Taking a Stand to Support Women’s Empowerment in the Region
As Australia joins East Africa in celebrating International Women’s Day, we acknowledge the important advances that have been made in parts of this region towards achieving greater gender equality. However, all around the world, including in our own region, there is still much to do, and we should use this day as an opportunity to refocus our energies on this important issue.
We believe that gender equality is central to development. Eliminating inequalities gives societies a better chance to develop: economies grow faster, and health and education levels improve. Gender equality is a key human right.
While progress has been made in recent times, gender inequalities are still striking. Isn’t it shocking, for example, that half a million women die each year from complications during pregnancy—with 99 per cent of those cases occurring in the developing world; and that globally, 1 in 3 women and girls experience physical and/or sexual violence.
Australia’s aid program seeks to promote gender equality and empower women. This is the goal of Millennium Development Goal number 3, but it’s also central to achieving the other MDGs.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Supporting Economic Empowerment for Women. Women’s economic participation is fundamental to enabling them to have control over their lives and exert influence in society. Unfortunately, there continue to be significant gender disparities across most of the world in earnings, accessing resources and services, and owning assets. As such, women are generally likely to be poorer than men and suffer more severely from the effects of economic crises.
Australia is committed to the empowerment of women around the world, and recently appointed Penny Williams as its first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls. Speaking in Nairobi today, Acting Australian High Commissioner to Kenya, Paul Dziatkowiec said, “The Ambassador’s priorities include coordinating and promoting Australia’s work to eradicate violence against women, improve access to services for women, protect women and girls in conflict zones, and increase the representation of women in leadership roles.”
Australia has committed itself to supporting the professional development of women in Africa since the 1960’s. As Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, recently said: “Education is the key to all our opportunities. It is the great tool for self improvement and social progress. Whatever else women and girls may encounter in life, a sound foundation of excellent, rigorous education ought to be their entitlement.” In 2012, female scholars from Africa have been awarded a record number of Australian scholarships:
•158 long term scholarships (46% of the total) were awarded to women
•136 short term scholarships (39%) have been awarded to women
•17 outstanding African scholars were selected for Australian Leadership Award Scholarships last year, ten (60%) of whom were women.
By 2013, Australia will offer 1000 scholarships across Africa under its Australia Awards program.
In what has often been a turbulent region, the emergence of sustainable peace will help create the conditions under which women’s rights can be further advanced. At the same time, women have a crucial role to play in building that peace. In East Africa, Australia has reaffirmed its commitment to strengthening women’s leadership by supporting the Women’s Leadership for Peace and Security project which involves high-level leadership dialogue, the latest being in South Sudan in October 2011. This project was launched in 2009 and is being implemented by Club de Madrid, the Institute for Security Studies, the Group of 40 Women Leaders, and other organisations with the support of AusAID among other donors. It aims to maximise the participation of women in decision-making on peace and security matters, including gender-based violence. It has offered the opportunity to engage with relevant national, regional and international decision-makers such as IGAD, UN Women, and the diplomatic community to share experiences, b
uild coalitions, and pursue women’s empowerment in a collective way.
By supporting the program outlined above and various others, Australia is working to help strengthen the role of women in the region. As a further contribution to this work, Australia’s National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (on Women, Peace and Security) will be officially launched on 8 March 2012. The Plan will formalise Australia’s commitment to Resolution 1325, enhance Australia’s ability to integrate gender equality in all peace and security efforts, and to support work to eliminate violence against women in situations of armed conflict.
Acting High Commissioner of Australia