Well, thank you very much, Prime Minister. President Heine, Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers, Secretaries General, Meg Taylor, and Baroness Scotland, other distinguished women and gentlemen joining us this afternoon, thank you very much.

It’s my very great pleasure to speak on the role of women in political and decision-making processes.

Gender equality is essential for sustainable economic growth and it helps to build stability and prosperity in our region.

By increasing women’s economic empowerment, eliminating violence against women and improving leadership for women, these are all directly relevant to our interests as a stable, secure and prosperous Pacific.

Having a critical mass of women in leadership and decision-making positions assists human development in all our countries.

We must remove the obstacles that so often prevent women from rising to leadership positions in political systems and elsewhere.

We know that when women participate in decision-making, it improves their own lives and those of their children and their family.

Within communities, women’s participation in decision-making can improve the distribution of resources and the sustainability of development programs.

Women bring different perspectives and approaches to business, resulting in much more inclusive workplaces and better performance in companies.

When women are politically active, both as voters and as politicians, policies that improve the welfare of the nation are more likely to be implemented.

Over many years, Australia has been a proud partner of Pacific governments, of regional organisations, of civil society, and the private sector in responding to gender equality issues in the Pacific.

In 2012, we launched our flagship gender equality initiative in the region, Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development.

This AUD 320 million over ten-year commitment supports Pacific island countries to implement the commitments made in the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration, including the commitment to support measures to accelerate women’s participation at all levels of leadership and decision-making.

Through the Australian-funded Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnership Forums, we have forged a strong network of women parliamentarians across the Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand.

These annual forums provide a safe space for women in politics to discuss issues of importance to them, including the role of legislators in removing barriers for women.

I am pleased that the Australian Government is supporting a Pacific-developed gender training program for parliamentarians called “Outrigger — navigating gender equality through Pacific parliaments”.

The Solomon Islands Parliament held the inaugural Outrigger training session in July and we anticipate that other parliaments will take up the training.

Pacific island governments are also driving change in this important area.

I would like to particularly congratulate Samoa on being so proactive in supporting women to take up parliamentary positions and leadership roles in the bureaucracy.

It was wonderful in March 2016 to see you, Deputy Prime Minister Fiame, named Samoa’s first Deputy Prime Minister — the highest political office held by a woman in your country.

And in January 2016, Dr Heine became the first female President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

These are wonderful positive steps, but there is so much more that needs to be done.

The Pacific region still has the lowest level of women’s political representation in the world, slightly over six per cent — compared to the global average of 23.5 per cent; and the Pacific region includes three out of five countries around the world that have no women in national parliaments.

We also need to acknowledge the connections between women’s leadership and decision-making, violence against women and women’s economic empowerment.

In summary, we are seeing some positive change, but we must keep up the momentum to ensure that this change is sustainable.

Whilst support for women’s leadership and decision-making is important, we cannot address this one area alone.

Work needs to be done to advocate for change across all areas towards gender equality in our region.

And just remember — I just say this all the time, if you empower a woman, you empower her family, you empower her community and you empower her nation.

Thank you for your kind attention.

[ENDS]

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