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Monday, 27 February 2006
Page: 2

Mr JOHNSON (12:38 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1)   recognises that:

(a)   a report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) State of World Population 2005 - the Promise of Equality: Gender Equity, Reproductive Health and Millennium Development Goals was released on 12 October and that the theme of the report is that gender equality reduces poverty, and saves and improves lives;

(b)   a major platform for achieving sustainable development is gender equality and the empowerment of women; and

(c)   gender inequities in all countries limit the economic and social participation of women in the building of healthy and dynamic nations;

(2)   encourages:

(a)   the UNFPA to continue to work towards achieving gender equality; and

(b)   the Government to continue to support the Millennium Development Goals because they have led to significant improvements in women’s health, safety and economic participation and increased their share in the benefits of strengthened economic growth; and

(3)   recognises that these improvements have been achieved through culturally and religiously appropriate activities and has resulted in a reduction in the incidence of fistula, maternal and child mortality.

The United Nations Population Fund released its State of World Population report for 2005 in October. The title of the report, Gender Equality, Reproductive Health and the Millennium Development Goals, really sums up what this report advocates and the way forward. The theme of the report is that gender equality reduces poverty, saves lives and improves lives. I put this on the Notice Paper last year following the release of the report and I am delighted to be able to speak on it in this new year.

As Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the UNFPA, said at the launch of this report, our world cannot make poverty history until we make gender discrimination history—they are very much linked together. This significant report looks at the progress the world has made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and it specifically links the achievement of these goals with gender equality.

As a government, as a parliament and as a people we must all work together. We must encourage the work of the UNFPA towards achieving gender equality. We must also continue to support the achievement of the MDGs. While not all countries have done well on the indicators, many have made genuine efforts and they should be applauded for doing so. I have an interest in this topic as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population and Development and as someone who grew up in a developing country—namely, our closest neighbour: Papua New Guinea.

The eight goals established by the MDG in 2000 by the United Nations and by 191 supporting member nations were to: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV-AIDS and other major diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development by the year 2015. These are high goals; they are worthy goals. As the parliament of a developed country we must play our part to ensure, as much as humanly possible, that those goals are achieved.

Gender equality and reproductive health are central and vital among these goals. Without gender equality and the right to reproductive health, the goals of universal primary education, improving maternal health, reducing childhood mortality, combating HIV-AIDS and eradicating poverty are truly impossible. As Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population and Development, these goals continue to be important to me.

The central theme of this report is that gender equality saves lives and has the potential to transform lives. In our part of the world perhaps we do take gender equality for granted. While there is still gender discrimination in the Australian community today, we recognise that we have come a long way. We have minimised this as much as possible both as a culture and through the laws of this parliament. There are strong protections in place through our laws, and where once perhaps our society was not receptive to gender equality, I would like to think very much that we have moved a very long way on this point.

Some Australians might question how gender equality can save lives. Maybe we cannot see it very clearly here in Australia today, as our standard of living is amongst the best in the world. General social protections and the rule of law mean that gender equality is not a life or death question here but, in the developing world, a person’s gender has an enormous bearing on the outcomes they can expect. Opportunities for schooling; access to medicines; opportunities to make the right choices in the very first place about things like marriage and reproduction, the likelihood of violence or assault in their lives or contracting disease, or even the prospects of living in poverty or not; and the protection of law—all these aspects can be subject to a person’s gender in the developing world, more so than they are in this country. One’s gender is literally a matter of life and death in much of the developing world. There is no question that poverty, gender equality, human rights, violence against women and reproductive health are inextricably linked.

In the parliament today I want to reiterate my strong personal support for the achievement of this goal and to also commend AusAID for the wonderful work that it does in our part of the world. We know that the World Bank plays a very significant role at a global level. But it must not go unnoticed that our very own AusAID, as part of an agency of the Australian government, equally plays a very strong role in the achievement of these goals. (Time expired)

The SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?

Mrs May —I second the motion.