Australian High Commission
Papua New Guinea

140310 - Speech - International Womens Day

10 March 2014

Address by Australia's High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, HE Ms Deborah Stokes, to the Port Moresby Business and Professional Women's Club's International Women's Day Breakfast


Ms Lynda Babao

Minister for Higher Education, Delilah Gore

Ms Susil Nelson, President of the Port Moresby Business and Professional Women’s Club

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am very pleased to be with you this morning.

I would like to acknowledge the work of the Port Moresby Business and Professional Women’s Club, and to thank its members – and in particular its President, Susil Nelson – for the important work they do in promoting gender equality and in organising this annual International Women’s Day breakfast.

This annual breakfast has widened awareness and debate about the challenges facing women in PNG.

Today’s breakfast will also help support the work the Club is undertaking to increase the educational and social opportunities for women in Papua New Guinea.

In 2013, for instance, the Club gave 231 young women scholarships worth over K180,000, enabling them to access educational and training opportunities they may not otherwise have had.

As a proud supporter of education and women’s empowerment in Papua New Guinea, I am pleased the Australian High Commission has been a major sponsor of this breakfast event.

International Women’s Day

This year, the global theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Inspiring Change’.

I want to talk to you about something very important to achieving change in the position of women.

This is the vital role that men have to play.

As much as women, men must become agents for positive change and growth in the role of women in Papua New Guinea society.

This is also the case in other countries such as Australia.

Progress on Gender Issues

There is no doubt that Papua New Guinea women have taken important steps forward in the past few years.

We have all applauded the election of three women – the largest number in any single term – to Parliament in 2012. But we know that this is not nearly enough – PNG’s performance on this measure is still one of the lowest in the world.

This, and the election in 2013 of a larger proportion of women to positions in Local Level Governments, is hopefully a harbinger of greater change to come.

We have also seen a gradual increase in the numbers of women in leadership roles in key institutions.

Most notably, we can see tangible progress in PNG’s Law and Justice sector:

  • There has been a significant increase in the number of women village court magistrates recruited and trained across the country, up from only 10 in 2004 to over 900 now.
  • Two of the 27 National Court judges are women.
  • PNG’s Chief Magistrate and Deputy Chief Magistrate are women, as are nine of 82 District Court Magistrates.
  • The Government last year re-appointed a woman Ombudsman.
  • And women occupy the positions of Acting Assistant Commissioner RPNGC and Acting Solicitor-General.

And last year, 2013, Parliament passed, after much advocacy by this and other women’s organisations, the Family Protection Bill.

Despite this progress, we continue to be confronted by disturbing information about the position of women in PNG.

Rates of domestic violence, of which women and children are the primary victims, are deeply troubling.

Few women, and much less than men, participate in the formal workforce.

And women have poor access to education: for every 100 boys enrolled in secondary school, there are only 72 girls, limiting from a very early stage the life opportunities open to the next generation of women.

Men as agents of change

This situation must be changed, not only in politics and government institutions, but also at the level of social attitudes.

The journey that PNG is undertaking – to achieve gender equality - is a journey all countries need to take.

There are good reasons why there must be change.

One is the simple fact that, as human beings, men and women have the same political, social and economic rights, and should enjoy the same opportunities to fully realise their potential.

Greater participation in the formal workforce by women will increase the country’s overall economic prosperity, and ensure the gains of growth are spread more widely.

And growth itself will be more sustainable and more dynamic if better educated women can make effective contributions to the economy.

To achieve change, we must change the attitudes of men as well as women.

We must convince men that respect for women is a sign of their own strength as men – that, in fact, Strong Men Respect Women.

Men, as much as women, must become leaders of the process of change.

In Australia, we recently saw an outstanding example of the importance of male leadership in the struggle to change attitudes towards women.

In 2013, Australia’s Chief of Army was confronted with a series of scandals concerning the mistreatment of women in the Australian Defence Force.

General Morrison recognised that having women in the workplace improves capability and leads to better performance, and that to bring about real change, there needed to be a change in the culture of the army.

He sent a very strong message to all Australian Army personnel that unacceptable behavior towards women in the Army and the broader defence community would not be tolerated, and if they didn’t agree then the Army was not the place for them.

General Morrison stated very clearly that the standards you walk past are the standards you accept.

He is an example of the difference men can make when they lead from the front, and work with women, to overcome bias towards women.

In PNG, the passage by Parliament – an institution still overwhelmingly dominated by men – of the Family Protection Bill has demonstrated that male leaders are concerned by the impact on women, and on wider PNG society, of domestic violence.

We must encourage more men in PNG to recognise the costs of violence and to recognise the role need to play to turn this situation around.

Australian Government efforts to promote gender equality

Australia is committed to helping men and women in Papua New Guinea address the challenges of gender inequality.

Through Australia’s aid program we are focussed on four goals:

  • Advancing equal access to health and education services;
  • Increasing women’s voice in decision-making
  • Empowering women economically; and
  • Ending Violence against women and girls.

I will mention just a sample of the activities we are supporting. We also have available here today an information sheet which provides detail of our support for gender equality.

Australia supported the Department of Personnel Management to establish and train a network of male advocates to act as role models and change advocates in the public sector and in their communities.

In August 2013, 27 men from various PNG Government departments participated in male advocacy training. The Secretary of the Department of Personnel Management, Mr John Kali, has since become the 28th male advocate from the Public Service.

Internationally, investing in the education of girls has been shown to deliver immense economic and social benefits.

The Australian aid program provides school subsidies in support of the Government of PNG’s efforts to provide tuition fee free basic education. This should make it easier for families to send their girls to school.

At the elementary school level, Australia builds double classroom kit-sets which include ablution blocks making it easier for girls to attend and stay at school. In 2012 Australia built 116 kit-sets.

At the secondary school level, Australia’s Incentive Fund has supported refurbishment and construction at three of the four all-girl schools in PNG.

More than half of the 1800 Papua New Guineans who have received Australia Awards to study for an internationally recognised qualification from an Australian university have been women.

And this year, 2014, more than 50 per cent of the more than 660 Papua New Guineans awarded Australian Government scholarships to study either in Australia or in PNG were women.

In the law and justice sector, which I mentioned earlier, Australia has supported the establishment of family and sexual violence units in police stations to strengthen police and prosecutor support to victims of sexual violence.

11 FSVUs have been established: three in Port Moresby (Badili, Waigani and Boroko), Popendetta, Lae, Vanimo, Kokopo, Mt Hagen, Goroka, Buka and Alotau.

Between 2010 and 2012, these Units provided services and support to over 19,000 survivors of family and sexual violence.

The Australian Government has sponsored a public communications campaign, called Strong Men Respect Women.

Australia has committed one million dollars over five years (2013-18) to the Pacific Business Coalition for Women and this includes a large PNG component.

The Business Coalition will facilitate connections between Pacific women in private enterprise and Australian businesses in the Pacific to establish a mentoring program.

Australia itself is a country which has come far on the journey of gender equality, but still has some distance to travel.

We have seen some of the signs of Australia’s progress by looking at the high level visitors from Australia to PNG in the last year.

We have had visits by the Governor-General Ms Quentin Bryce, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

All of these three women are pioneers as they are the first women to have served in these roles.

To advance Australia’s support for gender equality internationally, the Australian Government has appointed a new Ambassador for Women and Girls, Ms Natasha Stott Despoja, who will be visiting Papua New Guinea soon.

Ms Stott-Despoja was formerly a prominent Senator in Australia – and she was one our youngest parliamentarians – she also became leader of her political party.

Turning back to PNG, we have come a long way towards gender equality in this country but there is still a long, hard journey ahead.

We will continue to need inspiring and courageous women, women who take steps longer and higher than the steps their mothers took.

The women in this room today are examples of this.

And we need men who support and champion women and girls in taking these bigger steps.

The men in the room today are examples of this.

In closing I congratulate all of you who are here today.

Thank you.