YOU ARE HERE: Home | What We Do | News archive | Global Ambassador for Women and Girls launches 'Hi...

Global Ambassador for Women and Girls launches 'Hidden Exploitation' Report


Ms Penny Williams, Australia's Global Ambassador for Women and Girls,

launched the Hidden Exploitation report by

Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand in Melbourne on April 11 2012.




The Global Ambassador for Women and Girls is responsible for high-level advocacy to promote Australian Government policies and activity regarding gender equality and the social, political and economic empowerment of women and girls, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Ambassador works closely with foreign governments and international organisations to support measures that: eradicate violence against, and trafficking of, women and girls; promote better educational and health outcomes; protect women and girls in conflict and promote the role of women in peace-building; eliminate discrimination; and enhance the participation of women in decision-making and leadership.

Ms Williams was appointed Australia's first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls on 13 September 2011.

You can read the speech delivered by Ms Williams' at the launch here:

Launch of Hidden Exploitation: Women in Forced Labour, Marriage and Migration

11.30 am, 11 aPRIL 2012


53 Abbotsford Street, Abbotsford, Victoria

I am delighted to participate in the launch of the Hidden Exploitation report.

The report makes a critical contribution to awareness of a range of deeply disturbing practices in our community. I congratulate Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand for this important initiative. I commend Associate Professor Jennifer Burn for the vital research she has conducted. And I wish Rhonda and her team at Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand the very best in the work Rhonda has outlined to implement the recommendations of the report.

Hidden Exploitation exposes multiple experiences of exploitation forced labour, forced marriage and forced migration. All require a committed partnership of government and the community to fight these abuses and to support their victims. Each of them is on my agenda as Australia's Global Ambassador for Women and Girls; but for the purposes of our gathering today, I wish to focus on forced and servile marriage, an issue of very particular concern to all of us.

It is the fundamental human right of every woman and man to enter into marriage only with their full and free consent and at a time of their choosing.

Early and forced marriage denies an estimated 10 million girls every year their basic human rights. This is in addition to the many millions of adult women living in forced and servile marriages. In the developing world, one in three girls is married before age 18, usually marking an end to their schooling and exposing them to higher risk of injury and death due to early sexual activity and childbirth. At this rate, 3500 girls become child brides every day globally.

But as the Hidden Exploitation report underlines, and recent media reports have highlighted, forced and servile marriage is not just a challenge belonging to developing nations but one which is present within our own community here in Australia.

While Australia has a low reported number of forced marriages, we can reasonably assume the actual number is significantly greater. We are hindered in our efforts to quantify the extent of the problem because of taboos surrounding the issue, because it is difficult to detect forced and servile marriages and victims do not necessarily identify their situations as being a forced marriage.

The Australian Government views forced marriage as a serious abuse of human rights, placing people at risk, and resulting in tragic consequences including loss of education, restriction of movement and autonomy, and emotional and physical abuse.

In concert with global momentum on this issue, Australia is currently considering the introduction of new criminal offences of forced marriage and forced labour into the Criminal Code. As well as this legislative reform, the Government is investing in awareness-raising and support mechanisms to prevent forced marriage and to protect its victims.

Australia is committed to tackle forced marriage both at home and around the world.

For too long, internationally and domestically, leaders have shied away from talking about forced marriage, reflecting both reluctance to interfere in what is regarded as a family matter and the wish to avoid questioning cultural and traditional practices. These sensitivities are real but they are not an excuse to ignore the abuse of human rights involved. And as the global community's preparedness to ignore such abuse has diminished, we have found a voice to speak out for the most vulnerable, invisible and isolated members of our societies.

A bare month after my appointment as Global Ambassador for Women and Girls in September last year, and perhaps still reeling from the magnitude of challenges which comprised my terms of reference, I attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth. I was powerfully encouraged by the historic stand Commonwealth countries took for the rights of girls, addressing early and forced marriage in the CHOGM 2011 Final Communiqu and committing to sharing best practice to tackle this issue.

Australia, as Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth, is determined to implement the call to action in the communiquand to progress practical actions to end early and forced marriage.

The momentum is building to end forced and servile marriage, inspired by the brave activists who are promoting change in their own communities, the brave women and girls who speak out publicly, in programs such as Without Consent which aired on ABC television this month, and, of course, inspired by the work of organisations such as Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand.

In 2007, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, former UNSG Kofi Annan noted slavery was abolished because people took personal responsibility for what was happening around them. Appealing for a similar campaign against contemporary trafficking, he said We must approach today's abuses in the same spirit each of us seeking not to blame someone else, but to think what we can do to hasten their end.

I congratulate Good Shepherd for doing exactly this in the Hidden Exploitation report for identifying what your organisation and the broader public-private partnership can do to hasten the end of forced labour, marriage and migration.

So it is with great pleasure that I launch Hidden Exploitation: Women in forced labour, marriage and migration.


Contact Us

Anti-Slavery Australia, University of Technology Sydney
Phone: +61-2-9514 9660