Ambassadors, Excellencies, dignitaries, friends of Australia, friends of the Philippines.  I am absolutely delighted to be here at the Australian Ambassador’s Residence in Manila to assist with the launch of this Philippines’ Business Coalition under the Investing in Women Initiative.

I must say I was markedly impressed to learn that, not content with just an International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, the Philippines has a National Women’s Month, and so you take an entire month to focus on the achievements of the women of the Philippines! 

In the lead up to International Women’s day recently, I invited all the female heads of mission, the female ambassadors and high commissioners resident in Canberra to Parliament House for an event to celebrate International Women’s Day. I was delighted to see that of the hundred foreign diplomats we have in Canberra as heads of mission, 17 are female and we had a very positive and constructive discussion that day. 

I am also pleased to confirm that of Australia’s 100 diplomats overseas as heads of mission, 24 are women.  But we pale in comparison with the Philippines. 42 per cent of their ambassadors and high commissioners and heads of mission are female.

So once more, the Philippines is leading the way. Congratulations!

The empowerment of women and gender equality drives economic growth and prosperity, and that drives peace and stability.

While we can reflect on the enormous advances and achievements that have been made, we still have a long way to go before we can confidently claim that women have equal opportunities to men in fulfilling their potential.

Again, the Philippines is a case in point because according to the World Economic Forum, the Philippines is now ranked 7th in terms of the gender pay gap on global rankings, and that is quite an achievement.

But I also learned from another report by McKinsey’s that should the Philippines increase the workforce participation of women by just one per cent each year, by 2025 this would add $40 billion to the Philippine’s GDP.

$40 billion. That would be a nine per cent increase over business as usual.

So, as I say very often, gender empowerment, gender equality is not only the right thing to do.  It is the smart thing to do.

Now we are very pleased that our Investing in Women Initiative has taken hold in this part of the world.

It is an Australian government initiative to help support gender equality and economic empowerment in South East Asia, and the Philippines Business Coalition brings together leading private sector companies.

I urge the seven founding members to promote your achievements in gender equality, economic empowerment and advocate the benefits not only within your companies but across the board.

Set bench marks, set standards and compete against each other for better outcomes.

In my own role as Foreign Minister, I have sought to embrace the concept of gender equality and the benefits that it can bring in all that we do in foreign policy.

In our own department, for example, we are responsible for many councils and boards, and I have set a target of 50 per cent female-male representation, as in 50 per cent male, 50 per cent female representation on our boards, and we are nearly there.  We are about 48-49 percent of female representation on the boards that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is responsible for.  This is taken up across the Australian government, for the boards for which we are responsible, the federal government public sector boards. We now aim for 50 per cent representation for women.

Some people say 30 per cent, we say, “Well, women make up half of population, let’s aim for 50 per cent,” and we are on our way to achieving that.

In the private sector it can often be more difficult to achieve the representation at the higher levels across the boards and management teams. That is why I am so pleased that the Philippines Business Coalition is committed to ensuring that the undoubted benefits that come from economic empowerment of women will be shared across your companies and across the private sector in the Philippines, and you may well pave the way for the public sector to follow.

So it is a great pleasure to be here this evening amongst so many committed people to the cause of gender equality and economic empowerment. 

And let us hope that when we meet again, we will be able to talk about the advances that we have made in the interest of the men and women of the Philippines, South East Asia and Australia. 

On that note I am delighted that members of the Philippines’ government are here and members of the ASEAN Women’s Entrepreneurs Network. 

We look forward to supporting their events in August when the ASEAN Business Forum is held here.  And we could not be more delighted that the Philippines will be chairing ASEAN this year and we look forward to seeing very positive outcomes from this most remarkable grouping of ten nations.

So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our Embassy here.

Thank you, Amanda [Gorely], for the wonderful work that you do.  I had great feedback today from a number of ministers that the Australian Ambassador is making her mark here in the Philippines and for that, I thank you, Amanda.

Please enjoy the evening. I have great pleasure in launching the Philippines Business Coalition for Economic Empowerment of Women under the Investing in Women Initiative.

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