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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9348

Dr STONE (Murray) (20:00): The Commission on the Status of Women reaffirms:

… that the promotion and protection of, and respect for, the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women, including the right to development, which are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, should be mainstreamed into all policies and programmes aimed at the eradication of poverty, and also reaffirms the need to take measures to ensure that every person is entitled to participate in, contribute to and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development and that equal attention and urgent consideration should be given to the promotion, protection and full realization of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

I think we would all be in furious agreement about this. It is not a contentious issue. I think we would even get bipartisan support for this. But the trouble is that, when it boils down to what is really happening in countries, this grand statement just does not ring true, even in developed countries like our own.

For example, we have just had the sad fact delivered to us that in Australia the gender pay gap—pay for the same work done—has risen to 18.2 per cent. It was only 17 per cent some time ago. Ten years ago it was about 14 per cent. If you disaggregate data in Australia to look at women's enjoyment of life, at their health and at their freedom from violence, you would see that our Indigenous women are not living in the way that we would want anyone to experience.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 20:02 to 20:20

Dr STONE: As I was saying before the division, all of us should have a huge respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women, including the right to development. We believe all the indivisible, interdependent and interrelated issues should be mainstreamed into all policies and programs aimed at eradicating poverty.

I was just going on to say that Australia is a developed nation and we have a welfare budget aimed at capturing those who need a safety net, whether because they have a disability, because they are suffering from extreme poverty or because they are disadvantaged in having been born a long way from where jobs are. But the reality is that there are some around the world who suffer indignities and poverty that we, in a country like Australia, can only imagine—unless we are visiting some of our remotest Indigenous communities where, yes, women are amongst the most likely, of any population in the world, to be assaulted. Women in those communities suffer extraordinarily from drug and alcohol related violence and from their own drug and alcohol dependency. Some of the highest rates of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder are found in their communities—the highest of anywhere in the world.

The Millennium Development Goals were an amazing achievement for their time, nearly 15 years ago now. They were expected to help bring about the eradication of poverty and the eradication of discrimination. They were expected to address gender bias and bring us a new world order. But, as we come to the 15th year after the commencement of the Millennium Development Goal era, we find there has not been a complete elimination—or even a significant elimination—of gender inequality or discrimination against women and girls. There is in fact a feminisation of poverty globally and it is not abating. Inequalities in life experience and opportunities for all girls and women continue, as I said before, in most developing countries, but also in some developed nations. We are all aware, for example, of the plight of some of the guest workers in Singapore. We are also all aware of some of the nations which now boast huge middle classes but which have women and girls living in dire poverty.

The Commission on the Status of Women has expressed concern that the Millennium Development Goals do not adequately address some of the critical issues relating to gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly the issue of child marriage, which is one of the real scourges in the world—young girls as young as 14 and 15 being forcibly married off, usually to older men. Death rates among those young girls when they give birth are amongst the highest in the world for any group of adolescents. We have also failed to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of universal education at the primary level. While some statistics suggest that we have had an extraordinary increase in the number of young people enrolled to attend school, when you look at how many of those girls or boys—particularly girls—complete their primary education and achieve literacy, numeracy and employability in the formal economy, all many countries can really boast about is the increase in the number of enrolments.

When you combine issues like child marriage and the capacity for girls to attend school and receive an education—and therefore get themselves out of a lifetime of impoverishment—you have to despair at things like how in 2012 Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia expelled from school any of unmarried girls who became pregnant. In those countries marriage is allowed at a very early age indeed. Even though the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child explicitly recognises the rights of a pregnant girl to an education, those countries I have just mentioned still expel girls who become pregnant. Obviously, if you are expelled from school and you are a child bride with a young baby—or even a child who has had a baby out of wedlock—your chances of breaking out of a life of extreme discrimination, poverty and ill-health are very poor. But countries such as Kenya, Zambia, Botswana and Malawi have now explicitly recognised the right of girls to re-enter education after childbirth. I think that is incredibly important given that, in a country like Tanzania, the law still allows a 14-year-old to marry.

The millennium goals need to condemn problems like child marriage. Just last week in this parliament, along with Plan International Australia and Anti-Slavery Australia, we launched the Plan International report on child marriage. The report looked at the extraordinary consequences when a young girl—too young to have a baby, given her own physical development—is forced out of school, is often subject to extreme violence in her relationship, usually with a much older man, is burdened with caring for the first of often many children from the age of 14 or 15 and becomes a victim of intergenerational poverty and violence. Besides child marriage, of course, there are significant health, nutrition and other factors which stop girls going to school. For example, anaemia following adolescence can mean girls are too fatigued to attend school. Nutritional levels in the most impoverished countries are often very low, and boys are often given preferential food access. If girls are anaemic they may experience poor concentration and lower cognitive function and reduced capacity to compete with others. Maybe our millennium goals should focus not only on universal access to primary and secondary education for girls but also on ensuring that girls are properly fed in school so that they can, in fact, learn but also so that there is an incentive for their families to have them go to school where they can take home rations or at least have a meal a day.

For example, in Ghana the World Food Program runs a school feeding project which combines school meals with take-home rations. These are conditional on school attendance—that is, at least 85 per cent attendance and 99 per cent retention rates. These measures have been supplemented with school gardens to give a nutritious meal a day to both girls and boys. Girls' enrolments surged by 46 per cent in one year alone with that World Food Program funded school meal project.

We have to look hard at our MDGs and realise that, despite their very best intentions, we have not seen significant reductions in poverty across the globe—particularly for women and girls. We have to understand that we need to set zero tolerance targets for problems like child marriage. We also have to understand that the statistics which relate to school attendance are not in any way meaningful unless they relate to the quality of the education delivered—for example, at least basic literacy and numeracy being an outcome. We also have to understand that some national data in fact disguises the unsatisfactory opportunity and progress for disadvantaged minorities, so we need things like equity-adjusted measures that look at the poverty level of a student's family, at their location and at their ethnicity. That data also should be tracked, rather than presented as a general, national statistic, which can disguise the huge inequities and disadvantages buried within a developing country. We have to understand that the distance to school can make a huge difference to a child being allowed to attend, given that often school based rape and sexual harassment are factors that lead to girls not finishing school in many developing nations. I want to see the UN General Assembly resolution to end child marriage and to support married girls come about. I want to help make that happen.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Porter ): The debate is now adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 20:28