Breaking down barriers
(The Philippine Star) - March 7, 2016 - 9:00am

Since arriving in the Philippines some two months ago I have met some inspiring women in many different walks of life. This includes prominent women in government and business, barangay leaders working to improve the livelihoods and resilience of their communities and mothers rebuilding the lives of their families in Tacloban.

International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the achievements of these women. It is also a time to reflect on what more we can do to address persistent barriers to the realisation of full gender equality and women’s empowerment. We still have a long way to go and at times I find the pace of progress can be frustrating.

Breaking down these barriers to women’s advancement will yield strong results. A joint study by the International Labour Organization and Asian Development Bank estimates that up to USD47 billion is lost annually in the Asia-Pacific region due to women’s limited access to employment opportunities. So it makes economic sense to support women to reach their full potential.

The Australian Government recently launched a Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Strategy which emphasizes that empowering women and girls is critical to supporting economic growth, poverty reduction, development and security, particularly in the Asia Pacific region. 

The Strategy, the first of its kind for Australia, will drive progress in three key areas: ending violence against women and girls; women’s economic empowerment; and women’s participation in leadership and peacebuilding. The Government has set an ambitious target that 80 percent of our development assistance must effectively promote gender equality.

I am very pleased that Australia is well on track to meet this target in the Philippines. Australia’s support for education reform in the Philippines has provided scholarships and training to female teachers. We have ensured that the hundreds of classrooms and daycare centres we have constructed have separate female toilets, an important factor in reducing absenteeism. We are working with the UN to reduce maternal and newborn deaths, and increase family planning in Mindanao and Quezon City. We are supporting women’s involvement in the peace process in Mindanao. We provide dignity kits to women who have been affected by natural disasters.

I am delighted on International Women’s Day to open a trade fair in partnership with SM Cares featuring the work of Filipina entrepreneurs whose businesses have been supported through grants from the Australian Embassy’s Direct Aid Program. Our Direct Aid Program provides small grants to disadvantaged and marginalized groups and many women’s groups and businesses have benefitted over the years.

I encourage you to visit SM Aura to see for yourselves the intricate and skillful work of these women. Australia’s assistance has helped these women improve the quality of their goods, allowing them to grow their businesses and reach new markets. This has increased their household incomes so that they can better provide education and food to children.

One of the most rewarding experiences I have had since taking up my role was opening a daycare centre funded by Australia in a small community in Leyte. I know from personal experience that safe, affordable and happy childcare is fundamental to the empowerment of women. To see the excited, enthusiastic faces of the children as they moved into their new class room for the first time was unforgettable.

I look forward to many more such experiences as Australia and the Philippines work together to improve the lives of women and girls so that they can fulfil their amazing potential.

(Amanda Gorely is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. Follow her on Twitter @AusAmbPH)

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