Australian Embassy
The Philippines


Australian Ambassador Rod Smith
“Political Power and Women - Women’s Vision, Women’s Values”
Mindanao Commission on Women General Assembly - Kamindanawan 2008
9:30 to 11:00 am, 25 June 2008, Waterfront Insular Hotel, Davao City

Ms Karina Constantino David, former Chair of the Philippine Civil Service Commission; Ms Irene Santiago, Officers, Members and Staff of the Mindanao Commission on Women; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen – Good Morning.

I would like to thank the Mindanao Commission on Women for inviting me today. It is a striking achievement that the Commission has become a leading voice in advocating and addressing the issues of concern to women in Mindanao since it was established only in 2001, and the Australian Government has been a close partner for the past six of those years.

Australia - as a close friend and neighbour of the Philippines and as a country deeply committed to democracy and social inclusion - is pleased to be able to support the Commission in the valuable work it does in support of the rights of women and the role of women in peace, development and good governance. In both our countries, women are rightly recognised for the significant contributions they make in all walks of life and to every aspect of development, including social development, political development, economic development and cultural development.

Australia and the Philippines: Advancing women’s rights, empowerment, equality

Today more Australian and Filipino women enjoy higher educational achievement. There are more women in the workforce and in positions of leadership, authority and responsibility. In some ways the Philippines performs much better than we do in Australia. While both our countries were ranked highly in the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Gender Gap Index’ last year, the Philippines took sixth place while Australia was ranked in the 17th spot. The Philippines has maintained its sixth place ranking out of 128 countries, and was the only developing country in the top ten. This is a record of which the Philippines can be justly proud – though it should never be an excuse for complacency.

Australia and the Philippines have both ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Women in both our countries participate fully in elections and other democratic forms of expression.

The Philippines has had two female Presidents, and there are many more examples where Filipino women and let me say also, women from Mindanao have made contributions to national leadership. Australia has yet to have a female Head of Government, but we have a female Deputy Prime Minister (Julia Gillard) and a record number of women in Cabinet. In September we will have our first female Head of State when Governor Quentin Bryce assumes her recently announced appointment as Governor-General.

Of course these achievements have come at too slow a pace. But we should not downplay or forget the crucial role that women have played over many years of commitment and hard work – often behind the scenes and unrecognised – to bring about change.

And these achievements would not have been possible without women advocates, women legislators, women in government and women in leadership positions in the community. Filipino women continue their vigilance today by ensuring that legislation reflects gender equity, by exploring areas where women remain disadvantaged and by lobbying hard for change.

At least one such group, the Caucus of Mindanao Women Political Leaders, has links to Australia’s ‘EMILY’s List’ – a group of women candidates and campaigners which has supported the election of about 100 women to Parliaments around Australia. International linkages like these can only help improve the representation of women in local government units, in provincial assemblies and in Congress.

Another Mindanao is Possible!

Over the years since 2002, Australia’s partnership with the Mindanao Commission on Women has supported gender equality and the participation of women in peace-building and conflict-prevention through the empowerment and promotion of the role of Christian, Muslim and indigenous women in Mindanao in peace-building.

In March this year, the Australian Government, through the Australian Agency for International Development, and the Commission launched a new four-year project called Another Mindanao is Possible!. Supported by a 72 million Peso grant from AusAID, the project aims to increase women’s opportunities to empower themselves, in part by advocating for inclusion of gender issues in the peace negotiations between the Philippines Government and the MILF; promoting a culture of peace and inclusiveness; and improving women’s access to the political sphere where decisions about resource allocations are made.

Australia is pleased to be able to contribute, through this project, the Commission’s efforts to promote increased political participation by women.

Today’s conference is an important part of that process, providing a platform for advocating change, discussing strategies for the empowerment of women and promoting values of equality, inclusion, integrity and good governance in the political process.

On that note, I wish you all very positive and successful discussions over the