Bali Democracy Forum
I’m very pleased to be back in Bali and I particularly want to thank my friend and colleague Retno for her excellent job in bringing together the forum itself, but also this panel. It is my great honour to share the panel with such amazing women leaders, and I’m truly honoured to have the chance to participate today.
I think the forum itself is a really important contribution by Indonesia, because it gives us the opportunity to talk about how we can promote peace, advance democratic values, and protect democratic values. Indonesia itself has a great deal to be proud of. The world’s largest elections held on a single day were here in Indonesia on 17 April this year. Holding ballots across this vast archipelago, with such a large population, is indeed a significant undertaking and a significant result. And it is important to informing today our discussion of democracy. But of course, other nations in the Indo-Pacific region also held elections this year, including my own country — and some people might not have thought I’d be back at the Bali Democracy Forum this year and yet here we are.
And of course, democracies are about more than just the holding of elections, notwithstanding their importance, even if many of the values that underpin democracy are universal — such as strong institutions, the separation of powers, the rule of law, as well as the right of each adult to vote. Our systems will inevitably evolve to reflect the characters of our own countries. As Retno said in her opening remarks this morning, not one size fits all.
But one indispensable benchmark, surely, is that women of our nations, one half of our populations, have an equal opportunity to participate in the decisions that determine the future of their nations. Fundamentally, of course democracy is marked by a sense that Government is accountable to its citizens. Each of us finds our own path, and dare I suggest that none of our democracies is quite perfect — none of them. But we can improve. We improve by striving to ensure that each of our citizens’ voices — irrespective of their race, their religion, or their gender — is given a hearing.
Democracies actually require constant work and attention to keep them healthy and vibrant. And today’s discussion provides us with an opportunity to consider whether there is more that we can do to remove barriers to full and equal participation by women, thereby ensuring that our governments are fully and accurately reflecting as far as possible the views and aspirations of all our people.
We know that from the discussions, even so far, from our colleagues in Indonesia and Namibia, that the contribution of women to our world, paid and unpaid, volunteered, family, military, workforce, so many different aspects, is enormous. But we also know that women’s potential is still in so many places being held back. It is vital to address this. It is a real challenge for all of us. As gender inequality persists around the world, it continues to undermine economic growth, human development, and poverty reduction. Societies that include women in all aspects of economic, political and cultural life, are indeed more likely to be vibrant, inclusive, productive, and stable.
Enabling women’s full and meaningful participation is fundamental to preventing conflict and achieving global peace and stability. And there have been some very important references to supporting to UN Security Council Resolution 1325. And Minister Nandi-Ndaitwah, I want to acknowledge your leadership in relation to development, the generation, and the ultimate achievement of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. You have truly changed the course of history in terms of the appreciation of women, peace, and security. That means you have changed the lives of women and communities and you have saved lives.
I’m a former defence minister in Australia. I’m very committed to UN Security Council Resolution 1325, and I particularly want to acknowledge — as Retno also said — Afghanistan. I remember being in Afghanistan, in Kabul, just a couple of years ago as Australia’s defence minister, and in a meeting with President Ashraf Ghani. And I know that President Ghani and his wife Rula Ghani are very committed to the representation of women in the Afghan National Defence Security Forces. He said to me: it’s very simple if you’re the president of the country, like Afghanistan. If you don’t have women in your defence forces, then there are countless places that because of cultural reasons, defence forces can’t go, unless there are women who are able to enter houses when men aren’t able to go — unless there are women who are able to enter places where other women are alone.
And it’s a really powerful, functional logical, compelling reason, but most importantly, it makes a difference. Women, peace, and security makes a difference. Retno’s absolutely right. When women are included in the peace process, the statistical assessment is that there is a 35 per cent greater chance that a peace agreement will last at least 15 years. So providing a safe and secure environment for women is paramount. As violence is not only a gross violator of human rights, but it undermines the country’s social fabric, and it prevents women from achieving social and economic equality. It has a profound and devastating impact on victims, on families, on societies, and frankly, it costs economies billions of dollars.
Enhancing women’s representation in positions of leadership and influence is fundamental to achieving gender equality. Evidence also suggests that when women are elected into leadership roles, confidence in democracy increases. Countries experienced higher standards of living, and societies become better at protecting all their members. We know that attacks on women's rights and gender equality are also attacks on good governance and democracy, undermining resilience against conflict and extremism.
I'm immensely proud that in Australia, I’m a member of the parliamentary chamber, the Senate, the Commonwealth of Australia, which has gender equality. 50 per cent men, 50 per cent women. That only occurred this year, only in the last few months. But if you are a girl student who visits the Australian Parliament and you are looking at my parliamentary chamber, that's what you see. Parity. Gender equality. 50 per cent women.
We’re also determined in Australia that our foreign policy reflects our values at home. And equality, including gender equality, is a cornerstone of those values. And for me, that involves bringing together my two roles in the Australian Government, because as well as being Australia's Foreign Minister, I am also Australia's Minister for Women. And these two roles gives me an absolutely unique opportunity to find common ground between foreign policy and the empowerment of women. I try to ensure that all of our foreign policy discussions, decision, are put through a filter of asking: what do they mean for women around the world? I have no doubt gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls, is critical to global security and prosperity, and frankly, in Australia's national interests.
We've got to a way to go. Gender equality remains elusive. It's only by working together — as women and men, as public and private sectors, as communities, as countries, across regions, across the globe — that we can create an inclusive world where women are safe and equal and empowered.
We are committed to the SDGs because they reflect our values and our ambitions. Gender equality goal, goal 5, is important to highlight. For Australia, it’s a priority that women are given equal opportunities to reach leadership positions at all levels of decision-making. And the Australian Public Service Commission has a gender equality strategy to help address gender imbalances in our public service, in our bureaucracy. And today, almost at the most senior levels of the Australian public service, almost half of all departmental secretary positions are held by women. Six out of 14, including my own department, Foreign Affairs and Trade. And we're working to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, including trafficking, forced marriage, underage marriage, sexual exploitation and other types of exploitation.
Peaceful and inclusive societies, goal 16, is also important, because that goal lies at the heart of our Australian values, and our commitment to political, economic, and religious freedoms, to liberal democracy, to the rule of law and good governance. Australia has a long record of contributing to the development and strengthening of the rules-based global order. So, Retno, ladies and gentlemen, to my panel colleagues here, thank you once again for the opportunity to participate on this panel. Women in leadership, fostering inclusion, the state of democracy — they remain priorities for all of us, and they must. Gender equality is a fundamental human right. And respecting fundamental human rights makes the world a safer and more secure place. And I look forward to taking part in the discussion at the end of the presentations. Thank you very much.