Can I start by acknowledging Your Excellencies Honourable Ministers. Thank you for joining us this morning.
I know it is a very busy time for you and so we are very honoured that you could join us here this morning.
United Nations Under-Secretary-General; African Union Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security; and Mrs Wheeler; Your Excellencies: the Ambassadors of Australia, The United States, Canada and Sweden; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
On behalf of the Australian Government, I would like to say how much we appreciate the opportunity to celebrate here today our partnership with the Women, Gender and Development Directorate of the African Union Commission.
Australia has a proud record on progressing gender equality and the empowerment of women.
In 1902, just one year after we established our federation as the Commonwealth of Australia, we became the first country in the world to legislate to give women the right to be elected as members of the national parliament, and the second country to give women the right to vote.
Over one hundred years later, the Australian Government is committed to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in our international development assistance program, our foreign policy and our economic diplomacy.
We have a gender equality strategy based on three objectives: to enhance women’s voice in decision making, leadership and peace building; to promote the economic empowerment of women; and more importantly, and very importantly, ending violence against women and girls.
These are goals that all of us here today share.
We all know that development, peace and security are unattainable unless we empower women and girls everywhere in the world.
To give practical application to this commitment to the empowerment of women and girls, the Australian Government has mainstreamed gender equality in our development program.
At least 80 per cent of our international development investments must effectively address gender issues in their implementation, no matter what their primary objectives are.
And I am very pleased to say that last year we achieved a target of 78 per cent.
This means, for instance, that it is not enough to simply build a good bridge. You have to ask who is going to design, who is going to construct, and who is going to use this bridge.
Every step of the way you need to make sure that the needs of women and girls are properly taken into account.
Every year, we rigorously test the impact of our development program.
And, as I have said, we are very, very pleased that testing this year showed that 78 per cent of our development investments were achieved.
Australia’s commitment to gender equality is also based very much on our enduring commitment to human rights.
At the same time, we Australians like to get things done, and this means that our engagement with other countries and the international community on human rights, including gender issues, is built on an approach that seeks practical, viable and collaborative ways to implement projects that have far-reaching systemic benefits.
This strong record is the cornerstone of our candidacy to secure a seat on the Human Rights Council for the first time for the 2018-2020 term.
Our candidacy embodies our commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is built on five pillars, the first of which is gender equality.
It reflects Australia’s respect for democracy, the rule of law, zero-tolerance of gender-based violence and the rights of all women, men, girls and boys to realise their full potential in a country that is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, yet one of the most socially cohesive.
Consultation, implementation, fearless evaluation and the willingness to apply evidence-based changes are at the heart of this.
This approach underpins our new one million dollar partnership with the African Union Commission to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Informing this partnership, let me say that Australia is guided by the clear, frank understanding that all of us here are striving to empower our women and girls to remove the obstacles to full gender equality.
None of us has its house fully in order.
Right now, the Australian Government is working hard to lift the workforce participation rate of women, to cut back the pay gap between men and women and to combat that scourge of domestic violence.
Informed by this appreciation that Australia too is striving to achieve true lasting gender equality, our new partnership with the African Union Commission takes a collaborative and practical approach.
It has two components: under the first, we are delighted to be working with the commission, the United States, Canada, and Sweden to review the economic empowerment activities of the African Union’s Fund for African Women since its foundation five years ago.
Australia provided 200,000 to the fund in 2013 for grass roots projects relating to food, agriculture and the environment.
With a commitment of half a million dollars, we are now working with The Commission and our international partners to capture those lessons that have been learned and improve the efficiency of the fund thereby enhancing its capacity to make the best possible impact on the lives of women across Africa.
The second component of our new partnership is focussed squarely on the importance of attaining credible data.
We all know that it simply is not possible to implement effective and lasting public policy if you do not understand the dimensions of the problem which you are trying to resolve.
And that is why we are providing The Commission with a further half a million dollars to establish a new African Union Gender Observatory.
This observatory will generate annual reports on the state of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Africa. These reports will aim to provide timely, independent and verifiable data to strengthen the African Union’s capacity to formulate robust policies and to hold, most importantly, stakeholders to account.
I can sincerely say that the Australian Government is very, very pleased to partner with the African Union Commission, and to work directly with its Women, Gender and Development Directorate in mainstreaming gender equality and promoting women’s empowerment.
This is an economic, social and moral mandate which every politician, every government official, every member of civil society, every business leader and every citizen should share.
There are successes to celebrate – some 49 of 54 African countries guarantee women’s rights in their constitutions.
And the African Union Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa is trailblazing.
But according to the Africa Human Development Report of 2016, sub-Saharan Africa experienced the greatest overall loss in human development globally from gender equality of 33 per cent.
African States have recognised that the time is now to move to implementation and action.
Australia looks forward to this journey in partnership with the African Union and its Women, Gender and Development Directorate, and with our partners the United States, Canada and Sweden.
When you empower a woman you empower her family, you empower her community and you help empower her country.
Finally, on behalf of the Australian Government, I would like to take the opportunity of this event to formally launch the Australia’s Gender Equality Partnership with the African Union Commission’s Joint Gender Partnership.
Thank you for your kind attention.
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