Thank you for the invitation to celebrate International Day of the Girl, an important time to recognise the power and potential of girls across the globe.
I also like to recognise Plan International, Child Fund, Save the Children and World Vision for their impressive work in supporting young women’s ability to shape a better world. These efforts are already making a difference.
Today I have had the opportunity to be shadowed by Yasmin Poole, a participant from Girls Takeover Parliament who is also a Youth Ambassador for Plan International. At 21 years old, Yasmin has a deep interest in politics. However, she has also expressed how Parliament can often be seen as out of reach for young women.
Today demonstrated to me the importance of bringing girls into this space – breaking down barriers and showing that Parliament is indeed a place for all of us.
Simply put, we have a responsibility to empower young women and girls who are systematically left on the sidelines of today.
In many parts of the world, girls carry the double burden of being young and female.
In the Pacific region, climate change has been declared as the most significant threat to its people.
This also affects girls in a very gendered way. In areas affected by conflict and disaster, girls are two-and-a-half times more likely to be taken out of education than boys.
If we want to empower girls in the Pacific to reach their full potential, we must do more to combat climate change and support the region in dealing with its impacts.
Further, we must address the wider gender inequality in the Pacific through increased foreign aid.
While Labor welcomes the Pacific Step Up, the Pacific’s challenges cannot be addressed through infrastructure spending alone, nor through investment in security and defence.
Gender equality requires investment in programs and structures, and building community networks.
And it’s also important to note, that the Pacific Step Up should not be at the expense of aid to other regions of the world.
On a global scale, young women are at increased risk across numerous areas.
Globally, 20 per cent of 18-year-old girls are married or in a union. Women that give birth without clean access to water and sanitation are three times more likely to die in childbirth, as are their children. Over 15 million girls worldwide are forced into sex, yet only 1 per cent seek help. This number alone is symbolic of the current gender and power imbalance.
Multilateral aid is best placed to tackle these global gender issues.
Yet, we’ve been recent moves from the government to downgrade its support for multilateral aid and that is very disappointing.
We must improve our contribution to multilateral aid.
This is not only to restore Australia’s international reputation as a generous nation, but to unlock the potential of girls across the world.
If I can turn to Australia, as Plan International’s recent ‘She Has a Plan’ report demonstrates, there’s also a lot more work to be done at home.
Girls cite ‘sexism’ as the number one issue holding them back.
Labor is striving to address this, and I’m so proud that women make up 47 per cent of Labor Members and Senators in the Australian Parliament.
We must also recognise that good policies are ones that consider how they will affect women.
That’s why we produce a Women Budget’s Statement each and every year, even from Opposition, assessing the Budget’s impact on Australian women.
I’m acutely conscious of the fact that we have two male parliamentarians talking tonight.
On one hand that is a curious choice, but it’s also important, because men are very much drivers of these problems and as such we are critical to help find solutions.
And you’ll often hear male parliamentarians, and I’m guilty of this, say that when we have a daughter – and I’ve got a six-and-half-year-old daughter – our focus changes and we are more alive to these facts.
I’m partly sad about that, because I don’t think it should require one to have a daughter to change your view of the world. We have an obligation to every child in this country, and in fact every child in the world to improve their lives and be very conscious of the effect our decisions have on them.
As a whole, we must do more to support girls’ ability to reach their full potential.
It is disappointing that our foreign aid has been cut by a staggering $11.8 billion in six years by this government.
We must be willing to invest in foreign aid that addresses the complex and marginalising social issues girls face across the world.
It comes down to two simple points: It is pointless to talk about peace unless there is peace in your home. And it is pointless to talk about freedom unless there is freedom to make choices about your own body.
As International Day of the Girl demonstrates, young women should have a say – for today and for their tomorrow.
And to this Australia must be wholeheartedly committed.
You can view the speech here