Release type: Speech


First APEC Business advisory council (ABAC) meeting 2020 Women’s Economic Empowerment Lunch


Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business

Ladies and gentlemen I am delighted to provide these opening remarks to the Women’s Economic Empowerment luncheon.

I acknowledge:

- ABAC Chair Dato Rohana
- Chair of ABAC’s Enterprises and Entrepreneurship Working Group - Hafimi Abdul
- Australia’s ABAC members - Sir Rod Eddington, Tom Harley, and Robert Milliner;

And all of you who have made the journey to be here in Sydney.

Women’s economic empowerment is one of Australia’s key APEC priorities - and this forum - ABAC - serves an important role in providing industry with the opportunity to engage in major policy issues in the region including women’s economic empowerment.  

​As Australia’s Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business - I see on a daily basis – the benefits of women’s economic empowerment and the crucial role that female entrepreneurs play in our economy.

I know that those gathered here – especially the speakers for today’s lunch – see this benefit too.  

In this regard I acknowledge my good friend and the Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency here in Australia Libby Lyons.

Why women’s economic empowerment matters

It is a well-known fact that when you empower women you empower a community – the ripple effect shows on the family and the community at large.

The Australian Government recognises that women’s economic empowerment is a critical pathway to creating just and inclusive societies giving women more control over their lives, so they can participate with influence in political, social, family and community life.

Inclusive economies show stronger growth and are more resilient, innovative and sustainable.

When I was Minister for Women, in 2017, I launched “Towards 2025: An Australian Government strategy to boost women’s workforce participation”.

The Strategy outlined the Government’s roadmap to meet our G20 target to reduce the gender workforce participation gap by 25 per cent by 2025.

I am pleased to report that Australia has already met this goal.

As at December 2019, women’s employment in Australia is at a record high of more than 6.1 million, representing 47.3 per cent of employed Australians.

I acknowledge that the business community is a key enabler of the economic empowerment of women and this forum assists business to add weight to the women’s economic empowerment agenda in APEC and other fora.


APEC is an important avenue for pursuing this collaborative approach to women’s economic empowerment.

I welcome the APEC La Serena Roadmap for Women and Inclusive Growth and congratulate Chile on driving this program of work as last year’s APEC host.

The high level of engagement by economies in its development is welcome evidence that APEC members are putting a high priority on this issue.

Australia will work with Chile, Malaysia – the 2020 APEC host - and other APEC economies to implement this important Roadmap.

APEC’s 2019 Women in the Economy Dashboard reflects some good progress in the region over the past ten years – but women still face some structural and policy barriers to full economic participation.

For Asia Pacific economies, advancing women’s economic empowerment could add 4.5 trillion dollars to the region’s collective GDP in 2025[1].

And closing the Asia Pacific gender gap by improving women’s workplace participation represents 58 percent of the 4.5 trillion dollar GDP growth opportunity.[2]

Digital divide

I was pleased to see that last year’s APEC Women in the Economy Forum had a focus on skilling women for future and emerging markets. This is essential.

The working world is fast changing: certain industries and professions are declining, and new ones emerging.

Those emerging require technological and digital literacy.

Our economies must invest in women today to equip them for the higher-wage, higher-growth industries of the digital era, including STEM fields.

The economic and social returns on that investment will benefit all of us.

The transition to an inclusive digital economy is challenging, especially for economically and socially marginalised groups in society.

We know that there is already a gender digital divide, and it’s growing.

There is a gender gap in access, use, ownership and design of digital technologies.

This means that women-led businesses are not benefitting from the digital transformation as much as they could be.

As a region and as individual economies, we are capable of turning this around.

Digital technologies can provide new avenues for the economic empowerment of women, contributing to greater gender equality.

I welcome APEC’s leadership in this area, including through the APEC Women in STEM Principles and Actions.

Partnerships between government, industry and academia to promote opportunities for women and girls in STEM careers offer the best pathways to success.

Australia is implementing programs to support research and higher education organisations to improve their gender equity policies and practices.

Access to global markets

Women are important contributors to world trade – as entrepreneurs, workers, supply chain actors and consumers.

However, women traders often face greater barriers than their male counterparts.

Australia’s engagement in APEC focuses on delivering capacity-building initiatives to improve services and support for women-owned businesses and women entrepreneurs.

This includes efforts to assist trade promotion organisations – TPOs – to help women traders become export-ready.

Australia has developed an online training initiative for TPOs in APEC economies.

The training course addresses the barriers faced by women traders, and offers approaches to overcome these.

Ultimately, we hope the training will result in more women entrepreneurs in the Asia Pacific accessing global markets.

The course will be available to APEC economies in the coming weeks.

Looking beyond APEC, Australia’s Investing in Women initiative promotes economic growth, business development and workplace gender equality in Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Investing in Women is:

    • forming business coalitions and helping those businesses to make their workplace practices more inclusive
    • working with financial investors to increase private investment flowing to women‑led small and medium enterprises in South East Asia, and
    • working with partners to positively shift attitudes and practices to support women in the world of work.

Indigenous economic empowerment

Some of the speakers here today will talk about the particular challenges and experiences for indigenous businesswomen.

With all the good work you are doing in APEC and ABAC on women’s economic empowerment, it seems there may also be scope to start an APEC work program on indigenous economic empowerment.

Australia would certainly support such a focus.

Through our Indigenous Business Strategy, Australia is supporting indigenous business owners and entrepreneurs to access business support, capital, networks and information.

We would welcome any opportunity to share our experiences in this area with other APEC economies, and to learn from their experiences.


Thank you all for your commitment to women’s economic empowerment - enjoy today’s luncheon – and your time in Sydney.