Globally, significant progress has been made towards securing the rights of women and girls. But so much remains to be done.
Australia is keenly aware of its responsibility to contribute to gender equality and to be a strong and persistent voice on behalf of the world's women and girls.
It was for precisely this reason that I was appointed as Australia's first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls in September 2011. The aim of my role is to ensure the needs of women and girls are properly represented in Australia's overseas development program and in foreign policy more broadly. My priorities include co-ordinating and promoting Australia's work to eradicate violence against women, improving access to services for women, the protection of women and girls in conflict zones and increasing the representation of women in leadership roles.
Even a small sample of statistics describes a disturbing picture of the challenges we face. Women make up 70 per cent of the world’s people living on less than one dollar a day. Around the globe, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. And a mere 20 per cent of the world’s national parliamentarians are women.
The suffering of millions of women, and our failure to ensure that all members of our communities – whether women or men – can fully realise their potential, diminishes us all.
Whether the issue is economic progress, food security, sustainable development, health, or peace and security, the full participation of women is needed now more than ever.
Australia is demonstrating significant global leadership both as a tenacious international advocate and a provider of practical support to the world's women and girls.
We are a founding supporter and a primary funder of UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. And we are a member of the UN Women Executive Board.
As a current member of the UN Security Council, we are actively supporting all efforts to prevent sexual violence in conflict and to promote the early involvement of women in peace-building.
And Australia has positioned women at the heart of our development policies and programs. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is a key cross-cutting principle of Australia’s aid program.
In 2012, we launched a major new program, Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development, under which we are providing $320 million over ten years to empower Pacific women.
While global cooperation and commitment are important, the people I have met around the world – in the Pacific, in Asia, in North and South America and the Caribbean - have taught me the key to ensuring women’s participation often lies with the personal choices we make each day.
We can choose to condemn and prevent violence against women in our communities, rather than remain silent. We can choose to encourage girls to seek an education and pursue their dreams.
In our daily interactions, we must ensure that all women are empowered and able to make the choices they need to live healthy and productive lives.
To do otherwise is to deny one of the most powerful, positive forces for shaping our world.