International Women's Day 2011

The eighth of March 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. This day is a celebration of the great achievements of women throughout the world and throughout our history, from women's suffrage to reproductive rights. It is because of the work of giants past that I am able to stand in this chamber and speak today. In this place, I carry the dreams, the work and the sacrifice of others and I want to thank them. A century ago, it would have been novel and perhaps inconceivable that women would stand in this great chamber, and it is thanks to many famous and not so famous women that I can.

It is also thanks to my working-class matriarchy that I can—thanks to my grandmother Enid Anderson and my great-grandmother Ada Huggins. In the language of the day, both were 'in service'. My great-grandmother supported 13 children on her own in a house with dirt floors. I thank my grandmother, who worked three jobs and lived in fear that the state would take her children because she was poor. I thank my mother, Faye Anderson, who worked hard to ensure that all three of her daughters would go to university. It is because of the hardheaded determination of these women and others like them that I have been able to run a successful business, sit on boards and be elected to parliament.

While we have much to celebrate, we are not done and more must be done. We must continue to fight for equal pay and equal burden sharing in the home. We must also continue to fight to improve the representation of women on boards. Research shows that improving diversity on boards, including increasing the number of women, has a positive impact on the performance of an organisation. I have witnessed this firsthand through the boards I have been a member of, both commercial and not-for-profit. While women make up 45 per cent of our workforce they hold only 10.9 per cent of positions on ASX 200 boards, according to the Women On Boards website, and 87 ASX companies still do not have a woman on their board.

We as a society—and I say 'a society' because a solution lies not just with government—must do more to encourage and create opportunities to sit on boards. I would like to commend the government on its joint initiative with the Australian Institute of Company Directors to offer 70 scholarships to give Australian women the skills they need to become directors or chairs. More than 1,900 women from across the country applied for the program, so clearly women are ready, willing and able to serve.

I also want to ensure that women have the financial literacy to plan for their retirement. My mum is on the pension, and as the member for Canberra I speak each week to women, many of them retired, who are doing it tough living on the pension, living in social housing. I am worried that too many women have not planned for their future beyond work. I am worried that too many women do not have a plan for retirement. For my own part, I am organising seminars to help women understand how much superannuation they have so they can work out how much they need for their retirement and how much they need to put away each week. That way, they will be empowered to work out how long they can take off with their babies, how long they can work part-time if they so choose, and when they can retire. Understanding the detail of what they need for their retirement will allow them to better plan for their futures. I am fortunate enough to say that these are the concerns of a woman in a developed country. I have just returned from a week in Afghanistan with the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Defence Subcommittee, where we had the opportunity to visit defence bases in Tarin Kowt and Kandahar. We also had a number of calls in Kabul and met with members of the lower house. One of them was a woman and she was very committed to improving women's rights there. So it was a great opportunity to actually meet with her. The situation for women in Afghanistan is suboptimal in most parts of the country, particularly in the provinces. In Oruzgan, female literacy is just 0.8 per cent and infant mortality is 37 per cent. Many girls are married at age 13 and many women have between 10 and 15 children.

We have come a long way in the last 100 years, but our achievements have barely touched many women in developing countries. We still need to fight to ensure equal rights and equal opportunities are shared by our sisters throughout the world.

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