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Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 6281

Mr RUDD (GriffithMinister for Foreign Affairs) (18:00): I thank the honourable member for her question. Firstly, if we are concerned about international development we must be equally concerned about the role of women in development, and that is across the entire spectrum.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr RUDD: It is true. I do not say this as a partisan comment. I am just saying it is real and central, because unless you have women and girls educated then, frankly, the international community and developing countries are deprived of a huge asset in economic productivity, employment growth and overall economic development. Secondly, that will never happen unless girls are properly educated, and they are not being properly educated in so many developing countries around the world. Thirdly, it does not happen if women and girls suffer either the threat of or the reality of physical and sexual violence. This is a problem of great significance across many countries which are recipients of Australia's overseas development assistance.

It therefore is in these critical areas that the Australian government seeks to focus its funding not just through the institution which was mentioned before by the honourable member for Brisbane—that is, UN Women; in fact, that forms a very small part of what we seek to do globally. But within our bilateral programs and in a range of other UN programs, we are supporting this on the ground. For example, if we are to look at the particular challenges of women and violence in the South Pacific, we are seeking to augment our programs in that region, as we are in Africa. When I visited the African Union at the beginning of this year and met with the executive of the United Nations operation for East Africa and with the woman who leads that organisation, I indicated then that we would be expanding our assistance for their operations in Africa so that she would have the resources to deal with the program responsibilities which she has on paper but lacks the effective resources to go out and do. So we intend to partner with her and her institution into the future.

More broadly, we also will be engaged with a range of other international institutions to deal with, as I said, violence against women, to deal with education of girls and also to deal with the challenge and opportunities of women and development. On the question of education of girls, which relates to empowering women with the knowledge of how to deal with threats of violence as well, the Australian government's current allocation is something like 18 to 19 per cent of the entire aid portfolio allocation for education. We regard this as No. 1 in terms of what Australia can productively do in the world, and within that the education of girls is right up there.

For example, if we are looking at threats of physical and sexual violence, let us look at one particular example of young girls growing up in certain parts of regional Indonesia. That is why we are rolling out a $1 billion program, begun by the Howard government, to construct 4,000 schools to invest massively in the teacher training associated with those schools, in training the principals of those schools, as well as in reforming the curriculums of those schools, in partnership with Indonesian national organisations such as Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, because this fundamentally affects the empowerment of girls and women in our next-door neighbour: Indonesia, population 240 million plus, half of whom are women. And so many girls in parts of rural Indonesia are not given any opportunities at all. If those girls and those women are empowered by giving them for the first time the opportunity for an education, it affects their ability to also stand on their own two feet in dealing with challenges of violence as well. Therefore, our response must be holistic. Economic empowerment through microfinance and microcredit is also important.

For honourable members interested in this subject, I would draw their attention to an excellent article in the Sydney Morning Herald of a couple of months ago which pictures a beautiful young girl aged 13, 14 or 15 for the first time entering a secondary school funded by Australia under this program—under Howard, under us. It is the right thing for Australia, because unless we get the challenge of girls and women around the world right on violence, on sexual violence, on trafficking, on education, as well as empowerment through governance and women obtaining greater positions of responsibility, the development challenge of our world will not be met.