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#IWD2021 Reflection

8 March 2021

Happy International Women’s Day everyone.

Last week I spent time in the company of some fabulous women and men as part of the TRAIL Emerging Leaders and Milparanga Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership Programs. In each of the programs, powerful discussions were held on the topic of gender.

My co-facilitator, Sam Archer and I were very intentional in the choice of guests we included in our session and of the difficult, exploratory conversation we wished to include on the final day. Grant Cameron and Michelle Deshong, who were facilitating Milparanga, took the same approach.

The stories of the participants were moving, confronting and authentic. A recent study stated that due to our neurobiology, it is very difficult to empathise with a concept such as gender discrimination, racism, ethnic discrimination. The study suggests we can increase our empathy for these concepts when we lean into the stories of others who have experienced these.

This was certainly the case for the cohort on TRAIL last week whose thinking, perceptions and being was shaped by the stories of others. The backdrop to our week on TRAIL was the revolving door of news stories about allegations of sexual abuse within the walls of Parliament House – an institution created to represent the interests and rights of all Australians.

“Women hold up half the Sky” is a Chinese proverb and Half the Sky is a movement to stop oppression for women internationally. To be a woman in many developing countries is a denial of fundamental human rights – enforced marriage in adolescence, lack of education, lack of employment opportunity, denial of right to contraception, slavery and enforced prostitution.

Australia has its own stories to be ashamed of as well in terms of gender relations:

  • 1 in 6 (1.6 million) women and 1 in 16 (500,000) men have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a cohabiting partner since age 15.
  • 1 woman a week and 1 man a month were killed by a current or former partner in the two years from 2012-13 to 2013-14.
  • 2,800 women and 560 men were hospitalised in 2014-15 after being assaulted by a spouse or partner.
  • 72,000 women, 34,000 children and 9,000 men sought homelessness services in 2016-17 due to family/domestic violence.

How will I acknowledge this day?

I am grateful for all of the women and men who have contributed to advances in social justice and increased opportunity for women and girls. And I am ever hopeful and inspired by those who continue to work tirelessly in this area.

I am still elated that I watched my daughter play in a W League match on the weekend and can experience her years of hard work come to fruition- years of dedication playing in the female code of a sport where most of the funding was directed to men.

In 2020, Football Federation Australia (FFA) announced equal pay for the women’s and men’s national teams in a landmark agreement. It is nigh impossible to generate enough income as a female athlete in Australia, in the same way this is a problem for female performers and artists.

So many seeds to sow and fruits to bear in the future and that is what keeps most of us hopeful. It is a privilege to be able to address these issues in our programs, to step bravely into territory that would be easier to avoid and to lead with compassion.

Andrea Hogg, Director Learning