Speech by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

Launch of Plan International Australia’s ‘Because I am a girl’ report

Location: Government House, Canberra

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I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I also acknowledge:

  • Quentin Bryce, Governor-General
  • Peter Baxter, Director General of AusAID
  • Anne Skipper, Chair of Plan Australia
  • Ian Wishart, CEO of Plan Australia
  • Senator Claire Moore, Senator for Queensland
  • Jodie Campbell, Federal Member for Bass

The findings of ‘Because I am a girl‘ make sobering reading.

Findings that the report itself aptly describes as a “toxic blend of disenfranchisement and discrimination”.1

Who could not be moved by the story of Rangamma, 12 years old and pounding rocks 14 hours a day in an Indian quarry.

By the stories of girls as young as eight years old being sold for marriage.

By the recurring themes of poverty, sexual exploitation, child labour, and inadequate health care.

And who could not be inspired by other stories.

Like that of Anita, who forced her way into the male stronghold of Indian bee-keeping and sold honey to pay her way through college.

Or Fiona Muchembere, born in debilitating poverty and now, with the help of a determined mother, is a successful Zimbabwean lawyer.

A striking feature of this most comprehensive report is the extent to which, despite the challenges, so many families have hope for their daughters.

Like parents around the world, what many parents want most for their children is a better life than that which they have experienced.

They want social and economic opportunities.

And there is growing evidence that ensuring women and girls enjoy these opportunities is critical to the economic development of the countries in which they live.

The Economist magazine put it bluntly in an article recognising the positive impact of the increasing employment of women in the developed world in recent decades:

Those women have contributed more to global GDP growth than new technology or the new giants, India and China.2

There is no question that opportunities for women have increased here in Australia, and that our society and our economy have benefited.

In Australia, the participation of women in the workforce has increased significantly over the last few decades.

Access Economics has predicted that boosting women’s participation even further could realise an increased national output of more than $98 billion by around 2040.3

As a Government we recognise the need to support women to boost their rate of participation.

Paid parental leave is a key reform that will drive increased participation.

Paid parental leave will give parents more time with their babies.

At the same time it will help women maintain their connection with the workforce.

Paid parental leave will also benefit men.

Improving women’s choices and earning capacity reduces pressure on men to be the sole breadwinners and it gives them opportunities to be equal partners in parenting.

The key to achieving increased labour force participation and economic security for women is, of course, education.

Two recent studies from the United States – Womenomics and Women Hold Up Half the Sky – found that a one per cent increase in female education raises the average level of GDP by 0.37 per cent.4

Australia has excelled on the back of our compulsory education system.

In 2007, women made up 55 per cent of all higher education students and Indigenous women represented more than 66 per cent of all Indigenous higher education students.

Australian girls are more likely than boys to continue on to Years 11 and 12. And as of this month we have our first Australian female Nobel Laureate – Professor Elizabeth Blackburn.

Australia was ranked second on the United Nations Gender Related Development Index and eighth in its Gender Empowerment Measure.

But even in Australia we can not in truth claim to have achieved gender equality.

Not when women earn less than men.

Not when women retire with fewer resources than their male counterparts.

Not when women’s voices are under represented in critical decision-making areas, including in company board rooms.

Not when, each day in Australia, more than a thousand women suffer violence.

Not when Indigenous women and girls continue to face enormous challenges.

As a Government we give high priority to these issues.

Australians on both sides of politics would agree, I think, that gender equality is a worthwhile aim.

It is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals to which we aspire.

Just as progress towards gender equality in Australia has led to greater economic and social participation and positive economic outcomes – improving the lot of girls throughout the world will reap rewards.

A central message of Girls in the Global Economy: Adding It All Up is that a lack of investment in girls is an opportunity missed.

Spending resources on girls is enlightened self-interest – it is a sensible, practical and smart investment.

We must treat this with the urgency it deserves.

‘How can we build a bright tomorrow if we are not given a bright today?’ asks Analou, a young Filipina.5

I congratulate Plan International for a report that makes us all more aware of the value of listening to young girls like Analou.

If we give her and others like her a bright today, we will all reap the rewards.

I welcome the launch of Plan’s report, ‘Because I am a girl’.


  1. Plan International, Because I am a girl, 2009, page 56.
  2. The Economist magazine, 15 April, 2006.
  3. Access Economics, Meeting Australia’s ageing challenge: the importance of women’s workforce participation, report to House of Representatives Standing Committee on Human Services, November 2006.
  4. Dina Habid Powell, Educate a Woman, Create a Nation (www.womenscolleges.org)
  5. Plan International, op. cit., page 30.