Launch of the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Strategy

Speech

Speaker: Speaker: Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Peter N Varghese AO

29 February 2016

Good morning to all of you.

I am delighted to welcome all of you to this very important launch, and can I acknowledge the presence of the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, who has been the driving force behind this Strategy in terms of recalibrating and redefining the aid program.

To our newly minted Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, welcome to you.

To our very active Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja. And Dr Mark Dybul, Executive Director of The Global Fund, a great partner of ours.

This Strategy is a connecting thread that will run through trade policy, development assistance, the running of the Australian diplomatic service.

We want to make sure women's empowerment is hardwired into all of that.

This brings together our values and our interests. The values case for gender equality does not need to be made, it is patently obvious. But regrettably, it is not universally observed.

It is important that we give testament to the need for gender equality and the importance of gender equality.

Now, gender equality is a virtue in its own right. But it is also fundamental to the development and economic growth objectives that we have as part of our foreign policy and part of our development assistance policy.

We are living in a time when global growth is tepid, with a slowing global economy, we should not be dismissive of the growth benefits of gender equality, as the Foreign Minister said - adding something like 2% to global GDP at a time when we desperately need areas of growth in the global GDP.

We want this Strategy to work its way through all of our big policies.

We want Australia to be a country internationally that will promote the value of gender equality and the importance of women's empowerment.

That is part of the reason we are standing for the Human Rights Council in 2018-2020, and why I hope all of the distinguished Ambassadors and High Commissioners can sign a book today pledging your support to our campaign.

It is why we were large supporters of this theme in the Sustainable Development Goals.

It is why we used our time as Chair of the G20, in 2014, to put women's empowerment and gender equality at the centre of the G20 agenda—including reducing the gap in labour participation between men and women by 25% by 2025.

We were very supportive of setting up the Women 20 (W20) group in the G20 support structure. In our trade policy, we want Aid for Trade to be a big part of what we are trying to achieve through our development assistance role. To give developing countries the capacity to engage in the international trading system and thereby contribute to growth and poverty reduction.

We have as the centrepiece of our aid program the commitment that at least 80 per cent of development investments, regardless of their objectives, will effectively address gender issues in their implementation.

I'm also very committed to ensuring that the principles of gender equality are embedded in the running of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We have made a lot of progress from the days when we could send cables out on postings which said, "Wife and baggage to follow" - the name of a great book we launched last year.

But we still have a way to go. Last year I was very pleased to launch a Women in Leadership strategy in DFAT. It followed a lot of hard, empirical work we have done on what the barriers to women in the Department were—the cultural barriers, the conscious and unconscious barriers.

We have now set rather ambitious targets in our personnel area, where we aim to have women and men each hold at least 40 per cent of Senior Executive Service positions by 2020. It's a stretch target, but it's something that I'm confident if we work at it, we can get there.

We have now trialled the beginning of a flexible working arrangement, where the onus will be on managers to explain why a flexible working arrangement cannot apply, rather than on an individual officer to prove that it can apply.

So, I think today we have an opportunity to bring all of this together in a Strategy document.

Now, strategies are important. They guide what we do. But they don't in themselves achieve what we want to achieve. We will be judged not so much by the eloquence of the Strategy, which I think is terrific, but even more so by our capacity to implement it.

We are determined in the Department to bring the Australian diplomatic network, to bring the work of our 100 posts, to bring the work of our Ambassadors and High Commissioners overseas, and all of the people in the Department towards these objectives.

I'm delighted to be associated with the launch and very grateful that you could be present as well.

Thank you​

Last Updated: 17 March 2016