Parliament of Australia

President of the Senate

Senator the Honourable Sue Lines






Session Three: Mainstreaming Gender Equality: From Women’s Development to Women Led Development



Good morning everyone.

First of all, thank you very much for a wonderful evening last night. And if there was any doubt at all that India doesn’t take its democracy seriously, well, we wouldn't be able to make this statement last night at the beautiful new parliament buildings. The whole environment is fabulous. The parliament is amazing and it was such an honour for us.

And again, as you just informed us in the first session, the first thing you did was to amend your Constitution to reserve seats for women. Once again demonstrating to the world that India is serious about women's participation with development and women-led change. So thank you for that.

Good morning to all my fellow presiding officers and distinguished delegates.

As President of the Australian Senate, I welcome the opportunity to participate in the ninth P20 Parliamentary Speakers’ Summit and thank our hosts here in New Delhi for opening your home and sharing your culture with us all so warmly.

The theme of our conference is ‘Parliaments for One Earth, One Family, One Future’, which draws inspiration from the ancient Indian philosophy, translated to mean ‘the World is one Family’.

As we have covered and will continue to cover across the four high level sessions on Accelerating SDGs; Sustainable Energy Transition; Women led Development; and Transformation in Peoples’ Lives through Public Digital Platforms, we’ve seen how interconnected we are as we face our shared challenges together. As one earth, one family and one future.

Today, I’ve come before you to discuss a pressing issue that has far-reaching consequences for our earth – that is the impact of climate change on women, and how it particularly affects women and children.  And the importance of mainstreaming gender equality in addressing this crisis and our role as parliamentary leaders to inspire a shift from women's development to women’s-led development.

As I deliver this address this morning, I'm really proud to say that as a member of the Australian Government, that our Parliament has 50% of all of its government members and Senators as women.

Climate change is no longer a distant threat; it is a global crisis – as we’ve heard here – that affects every aspect of our lives. According to UN Women statistics, women and girls are disproportionately affected by climate change. They are more likely to live in poverty, and they are often the most vulnerable in the face of extreme weather events, food insecurity, and water scarcity.

One striking statistic from UN Women is that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women and children. Women often shoulder the responsibility for gathering food, water, and fuel for their families, and when these resources become scarce due to climate change, their burden increases. This means that women are at a higher risk of displacement and forced migration, often without the resources or support they need to adapt to new environments.

Furthermore, the impacts of climate change exacerbate existing gender inequalities. In many societies, women have limited or no access to land ownership, resources for self-sustainability and education, which impacts their ability to cope with climate repercussions.

UN Women reports that globally, women own less than 20% of land, which limits, once again, their resilience in the face of changing climates and their ability to adapt to new agricultural practices.

We must also consider the impact of climate change on women's health. Water insecurity and rising temperatures can lead to more frequent and severe heatwaves and lasting droughts, which have a disproportionate impact on women, especially pregnant women, and those with pre-existing health conditions. UN Women statistics show that in low-income countries, maternal and child mortality rates rise during extreme weather events, putting women's health at risk.

This week I was fortunate enough to tour a pilot community here in New Delhi, participating in the Australia-India Water Security Initiative. The project commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade aims to improve water security and liveability conditions in line with Water Sensitive City and Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion principles. I spoke with the women who were the focus of this initiative. These women were proud and very confident in reporting their success to me. I heard how participatory decision-making processes can lead to a sense of empowerment.  

And certainly it was demonstrated to me that it has led to a sense of empowerment. They met with their local MP and explained to their local MP what their issues are. And those issues are now being acted on. In addition to that, I saw how their actions, very powerful, had led them to be decision makers in the home. They were more self-confident to contribute to decisions that had to be made at home.

Because what this project showed me, it's not all about vulnerability; women are also powerful agents of change in the fight against climate change. When discussing the topic of mainstreaming gender equality, we mean recognising that women are not just victims but leaders and innovators who can drive sustainable development.

Through this project. I also met with some young girls who were just young teenagers, and they were very aware of the impacts of climate change.  They were leaders in their community, demonstrating to the community – through the snakes and ladders game which I talked about earlier this week – that actually, actions at the local level can lead to positive change.

Women are often at the forefront of sustainable agriculture, using techniques that mitigate climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to UN Women reports. They also play a crucial role in forest management and conservation, protecting vital ecosystems that sequester carbon.

Additionally, women are key decision-makers in many households. When they are empowered and educated, such as I saw in the water project, they can advocate for sustainable practices and climate-resilient infrastructure. UN Women statistics highlight that women's participation in decision-making at all levels is essential for building a more equitable and sustainable future.

Just this week we celebrated International Day of the Girl Child and to mark the occasion I had the good fortune to meet with leaders and alumna from the Milaan Foundation. Their motto ‘we exist to build the voice, choice and power of girls’ is emblematic of the much larger work they do in nurturing and investing in adolescent girls from marginalised communities. Since the establishment of the organisation in 2007, Milaan has grown to 1,800 participants in their Girl Icon program, including a vibrant and active alumna and 35,163 young women taking ownership of their education and challenging socio-cultural gender norms. These young women are the future of India and they were certainly very impressive.

The Milaan Foundation does life changing work, but as parliamentary leaders committed to making meaningful progress, we must shift our perspective from "women's development" to "women-led development." This means involving women in every aspect of decision making from policy and planning to implementation and monitoring. And certainly the young women that I met at the Milaan Foundation are absolutely up for that challenge.

We must support women's economic empowerment by providing access to credit, resources, and training, enabling them to adapt and develop sustainable businesses. Continue to invest in education and awareness programs that empower women and girls with knowledge and encouraging their active participation in global solutions. Climate policies that are gender-responsive, considering the specific needs and priorities of women and marginalised groups. Climate policies which are led by women. And we also need to, as a matter of urgency, increase women’s participation at all decision-making levels.  Promoting women’s participation in the renewable energy sector is critical for reducing carbon emissions.

The impact of climate change on women is a stark reality. However, as I’ve seen and many of you in this room know, women are not victims; they are leaders and innovators who can drive sustainable development and climate action.  It’s our role as parliamentarians and governments to support that leadership by mainstreaming gender equality and shifting our focus to women’s-led development.  That will enable us to harness the full potential of women in the fight against climate change and the other issues facing our Earth. It's time to recognise that gender equality is not just a goal; it's a powerful solution to one of the most pressing challenges of our time.

Together, let's work towards a more sustainable, women-led and equitable future for all.