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OSCE Asian Partners Conference on Improving the Security of Women and Girls

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


Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

May I begin by acknowledging we are meeting on the traditional country of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains. I recognise and respect their cultural heritage, beliefs and relationship with the land. I acknowledge they are of continuing importance to the Kaurna people living today.

It's a great pleasure to be opening the OSCE Asian Partners Conference on Improving the Security of Women and Girls and I am especially delighted to welcome our international guests.

In fact, I feel as if I should almost count myself among the international contingent gathered here, as I returned to Australia this last weekend following two weeks spent in New York at the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, and in London where I had the opportunity to discuss the important UK Initiative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. Like some of you, I am still finding my way back into this time zone.

As you will be aware, at the recent Commission on the Status of Women, the international community's deliberations focussed on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.

So, the topics on the agenda for this OSCE conference have been at the forefront of multilateral discussions throughout the past fortnight, and over the next two days, you will have an important opportunity to contribute to growing momentum to address the longstanding challenges of violence against women and girls, economic empowerment and combating slavery and trafficking.

Against the backdrop of last year's failure to reach Agreed Conclusions at CSW 56, and with the critical topic of violence on the table, delegations came to this year's Commission with a strong commitment to reach consensus and agree to conclusions. I'm pleased to say this commitment was realised.

Such international cooperation at CSW is a useful foundation for our work here in Adelaide.

It reminds us that by joining together in this way, sharing lessons learned and looking for common solutions, we will be able to create real and meaningful change for the world's women and girls.

Women – the security agenda

Leading into these discussions, I'd like to do a little scene setting with regard to the three key areas you will be addressing– violence, economic empowerment and trafficking - and also to provide an overview of where Australia places itself with regard to advancing security for women and girls globally.

Australia's strong commitment to gender equality domestically and internationally is well-established. A key priority is our work on the women, peace and security agenda and we are better placed than ever to contribute.

As a member of the UN Security Council, for the next two years Australia will have a direct hand in shaping solutions to the world's most pressing security challenges.

In this new role we will pursue a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to gender concerns across the Council's agenda. We'll be pressing for an end to impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence.

We will also push for all relevant peacekeeping and peace-building operations to properly address the impact of conflict on women and girls and to encourage increased participation of women.

It's an approach that is reflected domestically through our National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security, which we launched in 2012. Developed in close consultation with civil society, the plan is Australia's blueprint for practical implementation of our obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325.

Under the plan, we are cooperating with Pacific police forces to support women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations. With the UN, we are promoting women as peace advocates in the Asian region. And we have contributed to the development of peacekeeping tools and training to improve UN peacekeepers' capabilities to protect civilians from sexual violence in conflict.

Women and girls must be actively involved in decision-making, not only to ensure their rights are protected but because women can be powerful agents in preventing conflict and building peace.

Addressing violence against women and girls

The particular vulnerability of women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, post-conflict and other humanitarian settings is a key focus of Australia's international development assistance and our engagement with partner Governments.

Collective efforts to promote women's rights and prevent sexual violence in conflict were a focus at the fifth Australia-UK Ministerial Consultations held in January this year in Perth with both countries pledging to continue their support for the UN's programs. Australia has welcomed Foreign Secretary Hague's initiative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict as a significant new contribution to this agenda.

But beyond conflict situations, the challenge of providing safe environments for women and girls is also enormously demanding.

Thirty per cent of women around the world have been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way – most often by someone they know, including husbands or another male family member.

And these are also issues Australia faces. A woman is killed almost every week in Australia by a male partner or ex-partner.

A crisis of such proportions deserves nothing less than the highest attention of national and world leaders. There can be no peace, no progress, when women live under the fear of violence.

Today violence against women is increasingly recognized for what it is: a threat to democracy, a barrier to lasting peace, a burden on national economies, and an appalling human rights violation.

Partnerships across civil society, across government and internationally are crucial to ensure women and girls have access to appropriate support services, to justice and to freedom from violence.

Such partnerships underpin new projects Australia has launched to address violence against women in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia as well as a major 10 year Pacific-wide program which will support the historic Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration of 2012.

Australia's $320 million Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Initiative recognises that issues of gender-based violence and economic and political empowerment are intimately linked. So the initiative will work to improve women's and girls' safety through prevention of violence and access to justice, to increase women's participation in leadership and political roles, improve economic opportunities for women through better access to finance and markets and support change in social attitudes and behaviours on gender equality.

Which leads neatly to some remarks on the second element of the program you will be addressing at this conference: the economic empowerment of women.

Economic Empowerment of Women

Women lag far behind men in access to land, credit and decent jobs, even though a growing body of research shows that enhancing women's economic options boosts national economies and reduces poverty.

The figures are compelling.

A Goldman Sachs study has identified that reducing barriers to female labour force participation would increase the Eurozone's GDP by 13 per cent and Japan's by 16 per cent.

And the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that in the Asia Pacific region alone, US$42 billion to US$47 billion is lost annually due to women's limited access to employment opportunities.

The annual APEC Women and the Economy Forum is an important mechanism to promote women's participation in economic life. At the 2012 Forum, Australia was among members who called strongly for strategies to promote women's economic empowerment in the region such as fair workplace relations systems, flexible working arrangements, addressing the gender pay gap and investing in women's skills, education and training.

Recognising that women's economic participation is a precursor to gender equality, development and global economic progress, Australia is supporting UN programs to draw governments and businesses into partnerships to empower women in the workplace and markets.

In Port Moresby, for example, the UN Women's 'Safe Cities' project is increasing safety for women in marketplaces through infrastructure, adequate policing and council policy improvements.

Combating all forms of Human Trafficking

Finally, I'd like to spend a few minutes talking about our common efforts to combat trafficking, including trafficking of women and girls.

Slavery, slavery-like practices and human trafficking are among the most abhorrent of all crimes, resulting in traumatic and lifelong consequences for many victims and their families.

Poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunities and employment make women susceptible to traffickers, in particular to trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Australia is committed to combating exploitation in all its forms, and our experience has taught us that strong cooperation is required from governments and non-government organisations to strengthen legal and justice systems, promote law enforcement cooperation, support information campaigns and facilitate victim support and rehabilitation.

While opportunities to traffic people to Australia remain relatively low due to our geographic isolation and strong border controls, the scale of human trafficking in our immediate region is immense.

The ILO estimates there are 3.3 million people trafficked in the Asia-Pacific at any one time, which is 55 percent of all trafficked people worldwide. According to the UNODC's 2012 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons women and girls make up over two thirds of the world's trafficking victims.

Australia is working with partners in the East Asia region to strengthen criminal justice responses to trafficking in persons, increase public education, prevent exploitation of migrant workers, and end commercial exploitation of children in tourism.

The Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Person and Related Transnational Crime, which Australia co-chairs with Indonesia, has also contributed significantly to regional and international cooperation in combating human trafficking.

And at the East Asia Summit in November 2012, Australia's Prime Minister announced the Australia-Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons (AAPTIP). This five-year program will extend previous activity to advance regional and national anti-trafficking efforts. It will give new focus and resources to addressing gender issues in human trafficking work.


The issues we will discuss over the next two days are some of the most difficult and endemic challenges we confront.

I commend the OSCE for the achievements it has already made in addressing these challenges. I encourage you to continue with creativity and dedication building on existing foundations.

We need to advance our effort, to push the agenda forward. To do otherwise is to deny one of the most powerful, positive forces for shaping the globe.

Thank you.

Last Updated: 23 April 2013
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