By the Hon Dr Sharman Stone, Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls
As I travel through the Indo-Pacific, I regularly have the privilege of meeting with young women. Young women who are articulate, clever and thoughtful. Girls who see the opportunity and potential for the future, a future they can make a positive impact on for the better.
The key to girls reaching their full potential is education and skills development. Education affords girls choices – the choice to marry, the choice to have children and when, as well as the choice to participate in the formal labour market and earn higher incomes. All these choices positively impact their future, their families, and their communities.
Girls must be at the centre of our efforts to build skills for the 21st Century. I continue to be amazed at the resilience and capabilities of young girls, who take on multiple roles from caring for their family, engaging in household chores and part-time work, in addition to going to school. Still, the World Bank estimates that 130 million girls of six to 17 years of age are out of school, and 15 million girls will never step inside a classroom.
Without education and training, many girls are forced into informal work where pay is low, and abuse and exploitation common. The International Labour Organisation reports there are an estimated 64 million girls in child labour. This is unacceptable.
Last month I visited an Australian-funded public girls school in Peshawar. I was inspired to meet young, intelligent girls with dreams to join all sectors of the workforce, including politics, to become the next generation of Pakistani leaders.
And earlier this year I visited a garment factory in Phnom Penh that partners with an Australian aid program. I met with female factory workers and heard first hand of the efforts to educate and train women and girls to speak out about their rights, to make informed choices, and to negotiate with employers to make their daily work lives better.
Girls must be given equal opportunities as boys to an education and skills development. This includes encouraging girls to study science and technology. As we look to the future, we need to be mindful of the impact of technology and the shift from physical labour to automation, which poses a risk to industries, including jobs held by many of the female employees I met in Cambodia.
The International Day of the Girl Child 2018 respectfully draws attention for the need to support today’s generation of girls as they enter the world of work, both in terms of education and skills, and the human right to protection from discrimination and violence.
Girls, Australia celebrates your power, your potential and your rights.
Australia stands with you as you take your place as the leaders, responders and innovators of the future.