RESPECT for Women seminar - Kate Lennon

RESPECT for Women seminar

Thursday 9 September 2004

Setting the scene

Presentation by Ms Kate Lennon, Chief Executive, Department for Families and Communities

Thank you Elizabeth, the Hon Senator Penny Wong, Ms Irene Khan, Professor Lowitja O'Donoghue, Ms Linda Matthews, Ms Pru Goward and to all the women here good morning.

I would like to acknowledge that the land we meet on today is the traditional land of the Kaurna people and that we respect their spiritual relationship with their country. We also acknowledge the Kaurna people as the custodians of the greater Adelaide region and that their cultural and heritage beliefs are still as important to the living Kaurna today.

This morning I am representing the Hon Steph Key, Minister for the Status of Women, who was unable to attend today’s seminar. On behalf of both of us, we congratulate the Hawke Centre for convening this seminar.

The theme ‘RESPECT for Women’ is such an important one, and even now with a globalised society, equity, social justice and violence against women continues to be a concern to women across the world.

Today you will hear from speakers that will talk about some of the issues effecting women from all over the globe, including the campaign to stop violence against women. 

So I will focus more on what is happening locally in SA, however I did read a recent article titled ‘Women as peacemakers: from victims to re-builders of society’, which detailed the efforts of women in Rwanda, who had survived the genocide, massacres, indescribable humiliation, violence and sexual abuse, but today helps to move their country towards a democracy. 

In fact the article stated that in the September 2003 parliamentary elections in Rwanda, women secured 49% of seats in the legislature – the highest number of women parliamentarians anywhere in the world, overtaking Sweden with 45% and far above the world average of 15%. 

To me this was an interesting and empowering article that highlights the true strength of women. While the plight of women in war often gets close media attention, what is often overlooked is the vital role played by women in promoting peace and re-building communities.

The status of women clearly varies through out the world, in some places like Baghdad, it is not uncommon to hear of girls as young as eight years old reported to have been raped. Whilst in South Australia although the concerns are different there is still valid concern and issues impacting on women that need to be addressed.

The theme of ‘respect’ provides an important focus for the ongoing development and implementation of policies aimed at providing a safer and more equitable society for all women and - all people.

As the Chief Executive of the new Department for Families and Communities, valuing people is essential and respect is one of our core values.

The idea of promoting a culture of respect and consideration between people provides a perfect starting point to bring the continuing issues facing women to the forefront of the public agenda. 

It is important to actively address and dialogue on issues that have historically prevented women from fully participating in all areas of society and the South Australian government recognises that this is fundamental to current policies and programs. 

It is also a major part of the work of the Department for Families and Communities, both through the activities of the Office for Women, which is a small but important part of the department, and the many other units such as those focussing on housing, child protection, Aboriginal affairs and youth.

The Office for Women and staff of the Department for Families and Communities have recently been involved in developing a Discussion Paper ‘Valuing South Australia’s Women’, Towards a Women’s Safety Strategy.

This project is the first step in the development of an integrated government approach to improve the safety of women in the community and to fulfil the State’s pledge to reduce violence against women.

Violence against women is a major obstacle to the fair and equal participation of women in all aspects of political, social, economic and cultural life of our community, with nearly one third of all women experiencing some form of violence in their lifetime.[1]

It is imperative that the policy direction for women’s safety is consistent across Government and involves government and non-Government services and a broad range of community networks.

A further part of the government’s response to violence targeted against women and children is the removal of immunity from prosecution for sex offences that occurred before Dec 1982, to ensure that victims receive legal equity.

Funding for South Australia’s Victim Support Services has been increased and new early intervention practices for suspected child abuse cases are in place. These initiatives arise from the recommendations of the Layton Report into child protection.

We must ensure that our community does not tolerate violence of any sort against women

The representation of women on boards and committees is another area of concern receiving attention from the government.

The government has set a number of targets to achieve a more equitable balance of women and men on boards and committees in the State Strategic Plan, and committed to involving women in more aspects of government decision making. 

The State strategic plan sets a target of 50% female membership of all government boards and committees by 2006; and will strive to make sure that half of government boards and committees are chaired by women by 2008. The current figures are at around 34% female membership of boards and 23% female chairs – so we have some work to do. In fact as the only female Chief Executive sitting on the State Government’s Senior Management Council, I see all to well the need for increased opportunities for women in executive roles as another area we must target and ensure full participation of women at this level. 

Increasing the involvement of women within all areas of our society is so important to the development of a fairer and more just society. It’s also just commonsense – that we make the best possible use of the resources of South Australia’s men and women.

The Premier’s Council for Women is another government initiative that aims to provide leadership and encourage the increased participation of women within the public sphere. The Council provides information and advice to the Premier, the Minister for the Status of Women and the Office for Women, to facilitate a whole of government approach to ensure that programs and services match women’s needs.

Government is also beginning to recognise that the continuing differences in the responsibilities assumed by women and men in work, community, home and family life translates into different experiences and needs for men and women. We must acknowledge when people, and more commonly women, are out of work for long periods they risk losing skills, self confidence and even a sense of belonging to a community.

Getting the balance of work, family and social life right is an area of growing public debate as we face a range of challenges such as demographic shifts, ageing population profiles and critical skill shortages. 

These issues are not going to go away any time soon and we require a concerted effort by not just our policy makers and implementers but Australian society as a whole.

To continue developing programs and policies without recognising those differences and adapting our approaches to deal with them, may unintentionally perpetuate existing inequities in the lives of men and women. 

We recognise the need to equip our policy makers and those who deliver government services with the skills they need to ensure that public sector processes are inclusive of women. In fact this is the focus of research work that the Office for Women is now undertaking in conjunction with the University of Adelaide and partners from Western Australia.

In the time available this morning I have only managed to highlight a few of the initiatives that government is working on to improve the lives of women in South Australia. 

There are a number of others such as reviewing and improving the Equal Opportunity Act and proposed changes to the Industrial and Employee Relations Act through the Fair Work Bill which will provide improvements in provisions for working parents and open the door to do some much needed work on pay equity.

I am sure your discussions today will cover a number of these areas and I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of your seminar. 

As I mentioned earlier, unfortunately the Minister had other commitments but she has asked that I pass on her apologies and her best wishes for a successful seminar.

Thank you.


[1] Figure derived from DHS Survey of 9000 South Australian Adults conducted in 1999 and cited in the supporting documentation to the discussion Paper – Valuing South Australia’s Women