Girls in Emergency - Coalition for Global Prosperity and Global Citizen event

  • Speech, check against delivery

JULIE BISHOP: What a delight it is to be here with my friend, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, and to be at an event co-hosted by the Coalition for Global Prosperity and Global Citizen to focus on the very important issue of 'Girls in Emergencies', girls in crisis.

Perhaps I can give you perspective from Australia's point of view - of course, here in the week of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting we have an ideal opportunity to raise this issue on the agenda of the Commonwealth, a family of nations that comprises 53 countries across six continents, 2.4 billion people. 30 of our members are developing countries and we make up a quarter of the membership of the United Nations. When the Commonwealth acts collaboratively we can make a difference globally.

When I became Foreign Minister about five years ago, I wanted to ensure that our foreign aid budget was targeted to alleviating poverty, and driving sustainable economic and social development. I focussed on our region, the Indo-Pacific, where I believed Australia could make the biggest difference, but I also wanted to ensure that we targeted support for women and girls.

The empowerment of women and girls is at the heart of the Australian aid budget, for I firmly believe that no nation can reach its potential unless it harnesses the skills, the talents, the energy of the 50 per cent of the population that is female.

Our region, the Indo-Pacific, is prone to natural disasters. Whether it be cyclones, or tsunamis, or earthquakes, the impact can be absolutely devastating.

It is a fact that this kind of crisis, these natural disasters impact on women and girls more than men and boys.

That has to do with a lot of reasons - not the least being women and girls are more likely to be living in poverty, and less likely to have opportunities that can break that cycle of disadvantage, and they are less likely to be able to climb out of the crisis situation that they find themselves in.

We want to ensure that what we do in response to natural disasters, and the humanitarian support that is required, is to focus on women and girls in the longer-term, not just the immediate humanitarian relief.

Let me give you an example, and this is just one of millions - there is a girl called Ambika Rai, and she lived in a village in Nepal that was destroyed, devastated by the earthquakes in Nepal about three years ago.

Not only was the village destroyed, but her local school where she had been attending as a student. This was a terrible outcome because the schools tend to be the last to be reconstructed in a crisis situation involving natural disaster. She had wanted to be a student to graduate, and to go on and find work.

The Australian Government together with Plan International made education, and the restoration of education a priority given all of the issues that Nepal had to face.

We knew they needed support and so Australia and Plan International constructed a temporary school so that Ambika and her fellow students could go back to school immediately. We will be building a permanent school on the same design as a 169 other schools that Australia has built in Nepal before this earthquake, and each one of those 169 survived the earthquake, so the design of the school, the quality of the infrastructure is also an important lesson for us. At last reports Ambika is back at school, loving it, studying maths, she wants to be an engineer - that is a great story.

The scale of crisis and emergencies around the world is now such that no one country can deal with the impact alone. It is going to require an effort across governments, the non-government sector, civil society, the private sector, all working together to ensure that women and girls are a priority when we respond, as we must, to crisis and humanitarian needs.

A couple of instances. Recently, I was in Vanuatu with His Royal Highness Prince Charles, and I mention this because we work very closely with the United Kingdom in a whole range of areas, and it just came home to me accompanying Prince Charles to Vanuatu how closely aligned Australia and the United Kingdom are in our focus on humanitarian outcomes. We visited the Port Villa central hospital that had been devastated because of Cyclone Pam some three years ago, and Australia was helping to rebuild the hospital, but one of the priorities after the immediate needs of food, and shelter, and clean water, and health services, is education, and we can't allow that to be less of a priority. Amongst the support that we provided to Vanuatu was the reconstruction of schools, of classrooms.

Likewise, I was in PNG about a week before that, and Papua New Guinea has suffered a massive earthquake, 7.5 magnitude earthquake that has devastated villages, and regions in the Highlands of PNG in some of the most inaccessible locations. We believe about 150 people have died but it could be many more. It is just so inaccessible to try and find out the actual number. Again, one of our priorities after the immediate humanitarian support of food, shelter, water, and the like, was to focus on getting the children back to school as soon as we could.

Australia is committed to education in crisis situations around the world. Whether it is in Syria, and we are providing support to refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan to ensure that the children can continue to go to school even though they are in devastating circumstances, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Myanmar, Bangladesh with the Rohinga. Australia will continue to support, providing education particularly for women and girls. They are the most vulnerable. They have the most to lose. They are the ones who unless their educational opportunity is restored are likely to be disadvantaged for life.

I am delighted to be at this event. I really do hope that this message is heard loud and clear. I thank the co-hosts for convening this event to put it on the Commonwealth Heads of Government agenda.

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