Address to the High Level Summit of the Women Leaders' Forum on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in Sustainable Development, Rio de Janeiro
THU 21 JUNE 2012
That I am here as Australia´s first female Prime Minister – alongside so many other female heads of government and several of the world´s most influential women leaders - is only because of the extraordinary courage and tenacity of generations of women before us and because of the vision and commitment of the United Nations.
The Call to Action we heed today requires the full force of our focus and ongoing resolve.
Women and girls continue to bear the brunt of global challenges and inequalities.
Too many continue to be voiceless.
Too many continue to face unacceptable obstacles to education, employment and leadership opportunities.
The suffering of millions of women diminishes us all and obligates us.
How can we achieve sustainable development if we do not rectify these inequalities?
I commend the work of UN Women, under the valuable leadership of its Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet.
I support the Call to Action not only because the inherent dignity of women and gender equality is a right, but also because it makes profound economic sense.
By some estimates, two-thirds of the world´s illiterate people are women. That´s about 500 million women worldwide who cannot read or write.
According to UNESCO, more than 30 million girls worldwide are not even getting basic primary-level education.
That´s more uneducated girls than there are people in my entire country.
Failure to support women´s education and employment equals billions of dollars in economic losses.
The Asia and Pacific region alone is losing up to 47 billion US dollars annually as a result of women´s limited access to employment opportunities, as well as up to 30 billion US dollars annually as a result of gender gaps in education.
These statistics are graphic testament to the urgent need to elevate gender equality, they underscore the urgency of this Summit and they point to a serious economic blind-spot in boosting global prosperity.
If we are to achieve sustainable development, we must invest in women´s education and training.
We must include women in the workforce.
And we must increase the proportion of women in high-level decision making roles.
Of the 193 members of the United Nations, only about 10 per cent have elected a female president or prime minister.
Women hold less than 20 per cent of the world´s parliamentary seats, in the Pacific only about 2 per cent.
As Michelle Bachelet herself has said: “Democracy grows stronger with the full and equal participation of women.”
As one of the world´s top 20 economies, Australia has a responsibility to contribute to women´s equality globally.
That´s why nearly half of Australia´s aid expenditure in 2009-10 was in support of activities promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Australia has a chance to show real global leadership.
I am delighted that from January next year Australia will actively further UN Women´s work as a member of its Executive Board.
In September last year, I was proud to appoint Penny Williams as Australia´s first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, to advocate internationally for the empowerment of women, particularly in the Asia Pacific region.
I´m pleased she´s here with us today.
Penny and I are personally committed to improving conditions for women, both in Australia and internationally.
We must forge greater country-to-country links on gender programs and learn from one another.
If the determination and commitment of the remarkable women here today can be amplified globally, we can make our Call to Action a pledge that will benefit generations of women to come.