It is a real pleasure to be here this morning to mark International Women’s Day.
Thank you Penny, Australia’s Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, for the galvanising words in your message this morning.
Penny’s appointment last year as the Global Ambassador is a measure of Australia’s commitment to the rights and needs of women and girls everywhere.
She was here in PNG late last year speaking at the Family and Sexual Violence Symposium about the need to end violence against women. One of her mandates is to work to stop violence across the globe. That includes in our own neighbourhood.
We all know that violence is one of the greatest barriers to women and girls fully realizing their own potential.
We all share the same commitment to ending it.
It is a real privilege to share the stage this morning with such inspiring women as Sister Lorraine Garasu Soli from Buka, who has worked tirelessly to help her people in Bougainville recover from the conflict there.
Truly a remarkable woman, a recipient of the PNG Silver Jubilee Award for Leadership (2000), nominated for the 1000 Women Peace Prize (2005) as well as the World 50 years Bravery Award in 2008.
Sister Lorraine was also the PNG winner of the US State Secretary’s International Women of Courage Award in 2009.
And, last year, she was the recipient of an Order of Australia medal — the highest recognition of outstanding achievement and service in the Australian honours system.
It is a real privilege to share the stage with you Sister Lorraine.
She was unable to be here this morning but I would also like to acknowledge Dame Carol Kidu, one of PNG’s most distinguished women, who has also made an enormous contribution to her adopted country and is a symbol of cooperation between our two countries.
Dame Carol has herself received many awards, including in February 2009, when she was made a knight of the Légiond'honneur by France, for "her dedication to helping women, young girls, children, the physically and mentally impaired and her commitment to fighting discrimination."
She was the first citizen of Papua New Guinea ever to receive this award and she accepted it on behalf of the people of Papua New Guinea.
She is a true leader and contributor.
I thank the PNG Business and Professional Women’s Group for hosting the breakfast this morning.
'Inspiring Girls, Expanding Futures' — the theme for this morning — and a challenge to all of us here.
International Women’s Day is a day of celebration, but also a call to action.
We must keep working, and we intend to keep working to realise gender equality, to allow a vision of the future where girls and women can fulfil their own potential, and help their families and their communities to grow and prosper.
Australia and the PNG Government and people have always worked very closely together — we are neighbours, and friends.
And we know, as we look to the future, that we must continue to work for change — to give women and girls the best chance for changing their own futures, and for transforming the future for their families, their communities, and their entire country.
All of Australia’s development programs operating in PNG place women at the centre of planning and implementation.
In key areas of education, health, HIV/AIDS programs, transport and infrastructure, law and justice — in all these areas, our gender equality policy provides an overarching framework.
Some examples of the work going on in PNG to strengthen the future for women and girls includes work in maternal and child health, law and justice, combating violence, and education.
Maternal health, and the high rate of deaths in childbirth is a serious area of vulnerability in PNG — and we are working with the PNG Government to strengthen the health system, investing more than $70 million in 2011-12 alone.
We are aiming to increase the number of supervised births by about 8,000 a year, which will reduce maternal mortality.
We are training midwives, improving rural health facilities and training facilities, providing obstetric equipment, and purchasing and distributing essential drugs.
Fighting violence against women — a critical area of vulnerability in PNG, as in other countries — is also a priority.
Australia’s assistance to the law and justice sector has seen a large increase in the number of female village court magistrates recruited and trained, up from just 10 in 2004 to 685 in 2011.
There are currently another 200 who are in the process of being appointed.
I had the great privilege to see this system of justice in action during a visit here last year.
It is innovation at work and gives women a real voice. This voice enables them to speak up on other issues of equality, like property ownership and land tenure.
We are also working to build women’s capacity through education — because education is the single most effective investment we can make — to girls, to women, to communities, countries and the world.
An educated girl can make more decisions for herself, can have the potential to earn her own money, to choose when to get married, and when to have children, she will know more about nutrition, is more likely to seek vaccinations for her children, and will invest a lot of her resources and money into her family and community.
Therefore, as Penny Williams says, as US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, says, as many leaders and we here today say and know — investing in women is both right, and smart.
The Australian Government is proud to work with the PNG Government to improve women’s access to education.
A minimum of 50 per cent of Australian Scholarships for Papua New Guineans to undertake tertiary study in Australia go to women — around 75 women a year.
More than 500 midwifery scholarships, targeting young female nurses from rural areas, have also been funded.
We provided more than1.5 million textbooks to over 3,500 schools last year.
We have helped abolish school fees; we have invested in school infrastructure and improved sanitation facilities. We are helping train teachers.
All these things help more girls to get to school, and help more women to learn and actively participate in community and leadership roles for change.
PNG, like many other countries, shows both how far we have come, and how far we have to go.
Women are achieving great things, and many other women are suffering, disempowered and vulnerable.
Women are studying at universities at the highest levels of their fields, yet simultaneously many women still at terrible risk of not surviving pregnancy and childbirth, and are at terrible risk of being the victims of violence.
Today I am humbled by what women can achieve and honoured to be in the company of so many strong women who have achieved so much in PNG.
And I reiterate the commitment of the Australian Government to continue our friendship, to build our partnership, and to invest in women and girls in this country, and in our region, so that injustice is righted, and so that we may all reap the benefits.
In economic terms alone, we must pause for thought.
The International Labour Organisation estimates that the Asia and Pacific region is losing US$42 billion to US$47 billion annually because of women’s limited access to employment opportunities.
This is money that could flow on to improve the health of children, to housing, to education, to feeding communities, to help fight poverty, to create stability.
The Australian aid program supports women’s empowerment in many different ways.
Because gender equality should be absolute. It should be unequivocal.
And because stability and prosperity in our region is absolutely dependent on women and girls being given an equal right to participate and flourish.
I congratulate you all on this morning’s event, and on your many and varied achievements. I urge you to continue your work, and your efforts. And I assure you that the Australian Government supports you in your vision and your purpose.
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