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Julie Bishop writes her first column for Mamamia.

In her first fortnightly column for Mamamia, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop reflects on the importance of International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day, more than one hundred years old, arose from the struggle for women’s rights to work, to vote and to hold public office – rights from which I – and the women attending this morning’s UN Women’s breakfast in Canberra – have greatly benefited. It remains as relevant today as when first instituted.

Julie Bishop on the Bali 9: “Myuran and Andrew deserve to live”.

In my role as Foreign Minister I have visited countries across the globe and have witnessed first-hand what it is like for women living and working in developing nations.

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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams.

While much progress towards gender equality has been made, there remain harrowing situations where human trafficking, sexual abuse, domestic violence and rape are not uncommon. The lack of female leadership in social, political and economic sectors and the fight for gender equality is a contributing factor in many societies where women are not treated as equals.

Sexual violence is a deeply pervasive, often invisible and utterly devastating act that terrorises women, men, boys and girls, and destroys families and communities. It is a grave human rights violation.

Read more: The details of Islamic State’s official ‘Guidelines to Rape’.

The rise of extremist groups such as Da’esh presents a frightening challenge for women. Some of the most vicious and inhuman acts committed by this barbaric terrorist organisation have been directed at women and girls.

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Iraqi refugees who fled their homes due to the violence of armed groups led by ISIL. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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There are reports of women and girls being abducted, tortured, raped, imprisoned and enslaved for sex and given to Da’esh militants as brides.

We have a responsibility to not only publicly condemn these heinous crimes but to act to protect women in these war-torn parts of the world. That is why the Australian Government supports the Iraqi Government’s efforts to defeat this terrorist organisation – with military support and by countering its ideology that seeks to turn back centuries of progress in human history.

Related content: Girls are being raped by Islamic State. So why aren’t we talking about it?

During last year’s debate at the UN Security Council on terrorism in Iraq and Syria, I noted the disproportionate attacks on women and girls and that “women and girls are bearing the brunt of this conflict as ISIL targets women, children and minorities for sexual violence and expectant mothers are forced to flee their homes”.

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Julie Bishop, second from left, at the International Women’s day UN Breakfast 2015.

That is why I am a Champion of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, launched in 2012 by the former UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie.

This campaign aims to raise awareness, and increase the political will, for better support for survivors of sexual violence in conflict and challenge any culture of impunity that exists for these crimes.

We must resist efforts by extremist groups, such as Da’esh, the Taliban, Boko Haram and others, to deny girls an education and supress their aspirations for liberty.

Related content: Mamamia welcomes Julie Bishop as a fortnightly columnist.

We must use the celebration of International Women’s Day to highlight the plight of women still fighting for freedom and equality, for when that is achieved it will be for the betterment of us all.

We must never resile from challenging any attitude that regards a female life as less valuable than a male life.

While in Australia we have much to celebrate in our gains for gender equality, there is still much to be done – at home, in our region and globally – to empower women and girls.

Sunday March 8, 2015, is International Women’s Day.

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