Sue Conde is the President of Unifem Australia. Sue has held various Executive Leadership positions at State and National levels of Girl Guides Australia serving as Deputy Chief Commissioner from 1998-2002. International experiences include attending the UN General Assembly Special Session on Women in New York in 2000 and as a member of the Australian Government delegations; she has attended the UN Special Session on Children in 2002 and the Commission on the Status of Women in 2006 and 2010.
She joined the UNIFEM Australia National Committee in 2002 and was elected Vice President in 2005. From 2003-2007 she was actively engaged as a member of the National Leadership Group in UNIFEM Australia’s launch of the new Australian initiative – the White Ribbon Campaign.
Building on her strong engagement in the women’s NGO sector over the past 10 years, Sue has previously represented UNIFEM Australia on the Australian Women’s Coalition (AWC). Sue served as President of the AWC for three years from 2003-2006.
In January 2005 Sue was appointed as a Member in the Order of Australia for service to the community through organisations and advisory bodies that promote the interests of women, to youth through the guiding movement and to the Uniting Church in Australia. She is also a member of the Council of Knox Grammar School.
Commentaries by Sue Conde:
18 August 2010
Gender without borders
As we near the judgment day of what has been a lively and competitive election campaign, surprisingly, the subject of gender and development has barely been mentioned. This is surprising given the landmark decision on July 2nd of the United Nations to establish a new United Nations entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment – known as UN Women. The establishment of this entity may not seem as monumental for some as it will for others, however, it remains a historic change in our international political landscape. As disappointing as it has been that neither major party has substantially addressed gender issues during the campaign, it is my hope that whoever leads Australia as our next Prime Minister will seek to engage with, learn from and financially contribute to the strength of UN Women. This is not only for purposes of strengthening the coherence of gender issues internationally, but also important given the work that Australia has left to achieve in establishing a National Action Plan for SCR 1325 and achieving compliance with the principles of CEDAW on home soil and within the Pacific region.
It is worth noting that this week the Labor Government released its National Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children. UNIFEM Australia welcomes the announcement of this long awaited government sponsored plan to address domestic violence and sexual assault in Australia. It is encouraging to see this progress on the domestic front. However, given the lack of attention to not only gender issues, but also development and UN Women throughout this election I remain sceptical about what the parties will bring forward to advance gender equality regionally and internationally.
Gender analysis and legislation is not about a one time program, one act or one action. It is a consistent and ongoing process that involves identifying threads of gender disparity throughout our institutions and social organisations. Poverty rates in our region represent perhaps the most marked disparity between genders, and it is imperative therefore that the government acknowledge the importance of gender in any forthcoming development policies. So, while I am thrilled to see this advancement at home, my final message for this election would be for candidates recognise and acknowledge that their responsibilities extend to not only helping women in Australia, but also in our region as an integral part of any effective aid and development strategy. This call applies not only to the future Prime Minister of Australia but to all elected members, in both government and opposition, who are charged with not only representing the voice of Australians in our next parliament but satisfying our obligations under international law as well.
4 August 2010
“Political Footballs” and the importance of language
It is no surprise that this federal election has been littered with political slogans ranging from “political footballs” to “balance of power”. This of course is also accompanied by big promises, strong accusations and slander. What UNIFEM Australia has attempted to do in their Federal Election platform, is to move past this rhetorical punch and specifically discuss gender concerns for election topics. One such topic is Asylum Seekers and Refugees.
In UNIFEM Australia’s first weekly editorial surrounding Asylum Seekers and Refugees, the need for a gender analysis on immigration processing and resettlement was laid out. This editorial highlighted the specific barriers that pertain to women and children’s reintegration and visa processing which has yet to be canvassed in our current policies and must be a priority for any discussion around immigration in Australia. Moreover, for this discussion to be constructive we must clearly distinguish between a migrant, asylum-seeker and a refugee.
During UNIFEM Australia’s July 21st Federal Election Gender Dialogue on the forum Gender Equality Online, participants expressed frustration with the way that “Asylum Seekers and Refugees” is a term too loosely used and criticized without a thorough debate. Many participants felt this left the public confused on the way forward and compounded the social discrimination that remains for asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. It is my hope that for the remaining leaders debates, terminology and its implications will not be taken for granted. It is incumbent on politicians to promote high level debate, not to appeal to the lowest common denominator if our policies and laws are to reflect the complexities of the situations they aim to address. Finally, I hope that whoever takes up the seat as Australia’s next Prime Minister, takes a more nuanced rather than reductive view of the issue, which includes the gendered dimensions of refugee and asylum seeker policy.
18 July 2010
Mounting election fever and historical changes for women
July is shaping up to be quite a historic month. I am not only speaking about Australia’s first female Prime Minister, but about the creation of a new United Nations entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, to be known as “UN Women”. This also comes for us amidst the fever of a federal election.
Effective as of July 2nd, 2010 all four UN gender agencies: the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Gender Issues (OSAGI), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) and the United Nations Fund for the Development of Women (UNIFEM), are dissolved into one core gender focused UN agency.
As with any large change there will be excitement, nervousness and of course hard work. That is what we have to focus on now. In the coming months, there will be ongoing discussions about the role of National Committees in this new agency. As speculation rises about when our national election will be called, we do not want the focus to be lost on the important role that Australia has to play in the transitional period of this new agency.
It is my hope that PM Gillard will focus on the importance of gender equitable legislation and programs at home and abroad. UN Women is now undoubtedly going to play a huge role in how a gender concern will be conceptualized and similarly implemented at international, national and local levels. So let’s not forget the reason why this entity was created in the first place- women’s activists realizing that too often gender disparity is a secondary consideration. It is not enough to have separate departments that focus on women, but to ensure that this concern carries through all levels of an institution. This lesson applies to the Australian government as much as it does the UN.
We can all agree that Australia is not immune to violence against women or gender disparities. As we debate issues such as asylum seekers, refugees, aid and development, social services and healthcare etc., it is my hope that ALL election candidates will look at the particular experiences of women within these. Women are not the only unique story to tell however, they are a significant voice and one which is too often assumed to be implicit in our policies.
4 July 2010
The Daily Challenge of Women in our Region
I was ever hopeful but not certain I would see a woman as Prime Minister of Australia, however, last Thursday was an memorable day and it was an significant and historic step for the status of women across Australia.
On the same day as our new Prime Minister was sworn in, the United Nations released the 2010 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) report. In contrast to the hope that was implicit in seeing a woman in the prime leadership role in this country, the report highlighted the alarming challenges still faced by women worldwide, particularly within our region.
Globally, only one in four senior officials or managers are women, with Western and Southern Asia having less than 10% of women in top-level positions. Despite its recognised importance in securing health and human rights for women, aid for family planning declined significantly between 2000 and 2008 from 8.2 percent to 3.2 percent of the total aid budget for health worldwide. The likelihood of girls attending school differs significantly between urban and rural populations within our region and in Southern and Western Asia women make up only 20 percent of the paid workforce outside the agricultural sector.
We have seen a significant increase in the Government’s commitment to gender equality especially within our aid budget in last few years, however, there is still more to be done. My hope is that Prime Minister Julia Gillard will continue the Government’s commitment to gender equality especially within our region.
Despite the important step made by Australia last week, we still need to remember it is the policies not the gender of a leader which counts. I call on the new Prime Minister to recognise the challenge and continue the commitment of the Australian government to reducing the daily challenges faced by women across our region and the world.
18 June 2010
A First Step for Women
I am excited by this week’s announcement that the Paid Parental Leave scheme passed in Parliament. For the women across Australia who have campaigned across decades for this essential step in gender equality being realised, it is a significant achievement.
For Australian women who have up until this moment had no formal support when deciding to have a family, this is a significant step forward especially those in casual and part-time positions.
For me, this is also an important step internationally with Australia joining the majority of developed countries who have implemented a paid parental leave system. This continues to highlight the Australian Government’s commitment to gender equality as a whole.
However, as with every step forward there is still significant work to be done. We should not assume that we can tick the box when it comes to PPL, as with every policy there is a need for constant vigilance to ensure that it is implemented correctly and we should continually strive to create a better PPL system for women in the future.
4 June 2010
Time for Action is now
Each week we are reminded of the violence experienced by women acrossAustraliaand this week was no exception with the tragic and horrendous death of a woman inMelbourneat the hands of her partner at a petrol station. This horrific occurrence only seeks to further highlight the importance of addressing this gross violation of women’s human rights as soon as possible.
The Time for Action report released in 2009 gave clear and strong steps forward to reducing the instances of violence against women inAustralia, however as of today’s date a National Action Plan is still yet to be finalised.
The past few months has seen the height of the blame game from every side of politics. There have been numerous attempts at point scoring with no real outcomes on policy or issues and this cannot continue. During this election we must ensure that important issues for women and our society as a whole such as violence against women are not lost in the theatrics of the election. We must ensure that a National Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women is implemented as soon as possible.
The implementation of this plan must include sufficient and continued funding; an independent monitoring framework; and the inclusion of women’s organisations, service providers and advocates in the development and evaluation of the plan.
Women are dying, suffering illness and disability every day in Australia as a result of violence surely there can be no excuse for delay in addressing this issue in Australia, the Time for Action is now!
18 May 2010
Limited results for women in budget
The release of the government's budget has very limited results for women both here in Australia and within our region.
Here in Australia we are delighted with the Government's continued commitment to implement a Paid Parental Leave Scheme starting in January 2011. This is an important first step in ensuring primary carers and their families, especially women, are supported during this important time. In addition, we welcome the funding committed to increasing the quality of childcare and early childhood education and the changes to superannuation which will benefit women.
For our sisters in the region the Government has continued its focus on the Millennium Development Goals with particular focus on MDGs relating to education and health. We welcome the commitment of $303.7 million to achieve MDG 2. We also welcome the commitment of $173.4 million to achieving the health MDGs across East and South-East Asia and the Pacific. The Government has also signalled its commitment to development in Africa by allocating $346.9 million to increased assistance in the region. Finally $30 million allocated to addressing disability issues within our region is also welcomed.
However, domestically there was no real additional funding for women within this budget. There was no mention of tackling important issues facing women such as the gender wage gap, the development of a National Women’s Health Policy within the health budget, or increasing the number of childcare centres.
Furthermore, crucial issues for women within our region were also ignored in the budget, specifically climate change. Across the region women are first to experience the impact of climate change. It is regretted that the Government’s intended commitment to addressing this essential issue is missing from the budget. We welcome the $15 million allocated for assisting countries within our region to adapting to climate change but this does not go far enough in addressing what is an extremely important issue.
Finally, the Government has committed to increasing ODA to 0.5% of GDP by 2015-2016, although the calculated progress towards this commitment is slower than it was hoped. This still falls short of the required 0.7% of GDP recommended by the United Nations in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
4 May 2010
Equal Pay equals Equality
“One motivation for women’s empowerment is basic fairness and decency. (…) But second, the empowerment of women is smart economics. (…) In fact studies show that investments in women yield large social and economic returns.” Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank summed up why we must ensure that the empowerment of women becomes a reality.
Not only do women and their families benefit but investing in women is just “smart economics”. Here inAustraliathere are many ways in which we as women are empowered compared to our sisters in the region. However we still face significant challenges, one of these being pay equity.
A recent report by NATSEM highlighted that inAustraliawomen still earn between 83-85% of what men earn for the same work. In fact the gender wage gap has increased in the last five years, reaching 17%, the highest it has been since 1990.
Reasons for the gap include industrial segregation, labour force history and under representation of women in large firms. However the most significant reason for the continued gender wage gap is simply the fact of being a woman, in fact this reason accounted for 60% of the difference between women’s and men’s income.
Investing in reducing the gender wage gap would reap significant economic benefits, it is estimated reducing the gender gap by just 1% would increase the GDP per capita by $260 or a total of 0.5% of GDP. Currently the gender wage gap costs the Australian economy $93 billion annually or 8.5% of GDP.
This election we must ensure that this issue is addressed, not just because it is “basic fairness and decency” but because investing in women is investing in Australia’s economic and social future.
18 April 2010
Childcare a Cost to Australian Families
As a mother and new grandmother of a beautiful baby girl, I have watched my daughters try to balance the pressures of being mums and working women. This balance for many women is a myth and can create significant stress, as well as adding to the pressures of trying to find childcare places for their children when they have decided to return to work.
I have watched my daughters make lifestyle choices or try to find adequate childcare, and hear stories of their friends when they were lucky at last to find a place. For many women the decision to return to work rests on finding a childcare spot. For many households it is no longer possible to rely upon one income and as a result there is a financial imperative to be able to place your children in childcare.
I am concerned when I hear that women are now told to put their names down on the waiting list as soon as they find out they are pregnant and there are some places which charge a deposit for just being added to waiting lists.
The stress does not diminish once a woman has obtained a place for her child. The costs of childcare continue to create financial pressure on Australian families. A report released by The Treasury found that for every 1% increase in childcare costs, the employment rate of married mothers fell by 0.3% (the study only focused on married mothers). The government has taken significant steps to try to alleviate the pressure on families by increasing the childcare rebate from 30% to 50% however families acrossAustraliaare still struggling.
The Australian Government made a commitment to have up to 260 new early learning and care centres. However this promise is yet to be delivered.
If the opportunity is to be there for women to return to the workplace if they so choose, we must ensure that there are adequate spaces available for children, and that the costs of childcare do not result in added financial pressure for Australian families.
2 April 2010
Unifem's Key Issues for the Next Election
I am delighted to be included on this panel and to have the opportunity to evaluate and discuss policies and issues relating to women for this year’s election.
I believe that there is growing recognition among the political parties that addressing women’s issues is vital to ensuring a better Australian society and will therefore lead to success in a general election.
However, this does not mean that there are significant steps to be taken in order to ensure that women’s voices are heard at policy level and that election promises must continue to be monitored for end results after the ballots have been counted.
UNIFEM Australia strives to see an Australian society where gender equality is a reality and that women continue to be empowered in all aspect of their lives. Therefore, there are several key issues which are essential to be considered this year.
A Paid Parental Leave Scheme must be implemented as soon as possible no matter who is victorious at this year’s election. Australia is one of only two OECD countries without such a scheme. Internationally the absence of scheme highlights to other nations thatAustralia is not committed to gender equality. Domestically a Paid Parental Leave Scheme ensures that parents and carers are supported during this important time and that a family is given the appropriate amount of time to bond and establish the new relationships. For women, a parental leave scheme is of particular importance as the scheme ensures that women have the opportunity to re-enter the workforce at a time of their choosing.
The Gender Pay Gap is also another important issue. A recent report highlighted that being a “woman” was the major reason for women earning less than men. In the past five years the gender pay gap has increased from 15.1 percent to 17 percent last year. The fact that a pay gap exists at all is a cause for great concern however the fact the pay gap has increased in the last five years is unacceptable. An equal pay scheme would ensure that women are given the same pay opportunities as men for the same work.
Leading on from the above, women in leadership is another important issue for this year’s election. The Women in Leadership Census in 2008 found that of the top 200 ASX companies only 2 percent had female CEOs, down from 3 percent in 2006. Only 8.3 percent had female Board Directors, down from 8.7 percent in 2006. Since 2006 we have taken a step back in ensuring that women are reaching the highest levels of management inAustralia.
UNIFEM Australia works to advocate for women’s human rights in our region. However, ifAustraliais to be seen to be a leader in our region and advocate for governments to take women’s rights and empowerment seriously, the commitment must first start at home.
I look forward to discussing and analysing these and other issues in the coming months leading up to the election.