Launch of Plan International's 'Because I am a Girl' Report

Parliament House, Canberra

Speech, E&OE, check against delivery

2 November 2011

Thank you for that warm introduction.

Can I make a bold suggestion? Those folks who are over there, do you mind coming over this way? As I find it pretty odd making a speech here to, however important Bongiorno and Riley might think they are.

To our friends from Plan who do excellent work around the world. Penny Williams, Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls, a recent appointment by the Australian Government. And with one focus in mind, what do we do in a practical sense to ensure that we make a real difference with the status of women and girls across the developing world?

To my parliamentary friends and colleagues from the House and the Senate, and I seem many of them here this morning, thank you for your support for this. Teresa Gambaro, the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, thank you for being here as well. And others who are here from community organisations.

Let me just read you two or three figures, because I think they are capable of commanding our attention.

Number one: one hundred and fifty-million girls and young women under the age of 18 have experienced forced sexual intercourse, or other forms of sexual violence involving physical contact — this is under the age of 18 around the world. These are all UN reports.

Number two: young women aged 15 to 24 account for 64 per cent of HIV infections among young people. In Sub-Saharan Africa, young women aged 15 to 24 are more than twice as likely to be infected as young men in the same group.

Fact three: girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s.

And bringing all those together in one simple figure about one group of girls in one country, reflect on this: a girl in South Sudan today is more likely to die in child birth than she is to finish primary school.

A girl in southern Sudan today is more likely to die in child birth than she is to finish primary school.

Now, those are very stark statistics. And behind each of those statistics is a human life; a human being worthy of fundamental respect. And they're not getting that at present — that's the truth of it. And the figures should be for all of us around the world, a call to arms.

That's why this report entitled: Because I am a Girl, and with the sub-title: So What About Boys?, is really important. Not just in stark definition of the problem, but also in pointing a possible way ahead.

It may appear strange the report on girls should also focus on boys. But such a focus is important. The role played by girls and women achieving gender equality empowerment is only one part of the equation. It is the attitude and the behaviour of boys and young men which is equally important, if not more important.

Because young men and boys can help ensure that girls go to school. They can ensure that women and girls are safe from violence. That they are not married at a young age against their will. That they do not bare the whole burden of work in the household. That they can earn a living and play their part in society. And that they would not be the victims of violence and sexual violence.

Because on the question of violence and sexual violence against women and girls, there is one gender which is responsible for that: and it is the male gender. And it's my gender across the world.

That is why this is not just the standard call and articulation of the intrinsic rights of girls and women. We know that, we accept it and we respect it. It's a battle which has been fought and won.

What hasn't been won is recognition of the same in the practical behaviour of boys, young men and men across the world. That is the battle in which we now must engage.

If you therefore see that as the problem, then what are the prospects of doing something about it?

And I often think that when we have these debates around the world about the role of girls and the role of women that it begins and ends on a question of justice and social justice. Well that is true. Because what is happening is patently unjust for any person of right conscience and right mind, it is wrong.

It doesn't demand further discussion, it doesn't demand further debate.

It just requires action.

But let me just throw a few other thoughts at you in terms of what would happen if we actually changed the status of things around the world. And here I refer to a couple of quite stunning figures contained in a recent speech by Hillary Clinton which goes to the whole question of the impact of women in the economy if we were to extend effective equal rights to them across the world. This is a Goldman Sachs report. Not a feel good UN report; a Goldman Sachs report.

Goldman Sachs shows that a reduction in barriers to female labour force petition would increase America's GDP by nine per cent. It would increase the Eurozone's GDP by 13 per cent. Japan's by 16 per cent. Fourteen per cent in the per capita income's by the year 2020 in countries like China, Russia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Korea.

The World Bank finds that by eliminating discrimination against female workers and managers, managers could significantly increase productivity per worker by 25 to 40 per cent.

And in agriculture where most women work around the world, women farmers at present are up to 30 per cent less productive than male farmers. That's because they don't work as hard, they do, they usually work harder, it's because they have access to fewer resources.

Closing the gap holding women back in developing economies could feed 150 million people more around the world by enabling those women to become more productive in agriculture, by better access to skills, better access to technology, better access to microfinance, in other words the things which many male farmers take for granted. That's the conclusion of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

So we have some stark and terrible statistics about what is now the reality facing girls and women across the world. We also have an outline of what the world could be like if we actually brought this gender revolution about in practise in the developing countries and frankly to complete it in the developed countries of the world as well. The key to so much of this lies in what we do in not just the development of the global economy but specifically how we in the west focus also our international development assistance.

Recently some of you may be familiar with the review we undertook independently of the Australian aid budget. This is a $4.5 billion budget. We've doubled it in the last five years, we're on-track to double it again by the year 2015. If that occurs we will probably end up with the sixth largest aid budget in the world. We therefore become a significant player in aggregate terms across the world and ability therefore, not just to pack more bang for our buck and what we do nationally but in the great institutions of the world whether it's from UN Women, the United Nations Development Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme, as well as the other great initiatives which affect girls and women, such as what we do through the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisation, the Global Fund and its work on HIV/Aids and others, we pack greater punch globally and have a capacity to shape policies globally, increasingly as well. So with increased resources comes an increased influence also to influence global policy in these areas.

That Independent Review concluded that we in Australia should have five strategic goals for our aid program. The first one is simple. It sounds simple but it's infinitely complex, it's called saving lives. And saving lives means a whole bunch of things. It means ensuring that you've got proper and attended childbirths around the world. That's why so much of the aid program in Australia focuses on training midwives and training birth attendants. We've done training for 10,000 of these in the poorest parts of Western Pakistan.

It also means ensuring that once a babe survives and the mother survives, that you're doing basic things like ensure that they have comprehensive access to vaccinations. That's why we're one of the world's largest funders of GAVI, the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisation and by the use of pentavalents which cover the five major communicable disease categories, we're in the process of literally in Australia's name saving millions of kids' lives across the world. Now, that's a good thing, it's a very good thing.

So saving lives through other basic investments like water and sanitation which the absence of gives rise to communicable diseases big time, let me tell you these are very basic investments which are aimed at keeping a kid alive until five and doing what we can to ensure that young women and women generally do not die in childbirth. So that's strategic goal number one. Saving lives.

Strategic goal number two is once you've kept a kid alive until five what do you do then? What you do then is you make sure that that kid is educated. Now strategic goal number two is opportunity for all. Opportunity for all children to go to primary school and through to basic education level completion, opportunity for all, irrespective of gender because the gender and balance in non-participation school at the present is heavily skewed against young girls.

And three opportunity for all for those who suffer disabilities. And if you're a young girl with a disability in the developing world today and there are tens of millions of them, you are speaking to the poorest of the poorest of the poor.

And so for us this is core business. How do you make a difference by boosting our global investment in education? I'm proud of the fact that we've now lifted our total share of the Australian aid budget dedicated to lifting education levels around the world to 19 per cent of our total budget. My objective is to lift it to 25.

Frankly spend less on governance programs, spend more on basic education programs.

And when I look around the world at the material differences we're making, whether it's in Papua New Guinea where literally we put tens of thousands of kids back into school, the school building program in Indonesia and similar projects across the Solomon Islands and elsewhere, these are very practical steps forward and particularly focused on bringing young girls into school.

Our third strategic goal is important as well and it's about ensuring that we provide sustainable economic development and job options. For girls what does that mean and for young women? Ensuring that when young girls and women, for example, work in agriculture, that they have proper access to finance which currently they do not, often for legal reasons. Often the local laws discriminate against women having such access. And so we work right around the world in designing those programs and implementing them and rolling out microfinance programs for women in agriculture to make sure that they can do their bit in improving the productivity for their family and their community. But also more broadly ensuring that sustainable economic development occurs so that if a kid survives until five and a kid is at school then through to the conclusion of their basic education that there are jobs then to be had.

The remaining goals you may be familiar with but how do we avoid corruption in the countries in which we deal around the world and more broadly and how do we deal with natural disasters which regrettably afflicts so many countries as well?

My point to you is in responding to what Plan tells us today in this Report, we and the Australian Government have a structured approach and part of that structured approach lies in integrating essentially girls and women into keeping kids alive until five, the education of girls across the world, particularly in countries where their participation rates are abysmally low and ensuring that young girls and women have the decent start in life when it comes to their ability to find a proper job, proper training and proper access to finance.

To conclude on what we're also doing in a space and we need to do more of, the decision to appoint Penny as the first Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls is not a piece of collective Australian Government political correctness, that's not what we're on about. It's actually much more substantial than that. It's all about the fact that I believe the statistics outlined in Hillary Clinton's speech that I referred to before, that however hard headed or soft hearted you are, you materially change the world if we enable women and girls to participate fully in the economy and societies of the global human family.

And so the advocacy role now which Penny has and she's just come back from the Solomon's, is important, drawing the threads together in each participating country on how we can actually lift young women out of the position of obvious threat, of physical violence, sexual violence and lack of opportunity.

She has told me one very practical example and she has come from Vanuatu. And in Vanuatu she said the coppers out there, there's a reasonable number of women in the police force but most of them have never been taught how to drive. Now I would have thought — no criticism to the Australian aid program, that we might have figured this out at some stage. But a very basic question like that which is how do you enable women in Vanuatu to become more affective participants in local policing would probably be enhanced by ensuring that women coppers knew how to drive. So we're now doing that. That's a consequence of our Ambassador's intervention.

From little things big things grow.

But is joining the dots bring the threads together in countries where we can make a material difference in breaching what is still a far too great gender divide.

So friends from Plan, thank you for this Report. It is important to read, it is important to digest but much more importantly it's critical that the world act on its findings, so I thank you.

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