Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 October 2015


International Day of the Girl Child

9:24 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

Sunday, 11 October was the International Day of the Girl Child, an opportunity to recognise the rights of girls all over the world and in particular the unique challenges that they face. Since on 25 September the nations of the world agreed on the sustainable development goals, now is also a time to think about how we can support girls and women to overcome those challenges. Significantly, after a long struggle, one of the new sustainable development goals is a stand-alone goal dedicated to women's empowerment and gender equality. SDG 5 is to 'achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls'. Unfortunately, as many of us know, this is the only one of the new SDGs that does not have targets and dates instilled in the process. One of the challenges that girls and women face is to ensure that there is effective accountability on this goal.

At the time the SDGs were being signed the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban-Ki Moon, said:

The newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals rightly include key targets for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. They offer an opportunity for a global commitment to breaking intergenerational transmission of poverty, violence, exclusion and discrimination—and realizing our vision of a life of dignity for all.

Since 2000, under the millennium development goals, significant progress has been made in improving the lives of women and girls. Those targets were set and there were goals set along the way so we could see how we went. Across the world, including in our own region, there were advances, but still great challenges remain, particularly for girls who are growing up in this new world that they face. That is why the theme for the International Day of the Girl Child for 2015 is 'The power of the adolescent girl—vision for 2030'.

If girls are effectively supported during their formative adolescent years, they will enjoy a more equitable and prosperous future. Girls born this year will be adolescents when we reach the 2030 deadline for meeting the goals and targets of the SDGs. Therefore, it is an important and ideal opportunity to consider the importance of the social, economic and political investment in the power of adolescent girls as fundamental to breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty and violence. We can make a difference.

On the International Day of the Girl Child 2015 the UN called on UN agencies, member states, civil society organisations and private sector stakeholders all to work together to commit to putting adolescent girls at the centre of sustainable development efforts by making the following investments: high-quality education skills and training; access to technology and other learning initiatives; preparing girls for life, jobs and leadership; and investing in health and nutrition suitable to the adolescent years, including puberty education and in particular one we have talked about many times, which is effective sexual and reproductive health education and services. We together must also promote zero tolerance against physical, mental and sexual violence. We need to work to enact and consistently implement social, economic and political mechanisms to combat early marriage and female genital mutilation. As you know, Australia has had policies against those two issues for many years and we reported back to the UN on our progress. We must invest in the creation and maintenance of public spaces for civic and political engagement, creativity and talent enhancement. I really like that one. We must promote gender-responsive legislation and policies across all areas, especially for adolescent girls who are disabled, vulnerable, marginalised or victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation.

This evening I want to acknowledge the work of Care Australia for its three-year campaign to include stand-alone global goals on gender equality in the new SDGs. Care Australia, as we all know, is an international humanitarian organisation fighting poverty, with a special focus on working with women and girls to bring lasting changes to their communities. Care Australia welcomed the announcement of SGD 5 to achieve gender equality and empowerment for girls, because they had worked strongly in our community to pressure all of us to argue for this special goal. The organisation will now work to pressure for greater commitment to this goal from leaders across political, private and developmental sectors throughout the world.

Until the signing of the SDGs on 25 September, there remained some uncertainty as to whether the SDGs would include a stand-alone goal on gender equality. Throughout the extensive negotiation process, CARE Australia campaigned for women's and girls' voices to be heard at the negotiations. They insisted that the inclusion of a stand-alone goal was the only way to ensure recognition of the significant role of women and girls in achieving sustainable development. As part of a three-year campaign, in July this year CARE Australia presented a petition to implore Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, to pressure for a stand-alone SDG on gender equality at the negotiations. Thankfully, our country, along with many others, ensured that that occurred.

To illuminate the issue of gender equality and encourage people to sign the petition, CARE Australia gave a human face to its campaign by presenting the story of a young girl called Anusha—it is not her real name. Anusha, like many other girls in India, was denied the right to live, learn, earn and thrive simply because she was born a girl. When Anusha was nine, her father died, her mother remarried and she was taken in by family. She said:

My brothers found work—there were opportunities available to them that were not even considered for me. I was the only girl. My role was to do endless household chores. I was beaten often. There was no dignity in my life.

Anusha was eventually offered a place at a school for girls run by CARE India, and this was the time her life began to change. She said:

After a few days I felt like a human again – I almost forgot about my past and all the trauma I'd been through.

My teachers asked me to build a purpose in life and gave me the belief to achieve it. I have been nurtured, given wings to fly and seen other girls like me take a route out of physical and mental trauma to soar with dreams and aspirations.

I will study hard, to become a doctor to serve back to my community.

…   …   …

I want this to be true for all girls.

CARE Australia believes that girls like Anusha should grow up to be part of our world, not second-class citizens, and that the time has come for decision makers around the world to make this aim a reality by adopting clear targets on health, reproductive rights, education, political participation, access to finance and jobs, and much more. All of these issues are included in the SDGs which our country and other countries across the world have agreed to be part of. Now we just have to make it happen by 2030.

CARE Australia developed a petition that 1,212 people from multiple countries signed and left heartfelt comments on. In doing so, they demonstrated their strong support for more decisive global action on gender equality to ensure girls like Anusha grow up to be world-class citizens. After the process of the petition and getting this information out into the community, CARE Australia followed up on the extensive and enthusiastic response with a booklet, which I just happen to have here, called Standing up for Gender Equality. It is, again, a stunning piece of work, with extraordinarily beautiful and evocative photographs of women and girls from across our region.

As I said, when people signed the petition, they left their own messages to inspire and to encourage. At the base of each of the photographs in this stunning book, there are people's own expressions and hopes for the future. 'Lift one woman out of poverty and she'll bring four others with her,' says Tom from Australia. 'All people deserve to be treated equally and all of us must stand up and make it happen,' says Joanne from Australia and so on. This extraordinary book is available from CARE Australia, and I really do commend it to people because this gives us an opportunity to learn, to share and also to see the ways in which the lives of women and girls can change. Laura Hill, CARE Australia's campaigns and brand manager, arranged the publication of this book. I believe that this is a living monument to the kind of work that we have committed ourselves to, through the SDGs, in the future.

One of the signees, Kellie from Australia, said:

Every human being has the right to live, learn and thrive regardless of his or her sex. Achieving gender equality will solve many of the issues we face in the world today, creating a better future for everyone.

CARE Australia's Chief Executive Officer, Dr Julia Newton-Howes, outlined her feelings in a media release shortly after the announcement of the new SDGs. She said:

We should celebrate the standalone goal on gender equality as a huge step in the right direction. But the real test will be ahead when it comes to financing, implementing and holding governments accountable to the goals.

Melanie Poole, a senior UN advocacy adviser at CARE International, produced a document which provided a more detailed breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of the new gender SDG to address specific gender issues. She provided grades and comments for different issues. The strength of the SDGs to address gender equality and women's empowerment was given a grade of A minus. She said:

This gender equality goal, with targets on eliminating violence against all women and girls, and giving women equal economic rights and access to financial services, represents enormous progress. Three years ago, this achievement was FAR from guaranteed, and was in fact, resisted by some powerful interests.

Indeed, resistance against having this goal in the SDG process and, more importantly, against having effective targets is growing in some nations of the world. Part of the challenge for us is to identify the resistance and to build the arguments effectively to show that every woman and girl has the right to safe and strong futures and that economic empowerment will empower and engage the whole community. These arguments need to be identified and quantified so that the arguments of more conservative groups that still believe that women's rights are less than male rights can be rejected.

Those arguments need to be rejected and they need to be strongly rejected by all of us who know that they are wrong.

Sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights: in terms of the strength of the new SDG to address sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, again Miss Poole provided a grading of A minus. She explains:

The SDGs advance a strong commitment to universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights backed by specific targets such as a universal access to family planning. They also affirm the Cairo platform.

Madam Acting Deputy President Peris, you know I have spoken about the Cairo platform many times in this place. That is our strategic plan—to achieve what the people in Cairo over 20 years ago identified. The SDGs build on that and in fact the particular goal about sexual and reproductive health is lifted straight from the words of Cairo. We had that concept over 20 years ago. We had the challenge and we had the passion to work through it. Now later we have to identify how far we have come but, more importantly, we need to continue the struggle so that what was thought about in Cairo can be achieved by 2030 when we review what has happened in this process. They reaffirm the Cairo platform. It is a very big step, especially after two decades of strong backlash against this agenda.

The SGDs fall short, however, when it comes to recognising the right to safe abortion. Again, this topic could not be agreed at the international level but it does not stop us identifying the urgent need, that where abortion is legal in countries, we should be ensuring that women have the access to achieve it.

In terms of addressing sexual rights, the strength of the SGDs was graded B minus. As Miss Poole explains, the SGDs commit to leaving no-one behind. In terms of the theme of the SGD program, it is to ensure that we leave no-one behind, that we all have the opportunity to progress and to live safely and with respect. Despite strong advocacy from countries such as Norway and the UK, who again were exceptional in their strong advocacy, all references to protection on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity have been removed from the SDGs. The rights of lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming people are therefore not specifically recognised. This has serious ramifications in terms of data collection, funding and service delivery. As the British ambassador has stated, 'The SDGs won't be met until the LGBT rights are included.'

The stories out of some of the African nations and also some of the countries of Central Asia show an increased conservatism and rejection and tyranny for people who express that they are members of the LGBTI community. Once laws are passed in countries which allow this kind of discrimination, it almost has a viral effect. Conservative people in other countries see that that can happen and again the discrimination and the repression continues. The SDGs have not responded to this challenge but again that should not be enough to stop us taking action. I believe Australia has a proud record in this area and we should be part of an international push with countries like Norway and the UK to stand up and say that part of our agenda to achieve international equality, part of our agenda to exclude poverty and discrimination is to ensure that the rights of LGBTI people are recognised and protected. Just because it does not have its own goal does not mean we cannot work towards achieving a result.

We know that there is a large challenge in front of us and, as Dr Julia Newton-Howes has said, CARE will continue to hold world leaders to account and work tirelessly to ensure the voices of women and girls are heard. In that there is a particular challenge for our own country because at the same time as we attended the UN and signed up to the SDG program, we know that there have been significant cuts in our international aid budget under this government for budget purposes.

I believe that over the next few years we need to match our international agreements, we need to match our international commitment to effective funding because one of the elements of the SDG process is to ensure that there is sustainable funding to achieve a result. So when we are looking at our aid budget, we need to scrutinise and to ensure that our commitment will be able to be met and that we will be able to report back to the UN to identify the cases and the causes we support but be able to show what our budget has been to ensure that action can occur.

The government has been very strong on the issues of women and girls and we congratulate the current government for the number of programs it has maintained in this area, working with NGOs and ensuring that there will be the voices of women and girls heard in our national as well as in our international agenda. But part of the message of the SGD process is that we need to do more and we need to consider what our commitment to funding will be in future. This goes across all 17 of the goals and we need as a nation to look at the process of how we are going to fulfil our commitments.

One of those processes must be the active engagement of this parliament. These issues should not just be located in the portfolio that looks at foreign affairs and no other group looks at the process. We need to engage our parliamentarians actively in considering our place, in considering the process and in considering our response to the messages that were given to us by the people who put together 'Standing up for gender equality'. Twelve hundred people signed a petition which said that there should be an individual gender goal within the SDGs. They have said that that is what they want for Australia and for the other nations of the world. When we look at the photographs, which pull at your heartstrings, to show what an achievement of safety and security can mean to families, we know that with people like John we need to stand up for gender equality throughout the world. I am signing this petition because gender equality is critical and when women are educated children benefit.

On 2015 International Day for the Girl Child we can celebrate that we are part of the SDGs but we need to look to the future to see how we make them happen.

Senate adjourned at 21:43