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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2560

Ms RISHWORTH (4:50 PM) —I rise today to acknowledge the passage of International Women’s Day, celebrated last Sunday. It is a day to celebrate and commemorate. International Women’s Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate women across Australia and the contributions they make—contributions which make a remarkable difference to those around them. I was very pleased that I was able, last week, to attend a number of functions that commemorated International Women’s Day. One of these, run by Southern Health, was in my electorate. They had a very interesting and informative function, focusing on how we can better improve women’s health. Although I was not able to attend the whole day, I was able to go and to enjoy that day with many people around my electorate. In addition to that, Senator Penny Wong also held a very big and very successful UNIFEM breakfast, and that was also a great opportunity to commemorate this day.

I think we need to recognise that on International Women’s Day we have the opportunity to look at the unique contribution that women have made to our society. As part of that celebration, we also remember how hard many women do it. And we commemorate the struggle undertaken by our forbears in achieving the types of equality that women like me can enjoy today. International Women’s Day was established because women have suffered a great deal of discrimination over the years. The day grew out of the American women’s fight for the simple right to vote, and through the tremendous organisation of early women’s labour groups such as the International Conference of Working Women.

The day also allows us to not only look at the past and the achievements that have been made but also focus on the work that still needs to be done. There are many women in boardrooms, there are female astronauts and there is even a female Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. Critically, more and more girls are welcomed into schools and universities and are obtaining an education here in Australia. But it is still disappointing that a full-time working woman will on average earn around 85 per cent of the male wage and it is devastating to know that one in three women experience physical violence in their lifetime.

The Minister for the Status of Women, the Hon. Tanya Plibersek, reported last week in New York to the United Nations International Women’s Day event, and was from one of the few countries which were asked to present. There she outlined three key priority areas that this government is tackling in advancing gender equality in Australia. The first is improving women’s economic outcomes and financial independence, the second is ensuring that women’s voices are heard at all levels of the decision making process, and the third is reducing violence against women. I will focus on the third theme. It was the same theme that UNIFEM Australia had for International Women’s Day—that is, to unite to end violence against women. This is a very important issue that faces many women in Australia today and it faces a whole range of women from different backgrounds and different classes. That includes our Indigenous women and children, who have often been subjected to violence against them.

In response to this, in May last year this government appointed a national council to develop a national plan to reduce violence against women. This plan includes respectful relationship resources for high schools and $1 million for the white ribbon campaign—and I know that there are many white ribbon ambassadors from both sides of the House who really do great work in promoting this very important cause. The Rudd government is committed to building a modern workplace relations system that is also flexible and encourages family-friendly working conditions. It is also committed to better quality, more affordable and more accessible child care. I look forward to continuing to be part of this government that recognises women’s participation, celebrates it and also looks at how we can improve it.