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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1906


Senator GILES(11.35) —On a previous occasion in the Senate, on 4 May, I was taking the occasion of these Appropriation Bills to speak about a recent conference held in Tokyo to discuss with other countries of the region the end of the United Nations Decade for Women. I have made reference to the fact that there was considerable value in the fact that the conference was being held in Tokyo, where Japanese women had a considerable amount of input to the conference, and were also able to derive a great deal of comfort, information and support from other countries in the region.

The conference was chaired by Her Excellency Mrs Nobuko Takahashi who led a strong official delegation from Japan. In addition observers were admitted as representatives of a wide range of non-governmental organisations, many of which are familiar to Australians. These included the International Alliance of Women, the International Council of Women, the International Organization of Business and Professional Women, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Young Women's Christian Association, and Zonta International. In almost every case these organisations were represented by Japanese women.

Amongst the issues which concerned them greatly was the ratification by their own Government of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Prior to the ratification of that Convention, the Japanese Government is very anxious to introduce into its own Parliament a Bill which will provide for equal employment opportunity. But there are very difficult problems between labour and management and not a high level, one could conclude, of serious commitment to the principles of non-discrimination. The Japanese Government sees the enactment of this Bill as a prerequisite to ratification of the Convention but at the same time those women representing non -governmental organisations, unions and political parties in Japan are seriously disturbed about some of the implications. It is clear that there is a strong body of opinion which believes that Japanese trading advantages over the years have been largely gained at the expense of very poorly paid women. Currently the official estimate is that the average female wage is only 52 per cent of the average male wage.

At the Conference a whole range of obstacles was identified, obstacles which are preventing women in the region from reaching the equality which we seek and which the United Nations instruments and conventions advocate. Many of these obstacles are extremely difficult to overcome. They go to the traditions of centuries in many of the countries in the region. They go to the poverty and to the deprivation which is still widespread in the region in countries of enormous populations. They go also to issues of whether religions, in themselves, in some cases tend to oppress women particularly. There were some very interesting debates concerning whether Islam, for example, in its purest forms, provides for true equality between males and females and whether it simply reinforces the notions of biological determinism that are very familiar to many of us. Priorities in the region perhaps tend to take a different line from those with which we in Australia and New Zealand are familiar. Heading up the list are such issues as adequate food supplies, proper nutrition and family planning. Other issues of considerable concern throughout the region are the health and education of women and domestic violence.

Another issue which engendered a considerable amount of very interesting and quite alarming debate was prostitution within the region. It is evident that some governments are allowing entrepreneurs to boost the tourist industry by organised prostitution and the sexual exploitation of women. The Conference was distressed to hear of particular instances of exploitation, extreme cruelty and in some cases barbarity. For example, we were told of a recent incident in Thailand where a brothel burnt to the ground and five prostitutes died. The reason they were not able to escape from the fire was that they were chained to beds by their feet to stop them from running away. Much of the exacerbation of prostitution in the area is the result of heavy migration from rural areas to the cities and the lack of proper and rewarding employment for women.

The report provided to the Conference after its five days of deliberation was adopted by all the delegations except that of Iran. We were given to understand that this is not an unusual occurrence and that Iran frequently reserves its position. Nonetheless, it was extremely valuable for the Conference to have the delegation from Iran taking part in discussions such as the one I have referred to on prostitution and also on the subject of religion. Though unable to come to agreement on those two issues, we all came away with a much better understanding of the position of women in Islam, specifically the Shi-ite women from Iran.

Amongst the resolutions that came out of the Conference were a number that went to particularly practical resolutions of some of the problems I have mentioned. High on the list was an exhortation that due attention be paid to economically deprived women in urban areas and in urban development to improve their living conditions and that, in relation to rural women, special attention be given to broad guidelines and models, including democratic agrarian reforms to improve their conditions. Special development measures must be taken by the United Nations to meet the needs of women in the least developed countries in health, including family planning, in education and in employment.

It was very clear that many smaller and less well developed countries completely lacked any data base. This was a matter of concern in Australia not very long ago. We have got to the point now where we have much better statistics in relation to women's place in Australian society in every sense, not just as part of our economic structure but also in relation to levels of education and health. In many countres these statistics are inadequate, if not unavailable. It was recommended that in order to provde a firm base for the integration of women 's concerns into the overall development process a greater effort is needed to provide a sound conceptual base for women's issues and for the development of realistic models for action in differing socio-cultural, economic and political contexts. Work in this area can be undertaken in national and regional research institutions as well as in international and United Nations agencies. In this context attention should also be given to increasing the planning capabilities of women. It was obvious that the more sophisticated nations like Australia should undertake this extra responsibility, which I believe we are very well equipped to do, especially in relation to the smaller nations of the Pacific. We were very concerned that in the development of the region women should be given every opportunity. That point was made by the Australian delegation particularly and taken up in the eighteenth resolution, which reads:

Special efforts should be made at both national and regional levels to ensure that women have equal access to all aspects of modern science and technology, particularly through education systems. The use of science and technology can be a powerful instrument in women's development. Special research to evolve appropriate technology for rural women and housewives should be carried out and existing and new technologies should be disseminated as widely as possible. The co-ordination of such activities should be the responsibility of ESCAP--

the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific-

in co-operation with other intergovernmental bodies and agencies dealing with the status of women or technology.

In relation to prostitution the resolution adopted by the Conference, with the sole reservation of Iran, said:

With respect to the specific impact of tourism promotion on women and the effects of very rapid migration of young women from rural areas, the meeting called on Governments to undertake concrete action against the increasing incidence of prostitution and sex-trafficking. In particular, Governments which had not already done so, are urged to:

(a) Impose stricter penalties through legislation on those responsible at all levels for the organised prostitution trade;

(b) Raise the problem of prostitution at the regional level so as to exert pressure on those countries involved in the trade to do their share in halting organised prostitution.

It may appear that Australia has very little to do with this question but there was anecdotal evidence to the effect that plane loads of Australian males are going on organised tours to such countries as the Philippines, which really does not help anything very much except perhaps the Philippines tourist trade. It certainly is of no assistance to the general question-the raising of the status and opportunities of women generally in the area.

The position of Iran on prostitution was once again very interesting and tended to be rather punitive as far as the victims, the prostitutes, are concerned. The Islamic Government of Iran believes and advocates that social measures should be taken to improve the education opportunities of women generally and to make certain that problems of rural and urban living are approached in a positive fashion. But we were quite intrigued by one of their recommendations in relation to the avoidance of prostitution, that young women should be encouraged to marry very early in which case their 'sexual instincts', as they described them, would be controlled by their husbands. If all else fails, prostitutes in Iran, I believe, are gaoled.

Every delegation which gave its country paper to the Conference-I think 30 papers were delivered-emphasised the enormous significance of peace for development and equality in the region. I think most honourable senators would be aware that those three issues-peace, equality and development-are the main themes of the decade. There was a considerable amount of discussion about just what priority the issue of peace should take amongst the recommendations that came from the Conference. After a fair amount of negotiation between the delegations a formulation was finally arrived at. In fact it was the Mongolian delegation that provided the words to which all delegations were able to agree. It read thus:

The achievement of peace is a main prerequisite for the implementation of strategies for the advancement of women.

. . . .

To this end, it is recommended that measures be undertaken aimed at strengthening the role of women in politics at all levels on a par with men, and expanding the active participation of women in the decision-making process concerning peace, international co-operation and disarmament.

One of the papers that was provided as pre-reading for the Conference-these papers are available through our Office of the Status of Women-went very specifically to the participation of women in politics in the region. It very clearly makes the point that women are caught in a vicious circle. Their limited resources in terms of education, employment, wealth and poverty limit their access to public decision-making bodies which in turn adversely affects their access to resources. Mobilisation of women as a political force to demand their due share of resources and to increase their participation in decision-making structures is one way to break out of the vicious circle.

Some countries have taken measures such as establishing goals and strategies and timetables for increasing within the decade the number of women in elective and appointed public offices and public functions at all levels. Some countries have gone further and established within their representative organisations quotas which must be set aside for women. This is a matter that has been considered and rejected by other countries, but the position throughout the region is still much less than impressive. In the vast majority of cases women have achieved less than even 5 per cent of the higher political and decision- making positions. The exceptions include the socialist countries, where women participate at a much higher rate. I am happy to report that in Australia the score has crept up to over the 5 per cent level nationally and has reached 10 per cent so far as our national Parliament is concerned.

Socio-cultural attitudes prevailing in the Asian-Pacific region in many cases still assign women to an inferior social and political position. Those attitudes will remain until and unless women of the region are able to mobilise themselves and challenge these attitudes. A certain amount of assistance can be given by international organisations. A certain amount of assistance can be given by other countries in the region. However, much of the work, we have found, must be done by the women themselves who, as has been clearly explained over and over again, are not in a position to mobilise without the prerequisites of education, decent health, mobility, and certainly encouragement.

At the elite level there are scattered movements in various countries of the region that are beginning to challenge the traditional attitudes which have kept women oppressed for so long. At the mass level in the region, women do not bother-they probably simply do not have the time or energy-to consciously challenge men's attitudes. Their priorities are quite different. Mere survival needs prevent them from charting new courses that defy the established social norms. So instead of changing the agenda, which tends to be the way in which we operate in Australia, women in the region are finding that they have to take a totally different approach. Rather than tinkering with the list of priorities, they are beginning to establish their own agenda, perhaps even writing their own book, as it were.

In the last decade many countries of the region have seen endogenous women's movements develop and these have to be strengthened. Linkages amongst the grass roots organisations should be established so that these movements can grow bigger and recruit wider support. Again I see a role for countries such as Australia, which have superior resources in many respects. We have the opportunity, as the end of the decade nears, to look to the conference which will be held in Nairobi in July next year to make certain, firstly, that the Government of Kenya is given whatever support can be gained from the Australian Government-support perhaps in resources, finance, or seconding officials. Secondly, we can look to the less well developed countries with very poor resources and make certain that they are represented at the end of the decade conference. We can in this way help the women of those countries to link up with those of other countries in the region, to exchange information in the way that was possible in Tokyo, and to gain encouragement and confidence as a result of their association with women from countries with similar problems. A resolution of the Conference went to the question of political will. It reads:

The capacity of the United Nations system to implement these recommendations depends on the political will and support of member governments. Women should therefore ensure that their Governments support and participate in the implementation of these recommendations by the United Nations. Since the resources of the United Nations system are restricted, women should look also to increasing local and national resources that can be brought to bear for women's issues in a strategy of self-reliance at the local level.

At the International Women's Year conference in 1975 delegates were presented with a Plan of Action which had been developed by the United Nations and which was then opened up to all the countries which were members of the United Nations for their consideration and implementation. Again in 1980 a similar exercise was undertaken, but on that occasion Australian women had a great deal more opportunity to contribute. In 1979 we set up a series of conferences at regional and State levels, culminating in a national conference held here in Canberra early in 1980. A document was finalised at that conference under the title 'An Australian Plan of Action for the Second Half of the Decade'. Many of the items included in that plan were those that had been with us since 1975.

As we come to 1985, the end of the decade, we still find that only marginal progress has been made in many parts of the world. Those plans of action are still valid; they are still contemporary, and in many cases we are looking, I believe, at another 10 to 15 years before significant progress can be made, at least as far as the great majority of women in the world are concerned. We hope to have a strong presence in Nairobi for the end of the decade conference. We hope also that non-governmental organisations, such as those to which I referred earlier, will be represented in Nairobi. We hope that once again Australia, as only a small nation but an important part of this region, will be able to make an important contribution.

The success of the Tokyo Conference was largely due to contribute the skills and talents of Dr Nancy Viviani, an Australian, who is the Division Head at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation headquarters in Bangkok and whose task it was to plan the Conference and supervise its conduct. It was a matter of great satisfaction to those of us on the Australian delegation to see the competence with which Dr Viviani conducted the Conference. I feel that it would be fitting in concluding my contribution to this debate by adding the congratulations of the delegation to Dr Viviani on her performance and by making quite clear to the Senate the fact that we have women of considerable competence in international fields making an enormous contribution and bringing a great deal of credit to Australia in the process.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Before I call the next speaker, I draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that we are debating the second reading of Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and cognate Bills and in such a second reading debate the ordinary laws of relevance apply. I allowed Senator Giles to range very widely because in the peculiar circumstances of her speech she started in the first reading and completed her speech on the second reading. Subsequent speakers must direct their remarks to some aspects of the Appropriation Bills to be relevant and in order. If honourable senators wish to speak on the first reading on wider matters there will be a first reading debate at 12.45 p.m. when such contributions would be relevant.