Senator MOORE (Queensland) (20:00): In the lead-up to this year's UN International Day of the Girl Child, which is 11 October this year, Plan International, the world-renowned development organisation, surveyed over 1,000 young Australian girls about the everyday challenges that they encounter and their views on gender inequality, leadership and work. As well, they drafted a 'girls call to action', after consulting with over 400 girls and young women about their everyday issues and what they wanted included in the post-2015 agenda. By making their voices heard, Plan want to give these girls in Australia the opportunity to influence the most important framework guiding international development priorities for the next 15 years-that is, the post-2015 agenda-which will impact billions of people around the world in efforts to end poverty, secure rights and promote equality and prosperity for all.
We had the opportunity in this place to meet with 24 young women who are the girl ambassadors for Plan. They were joined by two young women from Pakistan. It is a really important element of the Plan process to ensure that young women across the world get to meet each other and exchange their views. We had a reception for them in this place on Wednesday morning, and a number of female politicians had the chance to meet with these young women and talk with them about their work Our book of ambitions. This book has been published and copies of it were given to Minister Michaelia Cash and also to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. The book looks at areas in which these young women want our government to act to ensure that their voices will be heard in the discussions which will be held in New York next year to finalise what will follow the Millennium Development Goals. It is so important that women's voices are heard, because we identified that, through the MDG process, sometimes the voices of young women were lost. So they had worked together over a period of time to develop their book of ambitions and they had come to tell their government what they wanted to have happen.
In the forward to the book of ideas, Natasha Stott-Despoja, the Ambassador for Women, wrote:
It is not enough to protect the basic human rights of girls. To achieve gender equality, and reap the benefits of women's and girls' full participation in their communities, we must also ensure that girls' voices are welcomed in our public life. Our clear message is that society needs women and girls to be engaged equally in leadership and decision-making. That is the only way to achieve prosperity for all.
When the young women came to talk to their parliament, they set out an agenda of seven key goals that they want their government to take through to the post-2015 agenda. These goals are in no order of priority but I am going to run through the key areas. The first claim states:
Ensure girls in Australia and around the world have access to inclusive and quality education and life-long learning opportunities;
It is important for us to understand that curricula do not promote negative gender stereotypes and that education topics and material do promote gender equality. Most importantly, education systems and processes need to allocate sufficient funding and resources. It is also important that there is a complete eradication of illiteracy throughout the world. We all know that education provides the opportunity for the future, and that if only women had the opportunity to have an education their lives would effectively change.
The second claim that these young women made to their government states:
End harmful practices such as child marriage, child labour and human trafficking.
This involves education of the community and self-awareness. It also involves a crackdown-which this government has done, I believe, and follows on from the work of previous governments-on human trafficking and the prosecution of people who engaged in it. We have to ensure that in work environments we have really strong conditions and standards so that young children are not exploited. One of the things that our parliament has been discussing recently and that I think is becoming a high point on the international agenda is that we implement legislation that enforces a minimum age of marriage of 18 years. We have to ensure that the horrors of child marriage are identified and eliminated.
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be in Europe to attend a conference on equity. One of the key touring exhibits at this conference was extraordinarily graphic on the issue of child marriage. As is so often the case, looking at pictures of people who are caught up in life experiences can be much more effective than pages of reading. So seeing these extraordinarily confronting photographs of how child marriage operates in different parts of the world brought home to me the inequity that that process involves and also the fact that lives are impacted and opportunities are lost.
The third agenda item that they brought to our parliament states:
Provide accessible and quality health care and protect the sexual and reproductive rights of young women and girls.
Again, this involves education to ensure that information is available to young women and young men and that contraception is affordable and accessible. It is about ensuring that school curricula has effective and responsive information that covers the issues of sexual reproductive health, that sufficient funding and resources are allocated for basic health hygiene and that people have opportunities in their own lives and communities to ensure that their health will be protected.
The fourth demand was:
Ensure women have the same access to employment opportunities as their male counterparts and encourage young women to participate fully in the workforce.
During the discussion with women across the country, one of the things that was most sad was that so many women felt that they had lesser opportunities for their dream job simply because they were girls. You would hope that by 2014 in Australia that would be clearly a thing of the past and that everyone would be able to access the employment that they want. I am old enough to remember the various signs that were around that said, 'Girls can do anything'. All over the country there are fridges and storage cabinets with little stickers that go back to the 1970s and 1980s that made that clear statement. At the time, that was seen as a confronting statement. It was almost revolutionary for people to come out and say that every opportunity for employment should be fully open to both genders. It saddens me that in 2014 young women are telling each other that it is perhaps harder for them to achieve the job that they most want simply because they are women. We have to address awareness. We have to make absolute efforts to close the gender pay gap in Australia. We know that our gender pay gap is increasing. These young women know that and acknowledge that it is wrong. There should not be a large disincentive for women to get involved in any workplace. They should expect to get equal pay for equal work. This was a catchcry in the 1980s, and a number of extremely important wage cases were run and won in this country. We were told that we had achieved equal pay, but we know that is not true. In Australia that has to be a priority, and the young women know it must be.
The fifth in their list of demands for our government is:
Eliminate gender-based violence and improve safety to ensure that all girls are protected from harm.
Too often in this place we have been confronted by the statistics about gender based violence in our community. We know that it is wrong. We are confronted by the statistics that say it is getting worse, despite years of programs, training and investment. Obviously, there has to be a community effort to ensure that we understand why there is violence and understand the ways that we can work together to wipe that out in our community. We have the passion. I know we have the knowledge. We have the stated explanations from so many young women that they know it is wrong. They are aware it is happening and they expect that together as a community we can ensure that it will not happen again. This goes back to education. Some of the most effective programs work with young people in their schools through what constitutes gender based violence and how we can ensure that it does not occur. This is in our Australian community but, as with all these expectations, it is important that we see it with an international sense.
The sixth demand is:
Ensure young women and girls live in an environment that supports a healthy lifestyle and have access to clean water, clean land and clean air.
We have talked many times in this place about the importance of effective sanitation and the value that ensuring that there is a safe water supply can bring to any community. That is something that people understand. We have the expertise in Australia. Our aid program works very effectively in a number of countries, implementing effective sanitation, and the stats are there. The figures show that if you have a source of clean water the general environment will improve and that naturally will mean a better living environment for all.
The seventh demand is:
Achieve gender equality, the full realisation of women's and girls' human rights and the empowerment of all women and girls worldwide.
This seems to be very straightforward. Just end discrimination everywhere. That is something we all accept, but there is something about looking into the eager faces of 25 young women who have talked about the issues, expecting their government and their parliament to respond, that means there is no way out of that challenge. We need to accept that we have to end discrimination everywhere. We have to ensure that there is a guarantee for women and girls of full participation at every level of political leadership processes and decision making across all sectors.
One of the elements of this document that received considerable media when it was released earlier this week was the realisation that, whilst women were talking to each other about these issues, only one per cent of the women who were involved said that they saw work in a political career as something they wanted to do. That has caused a bit of feedback around the place. I have mixed views about that. I think it is most important that women and young girls see that they have the option to enter into a political career. I am not particularly concerned that women between the ages of 14 and 24 do not immediately say that they want to work in politics. I had this discussion with some of the young women the other day. It would seem to me that there are so many life experiences that people should be seeking before they even think about wanting to be in a political job. While only one per cent at this stage may say that they see themselves in a political job, if they see themselves working in the community in forms of community service, leadership and professional engagement that may well lead on to bringing those skills into a political job. Whilst that one-per-cent issue seems to be something that titillated the media earlier this week, we should be looking more at the fact that the women did not see, in their opinion, effective leadership models in the community that showed them that a political career could be there. That is the worry-that they did not identify that they saw women leading already in the sphere. They must know that this option exists. They must know that there are no real reasons why women cannot take leadership positions in all fields. They need to see that it is a job that is rewarding and has value.
One of the things the survey indicates is that they felt that sometimes in a political area issues such as what a woman wears or how they look may be assessed differently to people who are not women in the same job. That is the kind of thing I think should be addressed, rather than just confirming that one per cent of women see politics as their future.
These young women clearly expect that their parliament and government will take their issues seriously and bring them into the debates that will happen internationally next year about what will happen to the international focus on issues around poverty and empowerment in the post-2015 agenda. There has been an agreement that in many areas we need to have a stand-alone goal whatever happens post 2015 that talks about equality and also women's empowerment. That seems to be generally accepted. We need to make sure that Australia is part of those discussions and that we can come back and tell the young women who were involved in developing the book of ambitions that we have listened to them and we understand their concerns.
It is important that these young women who were talking in Australia were not only seeing the issues as they impacted on them in their own places, families and communities. They understood that any advancement for women must be at an international level and that the kinds of work that Plan does across the world is important and should be supported. They want to be involved in talking with their peers in the international sphere. Those concerns about education, violence and employment opportunities are real for women across the world.
I really want to congratulate Plan for the work they do. Their 'Because I am a girl' series of reports that have been put out internationally since 2007 have concentrated on the issues confronting young women in a range of different areas, including post-war situations and post disasters. Last year's report was on young women in situations post-disaster and looked at the particular challenges for young women when communities are affected by disaster.
We have looked at young women across the world when it comes to safety in the cybersphere. I know that is an interest of Senator Bilyk's. These documents are not only to be shelved to show that there has been work done; these are living documents that we need to benchmark to show that a snapshot of women at one stage should lead on to action to respond to the expectations of those who put them before us.
This year when we in this parliament were presented with the work that shows what is concerning young women in our community and what they think should be done to improve their own options and futures as well as what should be done internationally they provided a challenge to us. They expect that we will be able to respond to it. Natasha Stott-Despoja said in her introduction:
I encourage you all to read this book and find out what girls want as a Post-2015 agenda. This is a once in a generation opportunity to make girls' rights and concerns a local and global priority.
We have the opportunity to do that. We have time to work in Australia and we also have time to work in the international community to see that whatever happens in the UN declaration next year it reflects the importance and value of young women. It will ensure that those issues of equity are entrenched and the expectations we have for a safer, more equitable world will be achieved because we have listened to what girls want.