International Women’s Day 2019

For International Women’s Day 2019, ACLW decided to focus on what does feminism looks like today and what strategies are being developed to advance women under this banner.

As such, ACLW invited anyone who advocates for women to declare why they are a feminist and how are they working to improve the status of women.

Responses collected from diverse women are published below.

Responses to What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019 and how are you trying to improve the status of women?

Dr Diann Rodgers-Healey, Director, Australian Centre for Leadership for Women (ACLW)

How can I not be a feminist in a world where there is a disparity in the valuing of women and men as is overtly and covertly evident in systems, attitudes, behaviours and beliefs that entrenches barriers to women’s equality and their valuing?

The impact of such bias is clearly evident not just in the Liberal’s lack of female representations but in our workplaces in all levels:

A recent research report, Gender Equity Insights 2019: Breaking through the Glass Ceiling by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre (BCEC) and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) found that:

  • female CEOs will have to wait another 80 years until 2100 before achieving equal representation with their male counterparts
  • for “other” managers, gender parity will be reached by 2031 and for all managers by 2042
  • men are paid more than women at every level of management with a difference of $162,000 between the highest paid 10 per cent of men and women
  • women holding management positions at the lowest levels earn at least $31,000 less than their male colleagues every year

How can I not be a feminist, knowing that full and equal participation of women in workplaces at the intersection of multiple identities is far worse as they face compounding forms of discrimination that amplify gender discrimination?

And more crucially, how can I not be a feminist when women still today experience physical or sexual violence? One in six experience physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner, and when boyfriends, girlfriends or dates are included, this becomes one in four women.

I was not always a feminist as this ideology was not a part of the world I grew up in – a culture where women being devalued was a common occurrence. I did not know there was a movement called feminism when I was young. As my own search for equality began, I became more aware of gender inequality existing in so many institutions globally. Like many of us, I have dedicated my life-long work to dismantling gender bias and levelling the playing field, enabling the valuing of all women and challenging cultures to be inclusive and diverse. For me, doing this for those who are in intersectional and marginalised circles is particularly of significance as they are less likely to gain access to opportunities and resources, and face a more unequal playing field.

Although gender inequality is seen to be an age-old deeply entrenched problem, it is solvable and any intent and action focused on this, continues to draw my unapologetic commitment as a feminist. I shall be happy to relinquish the label when everyone can access and enjoy the same rewards, resources and opportunities regardless of gender. Until then I believe there is much to be done to work within precincts of power, in hearts and minds, to bring about change and realise a just and fair society for all.

Eva Cox

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019?

The need to ensure that feminism is not reduced to equality in male terms but serious changes to gender biased values and assumptions or we are losing ground. 

How are you trying to improve the status of women?

By arguing that we need to lead changes that create gender equity, not just status for women in a macho world.  Masculinity in control is stuffing the world with economic individualized ideas, and we are not offering social alternatives. 

Moo Baulch, CEO Domestic Violence NSW

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019?

Promoting as many women’s voices as possible to build a safer, more peaceful world for all. Making sure no woman is left behind. Gender equality in 2019 is still an abstract intangible concept for most women, I want a world where all genders and bodies are valued and celebrated – that’s what feminism means to me.

How are you trying to improve the status of women?

I’m a miniscule part of a global movement to end violence against women and girls. Using every ounce of my privilege to make sure Aboriginal women’s voices are front and centre of decisions that impact on their lives and communities. Supporting my queer family and communities to speak out about the violence we experience.

Ashleigh Streeter

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019?

As a feminist, we advocate for equality for ALL genders. As a woman of privilege, I have a duty to use my voice and my platform to both advocate and create spaces for those who might not have the opportunity to otherwise be heard. Being a feminist means being intersectional, looking to understand the experience of others and supporting persons of all genders to reach their full potential.

How are you trying to improve the status of women?

As an advocate and activist, I use my platforms to draw attention to the work of others who are making change in the community. I am a board director of YWCA Canberra, am engaged in the women’s network in my workplace (I work in a male dominated industry), work to support other women in the community who are engaged in the gender equality movement, and have recently established herinfinite.

herinifinite is an organisation established to support young female change makers to embrace their infinite power to create the impossible. This includes the #shesourchange campaign which exists to amplify the voice of young female change makers as they are less likely to receive attention than their older or male counterparts. This will be supported by a podcast interviewing issue-based campaigners, an online community hosted on Facebook and a series of offline workshops to assist the change makers in developing their skills and knowledge to create the type of change they would like to see.

Jill Tomlinson, Surgeon

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019?

It means being part of a growing tribe that believe that women have human rights and gender equity is possible!

How are you trying to improve the status of women?

Through individual and organisational advocacy online and in real life, supporting women and those who support them to achieve cultural change that will make our communities and workplaces happier and healthier.

Christina Ryan, CEO

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019?

I’ve grown up feminist so its a big part of my extended community. I feel supported, grounded, connected as a feminist from deep within me. Being feminist means taking responsibility, confronting the status quo, and backing other women to success. Feminism provides me with the confidence, skills, qualities and abilities to make the change that I make.

How are you trying to improve the status of women?

I’m focussed on leadership development through coaching and training. I make time to support, signal boost, and thank the planet for wonderful women in my space.

As a feminist I will not publicly undermine another woman, rather I accept that we are all different, work differently and make change in our own way. I will argue, explore, and broaden the debate so that all women are considered particularly intersectional women (my focus is on disability).

It is important that all women have a voice that is respected, heard, acknowledged, and applauded. Women, particularly intersectional and minority women, must be part of the leadership and decision making in all spheres of our community, business and government.

Terese Edwards, CEO

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019?

A feminist for me is a noun and an adjective. It enables me to challenge patriarchal conventions, both systemic and subtle.

How are you trying to improve the status of women?

With pride I stand with single mothers and speak the truth for women. Women who do not always have capacity (time and resources) to fight against prejudice and flawed assumptions.  

Debbie Kilroy, Chief Executive Officer, Sisters Inside Inc

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019?

Being a feminist in 2019 means advocating for all women against all forms of violence. I believe feminism must be intersectional and it must be anti-carceral. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls are over-represented in our prison system, as survivors of domestic, family and ongoing state violence. Mainstream feminism excludes the needs and interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls, and other women and girls “on the margins”. Advocacy that focuses on “law and order” misses the real conditions of women’s lives – poverty, homelessness, racism and state violence. Feminists must think outside the bars to end violence against women.

How are you trying to improve the status of women?

I’m actively supporting young women be leaders, to end violence and to dismantle the prison industrial complex. I know that I will not see prison abolition in my lifetime but I want to support young women to imagine abolition for their futures. I’m passionate about supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls to lead with their voices and priorities. To paraphrase Audre Lorde, none of us will be free until Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls are free.

Professor Shirley Randell

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019? 

To advocate for social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men. 

How are you trying to improve the status of women? 

In my family, with my friends, in my positions as Ambassador, Patron and board member of not-for-profit organisations, and my speeches in Australia and around the world, I consistently advocate for gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. 

Gabrielle McMullin, Consultant Vascular Surgeon, South Sydney Vascular Centre

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019?

Despite being a privileged, white, 60 yr old female senior consultant surgeon I have been assaulted in my work place twice in the last 2 years.

On the first occasion I had agreed to support a female nursing colleague during a meeting that she had requested to discuss working conditions. After an hour I left the meeting as I had patients scheduled but I made it clear that I was appalled by the unfair process that had occurred. A young male administrator objected to my comments and then chased me to the front of the hospital arguing loudly. On stepping out of the front entrance he then grabbed me by my left shoulder to stop me. I objected strenuously and a heated exchange followed in public view.

On the second occasion I was standing in an operating theatre having a few final words with a patient lying awake on the operating table. The nursing staff were scrubbed and ready to start, as were my junior staff. A large man then entered the room. Without introducing himself he approached me and was so verbally abusive that I initiated the recording device on my phone when he insisted that we move into the corridor to discuss an administrative issue despite my protests that this was entirely the wrong time and place to do so. The patient and operating staff were left waiting for 15 minutes until I was able to return to perform the surgical procedure.

My male surgical colleagues would never have been subjected to such behaviour. I complained immediately about each event and received a written apology from both men but neither of them was actually sorry for their actions. I know this because I still encounter one of them at the hospital and I feel his hatred. I am afraid of what would happen if I ever met him in a dark corridor late at night with no witnesses.

My fear is a feature of what it means to be a woman in 2019 and as I have said, I am one of the most privileged women in a country that is considered to be one of the safest for women. There are millions of women throughout the world who are subjected to the most appalling violence and abuse by men and who have no possible recourse for redress.

Conditions have improved significantly since the original feminists, the suffragettes, made the sacrifices that have allowed us to have a voice in the world. Despite this there is still not equality. Women are paid less than men for equal work. Women are still assumed to be responsible for care of children and increasingly for elderly parents. Women perform far more unpaid house work than male partners. Persistent and infuriating unconscious bias prevents the progression of women in work places and prevents them from reaching positions of influence. The “glass ceilings” and “sticky floors” still operate. The bullying and harassment makes life unbearable. And the violence is ongoing. Indeed there is a disturbing back lash against feminism. Bizarre on line forums such as the Mens Rights Activists call feminism a “cancer” and call for all feminists to be raped. Indeed there is an increasing view point that societal problems are due to feminism. A significant proportion of young women are loathe to identify with feminism (see Kitty Flanagan on feminism on The Project) as feminists are portrayed as Man Haters. Ironically though it is men who preach hate in the most vile forms and who treat women as objects to be ridiculed and defiled. The “incels” have been responsible for mass killings but blame women for these actions because they have “withheld” sex from these entitled men.

These views need to be exposed and discussed to prevent them from festering in secret on-line sites and fortunately brave feminists such as Clementine Ford are doing this at great personal cost (Boys will be Boys).
Feminism continues to be a painful process and victory in the form of equality is still a long way off.

How are you trying to improve the status of women?

Since my appointment as a consultant surgeon in 1995 it has been a pleasure to be in a position to make women around me important. I sincerely appreciate the numerous women that I work with for their commitment, skill and good humour and I enjoy running a work place that is respectful of everyone. I am pleased to be an example of a successful female surgeon with a family and I have had positive feedback from numerous trainees and students.

My intervention in 2015 to reveal that there was sexual harassment in surgery has changed the culture of the RACS significantly in terms of recognising the importance of women and that gives me a great sense of satisfaction. I continue to be contacted by distressed trainees for help and do what I can within an informal network of women to help. A number of women have now been appointed to senior positions in the College. Interestingly one of these women recently described me as “brave”.  Not clever or admirable but brave. I found that an interesting word and it brings me back to the word “fear” that is a constant in women’s lives.

Amar Sultan

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019?

To me, it means being someone who cares for a world where women and girls are allowed to unapologetically lead their lives with the same boldness as their male counterparts. It is understanding that majority of the fear emanating from men at the sound of the term ‘feminist’ comes from their belief that feminists wish to treat men the way women have been, and are currently being treated, which is far from the real truth. It is also understanding that a strong and successful woman is not a paragon if her mode of getting there was through trampling on other women to make herself superior. Being a feminist is remembering and dedicating ourselves (both men and women) to being who we truly wished to be, before the world around us, with all is patriarchal values and prejudices, told us who we ought to be.

How are you trying to improve the status of women?

I think such a task begins with the mindset of the individual regarding how they think of women, and in recognising that, it becomes their task to positively lift the status of women in their inner circle and then work their way outwards. This has been my personal approach and I feel that in doing so, I’m able to understand how I view and treat the women around me. Also, I make it a habit to remember that the success of other women does not preclude my own ability to achieve, and that in fact it should bring us closer together in celebrating each other’s achievements and seeing how much we are capable of. As I frequently learn just how far the women I meet and read about have come in the face of adversity, I am continuously impassioned to hold on to my aspirations, work harder and encourage the women and young girls around me to do the same and dream as wide as they please.

Edwina MacDonald, Legal Director – Sydney, Human Rights Law Centre

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019?

To believe in, and advocate for, gender equality

How are you trying to improve the status of women?

Supporting women’s voices being heard in policy debates, including at the UN; advocating for reproductive rights so that women have control over their own bodies; and working towards Australian Charters of Rights to properly protect women’s rights and ensure we have the power to hold governments to account.

Hannah Gissane, Project Coordinator at Equality Rights Alliance (ERA)

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019?

To be a feminist in 2019 is to be at a crossroads. Feminism is enjoying a huge increase in visibility, momentum and popularity. There are questions we must consider: how do we leverage this mounting power to make real and sustainable collective change for gender justice? How do we respond to the inevitable backlash that accompanies progress and shifting power? How do we collaborate effectively and strategically in our booming movement? In this sense, being a feminist in 2019 is a heady mix of excitement, overwhelm and anticipation.

How are you trying to improve the status of women?

I’m working to improve the status of women throughout my personal and professional lives. I’m lucky enough to have a day job that affords me the opportunity to work across a diversity of women’s and gender equality organisations. This work at ERA makes it possible to tie together a lot of the different but complementary work of groups and organisations. As part of this role I conduct national policy advocacy on gender equality issues to ensure that gender is on the federal agenda. Outside of work I continue to be part of various women’s rights organisations and campaigns. I know that the main way we make a difference is collectively and so I’m passionate about joining with others to make gender justice a reality.

Renee Griffin, Young Women’s Advisory Group for ERA member, State Coordinator for ActionAid

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019?

To me feminism in 2019 is supporting all women in an intersectional way that appreciates the continuum of challenges that women face both locally and internationally. It means supporting and standing behind other women and helping to magnify their voices in places where they’re not always heard. It means being unapologetic about bringing gender to the table for discussion and being proud to call yourself a feminist.

How are you trying to improve the status of women?

As a social worker, operating from a gendered lens is key to my work on a daily basis. I’m also taking part in a professional women in leadership program, am on an advisory group for young women in Australia’s largest network that advocates for gender equality, and I am a State Coordinator for an NGO that specifically tackles poverty and exclusion in a gender-specific manner. I have also put my hand up to be on the Gender Working Group in my workplace.

Yasmin Poole, Head of Business Development at 180 degrees Consulting

What does it mean to you to be a feminist in 2019? 

A feminist means seeing the world through a different lens. It means not accepting the status quo. It means forging onwards towards a vision of a fairer world even when the going gets tough. As a young women, I never take for granted how countless movements, protests and dialogue have allowed me to pursue my own opportunities and have my own voice. But in that same vein, being a feminist allows me to see the structures continue to marginalise female voice – the unfair assumptions made towards our female leaders and the challenges we continue to face. But it’s also empowering. It’s being part of a community that celebrates female achievements, that recognises the struggle women face to reach where they are. Most importantly, being a feminist allows me to understand the critical importance of diversity in the modern age – and how this creates a better world. 

How are you trying to improve the status of women? 

My mission is to empower young women to take an interest and become involved in politics. A recent study by Plan International revealed that 0% of young women aspire to become a politician. Too often, Parliament is regarded as pale, male and stale. But why should it be? Having worked across youth led organisations, I know that young women are not disinterested. It’s that Parliament itself dissuades female involvement – from unfair and disproportionate media representation, to accepted sexist remarks within Parliament walls, to a prevalent assumption that politics is a man’s game. My work within government and youth led organisations aims to empower the young female voice. I continue to push for paid MP internships for young women, for all political parties to strengthen their women in leadership programs and to treat Parliament like a workplace (which means the courage to call out sexism when one sees it). Through my platform, I hope to inspire young women that their voice is equally deserving to be heard by the political process. Ultimately, this is the key to fairer policies for all.

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