Speech by The Hon Kate Ellis MP

Announcement of Australia’s first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

We have invited you all here today because our Government recognises that being born a girl in this world is still very different to being born a boy.

Girls will earn less, they will learn less, they will be less healthy and they will be at greater risk of violence, both in war and in the home.

Simply being born a girl means that you may be one of more than 600 million women who lack basic literacy skills.

One of 35 million girls who do not receive basic primary-level education.

One of the 1000 mothers who die every day as a result of pregnancy or childbirth.

One of the 640,000 women and girls who are victims of human trafficking.

One of the 60% of women who are victims of domestic or family violence in some countries in the Pacific – or one of the 30% of women who are victims of domestic or family violence in our own country.

Our Government finds this situation is unacceptable.

In a world that sees so much wealth, so many achievements, it is disgraceful that being born a girl comes with so many risks, so much disadvantage.

Today I am so very pleased to announce the creation of a new role to assist us in advocating for the rights of women and girls.

We are creating the position of Australia’s first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, whom my colleague Richard Marles will be introducing to you shortly.

There are only a handful of positions like this in the world and we are the first to place a particular focus on the experience of girls. The creation of this role brings Australia to the forefront in international advocacy for women and girls.

Earlier this year, I met with the US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Ms Melanne Verveer.

She talked about the focussed diplomatic work that she has been doing to build the political, economic, and social empowerment of women in Afghanistan, in Mexico and in Pakistan.

Here in Australia our new Ambassador will also help us to build stronger partnerships with other nation, particularly in the Pacific region and advocate globally for the interests of women.

Our Government is investing in aid and development on a scale not seen before in this country.

Our aid budget has never been so substantial and so carefully directed at helping countries to build their own livelihoods and their own futures.

In our development practice, we are placing the highest priority on investing in gender equality.

And we are taking a concerted approach to crimes that are significantly impacting women: domestic and family violence, human trafficking and armed conflict.

In acting to address these issues globally, we also recognise that our approach to gender equality must be multifaceted.

To achieve real gender equality for women, we need to make every effort to support women in the economy, leadership and education.

One of the most important aspects of supporting women to achieve, the most fundamental aspect of our work, is ensuring that women can live their lives in safety.

Earlier this year I launched Australia’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.

As you would know, this was a groundbreaking plan for Australia in many respects – including that it is the first time that all of the States and Territories around Australia joined with the Commonwealth Government to say: we need to take action to prevent the largely invisible crime of violence against women and children in this country.

What you may not know is the significant international reception that our National Plan received.

The Plan received praise from human rights bodies, international community organisation and, importantly, from the UN.

UN Women have used it as a model in their handbook for Governments who are committed to reducing domestic and family violence.

But we have not just committed to addressing the scourge of domestic violence in our own country. In the 2011-12 Budget we announced a significant new investment of $96.4 million over four years to prevent violence against women, including in the Pacific region and support the victims of violence.

And in November this year Australia and the United States will be co-hosting a policy dialogue in Australia to identify effective means to address gender-based violence and promote the empowerment of women across the Pacific region.

It is hard to talk about the issue of violence and the suffering of women without talking about war and armed conflict.

There has been a recent focus on war in Afghanistan, but there are many other conflict settings around the world where women and children are suffering the disproportionate impacts of war.

In fact, we know that some 70 per cent of casualties in recent conflicts have been non combatants – most of them women and children.

The Australian Government is enacting a plan to ensure that, not only do we address the impact of conflict on women and girls – but also ensure that we increase the role of women in peace-building and security.

I launched a draft National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security last month and I have invited the Australian community to contribute to that Plan to ensure that we are meeting our international obligations but also to ensure that we are empowering women to take up roles in making the world a safer place to be.

I would like to encourage people who are interested to obtain a copy of the draft Plan and provide us with the benefit of your knowledge and experience before 18 October 2011.

While we are talking about issues that cause harm to vulnerable people both internationally and at home, I’d like to briefly mention Australia’s efforts to end human trafficking.

I am delighted to see so many NGO representatives here today, because human trafficking is an issue which has been highlighted by community groups in such a way that this Government could not help but be moved to act like never before.

As a Government, we have developed a comprehensive Anti-People Trafficking Strategy, which involves departments and services across Government working with the NGO sector to prevent this hideous trade.

And we are also investing to support those who have been trafficked to Australia and provide them with the assistance they need to rebuild their lives.

Through these initiatives and more, the Australian Government’s commitment to progressing gender equality is evident.

To this end we need all hands on deck.

And we need the resources to match our ambition.

We need someone who can dedicate themselves to working everyday with countries in our region on the gender issues that are Australia’s priorities; someone who can work with NGOs to increase the appetite for change for women across the world; someone who can assist us in our global gender agenda.

I am so delighted that this Government’s gender equality agenda will be supported through the appointment of Australia’s first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls.

I am also honoured to announce that Ms Penny Williams will be the first person to hold this important new position.

This Government is firmly committed to advancing gender equality here at home and leading action globally to address the challenges faced by women and girls around the world.

In her new role, Penny will be integral to those efforts both now and into the future.

Thank you so much to all of you for being here today to hear this important announcement and to welcome Penny and wish her all the best in the work that lies ahead of her.