Today on International Women’s Day we celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women in Pakistan, Australia and globally.

Australia will mark International Women’s Day by celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action whereby 20 years ago, at the Fourth World Conference on Women, 189 nations including Pakistan and Australia promised to remove all obstacles to gender equality and the empowerment of women. This visionary roadmap for advancing women’s rights and equality between women and men has been translated into concrete changes and remains a powerful source of guidance and inspiration for work still to be achieved.

Gender equality is central to economic and human development and to supporting women’s rights. Equal opportunity for women and men supports economic growth and helps to reduce poverty. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are priorities for the Australian Government, in Australia, in Pakistan and internationally.

Australia is supporting and partnering Pakistan to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment including through programmes focused on increasing women’s voice in decision-making, leadership and peace-building; women’s economic empowerment; and ending violence against women and girls.

Specifically, Australia is helping Pakistan to facilitate women’s economic empowerment by investing in key health, education and agricultural development programmes in Pakistan to address genuine need and to stimulate economic growth and employment opportunities. For example, Australian aid investments in agriculture enabled approximately 8,000 women farmers to access new agricultural technologies and management practices in 2013-14. In addition, 1,100 women’s small businesses were established or restored their operations.

Australia’s AUD10 million aid investment in a livelihood strengthening programme in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has assisted women to gain skills and opportunities for earning, and enabled women to access microfinance through community investment funds. Such participation in the formal economy improves women’s status in the household and community, enabling a more balanced representation of women in key policy, legislation and other decision-making roles.

Australia believes that women’s empowerment is also an effective method for achieving lasting peace and security. Australia’s AUD31.28 million funding through the World Bank’s Multi Donor Trust Fund for the Border Areas designed to support a ten year peace-building strategy in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Balochistan, has helped build citizen state trust through education, health and livelihoods programs.

Australian support has improved access to education and resulted in the retention of approximately 60,000 children in schools with a special emphasis on girls, and also supported small and medium enterprises owned and managed by women. Australia also provided AUD6 million to the World Food Programme over the last year which has helped deliver emergency food relief and life-saving nutritional support to internally displaced people in Pakistan, including more than 69,000 families displaced from North Waziristan, almost three quarters of whom are women and children.

Australia congratulates the Pakistan Government on its Vision 2025 commitments to empower women and to improve nutrition. Australia has partnered with the World Bank to establish a AUD41 million Multi-Donor Trust Fund to support nutritional needs of mothers and children across Pakistan. This investment will provide life-saving and empowering nutritional support to women and children, and in turn increase life opportunities.

Australia has zero tolerance for violence against women and girls. In Pakistan, Australia is implementing in partnership with Troicare a AUD7.5 million programme towards the elimination of violence against women. The programme provides support services for women and their children, as well as innovative approaches to engaging with men, women, and religious and community leaders to challenge attitudes and behaviours that tolerate violence against women. Ending violence against women and girls is crucial to ensuring women’s full participation in their communities and enabling economies to maximise growth.

Australia remains committed to working with Pakistan on empowering women and girls and promoting gender equality. Today Australian High Commission staff will join others in the Islamabad community to celebrate International Women’s Day by walking, running or cycling to raise money for charity. I encourage government, business and community leaders across Pakistan to continue efforts to increase awareness of and implement practices which empower women and girls and promote gender equality. The participation of women and girls is crucial to the economic and social development of all countries.