Senator MOORE (Queensland) (21:31): In April this year, the German parliamentary group on population and development hosted the She Matters conference in Berlin. This conference was actually stimulated by a request from German Chancellor Merkel, who will be the leader of the next G7 summit that had determined that the key aspect of this conference, amongst economic issues, would be the empowerment of women, and she hoped that, at that conference, the G7 would draw attention to the fact that the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls are key prerequisites for their empowerment, as they enable women and girls to lead self-determined, healthy and productive lives.
Dr Sharman Stone from the other place and I, from the Australian parliamentary group, were very lucky to attend, and we joined parliamentarians from over 50 parliaments who gathered together to enforce the idea that, in fact, for the G7 and G20 groups, the concepts of women's empowerment were important. At the end of this period, we actually had what they called 'an appeal'-I have been to conferences before where we had 'statements' and where we had 'processes', but this time the term was 'an appeal'-and the appeal to the leaders around the world was: we have had enough of gender inequality. Specifically, the group gathered called on the leaders of the G7 and the G20 countries to:
- Step up their commitment to SRHR-
sexual and reproductive health and rights-
gender equality, women's and girls' human rights and their empowerment …
- Eliminate discrimination without distinction of any kind, incl. SOGI-
including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity-
- Ensure full respect for women's bodily autonomy and right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality
- … repeal laws that punish women and girls who have or are accused of having undergone illegal abortions, and end imprisonment for such acts
- Ensure the respect, promotion and protection of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, including universal access to quality, comprehensive, youth-friendly, integrated and affordable sexual and reproductive health information, education and services …
and, together, to:
- Reaffirm that low- and middle-income countries need external resources for sustainable development, and that, in view of their responsibility, G7 countries and other high-income countries, must re-commit to the 0,7% share of GDP to ODA-
overseas development assistance-
and ensure debt sustainability, debt restructuring and debt relief where necessary.
This appeal will be presented to the next G7, which will be on 7 and 8 June 2015, in Germany, and, hopefully, out of that will come an ongoing commitment that will lead not just to the UN conference this September, where the world will gather to ensure that the post Millennium Development Goals agenda will lead to a new series of international commitments to look at the issues of poverty and empowerment and equity across our globe in the new sustainable development goals.
This afternoon, Minister Cash tabled a ministerial statement on a recent session of the Commission on the Status of Women, where she reaffirmed the commitment of Australia to ensuring that, in their sustainable development goals, there will be a stand-alone agenda on women's issues. This is something that will ensure that the kinds of issues that I have spoken about will be prioritised and there will be an overall commitment to make these things happen, to end gender inequality and ensure there will be progress.
When Australia hosted the G20 last year, the government put gender equality in the spotlight-a really strong decision. Assembled leaders endorsed, in the leaders' communique, a commitment to reduce the labour force participation gender gap by 25 per cent by 2025, with a clear goal: to bring 100 million women into the labour force, significantly increase global growth and reduce poverty and inequality. More recently, the G20 has initiated a Women's 20, with a view to achieving that goal.
There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that increasing women's workforce participation drives the economy forward. It is estimated-and I have made this point before, here-that this is not just to make us feel good. We know that, by ensuring that women are involved in an equal way in the workforce, we will have great economic gain. We know that, in the Asia-Pacific region alone, we lose up to US$47 billion because of women's limited access to employment, and that is from the ESCAP figures which are based on UN data. The World Economic Forum has also found that, across 135 countries, greater gender equality improves national competitiveness.
The G20, as we know, has enormous power and reach. It presides over some 65 per cent of the world's population, almost 80 per cent of world trade, 84 per cent of the world economy, and almost 80 per cent of the world's carbon emissions. That is why we need the leaders of the G20 to commit to clear, concrete actions to close the gap on gender equality, and we have to have trust that they are up to that commitment that they have clearly made, only this year in Brisbane.
We do need more women in the workforce, but we also need to address the specific barriers that hinder women's workforce participation and the very insecure and poor work conditions that many women and men face around the world. A recent report by the UN Women highlights the fact that up to 95 per cent of women's employment is informal-that is, in jobs that are unprotected by labour laws and lack social protection. For example, 83 per cent of domestic workers around the world are women and half of them are not even entitled to the minimum wage. In Turkey, which is to host the next G20 summit, women on average earn 75 per cent less than the average man. That is a horrific figure, but then we see that the gender pay gap in our own country, with all the advantages we have, has reached 18.8 per cent, its highest in 20 years. There is widespread appreciation of this fact and also a genuine commitment to ensure that we work to lower this gap, with a goal-and I do not believe this goal is timed as yet-to ensure that there will not be a gap; that in fact our workplaces and our industries value the quality and even the quantity of work, so it does not matter about the gender of the person working. The import things are actually the skills available and the skills demonstrated. In that sense, as we have spoken of many times, we need as a nation to examine our own performance just as much as we need to work internationally to look at those previous examples I have given about the situation internationally.
Sometimes it is extremely tempting in Australia to think about these issues as another world problem that somehow does not belong to us. But indeed they do, and unless we in our own country take action, unless we identify issues that are clear obstacles to workforce participation, and also for equal pay, it seems quite hypocritical to tell people overseas what they should do.
For many people around the world, violence and sexual harassment are a daily reality at work or on the way to work. Many women are not allowed to do jobs considered only for men. The gender stereotypes and placement of particular work for particular genders continues in our own country as well as internationally. We have to look at the issues around higher pay and status. There has been a particular focus recently at the UN-and also I note it is a particular issue followed up by Minister Cash-around the issue of early marriage, where women and girls are forced into early marriage, which actually limits educational opportunities and creates genuine vulnerability in terms of power and independence at home and in the workplace. Only today I was talking with some people who are raising awareness of issues in Bangladesh, which is a country where up until very recently the Australian aid program had a significant investment. Unfortunately, that investment has been stripped only in the last couple of months. In Bangladesh, where the statutory age for marriage is 18, we know the practice is very strong across the community. Women as young as 14 and 15 go into marriage arrangements simply to escape poverty. People ponder about why people go into forced marriages. Sometimes it is not because they are being forced by family culture. It is because they are poor and the sense of marriage offers some security. What we need to do is identify what the issues are behind the concerns for marriage, particularly early marriage, which is now the subject of an international campaign to identify the dangers of young women being forced into marriage at an early age. It not only increases the dangers of the chance of having an early pregnancy, where there is an incredibly high mortality rate because of the lack of medical support, and also because of the age of the young women, but also we need to see that it is not a cultural issue. Again, there is a presumption that forces this situation in different countries. There will be an element of that. It is certainly not distant from culture. But when you have the evidence in front of you that consistently it is because of ongoing fear of poverty and inability to cope, there is the opportunity for the international community to work effectively to identify the causes of poverty and provide support, which would then open the opportunities for families to provide support to their children, both men and women. Opportunities for training and education and the opportunity to have effective employment will mean that women will have an effective choice-choice rather than force.
It is incredibly important that we see these issues not just as rhetorical statements. We have the opportunity to make real change. But, again, it is one thing to sign up to international agreements, as we did at the G20 only recently. I actually acknowledge the work done by the Prime Minister in making that commitment at the G20. It is also important that we go the CSW, at the UN, and discuss our concerns about what is happening across the world for the empowerment of women.
We are seeing an impact on our current aid budget. The appeal that went out to the G7 and G20 countries from our meeting in April was that we re-commit to a goal of a 0.7 per cent share of GDP to overseas development assistance, on the basis that we are a country that has made those commitments. We are a country that is actually regarded so strongly and so well in the international community, but we now have the situation where our own aid responsibilities are being reduced and we are removing ourselves from any hope of getting towards a 0.7 per cent contribution of our GDP. In fact, as of this year our contribution to overseas aid is at the lowest level that it has ever been. This is difficult for us to understand. We need to make clear that if we are going to work effectively in the international sphere, which we do-Australia has had such a history of doing this-there are commitments we need to continue with. When you see the aid programs that are being cut, many of them relate specifically to support for women and girls, which has always been a strong component of our aid commitments. We see programs being cut in Bangladesh, across the African area and in the Middle East. Many of these programs were directly related to the empowerment of women and girls, health programs and education. That is something that we as a parliament and we as a community have to consider. In September this year the Australian government, along with many other nations, will gather at the UN and will make extraordinarily valuable commitments to how we see the future of our globe and how we are going to continue to tackle the horrors of poverty and inequality around the world. It is essential that we be able to put an effective plan in place in our own nation to see how we can help and support people across the world to reach the goals they need to attain.
Twenty years ago, world leaders and civil society came together in Beijing and agreed to the most progressive roadmap for women's rights the world has ever seen. To quote-and I will continue to quote these words-Hillary Clinton's powerful speech at that conference in 1995, where I was in the audience:
Human rights are women's rights … and women's rights are human rights.
Unfortunately, as we assess this powerful document 20 years on, rather than taking it forward we have to fight to secure the human rights principles we agreed to last century. The Australian government has been a great champion of women's rights at the United Nations and a great supporter of moving this agenda forward internationally, including by elevating gender equality as a pillar of the aid program. We have a way to go. We have the skills and we have the commitment; we just need to ensure that we can continue to focus on those things that are important not just to us here, but internationally.
When the appeal was handed to the representative of the German government in Berlin in April, they had the commitment there from parliamentarians from 50 countries across the whole world. We were lucky enough to have newly-developed democracies such as Afghanistan sending women parliamentarians to that conference. We heard the experience of a young woman, a member of the Afghani parliament, and the dedication and commitment she has to serving her own community but also accepting that Afghanistan is a nation of the world. She will be working toward ensuring that women's equality will be promoted not just at home with all the difficulties and barriers that exist in that country, but across the world. When we gather with women from Afghanistan, with women from the African continent, with South American parliamentarians and we agree that we can do better and we can meet the goals that we have agreed, we have hope. And we have hope that the sustainable development goals agreed to in September this year will have the genuine commitment of nations across the world.
We in Australia, as we have done before, will work cooperatively to ensure that we take our part in the development that has to go ahead. I feel we can do that. We will have to make some changes to commitments we have made in the past. It does matter. The stats that I have read out this evening indicate there is great need, and if we are going to have the genuine equity that we all hope for, there will have to be movement-and there can be. I would hope that the parliamentary groups on population and development across the nations will continue to talk about these issues in their parliaments and in the community, and then act to ensure that our budgets and our policies will make sure that there will be change.