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2012 Excellence in Policing Awards

News, speeches and media

Development Seminar: "Women, Law Enforcement, Change and Opportunity"


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


"Change and opportunity for the empowerment of women in our region: Australia's engagement in the women, peace and security agenda"

I acknowledge the traditional Ngunnawal custodians of the land on which we stand today and recognise elders past and present of the oldest living culture in the world.

I'd like to thank Superintendant Debbie Platz and her colleagues for the invitation to speak to you. It's a pleasure to participate in the 2012 Excellence in Policing Awards and to be part of this important development seminar.

As people responsible for law enforcement in Australia and overseas, you play a vital role in the promotion of justice and equality for women in our region and it is valuable to come together to share experiences and insights across our common endeavours.

I propose to talk about three issues:

  • Australia's work to advocate internationally for the world's women, including through my role as Global Ambassador for Women and Girls
  • Australia's work on what I'll broadly refer to as the Women, Peace and Security Agenda
  • And our specific agenda in our region – the Pacific – to promote women's empowerment. I understand that some of you have already played a direct role in this important program.

Gender in the global context – recent history

But first, I'd like to set the scene for Australia's current efforts to advance gender equality. I think it's important to reflect on the long way we have come in a relatively short period of time and the backdrop against which we are pursuing our contemporary agenda.

In 1995, the United Nations convened the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. That event proved to be a milestone in the articulation of an ambitious blueprint for women's equality.

Of the many thousands of inspiring words recorded at the conference – words which shifted individual lives, which shifted communities, nations and the international community in new directions for the world's women and girls – the most often quoted came from the keynote address delivered by Hillary Clinton, then First Lady of the United States.

Itemising a litany of abuses confronted by women and girls at every point in their life cycle – from forced abortions to dowry burnings to domestic violence to rape as a tool of war – she prefaced each with the statement that it was a violation of human rights.

She said, "If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, it is that human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights."

Almost two decades later, it can be hard to appreciate how revolutionary it was to describe women's rights in this way. And to appreciate that it precipitated a fundamental shift from viewing women's issues as a discrete concern, a concern often shoved off to the side, to part of the main event, an issue at the core of social, economic and political progress.

Beijing generated a movement which made a call to action out of every element of a woman's life in which she experienced discrimination or abuse – and that's a long list.

The Beijing agenda – including the pursuit of justice and equality for women – is far from finished.

Gender – current situation

Women and girls are still the majority of the world's poor and illiterate. They disproportionately suffer from inadequate healthcare and education. The violence perpetrated against women and girls is an appalling global scourge.

Let me give you a few facts and figures to give a brief description of the problem faced by women and girls some colour and shade:

  • Women make up 70 per cent of people living on less than one dollar a day.
  • At least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
  • Mothers in Papua New Guinea are on average 80 times more likely to die in childbirth than mothers in Australia.
  • More than 35 million girls worldwide are not getting even basic primary-level education.
  • Ten million girls under the age of 18 marry each year, often resulting in illiteracy, violence, abuse and forced sexual relations and poor sexual and reproductive health.
    • In fact, a girl in South Sudan today is more likely to die in childbirth than she is to finish primary school.
  • Women are half the world's population, yet they hold less than 20 percent of positions in national governments, and in the Pacific, around five per cent.
  • Of the 193 members of the UN, only about 10 per cent have ever elected a female President or Prime Minister.
  • Although women and girls suffer disproportionately during and after war, far too often women are excluded from the negotiating table where conflicts are to be resolved
    • Indeed, less than eight per cent of the hundreds of peace treaties signed in the past 20 years were negotiated by delegations which included women, despite the fact that history tells us women's experiences and actions are critical to sustaining peace.
  • Efforts to achieve environmental sustainability all too often exclude women.
  • And across the world, economies suffer because of women's limited access to employment opportunities.
    • The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that in the Asia-Pacific region alone this equates to a loss of $47 billion annually.

While the problems faced by women and girls are significant they are not insurmountable as long as we work together at the national and international level to actively promote gender equality.

As one of the world's top 20 economies, Australia is keenly aware of its responsibility to contribute to women's empowerment globally and to be a strong and persistent voice on behalf of the world's women and girls.

Australia has demonstrated significant global leadership in this arena both as a tenacious international advocate and a provider of practical support to the world's women and girls.

My appointment as Australia's Global Ambassador for Women and Girls in September last year signalled the Government's strong commitment to advance the rights of women and girls, with a special focus on the Asia Pacific region.

I have been busy since my appointment just over a year ago. I have been working closely with women and men across the Pacific, in Asia, and, most recently the Caribbean.

I have engaged with diplomatic counterparts at the Commission on the Status of Women in New York, with business and government leaders at the APEC Women and the Economy Forum in San Francisco, with domestic women's alliances and non-government organisations, with young women through organisations such as the YWCA and the Girl Guides.

I consult daily with my colleagues in the department and across federal agencies, in particular AusAID and in the Australian Government Office for Women, but also the AFP, Attorney-General's Department and DIAC.

Together we have been working:

  • to promote a world where women and girls are free of violence and the fear of violence
  • free of forced marriage, servitude or of being trafficked
  • free of discrimination
  • where women participate equally in their countries' political and economic lives
  • and participate equally as leaders of peace.
  • We have also been working to promote a world where women and girls are involved equally in reconciliation processes
  • where women and girls have equal access to education and necessary access to healthcare – including sexual and reproductive health services
  • where women have equal access to jobs, to markets and to finance and
  • where there is equality of aspiration and equality of opportunity.

Australia's international credentials in this regard are well-established.

We are one of only a handful of countries with an Ambassador for Women and Girls.

We are a founding supporter of UN Women, the UN entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and one of the primary funders of the agency's work

  • And we look forward to joining the Executive Board of this agency in January next year;
    • at a time when the Solomon Islands is also joining the Executive Board.

We are an active participant in the UN's Commission on the Status of Women and we are signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and its Optional Protocol.

Our proactive role in these bodies, the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, enable the government to contribute to the setting and strengthening of global standards for the protection of women's rights

  • and to speak out against discrimination and violence against women.
  • With the recent success of our bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, there will be new opportunities for Australia to pursue our 'gender agenda' and this will include work on Women Peace and Security which has been a priority for more than a decade already.

The Women, Peace and Security Agenda

The adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000 was historic and unprecedented.

It marked the first time the Security Council addressed the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women.

The resolution recognised the under-valued and under-utilised contributions women make to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace-building.

And it stressed the importance of their equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security.

Resolution 1325 became the foundation of the UN's broad agenda on Women, Peace and Security, an agenda which has been expanded and strengthened by subsequent Security Council resolutions.

Yet despite the important work which the United Nations has done towards the protection and empowerment of women and girls in fragile, conflict and post conflict situations, the disturbing reality is that women are still part of the battleground – they are raped, abducted, humiliated and made to undergo forced pregnancy, sexual abuse and slavery.

And women are also still largely excluded from formal decision-making processes around peace and security.

Australia's Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins, observed in a speech on the issue earlier this year that, "Currently, the peace process is dominated by men. You could call it a boys' club."

In the past 20 years, hundreds of peace treaties have been signed. According to UN analysis of a sample of treaties, less than 8 percent of those treaties' negotiators were women, and fewer than three per cent of signatories to recent peace agreements have been women.

A UNIFEM review of 585 peace agreements from 102 peace processes revealed that since 1990, only 92 peace agreements, or 16 percent, have contained at least one reference to women or gender.

And of approximately 300 peace agreements reviewed, only 18 mentioned sexual and gender-based violence.

No woman has ever been appointed chief or lead mediator in UN-sponsored peace talks.

It begs the question, how can we possibly attempt to create and maintain international peace and security when 50 per cent of the population is excluded?

The good news is that attention has been directed towards this critical issue and national and international action is gaining momentum.

In my role, I have seen inspiring examples of innovative programs and approaches to address the impact of conflict on women and ensure their crucial role in building peace and security, both at home and abroad.

In the Pacific, I have been particularly encouraged by the work Australia is doing with regional police forces to facilitate women's participation in law enforcement and to protect women and girls' rights.

Through the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, Australia has actively supported the training and promotion of women to progress through the ranks of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force to senior ranks.

And in Vanuatu, we've helped increase the proportion of women officers in the Vanuatu Police Force from six per cent in 2007 to nine per cent in 2011.

On International Women's Day this year, Australia's Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins, launched the Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security to implement our commitments under UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions.

Establishing a clear framework for a coordinated, whole of government approach, this National Action Plan builds on the broad program of work already underway in Australia.

We are integrating a gender perspective into peace and security efforts, protecting women and girls' human rights, particularly in relation to gender-based violence, and promoting their participation in conflict prevention, management and resolution.

Most importantly, the Plan commits the Government to action and elements of this program are already underway.

For example, in July 2012, the Australian-Civil Military Centre, the Office for Women, the Australian Federal Police, AusAID and civil society contributed to the production and launch of Side by Side, a documentary and educational toolkit to support people working on the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.

These resources raise awareness, facilitate dialogue, build understanding, and assist trainers to encourage a shift in attitudes and behaviour to effectively protect women and foster their capacity as powerful agents for peace.

Gender equality in the aid program – with a focus on law and justice

In addition to our international advocacy efforts, Australia has funded and continues to support a range of international programs to advance gender equality, which is a central and cross-cutting issue in our aid program.

AusAID's Gender Equality Thematic Strategy identifies four priority areas for work:

  • advancing equal access to gender-responsive health and education services
  • increasing women's voice in decision-making, leadership and peace-building
  • empowering women economically and improving their livelihood security, and
  • ending violence against women and girls.

The Pacific is a particular, though not exclusive, focus; not only because this is the region where we believe we can be most effective but because this is the region where we need to be most effective.

For purposes of today's discussion, I'd like to highlight a few examples of our assistance to the Pacific in the law and justice sector.

In Vanuatu, Australia has supported the development and implementation of new domestic violence legislation, the Family Protection Act, as well as the establishment of a National Family Protection Taskforce.

Our support for the women of Papua New Guinea has focussed very specifically on the law and justice sector. The PNG Australian Law and Justice Partnership, with Australia's contribution of $150 million for the period 2009-2014, has assisted the implementation and monitoring of PNG's Law and Justice Gender Strategy.

Under the umbrella of the partnership, Australia's contributions have

  • improved the way police respond to victims of family and sexual violence
  • Family and Sexual Violence Units have been established in eight locations with over 4,400 victims seeking support in 2011.

Our support for the roll-out of Interim Protection Orders within PNG's Magisterial Services has seen a doubling of applications received and almost a tripling of orders granted.

And a particular success in the sector has been our assistance to village courts and, specifically, the appointment of female magistrates in PNG's provinces to better address the needs of women.

With support from Australia, PNG now has over 1000 appointed women justice officials. Of these, 700 are female magistrates (a tenth of the number of male magistrates, of whom there are 7000) and another 200 are in the process of being appointed. The other 300 female justice officials are clerks and peace officers.

If these numbers don't seem overwhelming, let me set them against a baseline: in 2004, across all of PNG, there were just 10 female magistrates.

And if a picture paints a thousand words, a story, perhaps, puts flesh on a thousand statistics:

Rhoda Geita is a village magistrate in PNG. As with most village magistrates, she comes from the village she works in, and hears cases in settings as informal as under trees, houses or in local meeting places.

Rhoda's role is to resolve disputes, deal with minor offences and help maintain peace and harmony in villages. In a country where more than 80 per cent of people live outside urban areas, for many the village magistrate may be a person's only way of seeking justice.

Levels of domestic violence are high in PNG and cases often go unreported because women are intimidated by the largely male-dominated justice system. This makes the appointment of magistrates like Rhoda crucial – it encourages victims to come forward, and as more perpetrators are called to account, a clear message is delivered: domestic violence is unacceptable.

Rhoda recalls a case where a man hit his wife for not getting his food. She said: "I made him switch places with her for a week so he could learn what it was like for her running her stall all day, looking after children, cooking his food and so on. After three days he came and said he now understood why I made the order. I told him he had to finish the week as that was his penalty. At the end he came and apologised to his wife."

In Samoa, our assistance through the Samoa Law and Justice Sector Program in 2011 helped train 73 female and 61 male law and justice officials in law reform, legislative drafting, judicial administration and a mentoring program for young lawyers.

Most recently, at the Pacific Islands Forum in August this year, Prime Minister Gillard committed $320 million over ten years to a new Pacific gender equality initiative: Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development.

The initiative will promote Pacific women's political and economic empowerment. It will improve their access to justice, will secure gender equality under the law, and increase the representation of women in institutions across the Pacific.

In these, and so many related ways, I'm proud of the leading role Australia plays in our region, through our advocacy, through our development assistance programs and through the efforts and example of Australians, such as yourselves, working in so many fields – including law enforcement.


For all that you are already doing to promote equality, justice, international law, women's progress, and human rights in Australia or internationally, I congratulate you.

I encourage you to continue boldly in your endeavours and to take advantage of opportunities such as today's development seminar to acquire new knowledge and skills.

We need to continue our effort, to push the agenda forward.

To do otherwise is to deny one of the most powerful, positive forces for shaping our nation and the globe.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 7 December 2012
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