Australian Embassy and Permanent Mission to the United Nations
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia

Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS): Vienna UN Conference 2018: Achieving Gender Equality and Female Empowerment


Ambassador Dr Brendon Hammer
Permanent Representative and Ambassador of Australia

Academic Council on the United Nations System
Vienna UN Conference 2018

10 January 2018


Achieving Gender Equality and Female Empowerment: A Collaborative Vision of SDG 5

Introductory Remarks

Good morning everyone.

A few days ago I was asked by a very small girl – the daughter of a friend: “What is it that an Ambassador does?” I was a bit taken aback – how could I describe such things to a happy-go-lucky, broadly smiling 7 year old? And then I found myself saying: “Well - my job is to explain to people what my country believes in, and to convince those people to believe in it too”.

So today I am here to proudly proclaim that Australia strongly believes in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.

There is no longer any debate about this goal at any level or on any side of politics or leadership in Australia. We are all in. We are fully committed.

That means the questions for Australia now are: How do we achieve gender equality, and how do we better empower women and girls?

Well, for one thing, we are very pleased to be able co-sponsor this Conference.

But, more broadly, let me say that achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment has long been a core policy of one Australian Government after another, both in our foreign policy and in our domestic policy.

So – since 2011 – Australia has had an Ambassador for Women and Girls whose sole objective is internationally to promote women’s equal participation in political, economic and social affairs. That is currently Ambassador Sharman Stone – some of you may have met her.

On another front, our foreign policy requires that at least 80 per cent of Australia’s foreign aid investments must pass the test of effectively addressing gender issues.  So, for example, across a number of our aid programs we are prioritising enhancing women’s voices in decision-making, leadership and peace-building.

In one of our most important aid programs Australia is investing $320 million to support women in 14 Pacific Island countries to participate fully and safely in political, economic, and social life. Through that program we have already supported over 10,500 Pacific Islands women to take leadership roles at the community, provincial and national level.

And here in Vienna, Australia has been key to establishing the “Group of Friends for Women in Nuclear”. This group seeks to achieve parity in the employment of women within the International Atomic Energy Agency.

I have many more Foreign Policy examples, but let me now turn to Australian domestic policy. What are we doing at home?

I think one of our most interesting and creative initiatives has been to form up a group out of some of Australia’s most powerful and influential men. We call this group “Male Champions of Change”. These men – and there are now around 130 of them – come from really the very top of both our government and private sector organisations. And this group is dedicated to empowering women both within and beyond their own organisations. The group was formed in recognition that men themselves must lead and be active advocates of empowering women. In other words, in recognition that women cannot – and should not be expected to – change workplace and societal culture on their own. 

Again, I have many more examples.

But now I would like to say a little bit more about what is motivating Australia’s policies.

Of course, there is the matter of natural justice – why should women be asked to take second place?

But there is also a powerful economic argument for women’s empowerment and for gender equality. Put simply, we now know that we can unlock great economic potential when we make full use of the skills, talents and time of women. In fact, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, US$28 trillion could be added to global annual GDP by 2025 if women were by then able to play an identical role to men in global labour markets.

Worldwide, we know women are disproportionately affected by poverty and do not have access to the education, resources and social protection they need to prosper. So in South East Asia, Australia is investing $46 million to work with businesses to improve employment conditions for women, and to increase investment in small-to-medium size enterprises led by women.

Finally, I would like to mention another aspect of Australia’s gender policy. It is that – along with the other arms of our policy I have already described - we are determined to end violence against women. Globally, violence against women and girls is pervasive and it takes many forms.  It is a terrible scourge that must be stamped out. Even within Australia, the statistics are unacceptably high. So Australia also has policies and programs – both internationally and at home – in this important area.

Well, let me conclude with saying that as a Vienna-based International Gender Champion I am looking forward to hearing about the ideas flowing from this Conference, and to considering how to put them into action.

Thank you.