UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet addresses Parliamentarians in Australia

Date: 23 Aug 2012

Remarks by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet at the Australian Parliament House, Australia, 23 August 2012.

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Honourable Minister Julie Collins,

Honourable Members of Parliament,

It is great to be here with you this morning. I would like to thank AusAID and the National Committee for UN Women for organizing this event and bringing us together. I am honoured to be the first leader of UN Women.

I always like to speak to parliamentarians because you are the bridge between the people and the Government. You make sure that the people's voices are heard and acted upon, as reflected in laws, policies, and budgets.

I am here today to tell you more about UN Women, about our priorities and what we are doing, and to strengthen our partnership for gender equality and women's empowerment. I congratulate Australia for being a leader for women and equality. I thank Australia for its strong support financially and politically of UN Women, and for standing out as one of our largest donors.

UN Women was created in 2010 to advance gender equality and women's empowerment.Today UN Women has a presence in 75 countries and we're working with partners, including Australia, on 5 key priorities.

First, we are working together to advance women's political participation and leadership.

Second, we are working together to increase women's economic empowerment.

Third, we are working together to end violence against women and girls.

Fourth, we are working together to fully engage women in peace talks and peace-building.

And fifth, we are working to promote planning and budgeting for gender equality.

Let me start by telling you what we are doing to expand women's political participation and leadership. Last September, UN Women brought together women leaders at the United Nations to call for increased women's political participation and decision-making.

In December 2011, the nations of the world agreed to take concrete and proactive measures to advance women's participation and leadership in politics. It is now our collective responsibility to take this important resolution forward.

When more women are leaders, decisions better reflect and respond to the diverse needs of society. As I have learned: When one woman is a leader, it changes her. When more women are leaders, it changes politics and policies.

The bottom line is that women's voices need to be heard. We need more women in decision-making positions. We need more women leading alongside men.

Today women make up less than 10 percent of world leaders and less than one in five members of parliament. The 30 percent critical mass mark for women's representation in parliament has been reached or exceeded in only 33 countries. And we know that here in the Pacific, with the exception of Australia and New Zealand, the representation of women in Parliament has the dubious distinction of being the lowest in the world, at only 3.5 per cent compared to 20 per cent globally.

Moreover, the majority of the parliaments in the world without any women at all or only one woman are here in the Pacific region. But the good news is that things are beginning to change.

Three female candidates were recently elected to join the 9th Parliament of Papua New Guinea. Women were supported by a campaign called “Know Your Woman Candidate that was launched in the country for this year's national elections. The campaign is the first of its kind in Papua New Guinea, and was spearheaded by the National Council of Women with support from UN Women.

Progress is also underway in Samoa, where the Prime Minister last year proposed a 10 percent quota to be introduced for the next elections. And steps are being taken in Vanuatu to include 30 per cent representation of women at the municipal and provincial councils and national Parliament by 2015.

Overall, as you know, the issue of reserving seats is being widely debated here in the Pacific. And UN Women is providing support to countries, candidates, political parties, voters, electoral commissions and legislative efforts to ensure that more women vote and get elected.

Another priority is advancing women's economic status. Today more than half of working women worldwide are in vulnerable jobs, gender wage gaps are still large, and balancing work and family life remains a daily struggle.

By strengthening women's economic role, economic recovery can be faster, fairer and more sustainable . Studies show that women are more likely than men to put their income back into their communities, driving hunger, illiteracy and mortality rates down and expanding economic growth.

There is a strong economic case for achieving gender equality. As you know, it is estimated that closing the gap between women's and men's workforce participation could boost Australia's gross domestic product by up to 13 percent.

The World Economic Forum reports that greater gender equality correlates positively with per capita gross national product. Countries with greater equality between women and men have economies that are more competitive and grow faster. And a UN study finds that removing the barriers to women's full economic participation here in this region could boost the Asia Pacific economy by up to $89 billion US dollars a year.

For these reasons and more, UN Women is supporting countries to remove barriers that limit women's economic participation—from providing training and skills to making laws, policies and conditions fair for women.

We are reaching out to the private sector. In fact, I will go from Canberra to Sydney to attend a special meeting on the Women's Empowerment Principles. So far more than 400 companies worldwide, including dozens from Australia, have embraced these principles to advance equal opportunities and equal pay and women's leadership. I hope that even more companies from Australia will join us.

Another priority is ending violence against women and girls. It is estimated that one in three women will experience domestic or sexual violence in her lifetime here in Australia and worldwide, with surveys showing even higher rates in some countries here in the Pacific.

In Australia, the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children estimates that such violence costs the nation about $13.6 billion each year. This is a high price to pay. And we cannot put a price on the suffering of women and children and the impact this violence has on future generations.

All over the world, the first step has been taken. The silence that for so many years allowed these crimes to continue is being broken. Today more than 125 countries have specific laws that penalize domestic violence, a remarkable gain from just a decade ago. Studies show that countries with strong laws have lower rates of violence against women.

Moreover, the United Nations Security Council now recognizes sexual violence as a deliberate tactic of war. And advances in international law have, for the first time, made it possible to prosecute crimes of sexual violence committed during and after conflict.

Today women and men and young people around the world and here in Australia are coming together to promote ‘zero tolerance' for violence against women and girls.

In Fiji, village committees are reporting violators to the police. They are telling everyone that No Forms of Violence or Abuse will be tolerated. And I hear reports that men's behavior is changing and, this comes as no surprise that women are celebrating.Last year 15 communities in Fiji joined the zero tolerance campaign, and 15 more will join this year.

Here in the Pacific and around the world, UN Women is proud to support efforts to end impunity, to provide justice and vital services to survivors, and to end violence against women and girls.

Another priority is advancing women's role in peace and security. This is in line with Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, and subsequent Security Council resolutions.

These resolutions confirm that women are more than victims during conflict, they are leaders of peace and democracy.

While women pay a heavy price during conflict, they are often the first to find solutions, to promote reconciliation and to ensure that every voice is heard as a country rebuilds. Yet since 1992, less than 10 percent of peace negotiators have been women; and less than 8 percent of reconstruction budgets specifically provide for the needs of women and girls.

This is why UN Women is supporting women's central role in peace talks, peace-building and recovery.

Thanks to support, women participated in international conferences to support peace and development in Afghanistan and the newest Member State, South Sudan.

Conflict-related abuses of women's rights were documented by the Commissions of Inquiry for Cote d'Ivoire and Libya in a process to obtain justice.

Pre-deployment training is being provided to UN peacekeepers to help them detect and prevent sexual violence, and hundreds of women from Africa and Asia are now trained as mediators in conflict resolution. I applaud Australia for launching the Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security this year,

Another priority is supporting countries to advance gender planning and budgeting. This requires sex disaggregated statistics and analysis so that plans and budgets are based on sound data and benefit women and men equally. We are making headway with active programmes in more than 50 countries.

We are also increasing coordination and accountability across the UN system for gender equality.A system-wide action plan is now approved and being rolled out that provides us with a stronger foundation than ever before for promoting gender mainstreaming and accountability within the UN system.

I would like to commend Australia for its achievements to promote equal opportunities so that women and men can make genuine choices about their participation in the economy, society and at home.

From the paid parental leave scheme, to Dad and partner pay so that paid work and housework is shared, to family payments targeted to those most in need, to quality childcare that is affordable and accessible, to a pay equity decision this year, to pension reform, to the Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security that was launched this year—Australia is taking concrete steps for equality between women and men.

I applaud Australia for taking a comprehensive approach across sectors to advance gender equality. An approach that combines policy and legal change, social protection and empowerment.

I congratulate Australia for being a role model for gender equality and women's empowerment. In fact, as one example, UN Women is using Victoria's programme to end violence against women as a model for our work in in small Pacific island countries.

Again, I thank you for your strong support for UN Women. My colleagues and I look forward to strengthened collaboration and to Australia joining our Executive Board in 2013.