Well, thank you very, very much Rhonda, and can I take the opportunity to thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in New South Wales for hosting today’s event.

Can I also add my acknowledgement to country.

It is a wonderful pleasure to be here to mark International Women’s Day, and great to see so many people from diplomatic, government and business representatives in the room.

Can I make a special acknowledgement to my dear friend and former colleague the Honourable Helen Coonan, who when we talk about women and what women have done differently, was a trail blazer and continues to be.

A warm welcome to you all.

The Australian Government stands for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

For our foreign affairs, trade and overseas development assistance this means mainstreaming the promotion of gender equality in everything that we do.

And the culmination of this is the 2016 Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Strategy.

This year’s strategy commits the Australian government to promoting gender equality in our foreign policy, in our economic diplomacy, in our development assistance, and indeed in the Department’s own internal management.

We have three priorities for our work, and they include promoting women’s economic empowerment, enhancing women’s voices in decision making, leadership and peacebuilding, and of course ending violence against women and children, and girls in particular.

Importantly, in my portfolio responsibility of International Development and the Pacific, we have committed 80 per cent of our overseas development assistance, regardless of the objective, to effectively promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.

And I have had the opportunity to see firsthand the impact that this can have on a woman’s life.

For example, last year I visited one of the outlying islands on my first visit to Vanuatu.

 I met with women at the Malampa Women’s Handicraft Centre, where our assistance is making a direct difference to the lives of those women, by giving them skills training and business development coaching.  

In Fiji, in Solomon Islands and in Vanuatu, we are investing almost $17 million through our UN Women’s Markets for Change program, but because so many of the markets and facilitate market action taken by women, it is women that have been the principle beneficiaries in terms of increasing their leadership capacity and of course their earning power.

In Fiji, after Tropical Cyclone Winston, the Rakiraki Market – and the Consul General, I acknowledge his presence, and he will know very, very well – we are actually rebuilding the accommodation of the stalls.

So for women, when they do take their goods to market and do have their children with them, they can actually stay overnight.  

And that makes a huge difference to their lives in relation to 70 per cent of the markets and stall vendors in Fiji and women.

So that is a very practical way we are giving voice to those women.

We are increasing their earning capacity, and of course we are assisting their families.

And we have made consistent progress in Australia, particularly in our own portfolio.

We are a bit of an all-female crew, actually, in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

We have, obviously, Minister Bishop as our Minister; me; we also have a female Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs; and our Shadow Minister, Senator Wong, and my shadow Minister, Senator Claire Moore.

When we travelled to the Pacific last year, we were definitely en masse female; you would say we are actually practicing what we are preaching.

But of course cross-party, cross-institutional, and cross-border support for gender equality is something that we, as Australians, stand for, and continue to stand for.

We are an example in the region, but we do notwithstanding the progress that we have made, but we believe that a lot more needs to be done.

For example, Pacific women only make up less than seven per cent of parliamentarians, and this is one of the lowest rates in the world compared to the global average of 21 per cent.

Four of the five countries worldwide have no female representation in their parliaments are in the Pacific.

We are, through our efforts helping to turn this around – investing in women’s programs in the Pacific and we are helping them to run for elected office, to help build their skills in terms of representation and advocacy.

We have been emboldened in doing so by the leadership shown by Pacific countries in recent years.

The Pacific Regional Gender Initiative, which was agreed to at the 2012 Pacific Islands Forum meeting, which made a clear statement of intent by leaders in the region to improve the lot of women in the Pacific.

We have stepped up in terms of this support through our Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program, a ten-year program, of $320 million investment in regional gender equality.

And this program is improving outcomes for women in the Pacific – especially in the political space of women’s leadership.

For example, in Papua New Guinea, we are pleased to be working on a new longer-term program to improve women's electoral participation in both national and local level elections.

And this includes training and mentoring of women who are considering standing as candidates in 2017 and 2022 elections.

Basically, to help them participate in the electoral contest, to help them plan their campaigns, and to help them problem solve, including security and fund raising.

Making sure women’s voices get heard is a very practical step to ensuring that they are respected and valued members of society.

Building this respect is key to lowering endemic rates of domestic violence, which regretfully in our region, are still very, very high.

As Prime Minister Turnbull has said, not all disrespect leads to violence, but all violence starts with disrespect.

We know that the causes of gender inequality are complex, but they are interconnected – and our overseas development assistance programs are working at all levels to address this.

We are committed to doing our part to ensure that through partnerships with local organisations, with NGOs and of course with governments, we can help make those necessary changes.

Because change in one area alone will not be sufficient; it is multi-dimensional.

So, our commitment to gender equality is also a commitment to eliminating all forms of violence against women.

It is a commitment to expand the opportunities for women to earn an income and accumulate economic assets.

It is a commitment to give women the access and the tools to achieve justice and participate in the governance of their nation.

Because we all know that when a woman succeeds, so does her family.

And I found that if you empower a woman, you empower her family, you empower her community, and you ultimately empower her country.

But before I conclude, I would like to touch on Australia’s global commitment to gender equality.

Our Gender Strategy complements the goals we helped to shape in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Goal Five of the 2030 Agenda has an explicit focus on advancing gender equality.

Importantly, the Agenda mainstreams gender positive development in the same way that our overseas development assistance program does.

We are also an active participant in the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women and we are seeking to serve as a member of that Commission for the 2019 – 2023 term.

We are also one of six countries only, in the world with an Ambassador for Women and Girls, who advocates internationally for women’s equal participation in political, economic and social affairs.

This steadfast commitment to gender equality has been a key motivator for the Australian Government’s pursuit of a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Last week, I was in Geneva, and I was honoured to address the United Nations Human Rights Council where I was proud to say that Australia stands firmly for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

When we talk about human rights, we talk about human rights bodies like the United Nations Council and different international bodies, but what really matters is the practical day-to-day.

Human rights are about what we do at the grass roots.

It is how we actually empower a woman to be able to do her best; it is actually how we empower a person with disability to actually maximise their work.

And so for us, it is not just the international participation, it is how the grass roots level people are afforded their human rights whether it be gender equality, whether it be any other aspect of human rights.

Of course as the work that we do, if we are elected by the Council, it is not just the work that we do with the members of the Council.

It is actually the work that we need to do with civil society to ensure that human rights institutions are strong, that they are effective, and that they are well placed to meet the complexity that the global human rights challenges pose to us, most especially in the gender equality space.

Advocacy has an important role to play, but, most importantly, creating opportunity has a much more direct impact on the lives of women.

And of course it does come down to opportunity – our own pursuit of giving opportunity to every woman and every girl, whether it is in our own country, in our region and beyond is at the foremost of Australia’s international policy, humanitarian efforts, our economic efforts and our social efforts.

To create the conditions for a present and a future where girls can learn freely, where they can pursue their dreams, they can earn, they can save, and they can be very safe while they are doing all the above.

That is what gender equality is, for me, and it is for the Australian Government.

Thank you for your very, very kind attention.

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