Thank you Tracey [Spicer], and good morning everyone, it’s so wonderful to see so many of you here joining us here today.
Can I start by acknowledging The Governor of New South Wales, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley and Mrs Linda Hurley; my friend and colleague, New South Wales Minister for Mental Health, Women and Ageing, the Honourable Tanya Davies; Janelle Weissman and all the members of the UN Women’s National Committee of Australia; our international guests; ladies and gentlemen; and a special warm welcome to our Australia Awards and Colombo Plan recipients.
I would like to thank UN Women and also my own Department in New South Wales led by Rhonda Piggott and her team for organising this morning’s event. We are very pleased to support UN Women; they are a very, very valued partner of the Australian Government and most especially to support you in your International Women’s Day engagement.
International Women’s Day has been celebrated for over 100 years. It is a day to come together to celebrate the achievements of women but it is also an important reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done.
For many, gender inequality and its effects persist. It restricts women and girls from being heard in decision-making that will shape their communities. It will prevent them from participating fully in economic activity; and it will leave them vulnerable to violence that is both traumatic to individuals and comes at a very significant cost to those communities.
UN Women’s theme for International Women’s Day 2018 is ‘Leave No Woman Behind’. It highlights another consequence of gender inequality, and that is the impact of crisis and natural disasters on women and girls.
As Minister for International Development and the Pacific, I have seen first-hand how our almost $4 billion overseas development program has touched the lives of so many women and girls. 90% of our ODA is spent in the Indo-Pacific, of which a third is directly spent in our own Pacific area.
We have set a target requiring 80% of our ODA has to have a gender component. Whilst we haven’t quite reached that target yet, we came very close with 78% last program year.
We support flagship UN programs through our $55 million Gender Equity Fund.
And our flagship $320 million 10-year Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program has helped to improve political, social and economic opportunities for women in all 14 Pacific Island Forum countries.
Our focus on gender, women and girls cuts across into areas of humanitarian, natural disaster, most especially where we see women and girls being left behind.
While we know that earthquakes do not have the capacity to select its victims, in fact, disasters do disproportionately affect women and girls.
For that reason, that’s why Australia’s humanitarian support seeks to put women and girls at its centre.
For example, after Tropical Cyclone Winston hit Fiji, I visited the Rakiraki market, where I met with female market vendors- mostly from rural areas- and was moved not only by their stories of resilience following the devastation that the cyclone had caused to their livelihoods and to their personal lives, but just how they were helping each other rebuild their lives.
In partnership with UN Women and the local market council, we were able to rebuild not only the market, but also help build an accommodation area close to that market so that the women could come to market, bring their goods, bring their children, stay safely overnight, sell their goods and then go back to their homes.
Last month, following Cyclone Gita, we committed $3.5 million in humanitarian assistance to help particularly women and girls in Tonga.
One of these important things that we do do is the distribution of dignity kits and reproductive health supplies.
Those dignity kits will help, in this instance, over 1,000 families live in a modicum of comfort and good hygiene in the aftermath of that disaster.
And that contained pretty basic things like soap and washing powder and those pretty basic things that we take for granted, but in those communities it will help reduce the risk of communicable diseases and help families live in a degree of cleanliness and dignity while they are displaced.
We know that hygiene promotion is the most effective health intervention and we know that women and girls are disproportionately impacted by poor water and sanitation services.
Through our Pacific Women Program, we are now embarking on what we termed ‘The Last Taboo’, which will be the first multi-country study of menstrual hygiene in the Pacific.
Women and girls in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands have shared with us the challenges that they face in managing menstrual hygiene and the hopes that they have for overcoming those barriers.
To us this may seem very, very difficult to comprehend in 2018, but it is a reality and it’s a reality in many parts of the world that do affect women and girls.
We have a new $110 million Water for Women program which we work with UN and help address delivering water, sanitation and hygiene services in the Indo-Pacific, including the countries that I’ve just mentioned.
Women around the world are leading initiatives to strengthen their local economies to work in the agricultural sectors to adapt to different practices in the face of changing climate events to ensure that disaster management strategies incorporate their daily lives and ensure sustainable use of the natural resources available to them.
Women are strong, they are resilient, they are creative and they are actively involved in their communities.
As I’ve always said; you empower a woman, you empower her family, you empower her community and in turn you help her empower her country.
They are not victims; they are entrepreneurs, they are leaders, they are responders and they are implementers.
And one very real example recently in Tonga, a cadre of female power line technicians helped restore the power to remote communities after the recent cyclone. So, there they are rebuilding their own communities and that’s why they should not be left behind.
Today is a chance to pause, to think, but also to look to the future.
Women and girls have a lot to celebrate and for those women, particularly those women that are affected by disaster and humanitarian needs, they more than anyone need our help so that they are not left behind.
I wish everyone a happy International Women’s Day.
Thank you for your kind attention.
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