International Women's Day 2014

This Saturday, we will celebrate International Women's Day. On 8 March every year for over 100 years in countries all over the world, we have marked International Women's Day. It began as a day to advocate for women's suffrage and over time it has become a day to call for equal opportunity for women in the workplace and to demand an end to violence against women.

In Australia it is also a day to reflect on the work that has been done by the women who have come before us, to honour those on whose shoulders we stand and to pay tribute to them for the sacrifices they made so that we can enjoy the rights we do today. Examples of these are: the right for female public servants to keep their jobs even after they are married, the right for women to drink in any bar in Australia and, most importantly, the right for women to have access to contraception and family planning.

Of course there are still battles yet to be won. In Australia women are paid 17 per cent less than men. In Australia women retire with less superannuation than men and are more likely to live in poverty in their old age. In Australia women still bear the majority of unpaid caring and household responsibilities. In Australia one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner. So on Saturday, while we will celebrate the rights we have won, we will also be united in our determination to continue to progress the agenda for genuine gender equality in this country because we are not there yet.

International Women's Day will also be an opportunity for Australian women to stand in solidarity with our sisters around the world. Violations of women's fundamental rights remain widespread in so many countries. Women across the globe live in poverty and deprivation and in many countries hard-fought-for advances for women are being wound back.

This is a topic I would like to focus on today, and in particular I would like to focus on the very great risk that the women's rights that have been won in Afghanistan over the last 12 years might be wound back. When I have spoken to Australian soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and when I have spoken with their families and friends and loved ones here in Australia, one of the things that they are proudest of is the advance we have made as Australian forces and the international presence in helping secure women's rights in Afghanistan. In particular the work that is being done in building schools, including schools for girls and ensuring that girls have the freedom to attend these schools, are things that every Australian can be proud of. Since the 2001 fall of the Taliban, there have been substantial improvements for women and girls in Afghanistan, including increased education enrolments, increased life expectancy and a proportion of seats reserved for women in the Afghan National Assembly and provincial councils. As the majority of Australian troops come home and the ongoing draw-down of ISAF troops continues, protecting these rights must be of utmost importance. Australia and our ISAF partners must act to ensure that the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan are not traded away or degraded. Women must be central to the negotiation and reconciliation processes. They must have meaningful political representation and strength and capacity in public life. Most importantly, they must have their human rights protected.

In 2012, I was so proud to be a part of the Labor government when we launched Australia's National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, implementing the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325. This resolution is about the importance of involving women in peace building and post-conflict reconstruction. But launching our action plan is not enough. We must ensure that the principles of 1325 are implemented in Afghanistan and help Afghanistan to develop their own action plan.

This week I met with Sophie Nicol and Ming Yu from Amnesty International Australia. Amnesty is just one of the many great organisations working to protect women's rights in Afghanistan. Sophie and Ming Yu spoke to me about the great importance of protecting women's rights in the lead-up to and in the wake of the Afghan presidential elections in April of this year. Australia has the unique opportunity to use our position on the United Nations Security Council to protect women's rights in Afghanistan.

This International Women's Day I will be thinking about our sisters in Afghanistan and I ask my parliamentary colleagues to do the same. Australia has a responsibility to do all we can to protect women's rights in Afghanistan and there is a great deal that we still need to do. Happy International Women's Day.

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