International Women’s Day: Australia supports global efforts to promote gender equity

Women and girls currently make up two thirds of the one billion people in the world who lack basic literacy skills and more than 35 million girls worldwide don't have access to primary-level education.

Australia recently appointed a designated Ambassador to advocate on their behalf. Career diplomat Penny Williams has been appointed as Australia's first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls.

Australian Ambassador to Zimbabwe, His Excellency Matthew Neuhaus said “I have been impressed by the strength and vibrancy of women in Zimbabwe, from those working at grass roots level to improve their communities, to those who run NGOs supporting and empowering women and those who through their leadership in business and government are creating opportunities for women in Zimbabwe to thrive.”

Australia has committed itself to supporting the professional development of women in Africa since the 1960's through its Australia Awards scholarships program. In 2012, female scholars from Africa have been awarded a record number of long and short course scholarships:

• of a total of 342 long term scholarships, 158 (46%) were awarded to women

• of a total of 347 short term scholarships, 136 scholarships (39%) have been awarded to women and 8 scholarships have been awarded to people with disabilities

• 17 outstanding African scholars were selected for Australian Leadership Award Scholarships last year and 10 (60%) of them were women.

Short Course Awards accommodate mid-career development opportunities for working professionals over a period of 12 weeks. In addition to these Awards, AusAID also offers Masters-level Scholarships and Agricultural PhD’s at a range of world-class Australian universities. By 2013, Australia will offer 1000 scholarships across Africa.

Ambassador Neuhaus noted that “The theme for International Women’s Day this year is 'Supporting Economic Empowerment for Women' and it is clear that supporting women’s education and promoting women's leadership skills is essential to ensuring that economic and social transformation can take place more quickly.”

Australia is helping the economic empowerment of rural women in Zimbabwe by supporting community based micro-finance schemes in partnership with the UK Department for International Development. Women’s access to this financing is enabling them to invest in small business or to buy assets like livestock with the aim of increasing income for them and their families. Women are also receiving training in other income generating activities such as improved farming and animal care. 1171 women are have benefitted from this program.

Australia in partnership with UNICEF and World Vision has helped improve access to safe water and improved sanitation for close to 900,000 households in Zimbabwe since 2009. This has helped women provide clean water to their families without risking their safety or wasting valuable time searching. It has also improved livelihoods, for example in Masvingo where better access to water has increased production in community gardens enabling them to be run on a commercial scale.

The Embassy has been proud to support Zimbabwean women at community level through the Direct Aid Program. A grant of US$31,494 to Simukai Women's Development Project in Wedza, funded the construction of a borehole, a women's education centre and nutrition garden for a community of mostly widows and orphaned children. A grant of US$35,000 to Gweru Women’s AIDS Prevention Association will fund a borehole and water tank and agriculture activities to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable women.

For more information about the Ambassador for Women and Girls, see http://www.dfat.gov.au/homs/wg.html

For more information about Australia’s activities to support International Women’s Day 2012, see http://www.internationalwomensday.org.au/

For full details about all Australian Awards, see www.adsafrica.com.au

Post published in: Africa News

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