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Vicki Treadell

British High Commissioner to Australia

Part of UK in Australia

4th March 2021 Canberra

UK in Australia: #ChooseToChallenge

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International Women’s Day is 8 March and this year the theme is #ChooseToChallenge. This theme really resonates with me, as a mixed race woman who was born in Malaysia –without any British ancestry – I think my presence alone can challenge some people’s expectations as to what a British High Commissioner should or could be. As little as 20 years ago it would have been unusual to see a woman as High Commissioner, even more so one who is not white.  Of course Baroness Amos blazed a trail before me as a political appointee in the role I now undertake as a career diplomat.

I, along with my colleagues representing the UK across the world, know how important our individual actions are in terms of tackling preconceptions, prejudices and inequality and promoting women in leadership. This comes down to our personal actions and integrity, but goes deeper and means we must identify and examine our own internal bias that may help reinforce the status quo.

Internationally, the UK is at the forefront of work to challenge the status quo and to improve the lives of girls and women. The challenge is immense.  Around the world, 1 in 3 women will be beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime; hundreds of thousands of women have been subjected to sexual violence, abuse and rape; at least 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM; 130 million girls are out of school; and over 214 million women in developing countries do not have access to family planning.

Advancing gender equality

According to the World Economic Forum, at current rates of progress, it will take 257 years to close the gender Economic Participation and Opportunity Gap.A recent UN report shows that COVID-19 is increasing the poverty gap between women and men.2

Advancing gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights are a core part of our work. It is something I am personally passionate about and beyond my day job I am also the Co-chair of the UK’s Women of the Future Programme and helped to launch its sister programme in South East Asia when I was British High Commissioner to Malaysia. Identifying and championing young female role models is vital to instil confidence in young women everywhere that they can do it too.

We are determined that Global Britain will be a force for good in the world. Internationally, we work closely with partners, including Australia, promoting and championing gender equality and developing international mechanisms to support development and hold perpetrators of crimes against women and girls to account.

Our aid is delivering real results too; between 2015 and 2020, the UK supported 8.1 million girls gain access to a decent education. In 2019-20 alone we provided 25.4 million women and girls with modern methods of family planning, saving 8100 women’s lives.

At the forefront of women’s rights

The UK is also a leader in the international multilateral fora. We fought successfully for a dedicated gender equality goal as well as targets on gender equality across other Sustainable Development Goals3. We are committed to continued world leadership on girl’s education and ending the preventable deaths of mothers, newborn babies and children by 2030. The UK will continue to be a progressive force for women and girls, including for their sexual and reproductive health and rights and right to education, as we help lead the global response to coronavirus. We are challenging attempts to roll back rights globally, and we are present and influential in important forums such as the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Trade and economic opportunities are key drivers for growth, prosperity and development; and crucial for achieving women’s economic empowerment in every country. Supporting women-owned businesses to participate in global trade and play an equal role in the economy is essential for advancing gender equality.  Whilst growth in global trade has brought huge advances in terms of economic growth and poverty reduction, the opportunities from trade are still not evenly spread.

Promoting women in leadership

Here in Australia, and back home in the UK, we can’t be complacent. Men still out number women almost 2 to 1 in both our respective Parliaments.4 It is often unusual for women to see people who look like them in positions of power and leadership across all sectors.

I believe we should all #ChooseToChallenge gender bias and inequality and ensure our values and commitment are clear in how we live our lives. Indeed, men play an important role in championing gender equality – challenging the expectations and limitations that have traditionally been placed onto women. We must work together to recognise and challenge structural inequalities.

Gender equality is mainstreamed into everything we do here in Australia, but for the next month the UK in Australia is bringing this to the forefront focusing on championing and celebrating inspiring women in Australia. We are hosting events with those who are leading in Climate, STEM, business and politics and diplomacy. We will also being welcoming young women across Australia into our missions to be Consul General or High Commissioner for the day.

Find out more

If you would like more information about any of our activity or initiatives, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter @UKinAustralia and check out the IWD website for other ways to get involved.


[1] World Economic Forum. Global Gender Gap Report 2020

[2] UN Women From insights to action: Gender equality in the wake of COVID-19.

[3] The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

[4] 34% UK MPs are women in our elected House of Commons (220) and 29.8% of Australian MPs are women in the federal House of Representatives