I have visited Papua New Guinea on a number of occasions now both in Opposition and now as Australia’s Foreign Minister. I’ve also visited the Pacific, a number of island nations throughout the Pacific, and I have to say I am always struck by the enthusiasm and the dynamism and the energy of the women of Papua New Guinea and of the Pacific generally.
You see that kind of energy and enthusiasm particularly in the marketplaces. I have visited the markets in PNG and the Solomon Islands and in Samoa. About 90 per cent of the business activity is generated by the women at the markets. They are wholesalers and retailers, they are buying and selling, they are generating so much economic activity.
Despite that entrepreneurial spirit and despite that enterprising culture, too many of these women don’t have control over their finances, they don’t have the financial autonomy or independence that means that they can invest in their future, they can protect their savings, they can control their businesses. The markets exemplify the issue more broadly and it’s been a matter that has been of concern to me because we are committed to the economic empowerment of women in Australia, in PNG, across our region. Yet the barriers to financial independence are real in that they are preventing women from taking broader roles in society, in the economy, across the communities more generally.
So, part of our overseas development assistance program with PNG and other nations in the Pacific is to ensure that we put in place programs and initiatives that help empower women and then help women take leadership roles in their families, in their villages, in business, in industry, in government, in the private sector, in the public sector.
That’s why I was so delighted that last September the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was able to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Westpac. Now the event was quite special because Westpac’s CEO was Gail Kelly, a very formidable and accomplished women, and I was there as Australia’s first female Foreign Minister, so it was quite symbolic to have the two women signing a memorandum of understanding to promote women’s empowerment in the Pacific.
What we sought to do was build on Westpac’s reputation in PNG as the oldest, longest standing bank here in PNG and build on their commitment to providing access to financial services throughout PNG but then to focus specifically on what we could do for women. Now Westpac has this wonderful Westpac Outstanding Women award that recognises the efforts of women across the private sector, the public sector, community leaders, young entrepreneurs, a whole range of women whose talents are recognised through these awards.
Westpac is also involved in the Pacific Financial Inclusion program, which runs financial literacy training and support in PNG, in Tonga and Vanuatu. So we’re obviously keen to partner with Westpac in promoting financial independence, financial literacy, access to financial services for the women of PNG and across the Pacific more broadly.
So that’s why I’m here tonight to launch our website, Pacific Women in Business - www.pacificwomeninbusiness.com.au - and this is a portal for information to share with women across our region who will be able to network online, connect with each other, find information, find details, be able to have discussions about what is needed, what we can offer, and in this way it doesn’t matter where women are located, as long as they’ve got access to some kind of technology that allows them to log on - and most people can do it on their iPhone these days - we will have this wonderful opportunity to share experiences and ideas.
I know that - getting back to the markets - if we are able to make the markets secure, if we’re able to protect women working there, physically protect them, we also have got to give them the skills to protect them financially. So I couldn’t be more delighted to be a part of this evening and I’m really excited about meeting some of the brilliant, talented, accomplished women here and they represent so much about the hope and optimism about PNG’s future.
Earlier today I launched with Minister Temu and Minister Pato the Pacific Leadership and Governance Precinct that we are establishing at the University of Papua New Guinea and the Institute of Public Administration. I made it clear today in that launching this leadership and governance program, we wanted to specifically focus on training women in the public service to be leaders of this great country so that PNG can take its rightful place as a leader in the Pacific and given that 50 per cent of this population is female you want to harness the talents and abilities and achievements of the women of Papua New Guinea. Thank you.
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