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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 6584

Ms BRODTMANN (Canberra) (12:03): Today I rise to speak on the very important topic of women in conflict and peace building. As we work towards constructing peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, I have to ask: does negotiating with the Taliban mean the rights of women, which have been so hard fought for over the length of this conflict, will be traded away in the name of peace? I know many Australians have strong views on Afghanistan and that some oppose or question our efforts. For the record, I am a supporter of our involvement in the International Security Assistance Force effort. I was a supporter when we went in all those years ago and I am an even stronger supporter now that I have been there.

I was in Afghanistan in May 2011 with the defence subcommittee. I visited the just pacified Mirabad Valley and met with community leaders who welcomed the Australian presence in their country. I met with female politicians who welcomed the Australian presence in their country and I spoke to female ADF members who were engaging with Afghan women in Uruzgan province who echoed the same sentiments. We have made a difference and I hope it will be enduring, for the sake of the Australian soldiers who have sacrificed their lives, for the sake of the Afghan people, for the sake of the Middle East region and for the rest of the world.

Earlier this year I met with a number of inspirational and eminent female MPs and civil society leaders who are part of a delegation organised by the Afghan Australian Development Organisation. They were here to draw attention to the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. The women presented a number of overarching and thematic recommendations for consideration including the need for women's rights in Afghanistan to be a core priority for Australia's Security Council term; the need to make Afghanistan a priority country for the implementation and monitoring of the Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security; and, the need to prioritise gender equality in AusAID's new country strategy for Afghanistan.

Most importantly, the women spoke passionately and eloquently about the resilience and empowerment of Afghan women since 2002, since the presence of ISAF. Before then, no girls or women were educated. Now, more than one million girls and women are in schools. Before then, there were no women in parliament. Now, Afghanistan has about 25 per cent of women in parliament. Before then, women were not allowed to travel anywhere on their own. They had to be accompanied everywhere by a male, be it a husband, father, brother or son. They can now move freely throughout the country and the world. Before then, women were invisible and disempowered. So they implored Australia to ensure that women were involved in all negotiations with the Taliban and others in the upcoming transition and post 2014.

In 2012, I was so proud that this government launched Australia's National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. This resolution is about the importance of involving women in peace building and post-conflict reconstruction. I am also very proud of the fact that this government acknowledges that the gains that have been made in Afghanistan are fragile and that we must work hard to safeguard these post transition.

Women's rights are now enshrined in the Constitution but enforcing and promoting these rights and providing access to legal, health and education services remain serious challenges. The promotion and protection of human rights and the rights of women is an important feature in the comprehensive long-term partnership between Afghanistan and Australia that the Prime Minister and President Karzai signed at the Chicago summit. As Wazhma Frogh, from the Women, Peace & Security Research Institute said:

Women need to be around the table, not on the menu.

The global community is also looking for peace in Syria and the government is deeply concerned at the estimated death toll of 93,000 people in that nation. So I welcome the G8 leaders' seven-point statement on Syria and the commitment to push for urgent peace talks in the form of the Geneva II international conference. I reiterate that, in Syria, as in Afghanistan, women's rights must not be the cost of peace. So today I ask all of us here to think of these women and to do all we can to ensure they are not 'dinner' in post 2014 Afghanistan or in future Syria.