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Australia's Head of Delegation Statement at the APEC Women and the Economy Forum

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The High Level Policy Dialogue at the APEC Women and the Economy Forum


Speaker: Statement by The Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja


Distinguished Delegates, Heads of Delegation, APEC Secretariat and APEC Business Advisory Council Delegation.

It is a great pleasure for me to participate in my first APEC Women and the Economy Forum and to address this high level policy dialogue. I particularly want to thank our Chinese hosts for their generous hospitality and excellent preparations for this meeting.

Australia welcomes this opportunity to discuss APEC's efforts to Harness the power of women for Asia Pacific prosperity – it is an important theme at a critical time for our region.

APEC WEF context

We are at a crossroad. In recent decades, there has been an economic transformation in many countries, particularly in our region, that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. But it has not reached all people and more often than not, it is women who are left behind, to the detriment of all.

Momentum has been building around the world for women's economic empowerment. We know that the model of an open, export-orientated economy, with a flourishing private sector, in which women are equal participants, gives countries the best chance of increasing living standards. The link between women's empowerment and prosperity is now well understood and starkly quantified.

The ILO's estimate that the Asia-Pacific region alone loses around $47 billion a year because of limited female access to jobs and more than $16 billion a year due to poor female education is a blunt reminder of what we all lose when inequities persist.

Responding to this challenge is a priority for Australia both in our domestic policies and our international advocacy and development programs.

Australia's domestic context and policies

Domestically, we have made headway through legislative, regulatory and socio-cultural support for women's economic participation, but there is more to be done.

Australian women own roughly a third of small businesses and hold around 18 per cent of the board directorships of the top 200 companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange [up from 8.3 per cent in 2008]. Our gender pay gap is approximately 17 percent. Just over 58 per cent of women participate in the Australian labour force, compared to almost 71 per cent of men. Women are more likely to work in lower paying sectors and hold lower paying occupations resulting in lower levels of superannuation.

Improving women's economic outcomes is, of course, a complex matter and cannot be addressed by government alone; but governments can reduce some of the barriers that women face to full economic participation.

Australia's Government is working to promote women's representation on boards and, through our Workplace Gender Equality Agency, is providing incentives and support to employers to help drive cultural change for women in business. Childcare support and paid parental leave schemes have given Australian women more choice when balancing their work and caring responsibilities.

Australia will soon release a National Financial Literacy Strategy which uses international best practice to improve the financial wellbeing of Australians by advancing their financial literacy. Women are at the Strategy's core.

Businesses across Australia are leading the charge to strengthen women's roles in the economy. In the mining sector, for example, faced with a severe labour shortage constraining growth, the industry adopted proactive policies to make the sector more attractive to women. The results were remarkable. The number of women employed in the mining industry in Australia tripled [to almost 40,000] between 2004 and 2012, representing 15 per cent of the mining workforce.

Australia's international focus

Australia's efforts in the domestic context are mirrored by our approach internationally. The Government's economic diplomacy agenda seeks to leverage all aspects of Australia's international engagement in pursuit of trade, job creation, economic growth and prosperity. Under this umbrella, women's economic empowerment is a priority for Australia's Foreign Minister and a focus of my advocacy as Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls.

With our partners overseas, Australia is supporting women's economic participation by:

  • building women's livelihoods through vocational education and skills;
  • ensuring women's access to safe markets;
  • supporting changes to legislation that encourage women's role in their economies;
  • and assisting women business leaders to lead change in their countries.

We value highly our close cooperation with regional and multilateral organisations to promote women's economic empowerment. As President of the G20 this year, we are pursuing improved economic outcomes for women. And we are strongly committed to build on our record as an active partner in APEC.

Australia's priorities for APEC WEF

Australia was pleased to receive endorsement from APEC economies earlier this year for a proposed project to improve the capacity of trade promotion agencies across APEC to support women exporters. I am delighted to announce that Australia will begin this project in 2014.

Consistent with our longstanding support for APEC's economic and technical cooperation, Australia recently made another voluntary contribution to the APEC General Fund to support this cooperation. We would like to see gender considerations more broadly, meaningfully and measurably integrated into this APEC-funded project work.

The pursuit of women's full participation in economic life, however, requires much more than projects in the margins of APEC's broad agenda. As momentum gathers globally for women's economic empowerment, this is a critical juncture for APEC, too, to place women's economic participation centrally in its agenda. Australia strongly supports China's initiative as host to strengthen effective considerations of gender throughout APEC fora. We look forward to discussions over the next few days, and beyond, on how we can achieve the mainstreaming of gender considerations across all APEC programs.

Over the past year, our economies have been developing the capacity of APEC's private and public sector expert group, the Policy Partnership on Women and the Economy, which provides critical support to our agenda. Australia urges a continued focus on strengthening this group and we regard as essential the adoption of a strategic plan which is practical, achievable and properly resourced.

The strong public-private partnership that characterises our work, places APEC uniquely to promote women's economic empowerment. We should ensure that our public-private dialogues translate into tangible activity that makes a profound and enduring difference in the lives of our women and the health of our economies.

Indeed, in 2014, we are at a crossroad. Harnessing existing momentum is an enormous challenge, but, as I look around this room, I am reminded that we gather at this juncture in unparalleled company – leaders in the public and private sector – who are determined to walk that path together.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 11 September 2014
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