International Women's Day 2014

Address at the International Women's Day Parliamentary Breakfast, 4 March 2014

Mural Hall, Australian Parliament House, Canberra

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

4 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 to any other Elders from communities who may be in the room today.

I also acknowledge, of course, the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, Deputy Leader of the Government and indeed my Minister, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the status of women, Michaelia Cash, Leader of the Greens, Christine Milne, indeed Deputy Leader of the Labor Party Tanya Plibersek, the many Ministers, Shadow Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries in the room, Madam President, Donelle Wheeler, Madam Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, members of the Diplomatic Corps, members of the Military, ladies and gentlemen and anyone that I might have missed today. I pay special acknowledgement to our Indigenous sisters during this week.

Happy International Women's Day Week, everyone. I think it has become a week, by decree or otherwise, Julie. But all over the country, as Julie has said, women and men are celebrating at this time and you only have to look at the calendar of events from bake-offs to fun runs, from seminars to marches and jamborees. It's an amazing time to celebrate the gains that we've made, the achievements we've made but also, as has been acknowledged here today, recognise the many challenges that women face. I also acknowledge that a disproportionate number of these events seem to be breakfasts, but that's just a personal thing.

I too have a daughter and this week I celebrate two things, not only International Women's Day, and of course the Commission on the Status of Women, but my daughter's sixth birthday. So today I'm very mindful not only of the efforts of our foremothers and sisters, but also what lies ahead for the next generation of women and girls, and not just in Australia, but across the world.

My job as Ambassador for Women and Girls is to promote gender equality and gender equity on an international scale, in the international arena and indeed with specific focus on our region. My work is focussed on three pillars within the foreign policy and aid programs. One, women's economic empowerment. Secondly, women's leadership. And thirdly, the elimination of violence against women and girls. And, of course, it also includes better access to health and education services for women and girls around the globe.

My geographic priority? It's the Indo-Pacific Region, a region in which Australia already enjoys its closest relationships and where we can build on partnerships already in place with men and women who are working to advance gender equality.

In the Pacific, only five per cent of the nations' parliamentarians are female. And we know that in some Pacific nations, two-thirds of women have experienced some form of violence, physical violence. And yes, the statistics are pretty chilling in this nation too. Let's not forget, a third of Australian women over the age of fifteen have experienced some form of physical assault.

We heard from Donelle this morning the International Labour Organization has reported that the Asia-Pacific region loses up to $47 billion per annum as a result of women's limited access to employment opportunities. And we know that we lose around $16 billion each year as a result of gender gaps in education. So gender equality is good development and it's also smart economics.

So we're launching a film today, ‘Working Together to Improve Gender Equality in the Pacific’. This film highlights Australia's efforts with our partners across the region. The excerpt we're about to see shows a produce market in Papua New Guinea where we meet local women who, with the help of the UN Women PNG Safe Cities Program, are now able to participate safely in their economy. It's one small step, one small example of the valuable and far-reaching work that Australia is doing in our region in order to bring about long-lasting change.

So ladies and gentlemen, today you've heard about some of the domestic challenges, whether it's violence against women, whether it's the disproportionate issues affecting women in poverty, migrant women, our Indigenous sisters, whether it's the gender pay gap, whether it's gaps in education: a range of issues that affect us in this country but they're also compounded and magnified around our globe. So we do have much to do, yes for ourselves but indeed for our sisters around the world.

Prime Minister, you're right. My daughter, Cordelia, is incredibly fortunate to be growing up in this country and in this era. I hope though that she will use her brains and her heart to fight for, along with men and women, for the issues that affect women and girls around the world. But I really hope that she'll be able to look back in years to come and she'll see the policy, cultural, legislative changes that I suspect and hope that her brother Conrad and his friends can take for granted. I look forward to a world in which women and girls are treated equally with their male counterparts.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's lovely to be back, albeit briefly. And I wish you well for this week. Enjoy International Women's Day. I wish you well for this week and indeed the many years ahead. Thank you, and thank you for this honour.