Reception to welcome Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls

RG Casey Building, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Speech by Ms Natasha Stott Despoja AM, Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls

3 March 2014

Good morning everyone.  I begin, of course, by acknowledging the traditional owners.  I pay my respects to their Elders past and present and also to any other Elders from any communities who may be present here today.  

I'd also like to acknowledge, of course, the Ministers, Minister Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister of Australia, Minister Michaelia Cash who is the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Women.  To the other Ministers and Shadow Ministers, the Parliamentary Secretary Brett Mason who is here.  Indeed to members of the Diplomatic Corps and I look particularly at that strong group of female Ambassadors in the room today.  Thank you for gracing us with your presence.  Ladies and gentleman, members of many organisations here today and, indeed, Shirley Stott Despoja, Mum, thanks for coming.  

I also want to add to the comments by Minister Bishop about my predecessor, Penny Williams.  It would not be appropriate for us not to acknowledge her work today.  I look forward so much to building on the ground breaking work that she did in this role.  

Thank you Ministers for your very generous comments today.  Thank you for honouring me with this appointment.  Thank you for trusting me with this role.  And you certainly know how to host a welcome party.  I also want to say thank you to the many organisations, many individuals, many representatives who are in the room today.  Many of you have worked for a long time with great personal commitment in order to advocate on behalf of women and girls, not just in Australia, but beyond  I look around and some of you I know very well, some of you are dear friends, some of you I know from former lives.  Some of you I have looked up to, admired, been mentored by and have appreciated the guidance and views.  The doyennes of the feminist movement are here today and I applaud you.  

I look forward to working with you.  I look forward to working with you to achieve our shared goal of a world where women participate; women and girls participate equally in political leadership, in business and community life.  Live in a world that is free from violence, free from the fear of violence.  Where women can participate in business, in the workplace.  Where women can play a role in peace-making and peace-building.  And were women and girls have proper access to education and health services.  

Now when Julie Bishop announced my appointment in December last year, I described it as my dream job, indeed it is.  It's not often a lifelong passion and a Government's core priority come together in this way.  Yes, my job is to promote gender equity and gender equality in the international arena.  Sounds similar to some of your jobs I suspect.  I'm not sure about being the face of Australia, Julie, we need to talk later.  

As you heard from the Minister, my work is focused across three pillars that cross the foreign policy and the aid program.  Women's leadership; women's economic empowerment; and indeed addressing violence against women.  And you've heard about the wonderful Foundation to Prevent Violence Against Women and Their Children.  Unfortunately Minister, I can't take credit for establishing that.  That was a joint Victorian and Commonwealth decision and now receives the support of this Government and for that I am thankful.  It's the dirty little secret of this nation: domestic family abuse and sexual assault. 

My geographic priority is the Indo-Pacific region.  A region where Australia enjoys its closest relationships and where we can build on valuable partnerships with women and men who are already working hard on gender equality.  Indeed, the day my position was announced, as you've heard, I was honoured to accompany Minister Bishop to the Pacific where we visited Nauru, Solomons Islands and Vanuatu.  And it was a great opportunity to learn first-hand from women in that region.  To look at the obstacles they face, hear about how they are working to overcome those obstacles.  And how Australia is and can play a diplomatic and aid role in those areas. 

So I will soon return to the Pacific to promote women's political participation.  I will be in PNG to assist with addressing violence against women.  I'll be attending the APEC Women and the Economy Forum in China to advance regional dialogue on women's economic empowerment. 

But my first solo trip as Ambassador was only a fortnight ago to Indonesia.  As Minister Bishop said, I was representing Australia at the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children, but also was engaged in bilateral activities in Indonesia.  And as part of that work I went to the Tigaraksa District, just outside of Jakarta to meet with beneficiaries of our microfinance programs.  Australia supports these people, women in particular through the Indonesian Government's National Program for Community Empowerment. 

A wonderful example that stays with me: I met with Ibu Neng in her small, but thriving restaurant.  (Yes, this multilateral visit involved a lot of food I might suggest, a lot of sampling.)  Five years ago, Ibu Neng had a small catering business she ran from her house as a bit of a side line for her work as a teacher.  But since 2007, she's used five revolving microfinance loans to grow her business into a successful restaurant and catering enterprise that employs 15 people, 10 of whom are women.  

Business has been so successful that she plans to open another restaurant in a sub-district nearby.  She's used the profits to put her children through university.  

When Ibu Neng first received her loan and opened the restaurant, she decided to call it Rajawali – meaning eagle.  She said her business was like a powerful bird, it had the body but she wanted it to grow wings and fly.  So the microfinance loans and a lot of hard work are now making that vision a reality for Ibu Neng and enabling the dreams of many Indonesian women and men and the dreams of their families to soar. 

It is wonderful to see the Australian Government place economic diplomacy, specifically women's economic empowerment, at the centre of its foreign policy and aid program.  Women like Ibu Neng who I was talking about, they do drive economies, they do build peace, political stability and progress.  They're the best hope we have for a future in which everyone thrives. 

Next week I look forward to supporting Senator Cash at the Commission on the Status of Women in New York where many of you will be, working to secure a future where the interests of women and girls are protected and promoted. 

So ladies and gentleman, I know this role offers many opportunities to improve the lives of women and girls and especially the poorest women and specifically those in our region.  I'm proud of Australia's efforts to work with and for the world's women and one thing we all know is that anything that improves the lives of children makes the world a better place. 

I'm honoured to be given the chance to contribute to this work and I thank you so much for coming this morning. 

Thank you Ministers and Harinder, enjoy.