Julie Bishop: The statistics that show why Malala is truly remarkable.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop shares her growing concern for women living in Pakistan in her fortnightly column for Mamamia.

In my first month as Foreign Minister, I was fortunate to meet Malala. Like so many around the world, I was inspired that someone so young could be such a strong advocate for an issue that is of deep concern nationally, regionally, and globally.

It was Malala’s example that inspired this year’s theme for ‘Australia Day in Spring’ in Pakistan – ‘Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women and Girls for the Future’. Australian women, including former MasterChef Australia contestant Faiza Rehman, travelled to Pakistan to share their skills with young Pakistani women.

Malala Yousafzai.

During my visit to Islamabad earlier this month I hosted a dinner for influential women from federal and provincial parliaments, business and civil society. The aim of the dinner was to reflect on the achievements of exceptional women like Malala and to hear first-hand the issues affecting women and girls in Pakistan.

Read more: Justice at last. The men who attacked Malala have been sentenced.

It was evident that women and girls in Pakistan face some serious challenges.

For example, Pakistan’s female workforce participation is 22 per cent compared to 69 per cent for men. Low education rates for women and girls makes workforce participation difficult.

It is estimated that 63 per cent of girls aged 15-24 are illiterate, with more than three million young girls not attending school.

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Julie Bishop in Pakistan (Image via Getty)

Barriers to women and girls gaining an education in Pakistan include inadequate sanitation facilities in schools, the need to travel long distances, a lack of female teachers and unsafe environments.

Adolescent girls also face economic and social demands that further disrupt their education and ability to find work, including household obligations, child labour and child marriage. Some estimates indicate that the vast majority of women and girls are likely to experience violence.

Empowering women and girls through initiatives aimed at ending gender based violence and increasing girls’ education will allow women and girls in Pakistan – and elsewhere – to reach their full potential.

Last year, Australia supported more than 86,000 girls in Pakistan to access higher education. Girls who receive an education are more likely to get jobs and earn better wages – just one extra year of secondary schooling can boost a girl’s future wages by up to 20 per cent.

Australia will now support 5000 poor women and girls in remote areas of Pakistan to develop skills suitable to the local job market, and to access finance to establish small businesses through our recently announced Skills Training Program for Marginalised Women and Girls.

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Julie Bishop (Image via Getty.)

Read more: The domestic violence no one talks about.

While in Pakistan I also met the head of Pakistan’s National Commission of the Status of Women, Khawar Mumtaz. Under Ms Mumtaz’s leadership the Commission is doing important work, including advocating for the implementation of pro-women legislation and giving a voice to survivors of violence.

Women like Malala Yousafazi and Khawar Mumtaz should be an inspiration to us all. Their achievements are all the more impressive when you consider that women in Pakistan are behind in almost all socio-economic indicators. They have overcome incredible odds to become role models for women and girls who aspire to leadership roles within their communities.

We all have the right to a life free from violence, to be educated and to speak out for what we believe in – this should not be determined by our gender or the place in the world in which we live.


Previous columns from Julie Bishop:

“We are defying the dark forces that threaten our freedoms.”
Julie Bishop on why Fashion Week is about more than just clothes.
Julie Bishop on why young Australian women are becoming radicalised.

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