Visiting the Family Violence Support Centre at the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands in Honiara provided a clear reminder that gender empowerment and gender equality are priorities of Australia’s foreign policy.
This is evident in the programs funded by successive Australian governments and their commitment to the role of the ambassador for women and girls.
I began my term as ambassador – taking over from former ambassador Penny Williams – when the foreign minister Julie Bishop announced my appointment in Sydney.
Within hours, we were on a plane to Solomon Islands as part of the minister’s bipartisan delegation to the Pacific.
Bishop’s delegation includes her parliamentary secretary Brett Mason, deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek, and shadow parliamentary secretary Matt Thistlethwaite.
There is much to be done to promote equality between men and women around the world and, especially, the Indo-Pacific region.
Advocacy for women and girls in our region is a particular priority not just because this is where we can be most effective, but because this is where we need to be most effective.
In the Pacific, women are vastly under-represented in national parliaments, comprising less than 5% of elected representatives.
In parts of the Pacific, two-thirds of women have experienced sexual assault.
Australia’s flagship initiative in the region is the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Program, a 10 year $320m initiative to address the interconnected challenges to women’s empowerment – from their ability to participate equally in the economy to ending violence against women.
But our work to promote women’s right is not confined to the Pacific.
We are active across the globe and more than 50 cents in every Australian aid dollar supports women or promotes gender equality.
I want to see women and girls in our region taking on leadership roles in their communities, in elected positions and in business.
I want women to have the knowledge and support they need to run a successful business and increase their families’ incomes.
I want women and girls in our region to have access to health services for them and their families.
I want all girls to have the chance to go to school and to find meaningful employment, to enjoy both equality of opportunity and equality of aspiration.
I want women to be equal participants in conflict prevention, resolution and peace-building. And finally, I want women and girls to be free of all forms of violence, including sexual violence in conflict situations.
It is not just an issue of fairness; it is also good development and smart economics.
All people prosper when women are equal participants in politics and the economy; all of us thrive when women’s rights are upheld.
My role will be to promote gender equality internationally – through international fora and engaging with civil society at home.
I am excited about contributing to Australia’s already fine efforts in these areas, but we still have much to do.
BY NATASHA STOTT DESPOJA
Australia’s ambassador for Women and Girls