Assalaamu alaikum, good morning.
I wish to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which this event takes place, the Wurundjeri people, and pay my respect to their elders past and present.
I am very grateful to Dr Nouria Salehi for inviting me to welcome participants at this roundtable, and especially our guests from Afghanistan. It’s such a pleasure and privilege to welcome you to Australia. I have heard yesterday’s workshop sessions were very productive and I am sure the key issues you all identified will feed in to some great discussions today.
This is undoubtedly a valuable opportunity for us to gather together around our shared interest in promoting the role of women in Afghanistan’s transition.
As many of you may know, Dr Salehi was named the 2012 Victorian Senior Australian of the Year for her outstanding leadership to the Australian Afghan community over many years. It was through Dr Salehi’s leadership that the Afghan Australian Development Organisation was formed and I commend AADO for arranging this important discussion today.
Australia's strong commitment to gender equality is well-established and we have demonstrated significant global leadership both as a tenacious international advocate and as a provider of practical support to the world's women and girls.
Australia maintains this commitment because we believe that regardless of the challenge at hand - the key to successful development is giving everyone the chance to contribute to society, voice an opinion, work for their own money, and be free to reach their own potential.
My appointment as Australia's first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls in 2011 signalled the priority the Government attaches to placing gender equality at the centre of our foreign policy and development programs.
Since 2011, I have been working closely with government and civil society to combat violence against women, strengthen the protection of women in conflict zones, promote women’s leadership and participation, and improve their access to services.
As a member of the UN Security Council for the next two years, Australia is better placed than ever to pursue this agenda. A core priority for us in this new role is to advance a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to gender concerns.
Under Australia’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, we will be advocating to the Security Council for the protection of women’s rights during conflict, their participation in peacebuilding and the prevention of violence against women.
In the broad story of Australia’s efforts in this area, our involvement in Afghanistan is an important chapter.
We believe it is vital Afghan women are able to have a say in their nation’s future. Not just because it is the right thing to do - but because it is impossible to create and maintain peace and security anywhere if you exclude 50 per cent of the population.
Though there is little doubt the situation for women in Afghanistan remains very difficult, there have been improvements since the fall of the Taliban regime.
An increasing number of girls now have access to education – 2.7 million girls attend primary school in Afghanistan today, whereas there were virtually no girls attending primary school in 2001.
The Afghan MPs present as guests here today also represent that there are now women MPs actively contributing their voices to the national dialogue in both houses of the Afghan parliament.
These are important steps forward. But there are many more such steps to be taken.
Australia considers it imperative that through to the end of transition in 2014 and beyond, the important gains made for Afghan women since 2001 are not lost.
We will need to actively harness the talent and wisdom of women to meet the challenges ahead.
Supporting gender equality is therefore a central priority of Australia’s aid program to Afghanistan.
The Development Agreement Framework between the governments of Australia and Afghanistan identifies specific commitments by the Afghan government to the protection and development of women and girls.
These include prioritising health and education and promoting democracy and the active participation of all members of Afghan society.
In July last year, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr also announced a commitment of $17.7 million to help reduce violence against women in Afghanistan. This funding will support national efforts to change community attitudes about violence against women, and improve access to services for women and girls who are subjected to violence.
These are important steps towards ensuring women and girls have the chance to participate in society and to drive social and economic change.
The Afghan government and the international community have also agreed to a Mutual Accountability Framework that commits to protecting women’s rights, including through the implementation of the Ending Violence Against Women Law and the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan.
We will continue to play a critical advocacy role to ensure these commitments to the rights of Afghan women and girls are sustained.
We will also work to protect the rights of all Afghans, including women and girls, through support for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to carry out its mandate to monitor, protect and promote the rights of the Afghan people.
The future prosperity of Afghanistan’s women and girls requires us all to seek a secure future for their most fundamental rights.
It is inspiring that so many committed individuals here today are determined to make Afghanistan a place where everyone can enjoy and fulfil their potential.
Together we can bring about the hope and dignity that truly belongs to Afghanistan’s women and girls.
Your courageous voices and experiences give me great inspiration that such a future is possible.