International Women’s Day 2018 is March 8. It’s a global day recognising and celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t recognise and celebrate the achievements of men, but when we look back over history women didn’t always get the acknowledgement that they deserved. I think a little catching up is warranted for the sisterhood, don’t you?
I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by strong, independent and educated women. Grandmothers, aunts, cousins, family friends, my mum and my sister. Equality wasn’t discussed and debated. It was a given. The men in our circle were feminists in the true sense of the word. They believed that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. (They were also in the minority so perhaps thought it best to keep any opposing view to themselves!)
There have been other incredible women who have had a positive influence on me; sisters-in-laws, nieces, teachers, mentors, friends, colleagues and peers. Throughout my career I have endeavoured to coach and guide up-and-coming women in my field. It’s wonderfully exciting to see the talent, enthusiasm and courage of the next generation; a generation led by some amazing women who have claimed their voices, uniting people, communities and nations to press forward for a more gender inclusive society.
To celebrate International Women's Day 2018 I am highlighting some of the incredible Australian women who have inspired me in different ways and for different reasons. Women who have set themselves goals, overcome obstacles, demonstrated resilience and succeeded in their chosen domain.
Women who have pushed for progress.
Quentin Bryce, the 25th Govenor General of Australia and the first woman to hold the position. Bryce was also the first woman appointed as a faculty member of the law school where she had studied. She joined the new National Women's Advisory Council when it was established in 1978 and this was followed by appointment to a number of positions, including the first Director of the Queensland Women's Information Service, the Queensland Director of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner in 1988. Bryce’s career was one of ‘firsts’ with a notable focus on representing women, women’s rights and equality.
What inspires me about Quentin Bryce is her commitment to her gender and the broader community (She showed her compassion by writing up to 50 handwritten letters a week to individuals she met in her role as Governor General). I admire the the courage and resilience that must have mustered to forge a high profile career in public office at a time when men dominated and she also did all this while raising five children (along with her husband of course). Amazing.
Mia Freedman, founder, publisher and editorial director of Australian women’s website Mamamia. Freedman is, without doubt, a polarising figure. Disliked by some because she expresses her thoughts and opinions with minimal filters, this is exactly why I admire her. She may not always get it right, but she is genuine and she is real. In contrast to the pretty-and-perfect of most social media feeds, Freedman fronts up on with no make-up, post workout and willing to exhibit life as a 40-something woman. It’s an image to which I can relate - an appreciate.
I also feel that I share something of a history with Freedman. We’re the same age and while I was reading Cosmopolitan magazine in my early 20s, she was the editor - aged 24. She has been consistently ambitious and achieving throughout her career, willing to try new things and push the boundaries of her industry. She has shared her struggle with many issues that affect women, including miscarriage and anxiety. She’s an advocate for women and for greater discussion of mental health and for that alone, I am a fan.
Cathy Freeman. I was living in Sydney during the 2000 Sydney Olympics when Freeman not only lit the Olympic Flame but went on to become the Olympic champion for the women's 400m. Along with much of the country I held my breath for the single minute that it took her to race to gold. What a moment of glory for a woman who had been planning Olympic success since childhood.
Freeman’s dedication to her goal, her incredibly hard work and her consistent determination was an inspiration to me in my late 20s, when I was working hard to further my professional education and establish my career. Despite the media attention and adulation, she remained calm, focused and determined.
Following her athletics career Freeman has kept a low profile and focused on giving back to the community through ambassadorships and her own charitable Foundation, working with remote Indigenous communities to close the gap in education between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian children. She’s a wonderful example of a high achiever with a strong sense of purpose.
Rosie Batty. On the afternoon of 12 February 2014 I was driving home on country roads in Central Victoria when news broke on the radio of Luke Batty's violent death at the hands of his father during cricket practice. As the mother of two sons I was at first horrified and deeply distressed for Luke's mother Rosie Batty . As the days and weeks ensued I was in awe of her as she spoke calmly and confidently about her love for Luke and began calling for better understanding of and an end to domestic violence in our community. She has shown herself to be incredibly resilient and has used her own horrific experience to help galvanise a new, focused conversation about domestic violence and its complexities .
In recent days Batty has stepped away from the Luke Batty Foundation, announcing that it is to be wound up. In her words, "I need to step away from my public role for a while and take time to breathe." This does not surprise me and I applaud her commitment to self-care. Batty has worked relentlessly hard over the past four years, in the face of criticism and public comment. I hope she finds some peace in private and can return to the cause of domestic violence with renewed vigour.
The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka; Inspirational women of the past. My little family settled in Ballarat five years ago, reconnecting us with history. My great grandparents moved to Ballarat from Bendigo during the Great Depression and my grandmother grew up here. I remember learning about the Eureka Rebellion and the 'birth of Australian democracy' in primary school but it didn’t mean much.
Over the past 5 years, particularly through visiting Sovereign Hill, we have come appreciate the hardships of life during the Gold Rush. There were many incredible women who played a part in building this town and creating history during the 1854 rebellion. There were the local women who sewed the Eureka Flag , those who started schools and ran businesses and pioneering women like Clara Seekamp who became Australia's first female newspaper editor. The Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka and historian Clare Wright's book The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka have been enlightening sources of information about these women and although we don't have evidence of a direct family connection to the women of Eureka, I somehow sense that these women were my forebears.
This year’s International Women’s Day 2018 theme #PressforProgress, reminds all of us that we must keep on moving forward to pave the way for future generations to enjoy gender equality. This is not someone else’s responsibility. It is yours and mine.
For more inspiration, watch this:
Follow the hashtag #PressforProgress on social media to learn more about the incredible and inspiring women forging a path for gender equality.