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Celebrating International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is commemorated around the world on the 8th of March. It’s a perfect day to take time out and celebrate the women and girls in our lives, and recognise the important contributions they make in every facet of society.

This year, I attended UN Women National Committee Australia’s International Women’s Day breakfast at Parliament House. The 2017 theme is Empower a Woman, Empower a Nation. When you empower a woman, you unlock opportunities not just for one woman, but for her children, for her family, whole communities – and entire nations.

UN Women is the United Nations agency dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment. UN Women is an agency with a difference – it works with the highest levels of government, to change laws, and with grassroots groups to improve services to women who have experienced violence, to deliver education and training to boost women’s job opportunities and to promote women in leadership. UN Women National Committee (NC) Australia is the fundraising and advocacy arm of UN Women, here in Australia.

Australia’s foreign aid program is helping to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. This is essential given that in PNG and across the Pacific, 2 out of 3 women will experience violence in their lifetimes. Rates of poverty are high, and women’s representation in leadership roles is the lowest in the world.

We know that when women’s incomes increase, whole families benefit. When women are represented in leadership roles, the needs of girls and women, alongside those of men and boys, are taken into account. When you empower a woman, you empower families, communities and whole nations. That’s why I am proud to announce that in December 2016, the Australian Government and UN Women signed a new four-year Partnership Framework Agreement, to build on our longstanding commitment to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality in the Indo-Pacific region and globally.

Australia’s foreign aid program: In Action

Here’s one example of our foreign aid program, in action, this International Women’s Day.

In 2014, a UN Women study showed that in Port Moresby, 90% of women were assaulted on public transport. This startlingly high rate of violence was keeping women home from work, and children home from school.

In 2015, with the support of the Australian Government, UN Women introduced a women and children-only bus service, the ‘Meri Seif’ bus, ensuring safe passage to work, the markets, school and the hospital, in Port Moresby. More than 80,000 women and children have used the service to date.

In 2016, alongside the support of the Australian Government, thousands of Australians donated directly to UN Women NC Australia to purchase two new Meri Seif buses and ensure the program continues to meet the growing demand.

The Meri Seif bus program does not stand alone. It stands alongside long-term work to change attitudes and behaviours. It is a practical and immediate solution for getting women safely to work and children to school, helping to end the cycle of poverty, violence and inequality. This program is a striking example of the Australian Government working in partnership with UN Women and the Australian community to deliver safety and promote economic opportunity for women and their families in PNG.

How will you celebrate International Women’s Day this March?

This International Women’s Day (IWD), I invite you to attend an IWD event in your hometown, or host your own #myiwdbrekkie. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is pleased to support UN Women National Committee Australia’s IWD celebrations in many capital cities.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to unite, network and mobilise funds to foster meaningful change. I hope you will join me in celebrating International Women’s Day this March.