Minister for Defence – Opening address - Defence Women in Peace and Security Conference

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Senator the Hon David Johnston

Minister for Defence

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16 June 2014

Thank you for inviting me to open the 2014 Defence Women in Peace and Security Conference.

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you here today. I acknowledge CDF General David Hurley, VCDF AIRMSHL Mark Binskin, and my colleague Senator the Honourable Michealia Cash, Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women.

I would like to welcome our Defence personnel, overseas guests, members of other Government agencies and departments, and members of the public.

I am particularly pleased to be able to speak at this important event given my strong personal interest in this topic, it is an issue that is close to my heart, and in particular:

  • raising the profile of women in the Defence,
  • increasing the recruitment rate of women who join the ADF,
  • and, perhaps most importantly, for the personnel themselves as well as the organisation as a whole, improving the retention rates of women serving our nation in the ADF.

It is a testament to our shared commitment on this issue that we all gather here today from different walks of life.

The theme of this year’s conference centres around implementation of landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

Adopted in 2000, Resolution 1325 has been translated into more than 100 languages, demonstrating its considerable global reach.

The Resolution reaffirms the role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace building, peacekeeping and humanitarian response.

It stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

It calls on all parties of conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender–based violence.

This issue is one that I, the Australian Government and Defence take very seriously.

Over the next two days you will hear from some of the world’s pre-eminent experts on this topic. Speakers include the Chief and Vice Chief of the Defence Force, the Executive Director of UN Women Australia and international guests from the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan.

They will present on Australia’s commitment to the obligations of Resolution 1325, Defence’s perspective on Australia’s National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security, the United Nations Women, Peace and Security Agenda and share their experiences through case studies on the implementation and integration of 1325 in overseas operations in conflict settings.

Conference milestones

This conference marks an important milestone in Australia’s Women, Peace and Security Agenda.

It coincides with the 2014 Progress Report of Australia’s National Action Plan, which was recently tabled in Parliament.

Importantly, this conference will also launch the Women, Peace and Security Training Manual.

An initiative of the Australian Civil Military Centre and the UN Women Australia National Committee, this manual promotes the important role that women play in all aspects of peace and security.

For Defence, this manual will be an extremely useful training tool and will generate awareness amongst our personnel regarding the importance of a gender perspective, particularly in operations.

Today I would like to briefly address Australia’s contributions to the United Nations Security Council regarding this agenda and Defence’s continuing commitment to Women, Peace and Security.

Overview of pillars

Former United Nations Force Commander in the Congo, Major General Patrick Cammaert said “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.”

Many of you may have heard this before; it is a profound statement one cannot ignore.

While not often engaged in combat, women and girls are disproportionately affected by conflict and make up the majority of refugees and internally displaced people.

To address this, the UN has identified five areas in its implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

They are Prevention. Women play a powerful role in preventing violence. Incorporating a gender perspective into conflict prevention activities and strategies recognises the role of women in preventing conflict.

Participation - Recognising the important role women already play in all aspects of peace and security, and ways of further strengthening that role.

For example, since 1990 only 16 per cent of peace agreements have made explicit references to women.

Further, women represent less than three percent of signatories to recent peace agreements and less than eight percent of peace process participants.

Protection - This entails protecting the human rights of women and girls by working with international partners to ensure safety, physical and mental wellbeing, economic security and equality, with special consideration for protecting women and girls from gender-based violence.

Worldwide it is estimated that girls account for between 10 to 30 percent of children in fighting forces.

Of the estimated 60 million people currently displaced, approximately 75 percent of them are women and children.

These are figures we would like to see decrease.

Relief and recovery - Ensuring a gender perspective is incorporated in all relief and recovery efforts.

For example, deployed ADF personnel are supporting Afghan women and girls in recovery efforts through the construction of a girl’s school in Malalai and the development of a female health clinic.

And finally the need to better standardise policy in order to progress the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

To ensure this, all ADF personnel undergo cultural training as part of their force preparation and gender training for UN missions.

Today’s launch of the training manual will go a long way to ensure our personnel are best prepared for future operations.

Australia’s membership on the United Nations Security Council

Australia is promoting an understanding of the Women, Peace and Security agenda through its seat on the United Nations Security Council and its role on the UN Women Board, the UN’s organisation dedicated to gender equity and the employment of women.

On November 6 2010, Australia was one of the first countries to pledge multi-year core funding for UN Women.

In 2012, Australia was the fourth largest contributor to UN Women.

Australia’s prioritisation of the Arms Trade Treaty during its recent presidency demonstrates our country’s continued commitment to reducing gender-based violence in conflict environments.

Australia will again take up presidency of the Council in November 2014 and the Women, Peace and Security agenda will be one of our key priorities.

Operational effectiveness of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 The Australian Defence Force is working to ensure a gender perspective is incorporated into all levels of operational planning and conduct.

To aid this, the ADF is committed to increasing the number of women deployed to fragile, conflict and post-conflict situations.

In Afghanistan female ADF personnel have been deployed as Gender Advisers to operational commands.

In addition, Female Engagement Teams have been deployed to meet with local women and discuss their needs.

Initiatives of ISAF, these teams were deployed in Uruzgan to bridge the cultural gap in a society where male security forces are not able to engage with Afghan women.

For our engagement teams that means spending time with ordinary Afghan women to better appreciate the often grim reality of their daily lives.

Meanwhile Defence is fully committed to playing a leading role in the implementation of the Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security by ensuring greater female participation in all services.

In September 2011, the Australian Government formally agreed to the removal of gender restrictions from ADF combat roles.

Australian women have been serving in the armed forces for more than 100 years, are selected for command positions and promoted on merit.

But currently women make up 7.9 percent of Colonel equivalent and above ranks and account for only 13.9 per cent of ADF personnel.

18.9 per cent in Navy, 11.7 percent in Army and 16.9 percent in Air Force.

In her watershed report titled “Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence force” Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick acknowledged there was a commonly held view that unless a woman has combat service under her belt, she would not make it to senior levels or to a service chief, or ultimately, to the Chief of the Defence Force.

Defence has a comprehensive plan for improving these figures and I am pleased to say it is starting to work.

Since January 2014, all employment categories, including Special Forces, have been opened up to currently serving women. Direct entry will be permitted to all categories from January 2016.

These previously restricted roles include Clearance Divers in the Navy, Airfield Defence Guards in the Air Force and Infantry and Armoured Corps roles in the Army.

As a member of the Australian Parliament with a decade-long interest in Defence, I have met hundreds, probably thousands, of Defence personnel serving at home and on operation overseas.

I have met some exceptional women who already have served on ships and submarines in combat roles on active duty, women who can operate unmanned aerial vehicles, artillery, surface-to-air missiles and ground based air defence systems.

Although some of these women would not have been surprised when the inevitable public debate was had in 2011 surrounding the issue of women in combat roles - they would have nonetheless felt a bit invisible!

This Government has also re-introduced the Gap Year Program. This is essentially a ‘try before you buy’ 12 month placement for young people to get a taste of military training and life with only a one year commitment.

In the 2010-11 year, Gap Year transfers made up one third of all female recruits – 33 per cent – which was more than twice the amount of women as ab initio entrants at 15 per cent.

It was clear that the Gap Year Program was a significant development in addressing gender imbalance in recruitment; it was one of the reasons why this Government wanted to re-introduce it.

Recruitment is one challenge but keeping women in Defence, is indeed a bigger challenge. As acknowledged in the Broderick Review, female personnel leave Defence at an earlier age than their male colleagues and they mostly leave at an age when they are starting a family.

Broderick’s report found there was a widespread belief that women in the services must choose between a career in the ADF and a family. If you look at the statistics in the senior ranks this plays out – 88 per cent of men in the star ranks have children, compared to only 22 per cent of women.

That statistic is very telling. It is not one we should be content with. While the challenge of balancing work with family is not unique to Defence, and also not unique just to women in Defence may I add, there are some distinctive issues within Defence.

Defence personnel face postings, operational commitments and overseas deployments - this means that for women especially, the need to combine work with family disproportionally impacts on career progress and hinders leadership opportunities.

Defence and Government have both taken onboard the recommendations of the Broderick Review to meet this challenge – ranging from practical measures like child care, to parental leave, removing combat restrictions and better career management.


Since its inception, Security Council Resolution 1325 has acted as a catalyst to mobilise women around the world to achieve equal participation and ensure their voice is heard.

In closing, let me again emphasise Defence’s commitment to this agenda and working with our partners to achieve results.

Much has been done to achieve internal reform in Defence through Pathways to Change, and what has been achieved to date is significant, but there is still work to be done.

What is pleasing within the Australian Defence Force, and I can say it with absolute certainty, is that the senior leadership is committed and determined to change – it is not just lip service.

You only have to look to the Chief of Army Lt General David Morrison’s speech on You Tube following the so-called “Jedi Council” scandal to see just how determined they are. Recruitment rates of women in the Army actually rose after his speech went around the world, watched 1.5 million times, and why would we be surprised at that? David Morrison is an exceptional leader.

As Defence Minister I want to be able to say to the mums and dads of Australia that if their daughter wants to join the Australian Defence Force that they will be joining an organisation committed to a high standard of professionalism and decency. That Defence is an organisation which will bring out the absolute best in their kids, that the opportunity to proudly serve their nation in this capacity will be one of the best decisions they will ever make.

I hope you find the next two days stimulating and thought provoking and that what you learn from one another will create lasting change.

I thank you again for supporting the Women, Peace and Security agenda.

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