Co-hosted by Australia and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
Theme: Voices from the Pacific – highlighting the powerful role of women’s action and leadership in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and resilience building.
Thank you very much, Branwen, and good morning to all from Sydney and to those of you who are around the globe, good day to you wherever you are.
I want to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which I am speaking to you this morning, the Dharug people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to elders’ past, present and emerging.
This 66th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women has focused the world’s attention on the importance of achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programs.
During the period that I have had the honour to serve as Australia’s Minister for Defence, Australia’s Foreign Minister and Australia’s Minister for Women I have seen a range of challenging environments face the women of the world and nowhere more severely than the women of our region here in the Pacific.
COVID-19 pandemic, disasters and conflict challenge they really also challenge the hard-fought gains in gender equality and in women’s empowerment across the globe.
Now Australians and the Pacific are very familiar with the challenges of natural disasters. For better or for worse. Here, just in the last weeks, in my own state of New South Wales, we have experienced some of the worst extreme floods known in our contemporary history along the east coast. We know that we have dealt with many cyclones, the challenges of bushfires, and of course the cyclone challenge extends much further right across the Pacific.
We know that more than four in five people effected by natural hazards in the world live in our region. And in the Pacific we also know that economic damage from disasters costs 7 per cent of GDP – and that’s an assessment made prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disasters and climate change exacerbate existing inequalities.
For example, studies also show that women and children are 14 times more likely to be killed during a disaster than men.
And there is a significant increase in the incidence of sexual and gender based violence and other harmful practices in crisis situations.
And that is why having more women in these key leadership roles, as Branwen has referred to, is so important. We need women in roles where they are able to drive inclusive prevention, preparedness, response, recovery and reconstruction efforts.
We know these efforts are more effective when the people making decisions and taking action are representative of all parts of the community.
I have literally seen this in action, in the region, particularly in response to events like tropical Cyclone Winston in Fiji, now, at least several years ago. But a challenge where I saw ADF, Australian Defence Force, gender advisors engaged with women in villages who completely reoriented the approach of engineers and logisticians to a particular response by articulating their priorities and their approach to ensure that their community had the right response. It’s immensely powerful to see it in action.
I am pleased that Australia is supporting women and girls to lead efforts to addressing climate change and disaster risk reduction in Australia and across our region.
Domestically, we are providing training to our Red Cross workers, to emergency services volunteers, to health workers, to better help women and girls who are experiencing domestic violence during these challenging times, both the disaster itself and the recovery period.
In the Pacific we are empowering women in Fiji, Kiribati and in Vanuatu through our new Women’s Resilience to Disasters program to lead on prevention, preparedness and recovery.
And since 2016, Australia has supported Pacific women to participate in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) through the Pacific Women Climate Change Negotiators initiative.
And we are also funding and supporting the Women’s International Network on Disaster Risk Reduction, which we do in partnership with UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, as Branwen knows.
More broadly, we have also doubled our commitment to climate finance for developing countries in the Indo-Pacific to $2 billion over the period 2020-25, to support those vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in our region.
And we are contributing, we estimate $1.3 billion for gender equality support across the Australian development assistance program.
So, thank you for coming together today from across the Pacific and beyond to discuss women’s leadership in tackling climate change and disasters.
It is critical that we continue to share our experiences in addressing climate change and increasing our resilience to disasters, in forums like this one today.
And I say that with the greatest of seriousness. Because I know that it saves lives.
So our conversations must also aim to include diverse groups of women, women from rural and remote areas, women with disabilities and indigenous women, across the whole span of our communities.
And I really want to thank the presenters and speakers for contributing your valuable insights to the event today and of course to Branwen for facilitating this very important discussion.
I’m at the beginning of my day here, and I have a range of commitments which prevent me from spending the entire period of the session with you, and I apologise deeply for that. I am passionate about these issues and very committed to making sure that Australia continues to play a strong role. I’m thrilled that Ambassador Christine Clark is able to stay with you for the session and I wish you all the very very best and thank you very much Christine for doing that. Thank you Branwen.