Sharing Experiences and Lessons Learned between OSCE and Asian Partners in Order to Create a Safer, More Interconnected and Fairer World in the Face of Emerging Challenges

2014 OSCE-Japan Conference

Tokyo, Japan

Statement by Dr. Annemarie Reerink, Senior Gender Specialist, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

17 June 2014

As many of you will be aware, this session builds on the OSCE-Asian Partners Conference held last year in Australia, on the topic of improving security for women and girls. Distinguished speakers at that time concluded that the topic deserved follow-up. The Australian Government commends this year’s hosts, the Government of Japan, for enabling us to continue that dialogue and move forward. We share many of the goals that are outlined in the 2004 Action Plan for the Promotion of Gender Equality, and we look forward to the results of the Review Conference next month.

Economic security, political security, and human security are inextricably linked. In their quest to build a secure life for themselves and their families, many women face additional hurdles compared to men. All around the world, we observe the terrible reality of violence against women and girls that takes a high emotional and physical toll on individuals, but also on families and communities – the very cornerstone of our societies. Such violence occurs every day in households, in workplaces, and on the streets but is exacerbated during times of conflict. Violence constrains women in their participation in community life, in the workplace and in decision-making circles, in other words in ensuring economic security, political security and human security.

Fortunately, awareness about the causes and manifestations of VAWG is increasing. So is our knowledge about effective ways to prevent it, to support survivors, and to make communities more resilient in the face of the divisions and trauma that violence against women creates.

Last week’s Global Summit in London on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict was a powerful and timely reminder of how we need to – and how we can – transform this awareness and knowledge into real human security for women in some of the world’s most disadvantaged and unstable societies. From the UNSC Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security to the pledges made by leaders at last week’s Global Summit, we are certainly not short of words that express our outrage and our determination to make things better for the millions of women and girls who are suffering violence at the hands of armed combatants (but also at the hands of ordinary men in their midst). Now is the time to move beyond words to action, to make a real difference in the lives of these women.

We should start by addressing the discriminatory norms and attitudes that lie at the basis of sexual violence, whether it happens in conflict or in times of peace, and the persistent exclusion of women from decision-making around peace and conflict. I am proud to share with you the powerful message that the Australian Chief of Army, Lieutenant-General David Morrison, conveyed to the audience in London: “Armies that revel in their separateness from civil society, that value the male over the female, that use their imposed values to exclude those that don't fit the particular traits of the dominant group, who celebrate the violence that is integral to my profession rather than seek ways to contain it … they do nothing to distinguish the soldier from the brute". We hope that Lieutenant-General Morrison will stand as a great example of leadership in changing the culture of the armed forces, bringing about a re-think in the treatment of women and girls during and after conflict. In Lieutenant-General Morrison’s words, “every soldier has a simple, terrible choice: to be a protector or a perpetrator… I have deliberately excluded a third choice, to be a bystander while others commit sexual violence. There are no bystanders – the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

And we all face that same choice. By changing not only laws but especially attitudes – about what roles we expect women and girls to play – we can bring about an end to the culture of impunity and work towards human security.

As a Government, how do we translate this into action? The Australian Government has made combating violence against women and facilitating women’s leadership key priorities of its aid program and is committed to supporting civil society and government partners throughout the Asia-Pacific region, in particular in countries that are suffering or have suffered armed conflict. This is complemented by the second National Action Plan to implement UNSC Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security which the Australian Government is about to adopt.

A second form of security – economic security – is equally vital if women are to unleash their full potential and contribute to the creation of a fairer and safer world for our children and beyond. Economic security requires that women have equal access to property, to the labour market, and to business opportunities. Much more needs to be done to support women to claim their rights as workers, as business owners, and as consumers. What we need is for women and men to stand up against discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex, when they seek out opportunities in the public or the private sector.  The Australian Government’s aid program therefore supports women to formalise and expand their enterprises, and to participate in high-value supply chains. In our work on regional connectivity with ASEAN countries and in South Asia, we support partner governments to identify ways to strengthen women’s participation in and benefits from cross-border trade. We also work closely with private sector institutions, so that they learn what it takes to provide equal opportunities to women, from entry into the labour market all the way up to boardrooms. 

In developed economies, we know that the lack of affordable child care and persistent notions that family care is a woman’s responsibility remain formidable obstacles to women’s progress in the workforce. The Australian Government is committed to addressing the current mismatch in demand and supply of child care, through a Productivity Commission inquiry into how the child care system can be made more flexible, affordable and accessible.

The Australian Government has also prioritised the establishment of a Paid Parental Leave Scheme, which will provide new primary care givers with 26 weeks’ actual wages, or the national minimum wage. Importantly, this scheme will include contributions to our national pension scheme at the compulsory rate. Altogether, this promotes women’s self-reliance by increasing their connection to the workforce, while providing a realistic option for working mothers to take adequate time off when it is most important. Lastly, the Australian Human Rights Commission is conducting a national review on the prevalence, nature and consequences of discrimination in relation to pregnancy at work, taking parental leave and return to work after parental leave. This review is expected to lead to policy recommendations around improved policies and implementation of legislation that makes such discrimination unlawful.

But economic security is as much a product of state guarantees and company policies of equal opportunities and equal treatment at work, as it is about women’s equal status and decision-making within the household and at the community-level. So it is about the delicate interplay between individual women claiming their rights and – on the other hand – government and societal institutions levelling the playing field, supporting women’s equal participation but also protecting women where this is necessary.

To conclude, the Australian Government has made women’s security a focus of both our overseas aid program as well as our domestic policies. The aim is clear: to enable women to participate in the local and global economy, at an equal level with men and while claiming their rights, especially the right to be free from violence. Alongside women’s participation in political decision-making, women’s  economic and human security are priorities – not only because they are essential for accelerating economic growth but also because they are a precondition for social and political empowerment, for breaking cycles of violence against women, and for the type of community and societal cohesion that will strengthen economic and political stability.

Thank you for your attention.