clearly need to improve the human capital status of their women.

For these reasons, AusAID views gender equality as an integral component of its overall approach to reduce poverty and to achieve economic growth. AusAID’s gender and development policy focuses on improving women’s access to education, health care and economic resources; promoting women’s participation and leadership in decision-making at all levels; promoting the human rights of women and eliminating all discrimination against women.
Sunny will talk about key aspects of the Australian aid program in gender and development, lessons learnt (what works and what doesn’t) and AusAID’s future directions in gender.

Sunny Lee is the Director of Health, Population and Gender Section of AusAID. She is responsible for policy development and coordination and program management in these areas. Sunny has been closely involved in AusAID programs relating to human development, including health, education, governance and gender since 1992.

After graduating from Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, Sunny gained MA and PhD degrees in Sociology/Demography from the University of Hawaii, followed by a post doctoral training in Brown University. She began her career in teaching and research with ANU in Canberra and has over twenty years experience in many aspects of aid policy and programs. While working at ANU and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Sunny published books and papers relating health differentials of Australians, women’s health and human resource development. She also worked on women’s health issues at the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office in Manila, UNFPA in Fiji, and the Fiji School of Medicine. Sunny’s field experiences stretch over more than 15 countries in Asia and the Pacific. Sunny was Counsellor (Development Cooperation) in Hanoi from 2000-2003.

Julie Mundy, Regional Representative and Managing Director, Marie Stopes International Australia - Julie Mundy presentation


Julie Mundy is the Regional Representative and Managing Director of Marie Stopes International Australia, an international aid agency providing sexual and reproductive health services to women and their families in 13 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including Indigenous Australia.

Julie established MSIA in Melbourne on returning to Australia in 1998, following 10 years work overseas, including 5 years as Director of Asia Programs with Marie Stopes International in London. Her overseas development work is strongly focused on the institutional capacity building of local NGO and government counterparts and draws on her background of organisational development and human resource management. Since 1993, Ms Mundy has conducted over 40 overseas consultancy missions throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. She has been responsible for undertaking and managing strategic reviews, evaluations, needs assessments and project designs for family planning, reproductive health, contraceptive social marketing, refugee projects, and brokering multi-sectoral partnerships for sustainable development. Julie is passionate about the empowerment of women through reproductive health and rights, and about the importance of local capacity building to sustainable development. With two small children, Julie does the normal working mother juggle and aspires to a sane work-life balance.

Ann Killen, School of Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia - Ann Killen presentation

Women in the developing world are often undervalued, undereducated, underpaid, underconsulted and underestimated. Yet the evidence is there that women in fact hold up more than their fair share of the sky, and can be found contributing to development in both traditional and modern ways, often despite rather than because of the development programs which have been put in place to assist them.

Supporting women’s education opportunities and economic development have indeed been shown to contribute most significantly to improvements in development indicators such as infant mortality and child health. As a consequence, many development programs now incorporate education and income generation objectives and activities, and there have been many exciting outcomes which have changed the lives of women and their families. Women around the developing world have grasped such opportunities with both hands, often despite opposition and traditional barriers, and sometimes despite oppression inherent in the way that development programs are designed and delivered.

Whilst development programs and donor agencies can provide the catalyst for change, through resources, training and support, real and sustainable development which has meaning for those in receipt of such support must come from within – from local people’s capacity to determine what they want and how they will go about achieving their goals within their own social and cultural contexts – sometimes with outcomes that are surprising to those who are providing support and observing from the sidelines.

One way that women around the world are achieving self determination and having an impact on development is through organising themselves. Both formally and informally, in small groups and large, women are getting together to change the circumstances in which they live. There is power in numbers – we know that from the many microfinance examples – and sometimes we can be surprised by the way that newfound power is used.

Ann Killen will talk about women being organised and some of the significant changes they have achieved in the process – from Vietnam to Africa. Ann is currently researching the role of the Vietnam Women’s Union in rural water supply development in Vietnam. She has worked with women’s groups in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and while avoiding romantic or homogenous views of women suggests that women in the developing world should never be underestimated.

Ann Killen is a lecturer in the School of Social Work and Social Policy at the University of South Australia, and a past recipient of the South Australian Government’s Catherine Helen Spence Scholarship for women working in the human services.

Following a career in the human services in South Australia Ann has more than fifteen years of international development experience, working mainly with the social aspects of infrastructure development, such as water and sanitation, waste water treatment and recycling, transportation and roads and environmental management, and has worked with international and national agencies, NGOs and local communities to ensure that women’s voices are heard and women benefit from development activities.

In recent years Ann has worked a great deal in Vietnam and is currently researching the participation of the Vietnam Women’s Union in the development of rural water supplies and sanitation in Vietnam for her doctoral thesis with Curtin University. She has presented numerous papers about Women, Water and Development.

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While the views presented by speakers within the Hawke Centre public program are their own and are not necessarily those of either the University of South Australia or The Hawke Centre, they are presented in the interest of open debate and discussion in the community and reflect our themes of: strengthening our democracy – valuing our cultural diversity – and building our future.