Happy International Women’s Day from Natasha Stott Despoja, Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls

On 8 March, the world celebrates its women and their achievements over many decades. We also reflect on the many areas where our efforts are still required to advance women’s empowerment.

I began a new year of gender equality advocacy with a visit to Papua New Guinea in February. I travelled through the Autonomous Region of Bougainville with four local women parliamentarians, or “Pawa Meris” – Power Women – as female leaders are known in the Pidgin language.

These Pawa Meris joined Bougainville’s Government in last year’s elections. It was a milestone achievement for a society recovering from a decade of civil war. Women played a key role in bringing about an end to the Bougainville conflict and they have been instrumental in building peace and progress ever since. Read more

The story of Bougainville’s Pawa Meris is a familiar one. Wherever we look around the globe, women are overcoming long-standing discrimination and age old challenges to participate equally in government, the economy and community life.

In Afghanistan, the national women’s cycling team has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, recognising the team’s work to promote social justice and an end to violence.

In Zimbabwe, advocacy by two young women saw child marriage banned in January this year.

And the Marshall Islands parliament has recently elected Dr Hilda Heine as its President, the first female leader of any independent Pacific island nation.

I am encouraged by these developments. However, huge challenges remain for women in all countries, including Australia. Violence against women, barriers to equal economic participation and low levels of women’s participation in public life are a stark reminder of the importance of our ongoing work.

In 2015, the world recommitted to women’s empowerment through the Sustainable Development Goals. This year – in forums like the upcoming UN Commission on the Status of Women – we will cement women’s empowerment at the heart of the sustainable development agenda through to 2030. “Planet 50:50 by 2030” is the catch cry.

With my friends in Bougainville in mind, I’ll continue to be an active Pawa Meri. I hope you will join me.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Photo: Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja, with Bougainville’s four women MPs: Hon Marcelline Kokiai, Hon Isabel Peta, Deputy Speaker Francesa Semoso and Minister for Community Development Josephine Getsi.