5th East Asia Gender Equality Ministerial Meeting

Australia's statement to Plenary I – Gender mainstreaming – achievements and challenges

Opening Address by Penny Williams, Australia's Global Ambassador for Women, E&OE

Beijing

15-16 May 2013

Acknowledgements and introduction

Your Excellency Madame Chair

Honourable Ministers

Distinguished delegates

It is an honour to participate in the 5th East Asia Gender Equality Ministerial Meeting.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to the Government of China and the All China Women’s Federation for inviting Australia to attend.

I would like to thank you for your generous hospitality and to congratulate you on the exemplary arrangements for the meeting.

It is a particular privilege to be meeting to discuss gender equality here in Beijing, the birthplace of the historic Beijing Platform for Action at the UN’s Fourth World Conference for Women in 1995.

We regard this gathering as a significant opportunity to advance the political, economic and social empowerment of women and girls in the region.

I hope our discussions here strengthen the foundations for a long and productive collaboration in promoting the role of the region's women and girls into the future.

Australia and its people are integrally linked to Asia and we recognise that a prosperous East Asian region is important for a prosperous Australia.

A new focus on women

Our collective understanding of what constitutes prosperity and how to achieve it has evolved.

A new recognition has emerged globally that no society can achieve its potential without the full engagement of women.

Our presence here today is evidence of this and it underlines that we have much to learn from each other about important issues such as gender mainstreaming, eradicating violence against women and eliminating barriers to women’s equal participation in the workforce.

In Australia, my appointment as our country’s first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls signalled the Government’s strong commitment to Australia’s international engagement to promote gender equality and to mainstream gender across our foreign policy and development programs. 

Australia’s achievements and challenges

Madame Chair, distinguished delegates,

A broad reform agenda in Australia has been pivotal in driving gender equality in our domestic context.

Legislative reform is promoting women’s workforce participation, removing workplace discrimination and addressing the gender pay gap. 

Australia is rolling out a suite of innovative policies and programs in support of this framework including a Government-funded paid parental leave scheme and programs to increase the representation of women in decision-making positions.

Significant investments in skills, education and training, as well as reforms to superannuation and pension scheme and introduction of a disability insurance scheme are directly aimed at strengthening gender equality in Australian workplaces and communities.

We are providing additional support to women with multiple disadvantage or discrimination due to ethnicity, disability, age or geographic location, in recognition of the specific challenges they face.

Our National Carers Strategy helps carers, the majority of whom are women, to participate more fully in work, family and community life.

We have amended our Sex Discrimination legislation to provide greater protections against discrimination and sexual harassment.

And earlier this year, we introduced new legislation to criminalise forced marriage and to strengthen provisions relating to slavery, slavery-like conditions and people trafficking.

In 2010, Australia introduced both a twelve year National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children which is regarded as best practice model, and a National Women’s Health Policy.

Following Australia’s co-sponsorship of a December 2012 UN resolution to end female genital mutilation, the Government this year instituted new initiatives to eliminate this practice and to support survivors.

Recognising the disproportionate impact that conflict has on women and girls, in 2012, we launched our National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, implementing our responsibilities under UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

And yet, despite this ambitious program of activity and the enormous commitment on the part of federal and state governments and civil society partners, huge challenges remain.

For example, while our Prime Minister and many senior cabinet members are female, women are more generally underrepresented in corporate leadership positions.  

The gender pay gap is sitting at approximately 17 per cent and Australian women are twice as likely as men to be in the bottom 20 per cent of income earners.

And appallingly, one in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15. 

Gender mainstreaming – the domestic focus

The answer to these myriad concerns is our ongoing pursuit of gender mainstreaming across the programs of all public and private sector entities and in multilateral organisations.

This is why Australia releases annually a women’s national budget statement which identifies achievements and forthcoming budget measures across government.

Indeed, as we sit here, Australia’s Minister for the Status of Women is finalising the 2013 Women’s Budget Statement and therefore was regrettably unable to attend this meeting.

The Australian Government Office for Women is Australia’s key national machinery to develop and coordinate the Government’s gender mainstreaming work.

As a strong evidence base is critical to delivering effective government programs to promote women, since 2012, Australia’s Office for Women has been supporting the Australian Bureau of Statistics to produce a Gender Indicators ‘report card’ with sex-disaggregated data. 

Our Office for Women works across Federal Government agencies to develop practical measures to embed a strong consideration of gender equality in each agency’s programs.

Specific examples of this work include the Office for Women’s activities to implement a Government commitment made in 2010 to achieve 40 per cent representation of women across Government boards by 2015. 

As a result, women’s representation on Australian Government boards has now risen to 38.4 per cent (from 34.5 per cent in 2010) –an all-time high.

I should note that the private sector is lagging behind this figure.  The percentage of women on the boards of Australia’s top 200 stock exchange listed companies is only 15.7 per cent [7 May 2013].

Australia considers civil society engagement to be an essential element of gender mainstreaming. 

With funding from the Office for Women, an umbrella Alliance of six National Women’s Alliances represents over 180 women’s organisations from across Australia. The Alliance brings these organisations together to share experiences, issues and solutions. This information is provided to the Australian government to better inform policies.

Gender mainstreaming – Australia’s engagement internationally

Madame Chair,

The priority Australia attaches to gender mainstreaming in our domestic programs is reflected in our international engagement.

Two areas are a particular focus for Australia.

First, we have made the mainstreaming of gender in international security initiatives a priority through our promotion of the Women, Peace and Security agenda as a member of the UN Security Council and through our implementation of Australia’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

Secondly, we have identified gender equality as a critical cross-cutting theme across Australia’s aid program and all our aid activities must satisfy the criteria that they advance gender equality and promote the role of women at the design, implementation and evaluation stages.

We also recognise the critical importance of making targeted investments in areas where progress towards the achievement of equality has been slow.

Conclusion

In conclusion, may I once again thank our hosts for the vital opportunity to contribute to the region’s conversation about improving the status of women.

I look forward to sharing Australia’s experiences and learning from the work of our partners across East Asia.