It's a real pleasure to be here.

The Women's Forum, now in its third year, has fast become one of the highlights amongst the many events here at CHOGM.

For me, gender equality has always been self-evident.

The economics support it, the social good supports it, the inherent values of human rights and dignity support it.

Yet, our topic today is both so familiar and so very devastating.

We still have a long way to go, in my own country and around the world, to eradicate the exploitation of women.

It starts here with us, countries of the Commonwealth and with the power of our voices and our actions.

It starts with righting the most obvious of injustices, but at the same time working to overcome the more subtle barriers and biases.

As I see it, exploitation falls into the former category – those stark injustices, blatantly unacceptable, but all too common, especially for women and girls.

So what is exploitation?

These are injustices masked in so many shapes and sizes.

Exploitation is a mother after an earthquake; trading sex for some rice in the midst of chaos and disaster.

Exploitation is a family working 18 hour days in a sweatshop.

Exploitation is a girl marrying a man she met three hours ago.

Exploitation is a child finding herself in front of a webcam.

Exploitation happens when someone is vulnerable to those with more power – something triggered so easily through poverty, social disempowerment, desperation.

A family unable to pay for food, or for medicine, rendered vulnerable when offered a seemingly insignificant loan.

A small amount – the price of a sandwich down the street here in London perhaps.

It's all it takes, but if you're desperate and if you're vulnerable it can so quickly spiral out of control to become an impossible and insurmountable debt.

In Australia, we fight against exploitation each day – both on our own shores and in countries across our region.

Eradicating exploitation is a long process and I am pleased to say it has received support without reservation from across the spectrum of Australian politics, right and left alike.

Through Australia's overseas development assistance program, we are identifying where we can most effectively eradicate exploitation in our own region, the Indo-Pacific.

We do this in two very deliberate ways – supporting programs that target issues of exploitation head on and programs that support female empowerment more broadly.

Where women are not valued, are invisible, are unable to exercise leadership in their lives and their communities, they become more vulnerable to exploitation.

Women and girls who have control over their own lives and who are respected as leaders and listened to, are less vulnerable to exploitation.

It's a simple idea, but it underpins each and every Australian Government strategy targeting exploitation.

The Australian Government's most recent Foreign Policy White Paper, launched late last year, affirms that gender equality is a core national value and a foreign policy priority.

In January, Australia began our three-year term on the Human Rights Council – elected, in part, because of our focus on gender equality.

We are proceeding full steam ahead in taking this forward – through advocacy on the Council, through bilateral outreach and through our own aid program.

The Australian Government has mandated that at least 80% of all aid investments must effectively address gender issues in their implementation.1

I am pleased to stay that last year we achieved 78%. 

I am pleased to be part of a government that is a powerful advocate for women across the world.

We have programs to assist women and young girls to access education, employment, core assets, and business opportunities.

Independence in their finances and autonomy in their decision-making – these are their protections from being vulnerable, from being exploited.

We are running courses to support female entrepreneurs across our region to turn their ideas into marketable realities – and in doing so, to build their own confidence and to exercise their own leadership.2

Our work in Indonesia, in partnership with the Indonesian Government, has helped over 50,000 women gain a voice in influencing government decisions through established community networks.3

This same program, the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment – better known as MAMPU – is also reaching out to address exploitation head on.

Under MAMPU, we are working to improve the conditions of female migrant workers overseas, and to defend their fundamental rights and the rights of their families.4

We have programs to increase women's access to leadership and decision-making opportunities.

The Australia Awards Women's Leadership Initiative focuses on mentoring, networking and illustrating the importance of strong female leadership across our region.

Our work in the Pacific, in partnership with local governments, has centred on change in social norms and attitudes – increasing economic opportunities for women, and improving pathways for women in leadership.

There is more work to be done – we know the Pacific region still has the lowest level of women's political representation in the world.

Yet, each year, we see more and more Pacific women contesting elections, despite the inherent barriers.

This is a testament to their strength and to their resilience.

We have programs to target trafficking and exploitation specifically.

It is a coordinated regional response to the trafficking and exploitation of migrant workers. For example, we have joined with the ASEAN countries in a mammoth effort against human trafficking in our region.

In recent years, we have taken steps through our program to Combat Trafficking in Persons – a program specifically geared to focus on women and children.

The next phase of this massive international effort was announced just last month, at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit – a new investment of $80 million from us, and renewed energy towards this common goal.5

We have programs to lower the rates of domestic violence in our own country and around the world, and to ensure justice and support for survivors.

Our contribution to the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women has helped reach over 160,000 women and girls, men and boys, in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.6

Our flagship program, Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development, has reached thousands of women and children in need of crisis support services across 9 Pacific island countries.7

We have domestic laws in place to prevent Australians who are registered child sex offenders from travelling overseas.8

We have campaigns to ensure even the largest companies in the Australian private sector scrutinise their supply chains to eliminate modern slavery.9

We have transparent, zero tolerance policies in place to ensure that Australian diplomats and government officials posted overseas are in no way contributing to the scourge of child exploitation and abuse.

Together we recognise the immense social and economic costs brought by exploitation of women in our region and beyond.

Together we are doing all that we can to set and to defend such a high standard.

Exploitation is intolerable in any form, in any context, to any person.

This is something that we all can agree on.

It is well and truly time to call on our collective efforts and our collective actions.

That is something we can all get behind.

Thank you for your kind attention.

  1. Source: DFAT website
  2. Source: DFAT Innovation Xchange
  3. Source: DFAT, Indonesia Political and Economic Strategy Branch
  4. Source: DFAT, Indonesia Political and Economic Strategy Branch
  5. Source: DFAT website;
  6. Source: DFAT website
  7. Source: DFAT, Gender Equality Branch
  8. Source:
  9. Source:

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