Address to the Inaugural ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Women

Penny Williams, Australia's Global Ambassador for Women, E&OE

Vientiane, Lao PDR

19 October 2012

Your Excellency Madam Sysay Leudedmounsone, President of the Lao Women's Union, Honourable Minsters, distinguished Head of Delegation, Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN.

It is an honour to participate in this historic first ASEAN Ministerial Meeting for Women.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to you, Honorable Madam President and to the Lao Women's Union for inviting Australia to attend.

I would like to also thank you for your generous hospitality and to congratulate you on the exemplary arrangements for the meeting.

Australia highly values our engagement with ASEAN as a key organisation for the promotion of regional trust, peace and development.

This meeting marks a new avenue for regional cooperation and a significant opportunity to advance the political, economic and social empowerment of women and girls.

Australia would like to congratulate ASEAN for its leadership in holding this meeting and appreciates very much the opportunity to participate.

I hope our discussions here form the foundation for long term, productive collaboration in promoting the role of the region's women and girls.

Australia was ASEAN's first dialogue partner and since our relationship was formally established in 1974, Australian-ASEAN ties have grown remarkably in breadth and depth.

Australia and its people are integrally linked to Asia and so the prosperity of ASEAN and the greater East Asian region is core to Australia's own prosperity.

A new focus on women

International understanding of what constitutes prosperity and how to achieve it has shifted in recent years.

Where once women's rights and their role in economic development were left to one side, a new recognition has emerged globally that no society can achieve its full potential when half the population does not have the opportunity to achieve theirs.

Whether in Australia or in ASEAN, every women or girl who does not have the opportunity she deserves is one less leader helping to shape a better future, one less entrepreneur contributing to the prosperity of her country, one less scientist discovering a breakthrough, one less justice or law enforcement officer promoting civil order and the rule of law, one less peacemaker negotiating an end to conflict.

Because of this understanding, momentum has been gathering to place women firmly at the heart of all of our countries' political, economic and social development.

The fact that we are here today is evidence of this.

We all have much to learn from each other.

The Australian Government's unprecedented creation of the role I hold speaks volumes about the importance of women's issues in Australia's global engagement and the message we wish to send internationally about cooperation on the status of women.

A key focus of this global engagement is through our aid program.

Australia is committed to ensuring that women's and girls' views, needs, interests and rights are at the centre of all development activities.

Australia is working with partners in the region to:

Overall in 2012-13, Australia has committed $1.16 billion in development assistance to ASEAN and its members. This represents $1.07 billion in bilateral assistance and $89.6 billion in regional assistance.

We have been long term supporters of ASEAN's efforts to achieve regional economic integration, especially through the Economic Community Blueprint and we are also working with other partners to support ASEAN's Socio-cultural Blueprint.

This includes programs that address human trafficking, child sex tourism, disaster reduction, climate change and forestry.

Australia also welcomes progress in initiatives under the Master Plan on ASEAN connectivity.

This collaboration on architecture, planning and capacity building is crucial; so too are the changes brought to the daily lives of the region's women.

Bilaterally, we are also working with ASEAN development partners to support women and girls.

To name just a few recent specific examples:

A $60 million flagship program “Empowering Indonesian Women for Poverty Reduction” or MAMPU was announced during the annual Australian-Indonesia Leaders meeting in July.

In recent months we have committed funding to work with the Government of Cambodia to support a new national action plan on violence against women.

Last year we funded the establishment of two career counselling centres at the National University of Lao PDR and a technical college to support the economic empowerment of young women.

We have worked successfully with ASEAN partners on a regional basis too. Of particular note is the Asia Regional Trafficking in Persons project (ARTIP) in which Australia has invested $21 million over five years to assist Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam to combat trafficking in persons.

We are now working with ASEAN on a successor program.

I have by no means exhausted the list but I am concerned about exhausting your patience this late in the day. And, of course, our cooperation with ASEAN and its members on issues related to women and girls is much broader than our aid program.

Our relationship with ASEAN on this agenda is framed by the spirit of mutual respect and mutual benefit which underpins all ASEAN interactions.

It does seem to me that there are opportunities to build further on this well established platform. For this reason it has been of immense value to me to have been invited to attend this meeting and to have heard your assessments of the challenges and opportunities for the region's women and your views on the path forward.

The Australian Government appointed me as Global Ambassador for Women and Girls for precisely these purposes: to engage in discussions internationally, but with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific, about global and regional cooperation to advance gender equality.

I look forward to exploring further opportunities for cooperation with ASEAN in this important work.

Through existing mechanisms and also through emerging programs such as those administered by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC).

I congratulate the ACWC for it s development of a five year work plan, finalised earlier this year. I anticipate this plan will be a valuable platform from which to discuss new areas for Australia's collaboration with ASEAN on gender issues.

It is an exciting time to be involved in this activity – the potential is enormous to bring change to individual lives, to communities and to the region.

Australia welcomes the opportunity to partner with ASEAN in our shared aspirations

Thank you.