Thanks very much Jane and can I start by thanking you and CBM for all the hard work that you do – and thank you very much for organising this morning’s event. Can I also acknowledge Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Claire Moore; Lan Anh, our guest speaker from Veitnam, we’re looking forward to hearing from you!
Can I acknowledge Assistant Minister Jane Prentice, all my parliamentary colleagues who have joined us here this morning.
Now we’re here this morning because of our shared desire to raise awareness of the multiple disadvantages faced by women and girls with disabilities around the world. And your presence here this morning is testimony to your commitment to that cause.
I want to start this morning by sharing two statistics with you: Firstly, the global literacy rate for women with a disability is just 1%, and secondly, women with a disability are 2-3 times more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse than women without a disability.
Now, these statistics don’t just relate to just one society, one country, or one part of the world.
They are global figures and they are profoundly disturbing.
I know that all of us here have the collective ambition of ‘leaving no one behind’ – and this is an ambition that is deeply held by the Australian Government.
For that reason, gender equality and disability inclusion are high priorities for the Australian Government and because often, women and girls with a disability, especially that category, is often the one that is most left behind.
And, as we indicated in our Foreign Affairs White Paper last year, gender equality is the foundation of our international engagement.
And by addressing both gender equality and disability inclusion, we are working to overcome the constraints that these women in particular have in terms of making an economic, a political and a social advancement.
Now when countries from all around the world sat down in 2015 to articulate a plan for sustainable development by 2030, human rights and inclusion were put at the centre of that.
And our 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Goals, which, at their heart, are a commitment for development for all, and leaving no one behind, are reaching furthest behind first.
They capture the spirit, I’ve described it as that spirit of a “fair go” which is so quintessential to our Australian psyche and that, in effect is what the Sustainable Development Goals are; the modern articulation of the Australian concept of a “fair go”.
Now SDG 5 is a very clear example of this: gender equality and empowerment of girls and women, clearly articulated in this goal and has been mainstreamed across this whole agenda.
All people, no matter what their gender, have a right to reach their full potential.
And we want to ensure that policies and ambitions are working for everyone.
Now it’s true whether you are talking about the capacity to earn, the capacity to feed one’s family, the capacity for good health, or the capacity to get a good education.
We estimate that about a billion people worldwide are living with a disability. When you do then look at disabilitiy and gender, there is a very, very strong intersection between these two. So therefore that makes the challenge for, particularly women and girls with a disability, even more acute.
Now, some are excluded from participation by physical barriers, such as the fact that in some countries there are absolutely no ramps for them to go to school, a very simple thing, but yet a very debilitating thing.
Some are excluded because of lack of staffing support, like sign language translation services.
Some, basically, are excluded because the school that’s closest to them just doesn’t address their specific needs.
And of course some are excluded because of cultural barriers.
Now, challenges of course are not confined to the education sector, but the education sector is where some of the disability and greatest barriers are at their most profound.
Now, obviously, exclusion from education has flow-on effects in terms of social, in terms of political and in terms of economic participation in later life.
Now we are acutely aware of the deep challenge faced by women and girls with disabilities all around the world, and that’s why we are committed to affording and playing a leadership role about, with, in relation to this, in our Overseas Development Program.
For example, our Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program (or Pacific Women) we support Pacific Island countries to improve the political, economic and social opportunities for Pacific women.
And throughout this program, we are committed to ensuring that women with disabilities are involved in and benefit from the program.
Regionally, through Pacific Women we partner with organisations like UNICEF to support the Pacific Disability Forum, which is a regional peak body that works in partnership with disabled people’s organisations.
And it runs an early intervention program with, for children with disabilities, their parents and their caregivers.
For example, in Tuvalu, Pacific Women supported the Tuvalu Disabled Persons Organisation, and their Ministry of Home Affairs to conduct the first comprehensive national disability study in February last year.
Now before that, it was estimated that there were 72 people in Tuvalu with a disability.
After the study, they found that there was 496.
Now that’s one example that data is so very important, because that’s part of the issue and that’s certainly an issue that we see extensively, particularly in the Pacific; that lack of data. And in fact that lack of data is vitally important not just in the Pacific but in other areas and it’s important that we do address that.
We also support, through this fund, the Pacific Disability Forum to develop a toolkit for example for eliminating violence against women and girls in the workforce.
Initially developed for Fiji, it has since been rolled out to other Pacific countries like Kiribati and Samoa and soon will be implemented in Timor-Leste.
Furthermore, through our flagship scholarship program, the Australian Awards, we offer thousands of scholarships, fellowships and short courses to people from over 60 developing countries every year and we are committed to including people with a disability in that.
Now our Australia Awards disability inclusion policy has two key points: first, to ensure equal academic access for people with disability through the removal of barriers to participation; and secondly, to develop independent living skills to promotes the empowerment of people with disability.
Of course, the implementation and mainstreaming of disability support in the Australian, Australia Awards has seen a dramatic increase in the participation of people with disabilities— both men and women.
Over the last 6 years, our Australian Awards has supported more than 200 people with a disability to undertake tertiary studies in Australia, from over 40 different countries.
51% of these scholars have been women.
And in Australia, at the end of 2017, we had more than 100 Australia Awards scholars with a disability studying at Australian tertiary institutions and this year, we welcome about another 30 people with a disability to study.
Now we focus on the potential of all our scholars and that includes, as I said, scholars with a disability.
Now understanding the needs of these scholars starts with a conversation, and of course, people with a disability are the best people placed to tell us what their needs are in terms of participating and being able to contribute fully.
Now, I’m really encouraged by the momentum that is building to highlight the needs of girls and women with a disability.
And those trends are coming together.
Now this month in New York, women and girls with disability was one of the three sub-themes at the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of People with a Disability.
Now at this forum, CBM and other partners presented examples of programs that are reaching women and girls in remote areas on, in the global south.
Now gender equality is also a cross-cutting theme of the first Global Disability Summit, with Jane as Jane indicated, I am very proud to lead the delegation to London next month.
We’re thrilled about Rosemary Kayess’ election and I was very, very pleased to lobby for this and I was really pleased to see the number of countries that do, did understand that we really needed to go from one, from one female representative on that committee and now there will be six! So I think we’re very, very pleased. [interjection by Lan Anh] Seven, seven! Well there you go, seven, taking over, that’s very good, of a committee of eighteen. That’s excellent!
And we also are aware of the recent election to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women – the first woman with a disability to be elected, Ana Narváez, was recently elected.
Now the election of both of these women, (very, very qualified women can I say) I think, is showing the greater awareness that we are seeing on the global stage and the extent to which issues of disability and gender are coming together.
Can I conclude by saying that, we know that when societies are much more inclusive of all its people – including women with a disability – they are stronger, they are more prosperous and they are more stable and so therefore it is in the interest of all of us to ensure that no one gets left behind. Can I thank you once again for joining us here this morning, your commitment and your dedication to this important role and can I particularly thank CBM Australia for putting together this important report.
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