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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7860

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE (South Australia) (13:33): Last Wednesday was the International Day of the Girl Child. On this day we should consider the progress humanity has made in recognising the rights of children, and girls especially; however, there is still a monumental amount of progress that must be made before equality can even be glimpsed.

Today I am hosting 18-year-old Ella Gillespie in celebration of International Day of the Girl Child and to support women's representation in politics. Ella is shadowing me throughout the day to gain an insight into political life. I would like to thank her for her work in preparing this speech for me today. She is one of 17 women here and more than 1,000 young women worldwide who have participated in the Girls Takeover event run by Plan International. This is an important event providing an emphatic statement of support for young women's power and potential.

Today, the report She can lead: young people in Australia share their views on women in politics and leadership by Plan International has been released. Capturing the views of Australian girls aged 10 to 25, the report examines how they see the inequality around them, their experience of it and the effect of this on their ambitions. Many of the findings are shocking. The main element of the report is that urgent action needs to be taken to show young women that there is space for them at the leadership table, be it in politics or the private sector.

Today I will highlight a few of the main findings and the three recommendations that came from Plan International's report, and I implore you to consider the impact you, as senators, have on young women and what more you can do to ensure that their full potential is realised. Currently, less than a third of seats in the Australian parliament are held by women. According to Plan International, the women that are represented, from politics to the boardroom, are paid less, talked over and scrutinised on everything from what they wear to whether or not they have children. The report highlighted the harsh reality that it is more difficult for women to get into power and that, once they achieve leadership positions, they are often subjected to sexist attitudes. It is widely recognised that young people are more likely to believe they can excel into a position of power after seeing a previous holder who identifies as part of their same community. Currently this is not happening, with Plan International reporting that one in three young women identified their gender as the primary barrier stopping them from achieving a leadership position. We must do more to attract young women to parliament and into leadership positions across Australia and to promote fairer treatment once they've reached those positions of power so that the next generation expects and demands equal representation.

Young people should not have to face the same challenges that some of the women in this chamber have faced in our attempts to achieve our goals. I believe we can make substantial change to stop this. Plan International found that girls' leadership aspirations diminish as they become older. More than two-thirds of 15- to 17-year-olds aspire to be leaders, compared to only half of 22- to 25-year-olds. Men's leadership aspirations did not decline at the same rate. Additionally, the report found that, although men and women both believe women are just as good leaders as men, women are less optimistic about their ability to become a leader and women are less likely to become leaders. The report recommends that action must be taken at the pivotal late-high-school age to encourage women to continue to aspire to leadership positions, just as we are doing here today. For example, internships for high-school-aged women could be hosted by parliamentarians and business leaders. Male and female leaders both have a part to play in offering these internships. These should be created with the idea of fostering community engagement and nurturing girls' leadership ambitions. Additionally, it is recommended that state and territory governments invest in women's leadership programs and provide incentives and targets for schools to promote a gender-equality focus. This should be done through staff training, curriculums, school based leadership programs and youth-led ideas.

Once women have secured leadership positions, family commitments must also be accommodated, allowing women to continue to succeed. The desire to start a family was listed as the second-most-dominant barrier to political leadership. We, as the parliament, must do more to ensure that no-one is limited by their choice to start or not to start a family. The outdated stereotypes and other views that confine women's ambitions need to be quashed. One recommendation put forward by the report was to extend flexible working arrangements in parliament and the wider community to allow parents to better manage work and family commitments. Additionally, Plan suggested that political parties should formally adopt a gender-equality strategy that recognises the specific needs and challenges faced by women and girls. While these are ambitious recommendations, it highlights the need for action—something which can be done within these walls to further advance women's leadership and their rights.

The failure to achieve a gender-equal parliament is disappointing, and action is required before the next election. The report found that, to encourage more women to enter politics, we must make it easier by ensuring they are treated fairly by the media and not judged on their looks over their abilities. The report recommends that the federal government work with the media industry to develop robust rules on sexist reporting. These would include banning commentary that disproportionately focuses on women's fashion choices, family life or other areas where men aren't as commonly scrutinised. Additionally, despite the report finding that women and men alike did not support the implementation of quotas for members of parliament, parties should put in place measures to encourage more women to stand for election.

The progress that we have made, while it is progress, has not gone far enough. Plan International's report shows us that there are still girls and young women who are not able to achieve their aspirations because of their gender, and this is unacceptable.

As parliamentarians, we must be willing to lead the change, making it easier for the next generation to forge their way and to shape Australia. We must champion the rights of our girls for our world and our future, whether this is following the Plan International report's recommendations for institutional changes or individual action that needs to be taken to achieve a gender-equal election. That is because girls belong in this place. They belong in the boardroom, on the construction site, in the design studio, in the classroom and in the corridors of parliaments. They belong in this place.

For the young women of Australia, I wish to leave you with this final message, which comes from Plan International's intern 18-year-old Ella, who's walking a mile in my shoes today as part of the Girls Take Over Parliament event. Her message to you is this: never let anyone make you feel like you are less than you are. You are strong, powerful and assertive. It will take time to feel comfortable in your own skin, but be proud of your mind and your body. Be curious and eager to learn. Push yourself and strive for excellence. Women like me and my colleagues in this place have begun to forge the way, creating the groundwork for you to follow, but we're not there yet. It will not be easy to reach your goals, but you are stronger than you think. Be optimistic for the future because it is changing, and we have yet to see the best.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): Thank you, Ella.