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Speech by The Hon Kate Ellis MP

The First African Women’s Council of Australia Roundtable Forum

Location: Perth, WA

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for inviting me here today for this most momentous occasion: the first roundtable forum of the African Women’s Council of Australia.

This year is an important one for women – as you know, it is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

But it is a particularly important year for African women, as it is the International Year for People of African Descent – an international year to recognize the importance of African descendants to countries around the world.

Combined with this year’s CHOGM theme of Women as Agents of Change, this is an auspicious time for you all to come together and provide a voice and a platform for action for African women’s leadership in this country.

Much of the strength, vibrancy and prosperity of Australia is due to its migrant communities.

And I’m sure that you all will agree – much of this strength comes from the women in these communities.

I know that this is true of the African Women’s Council – especially in the work that you do to support newly settled African-Australian families – since your organisation was established in 2007 (though I know that you were officially launched in 2010 by Australia’s Governor General).

Speaking for our Government, we are very proud of the quarter of a million Australians who were born in Africa.

Speaking personally, as the Member for Adelaide, I am especially proud of the strong and energetic contribution that the African community makes to my hometown. I am so pleased that you have chosen to make this country your home.

As Government, we appreciate the way that the African Women’s Council represent the interests of African women across the country by engaging with Government bodies and speaking to the heart of government on vital issues concerning African women, children and young people.

Partnerships with groups like the African Women’s Council are invaluable as we seek to improve the status of women in this country.

Many inequalities that women face are deeply entrenched and often hidden or overlooked.

Especially in recently-arrived communities, there can be strong obligations on women to provide care in the home for older family members and children. In these circumstances, women may not have adequate support themselves of be familiar with Government support options and alternative care arrangements.

We also know that caring responsibilities impact on the time available for migrant women to undertake English language classes or employment activities, which can decrease their economic participation in the community.

We need the insight, experience and expertise of community groups like yours to identify and advocate for initiatives and policies that will improve the lives of women.

We also appreciate your capacity to take Government initiatives out into the community and to make sure that women know about them and utilise Government services available to them.

That’s why this Forum is so important – and why I particularly look forward to hearing about the outcomes of your discussions and your National African Women’s Plan of Action.

It is this kind of information that also keeps us informed about the solutions that communities are building themselves.

As a Government, we are also committed to raising the economic independence of women.

I know that the African Women’s Council has been promoting, developing and supporting African women’s participation in work and increasing confidence to engage in educational activities.

We know that investing in women has a multiplier effect – women have a remarkable ability to take something small and turn it into something powerful and impactful.

I know that within my Employment Participation portfolio, I have been pleased to fund innovative projects supporting African women to make the transition into work in places like Fitzroy, Geelong, Hobart and here in Perth.

And, of course, the benefits of work and economic security are not just felt by women – they are felt by the whole family and by the whole community.

Of course, supporting women into work is not only important financially – it also increases confidence and self-esteem and encourages social engagement.

It is truly life-changing.

I congratulate the African Women’s Council on their continuing work in this area.

As Minister for the Status of Women, I would also like to acknowledge the extremely important work that you do to promote women’s safety, their physical and emotional well-being and their economic independence.

Reducing violence against women is a passion of mine and a priority of this Government – and I commend you on the important work that you do to raise awareness of women’s rights to live free from violence.

As you may know, in this country, nearly one in three women has experienced physical violence and one in five women has been the victim of sexual violence.

To me, violence against women is the most significant human rights abuse occurring in Australia – and it’s time that everyone in this country to stand up, take notice and say that this is just not good enough.

All forms of violence against women are unacceptable – in any community and in

any culture.

This year, I launched the National Action Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022.

This Plan is the first of its kind in Australia.

It is the first time that our entire nation has come together, Commonwealth Government and every State and Territory, regardless of political persuasion, and taken action to eliminate violence against women in a coordinated and determined way.

It’s the first time that this country, as a whole, has said to victims of violence that you have not been forgotten – you are important and you have the right to live a life free of violence.

One of the special things about this Plan is its strong focus on preventing violence. It is the first time we have looked to the longer term and worked to build respectful relationships and gender equality to prevent violence from occurring the first place.

There is an online campaign called The Line, which gets young people talking about how we can reduce and prevent violence.

There is a separate component of The Line campaign devoted to culturally and linguistically diverse background communities.

We are also funding community groups to undertake three year projects to prevent violence.

Last month, I announced funding for a project in Victoria to support African community leaders to be ambassadors on this serious issue. And just yesterday, I was pleased to fund another project here in Perth, which will see African Australians working with new arrivals on preventing violence against women and promoting respectful relationships.

As a Government, we want all Australians, no matter their circumstances or backgrounds, to have the opportunity to be leaders in our communities.

By doing so, will make our nation stronger, more prosperous and safer.

I would like to thank you for inviting me to be a part the First African Women’s Council of Australia’s Forum.

You make a remarkable contribution to your communities and to good government in this country – with great outcomes for not just for African women, but for all women in this country.