Chief of Army address to the G(irls)20 Summit
I am honoured to be with you for this important gathering of singularly accomplished women.
Having me stand up and talk to you may seem discordant to many of you sitting here today. After all, I am no anthropologist. I have no sociological qualifications. Indeed, as an Anglo-Saxon, heterosexual male, raised in a liberal, middle class family, I have never been the victim of discrimination.
Nonetheless, I have been involved, as the leader of one of Australia’s great national institutions, in trying to come to grips with what constitutes our Army culture, how it sustains us in the most dire of circumstances, and yet how, in the hands of some, it can be used as a tool of exclusion.
I was not comforted by the cliché that ‘a few bad apples’ were undermining the work of the vast majority. It was apparent that there were, and are, systemic problems with Australia’s army culture that just could not be ignored. I decided they must be faced head on in order for any improvement to take place.
And so, when most of my fellow citizens think of their Army, it is increasingly focussed around issues of culture and behaviour. I find it somewhat surreal that for all my 36 plus years in the Army, it is a three minute you-tube video, encapsulating a message to my workforce about the treatment of women that will be most remembered.
From this background, I am deeply humbled and thankful to you for giving me an opportunity to help frame the discussion on the challenges to and ways we can empower women.
Empowering women is important for many reasons; one of those is that women bear a disproportionate burden of the world’s troubles. Statistics indicate that women are more likely than men to be poor; at risk of hunger; and systematically discriminated against in their education, health care and employment options.
Which is why, when our world came together twenty years ago in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women, there was so much cause for hope. There, 189 governments adopted a visionary roadmap for gender equality: the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Here, delegates imagined a world where women had equal rights, freedoms and opportunities in every sphere of life.
Through my work in the last twenty years I have seen progress towards the Beijing goal. East Timor has emerged as a nation, and that has allowed for the training and education of women in remote villages in health, nutrition and food processing; I have seen the women in Bougainville and the Solomon Islands put themselves in danger to stop men fighting and become successful promoters of peace and reconciliation in the process; I have seen women access education for the first time in their lives in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan.
More and more, women are using their education to participate increasingly in the labour force, diversifying their time beyond housework and childcare to shape their communities, economies and societies. In PNG, Melanesian Women PNG Incorporated Group are working toward economic empowerment; in India non-governmental programs such as AWARE [Action for welfare and awakening in Rural Environment] have enabled an explosion of information exchange regarding loans so the women can create their own employment. Targeted World Bank programs have meant that in countries such as Uganda, people like Julia Omalia have been able to access finance for the first time. Julia now has a successful food and beverage company employing hundreds of people.
But despite these steps, I do not believe any country can yet lay claim to having achieved equality between men and women.
Even here in this wonderful country, where I feel privileged to have grown up and call home, this inequality manifests itself every day. In pay inequality; in unequal opportunities at work; in the stubbornly low representation of women leaders.
Perhaps even more demoralising is that in May this year the UN Under-Secretary General stated that if the Beijing negotiations occurred today, they would likely result in a much weaker agreement.
The world will never reach 100 per cent of its potential if 50 per cent of its people are excluded. Those countries that are further advanced in empowering women find they are more peaceful and more prosperous. In countries where women’s rights are denied, peace and prosperity are elusive. Empowering women is not only a goal in itself. It is a condition for building better lives for everyone on the planet.
From this perspective men have been silent too long.
Changing the fate of women will require all of us – women and men, governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector – to work towards achieving enduring change in our values and attitudes towards women. As a Male Champion of Change, I imagine a future world where women have the same opportunities to shape their lives and make decisions as men.
I want to see a world where women and girls have the confidence to say ‘yes’ and - sometimes more far more importantly - to say ‘no’. You, and they, deserve to have this basic choice at your disposal. You are as entitled to this choice in determining and controlling the direction of your lives as much as any other human on the planet.
Coming from an institution that has historically limited the choices that women have been able to make regarding their career, I am probably more aware than most of the challenges inherent in changing cultural bias. I am therefore heartened to see more and more innovative approaches taken by the private sector to overcome the challenges and achieve gender equality in the workplace. But I do not think it is purely altruistic, these companies know it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do – it makes for a better bottom line.
These days we are fully aware of the crucial relationship between the status of women and successful economic development. Greater gender equality means better economic productivity; improved development outcomes and a more satisfied workforce.
Protecting and advancing the rights of women is critical to solving virtually every challenge we face as individual nations and as a community of nations. A billion women will enter the world economy in the next decade. With equal opportunities, their impact on our future prosperity will be a global game-changer.
In a nutshell women must be economically empowered so they can move the world forward.
It is a double dividend.
However, economic assistance alone cannot ameliorate women’s suffering from poverty, powerlessness and vulnerability. To level the playing field, we need to turn women into positive agents of change.
Having summits like this one, that draw on the expertise and experience of women leaders such as all of you in a fantastic start. You all have so much to contribute, with your resources, your vision and your wisdom, you are wonderfully placed to agitate for change in forums that matter.