Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

UNIFEM Australia’s 20th Anniversary Dinner, Canberra

Location: Old Parliament House, Canberra

*** Check Against Delivery ***


I acknowledge the traditional owners on whose land we meet this evening, the Ngambri and Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

And welcome to our guest of honour, Dr Ines Alberdi, especially on behalf of the Prime Minister – who would very much have liked to be with us tonight.

Few people could bring a more distinguished background to the position of Executive Director of UNIFEM international.

Dr Alberdi has spent more than 25 years working on gender issues and in politics, not least:

  • as Professor of Sociology at Madrid University;
  • a visiting scholar at Georgetown University;
  • an elected Deputy in the Madrid Assembly;
  • an Advisor for Women in Development for the Inter-American Bank; and
  • an adviser to the European Commission’s Equal Opportunities Unit.

I would also like to acknowledge:

  • Sue Conde, President, UNIFEM Australia;
  • Elizabeth Cox and Rita Taphorn from UNIFEM’s Pacific Office in Suva;
  • Christopher Woodthorpe, UN Information Centre; and
  • Richard Towle, UNHCR regional office.

It is fitting that UNIFEM Australia chose to celebrate their 20th birthday here at Old Parliament House.

Parliament moved from this building in 1988 – the year before UNIFEM Australia’s birth.

Fifteen years before – in 1973 – Elizabeth Reid was appointed by Gough Whitlam as the world’s first Prime Ministerial Adviser on Women’s Affairs.

In fact, Ms Reid worked just down there … (to right if standing with back to New Parliament House) … in the then Prime Ministerial offices.

It was the first time anywhere that women’s issues were recognised as central to the heart of government.

Ms Reid later went to the UN, where she played a significant role in several areas including at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China where the Declaration and Platform for Action were adopted.

The Beijing Platform for Action provided clear directions for progressing gender equality across the world.

15 years later, I am pleased to announce that the Government is providing $135,000 to JERA International to review Australia’s progress toward implementing the Beijing Platform for Action.

And it’s great to see Carole and Judith from JERA here tonight.

Australia is proud to have an array of inspirational women rights campaigners, who have recognised the importance of advancing the status of women in reducing poverty and fostering peace domestically and internationally.

For example, Australian feminist Jessie Street was a founding delegate to the United Nations in 1945.

Ms Street was instrumental in ensuring that sex discrimination was addressed in the Charter of the United Nations.

She was also closely involved in the decision to set up a separate UN Commission for the Status of Women.

As she was fond of saying, “Where the rules are silent, women are not usually considered”.

Elizabeth Evatt, an Australian lawyer and judge, also played a critical role in improving women’s rights internationally as the chair the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1989.

Our history in this area is a long one.

And that’s why UNIFEM Australia’s 20th Anniversary is so important.

UNIFEM Australia

UNIFEM Australia grew from the determination of several strong women’s groups, including Zonta, the Soroptomists, Business and Professional Women, and the Australian Federation of University Women.

They saw a need to support the work of the UN on gender and development issues here.

UNIFEM has since evolved into a national organisation with six chapter organisations whose work touches the lives of women and girls both in Australia and abroad.

Several former UNIFEM Australia presidents are here this evening, including Bev Perel, the founding President.

Tonight we pay tribute to all of you who took the initiative and got this great organisation underway and who have supported its work since.

One of your outstanding projects is the Peace Scholarships – awarded to young women who have already worked for peace and gender equality in their own countries, and who have pledged to return to continue their work after study in Australia.

We have three Peace Scholars from Afghanistan with us tonight, all young lawyers studying in Sydney – Zohra and Haseena Askeer, and Shahrnaz Rafi.

All of us here tonight wish you all the best with your studies and with your proud mission to advance the rights of Afghan women.

The special thing about UNIFEM projects is their practical implementation:

  • whether it is successfully training women in East Timor to stand for local council elections;
  • providing ‘bicycles for democracy’ to women elected to local government in Cambodia so they can visit their constituents;
  • helping Melanesian women market their fresh fruit and vegetables;
  • educating communities on the dangers of HIV/AIDS for women; or
  • assisting combat violence against women in Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

These are all wonderful grassroots programs that help build the economic, social and political strength of women in our region.

Australian Government

The Australian Government is pleased to work with UNIFEM on this important work.

Australia has a proud record on gender equality – and it is a principle of our International Aid program.

Guided by the Millennium Development Goals – we are scaling up our aid program to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income by 2015.

We stand by our commitment to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

At present, not one country in the Pacific will meet these goals – and we are intent on reversing that situation.

Our initiatives include a $49 million maternal and neonatal health program in Indonesia.

And with UNIFEM Pacific, we have a $6.2 million program to train women for leadership and governance roles across the region.

On International Women’s Day this year, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith and I announced that Australia would provide more than $17 million to UNIFEM as part of our international commitment to advancing greater equality between men and women.

Violence against women

A pervasive issue in this quest is that of violence.

Violence causes trauma to women and their families and communities, severely limits women’s social, political and economic participation in their communities and puts significant strain on national economies.

It is also a major obstacle to development.

Reducing violence is critical to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the Beijing Platform for Action.

If violence is not addressed, progress towards achieving these goals will be severely hindered.

Launch of new report on violence
Tonight, I am launching the Australian Government publication, Stop Violence: Responding to violence against women in Melanesia and East Timor.

The report, and the Government’s response, bring together the views of governments, international agencies, community groups and men and women from across Melanesia and East Timor of what works in responding to violence.

Crucial to this is a commitment to continue to promote gender equality as a central principle of our international development work.

The Stop Violence report sets out a framework for action and strategies that Australia will use to guide our support for tackling violence against women.

The Stop Violence report commits to:

  • Improving women’s access to justice through work such as strengthening laws and policies and enhancing women’s knowledge of their rights.For example, in Papua New Guinea we are helping the justice system respond to cases of violence against women through the development of national guidelines on family and sexual violence.
  • Increasing Women’s access to support services to meet women’s needs when they have been subjected to violence.By supporting organisations that provide counselling, legal and practical support, including women’s safe havens such as the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre.
  • Preventing violence against women by supporting community awareness and advocacy, education and promotion of women’s leadership and empowerment.For example, Australia provides support to the Vanuatu Women’s Centre whose Committees Against Violence play a pivotal role in promoting community awareness and advocacy to prevent violence in the first place, and
  • Supporting an integrated approach to government and aid program delivery – so that systems work together more effectively and holistically – for the benefit of clients.

These strategies will continue to guide our work to help reduce violence against women in our region.

The recent Pacific Islands Forum recognised the high levels of violence against women across the Pacific, and that it is a risk to human security and a potential destabilising factor for communities and societies.

It was great to see that leaders committed to eradicate sexual and gender-based violence.

UNIFEM is a key partner in this work – and the Government will be looking to strengthen this work through the Partnership Framework that we are signing with UNIFEM.


I conclude by sharing with you the words of a prominent leader at the 4th World Conference in Beijing in 1995.

Benazir Bhutto’s call to action is as relevant today as it was nearly 15 years ago, when she said:

“I come before you to speak of the forces that must shape the new decade, the new century, the new millennium.

We must shape a world free from exploitation and maltreatment of women.

A world in which women have opportunities to rise to the highest levels in politics, business, diplomacy, and other spheres of life.

Where there are no battered women.

Where honour and dignity is protected in war and conflict.

Where we have economic freedom and independence.

Where we are equal partners in peace and development.

And even as we catalogue, organise and reach our goals, step by step, let us be ever vigilant.

Let us translate this vision into reality in the shortest possible time.”

I again congratulate UNIFEM Australia on twenty years of service to women in our region and beyond.