My travel over the last two months has been within Australia to Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Western Australia to visit children, grandchildren and friends, and to attend various functions. I expand on this at the end of the newsletter, which I invite you to read. However, I want to begin by recording the passing of a very special friend and mentor of mine many years ago, Dr Evelyn Scott. The passing of three other significant women are also mentioned below – Dr Kate Millett, Fiona Richardson and Anna McPhee – and 30 of my school mates from 1952-57.
As I experience the privilege of growing older, like many of you I mourn the ones who have passed before but also celebrate the many amazing living women whose achievements are touched on in this newsletter .
Dr Evelyn Scott, Indigenous rights activist and ‘trailblazer’ who was a member of the National Women’s Advisory Council when I was its executive officer in the 1980s, has died in far north Queensland aged 81. An educator and social justice campaigner, she possessed a striking presence, often wearing her signature black hat, perhaps to lessen the glare of the spotlight in which she worked, even into her later years. The granddaughter of a man brought to Queensland from Vanuatu in chains as a slave laborer to work the sugar fields, Dr Scott took to heart her own father’s words: “If you don’t think something is right, then challenge it.” The motto marked her life and her role at pivotal moments in the history of the nation. Dr Scott was one of the leading figures in the decade-long campaign to change the constitution, allowing Indigenous people to be included in official census data. The 1967 vote remains the most successful referendum in Australian history. Dr Scott became the first general-secretary of the Indigenous-controlled Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders in 1973. This heralded a new era of Indigenous political activism and the push for their self-determination. A high point for Indigenous advancement came with the Mabo High Court judgement overturning the concept of ‘terra nullius’ — a land with no people — in 1992. More work was to follow, when calls for an apology to the Stolen Generations in the wake of the 1997 Bringing Them Home Report was met with stiff resistance by the government of John Howard in the late 1990s. (He later presented Dr Scott with an Australian Achiever Award-photo.) She navigated those fraught and emotionally charged times with grace and unwavering dedication to the path of reconciliation, stepping into the role of chairwoman for the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in the years 1997 to 2000. Her time there was capped by the Corroboree 2000 Bridge Walk, when 250,000 people marched across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of an official apology. The image of the bridge can be seen as symbolic of Dr Scott herself, and her ability to walk in two distinct worlds simultaneously. She would have been extremely disappointed, as I have been, to see the recent Cabinet rejection of the recommendations in the Indigenous peoples proposal for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations ‘Voice’.
I had great pleasure in attending the Rosa Scott Women’s Writers Festival (RSWWF) at The Women’s Club this month, a splendid two-day celebration of women writers that was organised by a fellow University of Newcastle conjoint professor Dr Wendy Michaels and her committee.
The festival was opened by Deborah Cheetham AO, a Yorta Yorta woman, soprano, composer and educator who has been a leader and pioneer in the Australian arts landscape for more than 25 years. In 2009, she established Short Black Opera as a national not-for profit opera company devoted to the development of Indigenous singers, and produced the premier of her first opera, Pecan Summer in 2010. This landmark work was Australia’s first Indigenous opera, enabling the development of a new generation of Indigenous opera singers, and in 2016 it became the first Indigenous opera to be performed at the Sydney Opera House. In 2014 Cheetham was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the performing arts as an opera singer, composer and artistic director, to the development of Indigenous artists, and to innovation in performance. She is a member of the Stolen Generations, taken from her mother when she was three weeks old and raised by a white Baptist family. Jimmy Little was her uncle. In 1997 Cheetham wrote the autobiographical play White Baptist Abba Fan which tells of her experiences of coming to terms with her homosexuality and racial identity while trying to reunite with her Aboriginal family, a play that has toured internationally. As a soprano, Cheetham has performed in France, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. After her speech at RSWWF she sang the new words for the Australian national anthem, created by Judith Durham in consultation with Muti Muti singer songwriter Kutcha Edwards that appear at the end of this newsletter.
I attended the Australian International Affairs Association National Conference in Canberra and was delighted to meet several former colleagues again, including Hon Kim Beazley from Schools Commission days. AIAA speakers foreshadowed that Australia is now a member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (HRC). Minister Julie Bishop said that as part of its bid, Australia put forward five pillars, including gender equality and Indigenous people’s rights, which now need to be implemented. By participating within the UN, Australia is well placed to define the rules, norms and standards of the international community, but it can no longer champion human rights internationally while failing to address its domestic policy failings. How Australia deals with domestic shortcomings in its treatment of Indigenous people and asylum seekers, especially as both issues also have incredibly complex gender equality challenges, will affect its potential leadership opportunities in the HRC. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are often the most disadvantaged within their already deprived communities, facing both gender and racial discrimination. Indigenous women and girls suffer extraordinary levels of assault – indigenous mothers are 17.5 times more likely to die from homicide than non-indigenous mothers. Indigenous women are the fastest growing segment of Australia’s prison population – they are 21 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-indigenous women. Australia should concentrate urgently on improving the security, rights and resource access of Australian Indigenous peoples, particularly women. There should also be a real effort to integrate gender perspectives into Australia’s refugee and humanitarian program, and to ensure that our national action plan on women, peace and security has a mandate to incorporate the protection of women and their dependants fleeing conflict zones as irregular migrants or asylum seekers. The safety and security of vast numbers of women and children remain precarious while they wait for visa applications to be processed.
Dr Fionnuala Ní Aoláin has been appointed by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) as an independent expert, the Special Rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism. She has a mandate to gather, request, receive and exchange information on alleged violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. She must report regularly to the HRC and UN General Assembly about identified good policies and practices, as well as existing and emerging challenges, and present recommendations on ways and means to overcome them. Dr Ni Aolain is a law professor who says that armed conflict has been ‘the motif of my career’, from Belfast to Bosnia. Her articles in a series of journals, were among the first to define sexual violence as a weapon of war — and helped to change the conversation. Today rape is recognized as a war crime by all international courts. She has served on the European Court of Human Rights, won several prestigious fellowships, and published eight books.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has appointed Jane Connors, Australian law professional and long-time human rights advocate, as the first UN advocate for the rights of victims of sexual exploitation and abuse aimed at stamping out sexual abuse committed by UN peacekeepers. The appointment is in line with the Secretary-General’s pledge that the UN will put the rights and dignity of victims at the forefront of its prevention and response efforts. Connors, currently International Advocacy Director, Law and Policy, for Amnesty International in Geneva, brings to the position a long and multi-faceted career in human rights advocacy, as well as human rights and humanitarian assistance in the academic, UN and civil society spheres. As Victims’ Rights Advocate, she will support an integrated, strategic response to victim assistance in coordination with relevant UN system actors. Connors will work with government institutions, civil society, and national and legal and human rights organizations to build networks of support and to help ensure that the full effect of local laws, including remedies for victims, are brought to bear.
Nobel Peace Prize. The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the second time that the Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the Prize to a group of people who have dedicated themselves to teaching the medical effects of a nuclear war to the people of the world. The first occasion was in 1985 when the prize was awarded to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), an organisation composed of groups of physicians in many countries of the world, including Russia. The IPPNW was partly responsible for bringing the Cold War to an end because Mikhail Gorbachev was very affected after he watched the physicians on national Soviet television explain the ghastly medical consequences of nuclear weaponry. Ronald Reagan also eventually understood these implications, saying the “nuclear war must never be fought and can never be won”. The second Nobel awardee, ICAN, began in 2007, in Melbourne, Australia, an organisation that included Professor Tilman Ruff, Tim Wright and Felicity Hill, and is now a coalition of grass roots non-government groups in more than 100 nations. They decided on a course of action which emulated the UN ban on land mines, known as the Mine Ban Treaty or the Ottawa Treaty, which was signed by 122 states in Ottawa in 1997. ICAN called on all the countries in the UN to pass a law that would outlaw nuclear weapons once and for all. This movement spread like wildfire throughout the world. The Austrian government has been actively involved in supporting the treaty, as has the Vatican and many other countries. The Nobel committee saw the profound wisdom of a small group of mostly young people who organised over 120 nations of the UN to vote to end the nuclear age by signing the Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons. The photo is of the Executive Director of ICAN in Geneva, Beatrice Fihn at the announcement of the Prize. The nine countries recognized as those possessing nuclear weapons and some of their allies, including Australia, abstained from voting, believing the treaty disregards the realities of the international security environment and is incompatible with the policy of nuclear deterrence, which has been essential to keeping the peace for 70 years. Russia and the US now possess 94 per cent of the 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world and North Korea has entered the group. However, the new agreement is a very clear statement that the international community wants to move to a completely different security paradigm that does not include nuclear weapons. The Nobel committee emphasised that the next steps towards attaining a world free of nuclear weapons must involve the nuclear-armed states initiating negotiations to gradual elimination of the world’s nuclear weapons.
back to top
Jacinda Ardern is the next prime minister of New Zealand, forming a minority government with leaders of key minority partners after the same skilful weeks of negotiation used by Julia Gillard when forming her government in Australia. Ardern is the country’s third female PM and, at 37, its second youngest in NZ history. She is the only woman in the 12 current heads-of-state in their thirties. Ardern has proven herself to be warm, engaging, and with a ‘human face.’ Like Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau she is young, photogenic, and popular with the youth bloc. Unfortunately for Ardern, it is unlikely to be an easy term in government, but it is a massive victory. She only became leader of the Labour party on 1 August, just months prior to the election and when Labor was headed for a huge defeat. Ardern has managed to turn things around in an impressively short amount of time. She has laid out her priorities for the country, saying she plans to urgently address climate change, tackle inequality and improve women’s lives in the home and workplace. Ardern reiterated that she is committed to having 50% of her caucus made up of women – a goal she is yet to achieve.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel secured a fourth term with her election victory. Often cited as the most powerful woman on the global stage and the true Leader of the Free World, she is Europe’s longest serving leader, and joins the late Helmut Kohl (her mentor) and Konrad Adenauer, as the only two post-war chancellors to win four national elections. Development experts expect that her victory will result in the world’s third largest aid donor continuing its assistance to developing countries. That will likely mean continuing to direct significant aid to African countries with the aim of creating jobs and stemming the flow of migrants to Europe, as Germany angles for a larger leadership role in confronting global problems. Some critics have warned this focus leads to the ‘instrumentalization’ of development assistance, as the means to an end for Germany’s own domestic political challenges. Others lamented that global development policy received little airing during the election season, since many of Germany’s parties hold relatively similar views on how it should be used, and for what. French President Emmanuel Macron has elaborated on his own vision for European cooperation in a speech that included France and Germany as critical partners. Macron suggested he would seek to increase development assistance and called for a European Union-wide financial transaction tax to help pay for it.
Albania has reached a new milestone with women’s representation in politics at 29% with a record number of women parliamentarians, a marked improvement on the 2013 elections, when around 18 per cent women were elected and 2008 when there were only 7% MPs. There are now 33 women in the Albania Alliance of Women Parliamentarians. In 2008, Albania passed the law on Gender Equality, which among other measures, established a minimum 30 per cent quota for women and stipulated that one of the first three names on the political parties’ candidate lists must be that of a female candidate. UN Women provided technical support to the development of the law, and has been working with civil society, government and elected women at national and local levels to boost women’s political participation and to advocate for gender balance in local elections. Support for elected women to be successful political leaders in Albania is needed to ensure that the hard-earned gains are not lost.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, elected for a third term by 98% of the vote, has unveiled a gender-balanced Cabinet in accordance with an earlier pledge, with 11 of 20 posts taken by women. The President and his new Prime Minister Dr Edouard Ngirente named a mix of former ministers and new figures in their line-up that also saw new faces in Cabinet, five of them women. Francine Tumushime will be in charge of the newly created Ministry of Lands and Forestry while Marie Solange Kayisire is the Minister of Cabinet Affairs in the PM’s office. Rosemary Mbabazi, previously a Permanent Secretary in Trade and Industry now moves up to be Youth minister. Jeanne d’Arc Debonheur is Minister of Disaster Preparedness and Refugee Affairs, and Fanfan Kayirangwa Rwanyindo is Labour minister. Louise Mushikiwabo, one of the three longest serving ministers, has retained her post as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation. Her ministry has also been expanded to include East African Community affairs, previously under the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Women are still more than 60% of parliamentarians in Rwanda. Rand Merchant Bank’s 2018 edition of Where to Invest in Africa assesses the economic outlook and investment opportunities in the continent. There are significant changes in the top 10 African nations to invest in and some warnings about the future economic outlook across the continent. Rwanda has re-entered the top 10, claiming the eighth spot as the country continues to demonstrate ongoing growth and diversification.
Kenyan women have performed better in the 2017 elections, compared with 2013, but the numbers still fall short of the constitutional two-thirds gender requirement. Twenty-three women have been elected to the National Assembly, up from the 16 elected in the last elections. This, added to the 47 women-only seats and half of the 12 nominees by political parties, will bring the women in the National Assembly to 76, still short by 41 seats to make 117 or one-third of the 349 MPs (290 elected, 47 woman representatives and 12 nominated members). In 2013, no woman was elected to the Senate, so 18 women had to be nominated to the Senate as part of affirmative action rules. Three women have been elected governors, four and a half years after devolution was introduced. Former Cabinet secretaries Charity Ngilu and Ann Waiguru won in Kitui and Kirinyaga counties respectively, with former National Assembly Deputy Speaker Joyce Laboso (photo) taking Bomet county. The number of women elected members of county assemblies has increased from 84 to 96 of the total 1450. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court nullified the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga set conditions for his participation and a very brutal re-election is taking place in October.
Women in Bougainville have recently achieved gender parity in community parliament. Much of Bougainville’s infrastructure was destroyed during the years of conflict, and essential services like health care and education were crippled. Women’s groups played a pivotal role in negotiating for peace and in bringing an end to the conflict. In communities that are ancestrally matrilineal, women used their traditional status as mothers of the land to instigate peace talks within their communities. As their influence grew, women played a key role in formal peace discussions at a regional level. After working directly to end the civil war that continued to claim lives after the conflict, many of these women still work in leadership today. Despite their ongoing key role in ending the conflict, in the years following they were still largely shut out of formal leadership positions. In 2016, a new Act took a huge step towards fixing this. At a community level in Bougainville, districts are further broken down into wards. Each of these wards has a Chair and a Vice-Chair – and as of last year, each ward must have an equal number of men and women. Australia is playing a role in supporting Voter Awareness and Leadership Education Awareness projects (photo of women leaders with former Australian Ambassador Natasha Scott Despoja).
Saudi Arabia, the middle eastern kingdom well known for its controversial government and policy framework, has lifted an archaic ban on women being able to drive. Human rights groups in the kingdom have campaigned for years to change the policy. Until this point, women in Saudi Arabia caught driving, could legally be arrested, fined and in some cases, imprisoned. The royal decree will implement the provisions of traffic regulations, including the issuance of driving licenses for men and women alike by June 2018. The kingdom’s US ambassador, Prince Khaled bin Salman, spoke out to say it was “an historic and big day” and “the right decision at the right time”. For the first time, women will be able to participate fully in the country’s economy. Families will no longer be put under huge financial strains, forced to book imported chauffeurs as well as house them, feed them and insure them. Currently there are an estimated 800,000 imported chauffeurs ferrying women across Saudi Arabia. Activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who was detained for 73 days in prison for defying the ban, tweeted “thank God” following the announcement. Manal al-Sharif (photo), another woman previously arrested over the law, tweeted that Saudi Arabia would, “never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop”. This is a huge, historic win for Saudi Arabian women.
Tunisia has abolished a decades-old ban on Muslim women marrying non-Muslims as the President Beji Caid Essebsi seeks to secure equal rights for the country’s female population. He has enshrined in law the right to the freedom to choose one’s spouse, arguing that the existing practice violated Tunisia’s constitution that was adopted in 2014 in the wake of the Arab Spring revolution. Until now a non-Muslim man who wished to marry a Muslim Tunisian woman had to convert to Islam and submit a certificate of his conversion as proof, while a Muslim Tunisian man is allowed to marry a non-Muslim woman. Human rights groups in the North African country had campaigned for the ban’s abolition, saying it undermined the fundamental human right to choose a spouse. Essebsi has created a commission led by a female lawyer and rights activist aimed at drafting revised rules.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi made her first address to the nation since attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents on 25 August sparked a military response that has forced 500,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh. The plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees, a Muslim ethnic minority group rendered stateless in their homeland and detained in transit nations, is desperately bleak. The UN has branded the military operation in the western state a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. The Myanmar government has blamed the Rohingya themselves for the unrest, but members of the persecuted minority have said soldiers and Buddhist mobs attacked them. Suu Kyi said she felt deeply for the suffering of everyone caught up in the conflict in Rakhine State and is committed to the restoration of peace and stability and rule of law throughout. She has condemned all human rights violations and said anyone responsible for abuses in the troubled state would face the law. Suu Kyi said Myanmar was committed to a sustainable solution to the conflict, did not fear international scrutiny and invited diplomats to inspect the State for themselves. She said most of their villages remained intact, and that it was important to understand why conflict did not break out everywhere. Nevertheless, the Nobel Peace laureate’s global image has been damaged by the violence.
Diversity The importance of diversity in politics is illustrated by two brave female Republican Senators in the US, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who voted controversially against the repeal of Obamacare. They foiled Trump’s efforts to abolish the Affordable Care Act (ACA), voting with John Cain against the bill with the final vote tally 51-49. The two women had been vocal about their opposition to dismantling the current health system without an improved verified policy in place to substitute it. Collins said it would be a “big mistake” for Republicans to pass legislation without first attempting to work with Democrats to reach bipartisan solutions. Likewise, both women relied on feedback from their constituents, and felt strongly that there had been little consideration of the repercussions of repealing the ACA so hastily. In a statement on her vote, Murkowski said: “I hear from fishermen who can’t afford the coverage that they have, small business owners who can’t afford insurance at all, and those who have gained coverage for the first time in their life. These Alaskans have shared their anxiety that their personal situation may be made worse under the legislation considered this week.”
Diversity should not be a goal, rather diversity and inclusion are core strategies to achieve other results. While being the right things to do, many leaders are more compelled by the positive economic implications and benefits accruing from diversity and inclusion strategies than they are by the social justice issue. As Patrick Foulis pointed out in the Economist, “The arguments in favour of diversity are powerful” and include the large and growing numbers of women in the workplace, how mass immigration has altered the makeup of western societies, and gay men and women have come out of the closet. He argues that diverse teams are more creative, innovative, and produce better ideas, and cites studies that have found that the more female executives that firms have, the more profitable they seem to be. Countries and organisations should overcome trust, cultural and inertia issues to embrace diversity and inclusion. According to Hays Recruitment Agency, diversity is now a priority for mining companies who are pursuing potential employees who have a disability. The diversity push has traditionally focused on increasing the proportion of female and Indigenous Australians in workforces. In a leading example of this strategy, BHP added 100 women to its workforce in the 2017 financial year and is aiming to have 50 per cent of its workforce female by 2025. Fortescue Metals Group has employed 774 Indigenous Australians at the company over the past decade through its Vocational Training and Employment Centre program to help it increase diversity. Most major miners are still looking to add more female and Indigenous employees to their workforce, but the scope for growing diversity has expanded with receiving requests for candidates with a disability to further diversify workforces.
The 50/50 by 2030 Foundation is a bold new gender equality initiative established by the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra because Australia is falling behind. From a global ranking of 15 in 2006 just over a decade ago, Australia now sits at 46 on the gender equality ladder out of 144 countries. We have fallen below the United States, Trinidad and Tobago, Lao, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Colombia, Poland, Argentina, Costa Rica, Portugal, Cuba, Lithuania, Estonia, Mozambique, and Latvia. We are way behind all the Nordic countries, and an embarrassing 37 countries below New Zealand, which sits at number nine. Our ranking for women’s economic participation and opportunity has dropped behind another 30 countries to 42. And we rank 61 in the world for political participation. This is from a country that still ranks number one for education and where Australian universities have been graduating more women than men since 1995. None of us can wait the 170 years the World Economic Forum estimates it will take to reach economic gender equality.
The Foundation was officially launched by the Minister for Women, Senator Hon Michaela Cash, and Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO in September. Backed by world class research expertise, the Foundation’s board (photo) aims to develop evidence-based theory and leading practice on the role of women in strengthening public administration and improving governance and national well-being in Australia. The 50/50 Vision is that by the year 2030 men and women will be equally represented at all levels of leadership and key decision-making roles at all levels of government and public administration throughout Australia and across our region.
Westpac, one of Australia’s biggest banks and most profitable organisations, has reached parity with women now holding 50% of leadership positions across the bank – 3000 of the bank’s 6000 management positions are now held by women. It hasn’t happened easily or by chance, but because targets were set, enforced and pursued doggedly. It was considered a core business objective, embedded in corporate strategy and had the full support and commitment from the board and executive down. It took planning, innovation, improved flexibility and parental leave, and relentless focus.
It was also helped that the bank had a number of female trailblazers along the way, including Ann Sherry and Gail Kelly (right and left of photo with other leaders). Westpac was the first Australian bank to employ a female teller in Sydney in October 1961 and in 1978 its first female branch manager in Rockhampton. It was also Westpac, under Ann Sherry’s leadership, that was the first major listed company to introduce paid maternity leave. In 2010 Westpac’s then-chief executive Gail Kelly publicly committed to reaching 40% women in leadership by the year 2014, a target it met in 2012, and then aimed for 50% by 2017. Considering the landscape for women in leadership in Australia the enormity of Westpac’s achievement cannot be underplayed. Women might make up 50.2% of the population and 46.4% of all employees in Australia but they remain rare in the ranks of corporate leadership. Women hold only 12.9% of chair positions, 24.7% of directorships and comprise 28.5% of key management personnel in Australia’s largest organisations. In the ASX200 there are more men named David running companies than there are women. So too, John and Peter. Among non-public sector employers with 100 or more employees, 29.9% have no key management personnel who are women.
New appointments have been made to the National Museum of Australia. Chair of the Council, David Jones said, “This is an exciting time for the Museum… our vision is to be a museum for the nation, which strives to reach people wherever they are, and which understands its responsibility to take the Australian story to the world.” The three new council members are Sarah Davies, CEO of Philanthropy Australia; Vicki Coltman, Director and Deputy Chair of the Art Gallery of Ballarat; and Fiona Jose (Executive General Manager at the Cape York Partnership).
Women in the world
back to top
Born 1934 in St Paul, Minnesota, Dr Kate Millett has died aged 82. She was an American feminist writer, educator, artist, and activist who attended Oxford University and was the first American woman to be awarded a degree with first-class honors. Her key book in 1970 was the groundbreaking bestseller Sexual Politics, an analysis of patriarchal power, which launched the second wave of the women’s liberation movement. Dr Millett developed the theory that for women, the personal is political. She expounded the notion that men have institutionalised power over women, and that this power is socially constructed as opposed to biological or innate. This theory was the foundation for a new approach to feminist thinking that became known as radical feminism, a significant new political theory and movement. Dr Millett wrote a series of radical feminist books, including political and cultural treatises and autobiography. She produced the film Three Lives (1971) and was active in feminist politics, campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment in America and women’s rights in Iran. Dr Millett re-emerged internationally with The Politics of Cruelty (1994), an investigation of the use of torture across the world. Among more personal works are Sita (1977), about a lesbian love affair, and Mother Millett (2001), the story of her mother’s final years.
NASA astronaut, Peggy Whitson has returned to Earth as a record breaker after clocking 665 days living off the planet. She has logged more time in space than any other American and any other woman after a 288-day stint on the International Space Station (ISS). Whitson left the ISS along with another American and a Russian in a Soyuz capsule. She was the last one carried from the landing craft, and immediately received a pair of sunglasses to put on as she rested in a chair. Medical personnel took her pulse, as is standard practice for returning astronauts, and gave her a bouquet of flowers with the greeting, “Welcome back, Peggy.” Besides the record for duration, Whitson set multiple other records while in orbit: the world’s oldest spacewoman at 57 and the most experienced female space walker with 10 visits outside the ISS. She also became the first woman to command the space station twice, following her launch last November.
Dr Natalia Kanem of Panama is the new Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund bringing to the position more than three decades of strategic leadership and management in the fields of medicine, public health, international peace and development, human rights and social justice. She has applied this expertise in direct programme implementation, mission advocacy, and building strong local, national, international and donor partner alliances. Dr Kanem’s previous positions have included UNFPA Representative in the United Republic of Tanzania, Senior Associate at the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago, founding President of ELMA Philanthropies Services, a private institution focusing primarily on children and youth in Africa, and in various capacities in the Ford Foundation.
Marie Chatardová, Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the UN, has been appointed the 73rd President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the body at the heart of UN’s work to advance sustainable development. She has commented on several positive developments towards reaching the targets of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and declared that the key priority of her Presidency will be to develop initiatives towards fostering sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies through participation of all. Chatardová said that despite unprecedented technological advancement and innovation, the world continued to experience rising inequalities in most countries. “If multilateralism is to stay relevant in this evolving context, we need to take these challenges seriously, and work on devising solutions to address them. I believe that the ECOSOC system has a key role to play,” she said.
As a member of the Akilah Institute for Women Advisory Council in Rwanda I am delighted to announce that Akilah Country Director, Aline Kabanda, has been recognized among Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government by CEO Global as the Country and Great Lakes Regional Winner in Education and Training. CEO Global is a South African media company that celebrates female change makers across the continent who are working to create sustainable change and set positive examples for other girls and women in their communities. The awards honor women who have made significant contributions in their sectors and countries that directly impact and empower women through their work. Aline said, “I am truly honored to accept this award on behalf of the Akilah Institute and our supporters. It’s exciting to see that our hard work towards educating the next generation of women leaders in East Africa has gained international recognition. This award is certainly something that we should all feel part of and celebrate.” Aline was selected because of the tremendous work she does every day at Akilah, where she is involved in all aspects of campus affairs — from academics and recruitment, to operations and logistics, to strategic partnerships and career development for both students and staff.
Yetnebersh Nigussie is an Ethiopian lawyer working for human rights, based on her own experience of being discriminated against, being young, a woman, blind and coming from a developing country. She has received a Right Livelihood Award for her inspiring work promoting the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities, allowing them to realise their full potential and changing mindsets in our societies. Nigussie is fearlessly pushing for women’s and girls’ rights, inclusive education and a vibrant civil society. Through her tireless efforts, she has changed perceptions on disability in her own society and internationally with the compelling message: “Focus on the person, not the disability. We have one disability, but 99 abilities to build on!” Currently a senior inclusion advisor with Light for the World, the international disability and development NGO, Nigussie fights for the inclusion of the 15% of the world’s population who have some kind of disability about 1 billion people. She strives to create inclusive conditions for future generations by connecting national realities with international frameworks. Nigussie is an outstanding advocate for the rights enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Egyptian-born Dame Nemat Shafik is the first woman ever to run the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). The economist, who is a British and US national, resigned from her prominent central banking job as Deputy Governor of the Bank of England only two years into her five-year contract, in order to accept this position. She studied at the LSE and has since then gone on to hold prominent roles in high profile, prestigious institutions – deputy managing director at the International Monetary Fund and the youngest ever vice-president of the World Bank. In 2015, Queen Elizabeth II honoured Shafik for her outstanding contributions in her field and named her a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Dame Shafik said she is thrilled to be given the opportunity to lead the LSE. “The School’s long tradition of bringing the best of social science research and teaching to bear on the problems of the day is needed now more than ever. LSE is a unique institution that combines intellectual excellence and global reach. I am looking forward to working with both staff and students to guide it through what will be a time of challenge and opportunity in the higher education sector.”
Women in Australia
back to top
Fiona Richardson passed aged 50, on the day before one of her initiatives, the Victoria’s Ministerial Council on Women’s Equality, convened for the first time. A survivor of domestic violence herself, she opened up about her difficult past on Australian Story last year. Fiona said at the time that all of her memories before the age of eight involve violence. During her time as Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence — the first person to serve in such a position in Australia — she saw evidence come to light of violence and sexual assault under the Royal Commission. Fiona led a remarkable and passionate life, determined to promote safety and equality for women, as well as an end to family violence. She had conviction, a sharp intellect, and incredible composure for somebody who had experienced so much. In December 2016, when Fiona launched Victoria’s first ever Gender Equality Strategy Safe and Strong which addresses inequality, sexism and violence against women in all its forms, she said “Despite women having the vote for 100 years, there are so very few lasting institutions, memorials, measures, legislation or within government helping women succeed. There is no Women’s Act; no Women’s agency, too few monuments to our sacrifice and our achievements.” She believed the strategy would put an end to this neglect. Fiona was determined that together we could elevate gender equality and the rights of women beyond election and budget cycles. Her plan was supported by women and men, community and business leaders, sporting clubs and not-for profit organisations, and by people from all walks of life. Victoria is the first state to dedicate a memorial to the victims of family violence, and the first in the world to create a Family Violence Index.
Anna McPhee has died of cancer at the age of 47. Anna made an enormous contribution to the women’s movement in conservative politics in Australia over more than 20 years. She was CEO of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency in 2004, Chair of the employer member organization – Diversity Council Australia, the first female chief of staff to a NSW Liberal Premier – the Hon Barry O’Farrell and the Liberal Party’s first female deputy campaign director in 1999. Anna continued to work for the advancement of women over her career, representing the government at the UN Convention on Women and speaking on women in leadership at Stanford University. Most recently, Anna was the CEO of the Retail Council, representing Australia’s national retailers. Her passing will leave a large gap in the Australian business and political community.
The Anglican Church has elected its first female archbishop, the Right Reverend Kay Goldsworthy AO, to lead the West Australian division. Bishop Goldsworthy, who is married and has twin adult sons, will be installed in February as the eighth archbishop of Perth at St George’s Cathedral. The archbishop-elect became the first female Anglican bishop in Australia in 2008, when she was appointed assistant bishop of Perth. Currently working as the Bishop of Gippsland, in Victoria, Bishop Goldsworthy will return to WA to take up her new position next year. Formerly a chaplain of Perth Anglican girls’ school, Perth College, Bishop Goldsworthy was ordained a deacon in 1986 and joined the priesthood in 1992. Her election follows an eight-month selection process by the Church, following the departure of former archbishop Roger Herft in December. Bishop Goldsworthy said she hoped her election as Archbishop would inspire other women in the Church to seek leadership roles. As Archbishop of Perth, Bishop Goldsworthy will lead the metropolitan diocese, as well as providing oversight of Bunbury and the North West. She plans to devote attention to reconciliation and family violence in her new position. “I’m coming to Perth to be a Bishop to the people,” she said. “I hope that I’ve got something to contribute more widely.”
Josephine Wilson has been awarded the prestigious Miles Franklin literary prize for her novel ‘Extinctions’, only the fifth person from Western Australia ever to win. Now in their 60th year, the awards were born through the will of acclaimed author Miles Franklin and her commitment to the advancement of Australian literature. Each year, the prize is awarded to “a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.” Wilson’s novel, which explores the human condition through a reflection on life and loss, was described by the judging panel as ‘compassionate and unapologetically intelligent.’ In accepting her award she said, “As a Western Australian writer published by a local publisher, it is often hard to be embraced by the national writing culture. I am honoured to be included with my peers under the name of Miles Franklin. I think we all struggle to have a national profile and without public support and recognition through things like the Miles Franklin we just can’t have that”. The five writers in contention for the prize this year were: Emily Maguire (An Isolated Incident), Mark O’Flynn (The Last Days of Ava Langdon), Ryan O’Neill (Their Brilliant Careers), Philip Salom (Waiting) and Josephine Wilson (Extinctions). The list exhibited a new era in Australian literature, given none had ever been shortlisted before.
Women and Sport
back to top
Australia concluded the 2017 World Rowing Championships having won six medals in 10 boat classes, three gold (M4-, W4- and PR1 M1x), two silver (M2+ and LW4x) and one bronze (W2x). Australian Erik Horrie became World Champion in the Para-Rowing Men’s Single Scull, the first to win the title raced over 2000 metres, and setting a new World’s Best Time. The Women’s Double Scull of Madeleine Edmunds and Olympia Aldersey, the team coached by Ellen, won a bronze medal after a powerful race for the line in their final. The young Men’s Eight crew with eight senior team debutantes, coached by Andrew, finished second to Great Britain in the B-final, gaining invaluable experience and ranking eighth in the world. Australia finished third on the medal table, with Italy first, followed by New Zealand. For the rowers to have achieved so well is a positive start to the new Olympic and Paralympic cycle and a good boost for Australia’s young rowers and six coaches who work as two teams in our new National Training Centres in Penrith and Canberra.
The Black Ferns’ Women’s Rugby World Cup victory showed that the skill and athleticism of female players was the equal of their male counterparts, with some commentators calling it the best rugby final ever, from both genders. Over one weekend there were two great games of rugby, two rousing hakas, two nail-biting wins and two great shows of skill. The difference was that one world champion team earned millions; the other was largely passionate women taking time out from day jobs as police, firefighters and graphic designers. The women’s team dominated newspaper front pages and, for the first time, female players are being recognised in the street. All this seems extraordinary for a team that already had four World Cups to its name – 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010- one more than their superstar male counterparts. The disparity between male and female players includes the lack of a professional pay packet as well as travel inequalities that speak volumes about the relative value placed on women’s sport. While the All Blacks and Super Rugby teams fly business, the female world champions fly in economy.
Jocelyn Neumueller is a canoeing superstar who takes the saying, ‘nothing is impossible’ to new heights. After being in the sport for less than 18 months, she is a Paralympian and a World Champion. Jocelyn grew up surrounded by sport. She played anything and everything until her life changed dramatically. “In my mid-teens, I was diagnosed with a thyroid disease and a rare autoimmune condition called cerebral paraparesis. Basically, it destroys the nerve pathways that carry signals from the brain down the spinal cord, to muscles.” As a result, Jocelyn was bound to a wheelchair but that did not stop her love of sport. She continued to compete in sailing and wheelchair basketball. In 2015, Jocelyn took to the canoe like a duck to water and was placed fifth overall in the Paralympic Games in Rio. It was the first time the sport debuted on the world stage. “I have a physical disability but I will never let it limit what I do and the opportunities I take up. Nothing is impossible, it is just a matter of finding a way to make things work.” In August this year, Jocelyn travelled to the Czech Republic to compete against some of the best paddlers on the planet. She blitzed the final and came home a World Champion. Jocelyn has a grant from the Layne Beachley Foundation Aim for the Stars Foundation so she can invest her time in training, travel and equipment to meet her next goal: to finish on the podium at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Jessica Fox is another canoeist who already owns a silver and bronze Olympic medal but gold at the Tokyo Games in 2020 is an increasingly realistic prospect for her. The Penrith paddler is emerging as a gold medal favourite in the new C1 class for women which will be raced for the first time in Tokyo. She has claimed her third canoe slalom World Cup event of the year: this month she won the World Championship slalom K1 event in Pau, France.
One significant step forward for sport is the landmark two-year collective bargaining agreement between Football Federation Australia (FFA), the Westfield W-League (WWL) clubs and Professional Footballers Australia giving WWL players a significant pay increase and improved employment conditions. Previously, many players were considered amateur and received only reimbursement of expenses. The new agreement provides contracting certainty, larger roster sizes, a significantly increased salary cap, an agreed commercial framework to underpin the growth of the women’s game, and enhanced minimum medical standards. There are also key principles for the first ever formal maternity policy for WWL players, and the establishment of a formal partnership with the players through the Professional Women’s Football Committee to drive further employment, performance and competition reform. While the new agreement sets minimum standards, the highest earning Australian female professionals – those playing in the WWL, other professional leagues overseas and for the women’s national team, the Matildas, are expected to now earn at least $130,000 a year. FFA CEO David Gallop said that while more needed to be done to bridge the gap to what professional males were being paid, this was an important next step for the WWW and the start of a new era for professional female footballers in Australia. Almost 250,000 women and girls participate in women’s football across the country.
Since the rise of the Australian Football League Women (AFLW), young players are dreaming of becoming national football stars. Even women in remote rural regions are striving to become football stars and bringing communities together. The establishment of the official women’s league in West Kimberley will give young girls the opportunity to play professional sport nationally. The photo is of Lilly Rogers, with two grandchildren from their remote Looma community, who travelled 2000 kms from Perth to Broome to see 13 grandchildren and nieces playing in an AFL grand final.
Sadly, the AFL’s last-minute decision to deny Hannah Mouncey, a transgender woman, the right to nominate for the 2018 AFLW’s draft is a significant step backwards in the self-professed claim the league has to inclusiveness. It amounts to a serious and damaging about-face for an organisation that so recently threw its support behind the marriage equality campaign in an effort to demonstrate its respect for all LGBTIQ people involved in the game, including its players. The AFL showed clear disrespect to Mouncey in the timing of the announcement, late afternoon on the day before the draft, which meant that she had no possibility of appeal. The AFL subsequently clarified it was concerned about the disparity in body size and bulk that Mouncey may have over the existing AFLW cohort after only a year of semi-professional training. Such logic is hard to comprehend given that existing AFLW players have comparable builds to Mouncey. For example, at 190cm and 100kg, Mouncey is only one centimetre taller than ruck Erin McKinnon.
Cricket in Australia has taken another giant leap with Claire Polosak appointed as the first woman on-field umpire in an Australian men’s domestic match. The history-making appointment comes on the back of the professionalisation of women’s cricket in Australia, domestically with the NSW Lendlease Breakers, and internationally with the ground-breaking deal for international women in the new Memorandum of Understanding. The 29-year-old has an impressive officiating resume, including umpiring in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Women’s World T20 and Women’s World Cup, the 2016-17 Women’s National Cricket League final, and an Under-19 Test and one-day international between Australia and Sri Lanka in Hobart. Polosak’s appointment continues the rise of women officials in sport this year. Eleni Glouftsis became the first woman field umpire in AFL history, while Kasey Badger and Belinda Sleeman have run as touch judges in the National Rugby Leagues, as has Amy Perrett in the Super Rugby competition. As more women officiate in men’s sport, Polosak says the group of pioneers has established its own network to share their experiences at the highest level, including with the growing pool of female cricket umpires around the world. “To be a good umpire, you first have to be a good person: Claire is an exceptional person and an outstanding umpire,” says NSW state umpire manager Darren Goodger. “She is very composed under pressure, prepares thoroughly, is a strong decision maker, respected by her colleagues and the players in NSW Premier Cricket, committed to excellence and self-improvement…She has earned this opportunity on the back of consistently good performances in NSW Premier Cricket, in Cricket Australia and ICC matches.”
If a seat in Formula One was decided on personality, Jamie Chadwick would stand every chance of becoming the first woman to race in the sport since Lella Lombardi did so at the Austrian Grand Prix in 1976. Making it to the Grand Prix demands much more than warmth and wit, however, and fortunately the 19-year-old is backing her attempt to end the drought with talent and unwavering determination. Chadwick sees herself simply as a racer but, much as she would like to, ignoring her gender is impossible in a male-dominated sport. In 2016, the sport’s then impresario, Bernie Ecclestone, dismissed women as being physically incapable of driving an F1 car and said they would not be taken seriously behind the wheel. Chadwick is rightly dismissive of such entrenched beliefs. “It’s not based on any fact,” she says with resolution. “If I can prove him wrong that’s just added motivation.” Having already achieved remarkable success during her short career, and racing for the first time this season in single-seaters in the British F3 championship, neither motivation nor being female has proved a hindrance. “Women can compete equally in motor racing,” she says. “That’s one of the great things about it. It is physically and mentally tough but women can compete on the same level as men.” In 2015, she became the first woman – and the youngest driver – to win the British GT championship. The sportscar series is highly competitive but Chadwick says she felt no pressure, and alongside her co-driver, Ross Gunn, took two wins and six podiums to secure the title. Along the way they won the Britcar 24 Hours at Silverstone, Chadwick becoming the youngest winner of a 24-hour race in the process. “Everything I feel through the seat comes out of my mouth to the engineers,” she says. “Definitely, I have a natural affinity, I can feel what the car is doing, how much to push it.”
back to top
An annual visit to Perth, the city of my birth, is probably not frequent enough to catch up with friends and family. It was wonderful to be in WA again for the 60th reunion of the Years 7-12 cohort of 1953-57 at Perth Modern School (PMS). There were 120 scholarship students in that group, 60 boys and 60 girls. Over 30 had passed, including four of my special age mates, but 50 of the 77-year-olds were able to attend. These included most of my fellow prefects, one from US and several from the East. It was great to meet up with school friends over many years, Wendy Watts and Marion Blair, two of the reunion organisers (photo), Brian Savvas and some renewed acquaintances over two lunches, as well as afternoon tea on the ocean front hosted by Brian, with Caroline, Toni Walker and Roy Penberthy (two other organisers). We enjoyed a splendid visit to the PMS History Centre and searched for our names and photos on memorial boards in several buildings during a tour of the school. Our student guides hardly believed us when we pointed out the ‘line’ on the school oval that separated the girls from the boys during our breaks. We were honoured by a very polished concert presented by the current student wind orchestra and symphony orchestra, and we viewed a slide show of memories over lunch.
I enjoyed two other fantastic family celebrations, first with my siblings, nieces and nephews in the Izett family. I stayed with my generous brother Bob and his son Adam in North Beach and caught up with other relatives and friends, including Erica’s son and my grandson Levi Mclean. The Izett family photo includes Levi, my brother Bill Izett (nieces Veronica, Elizabeth, Drianna and Claudia), brother-in-law Geoff Spencer (Nicolai and Natalie), sister-in-law Joy, and Bob was behind the camera. Helen Burton also came for this afternoon tea and we were joined by Peter and Lisa McGuire and Stephen and Kim Izett in the evening. I was pleased to see cousin John Greenway – the only one of our former teachers at our PMS class reunion – and Matthew and Julie Izett when Matt returned from Adelaide where he attended the Eagles victory against the Crows. We saw the first quarter of this match before dinner and then the final thrilling play-on after it.
The second photo is of the celebration with the Loneragan/Beeson families who also always welcome me to a family dinner, this time at John and Ranjeny’s home, with their, Kath and John’s and Bruce and Belinda’s children, my grand-nieces and grand-nephews. Such special joys!
My other travel over the last two months has also been within Australia to Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane to visit children, grandchildren and friends and to attend various functions. These include the national council meetings of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia (ISAA) and speaking on ‘The Impact of Rwanda Women’s Activism on Social Change in Rwanda’ at ISAA’s national conference in Canberra. I have been appointed the Inaugural National Ambassador for the Older Women’s Network (OWN) Australia, a peak organization run by and for older women. OWN embodies pragmatic knowledge and expertise on issues affecting women over the age of 55, promoting their rights, dignity and well-being. Older women play a critical role in supporting their families and communities. The focus of OWN’s projects is on skills development, social action and empowerment, and their research is on poverty, social security, pensions, superannuation, the law, homelessness, and violence against older women.
I was privileged to attend the recent 30th anniversary of the New South Wales OWN group (photo with Dr Jane Mears, MC and Renata Watkinson one of the founders). Other branches are in Queensland and Western Australia. We aim to enrich the lives of older women by providing opportunities for mutual support, friendship, social interaction and being proactive in decision making affecting older women’s issues. Speaking to the National Press Club this week, the Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, said that half the Australians born today will live to be 100 and that six million Australians now aged between 50 and 75 are facing extended life expectancy.
Of course, there is so much to offer in Sydney and I particularly enjoyed attending the National History Challenge Award Ceremony at Parliament House and hearing about the wonderful projects undertaken by the various successful award winners. Their parents, teachers and MPs shared their achievements. I was representing the National Foundation for Australian Women and spoke on the theme ‘Making a Better World’. Much of the research undertaken by the participants clearly contributes to raising awareness and forging positive change. There were six age categories from Primary Year 4 Level to Years Level 11-12, and six special category winners – Women’s History, Museum Exhibit, History of Sport, Asia and Australia, Australian Wartime Experiences, and Indigenous History. Five of the NSW winners also won the national award in their category. The National History Challenge is a brilliant initiative of the History Teachers’ Association of Australia.
Another highlight of last month’s events was the Unique Leadership of Minority Women Conference organised by Diann Rogers-Healey, the founder and director of the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women for which I am an Ambassador. The day in Parliament House was truly inspiring and a great success. It was an amazing opportunity to share the experiences of representatives of women with disabilities, LGBTIQ women, rural, regional and remote women, older women, Indigenous women, refugee women, and culturally and linguistically diverse women. I spoke on The Leadership of Minority Women in Rwanda and their Contribution to Peace, Reconciliation and Political Stability. Stories of leadership told by the speakers and panelists about the challenges that they encountered and continue to face was illuminated with many leadership attributes, including self-empowerment, innovation, courage, resilience, integrity, persistence, passion and vision.
It was an honour to attend the Dr Anna Hogg Oration and Inner Sydney Region Annual Awards 2017 organised by Australian College of Educators (ACE) this week, and to receive the Dr Ralph Rawlinson Perpetual Award to ‘an educator who has made a significant contribution to the education of students at local, national or international level’. I found the ceremony at the University of Sydney heart-warming to be with so many other awardees – outstanding graduates in education in universities within the region; the World Teachers Day awards to teachers involved in environmental field studies; the Dr Alan Laughlin Perpetual Award for outstanding contributions to leadership in improving the quality of teaching; the Ron Ikin Perpetual Award for outstanding leadership in professional learning; and other Dr Ralph Rawlinson awards. Incoming President of ACE, Dr Diane Mayer gave an outstanding oration on ‘Beginning Teachers’ and the President of the Inner Sydney Region Heather Causley as usual organised a splendid event. I was accompanied by the President of the Women Chief of Enterprises International (WCEI) NSW Branch, Menaka Cook, who was also in Brisbane with me to attend the WCEI AGM.
While life is a constant challenge and the cycles of troughs and peaks do not abate, life is stimulating and the comfort of our closest ones and working together can carry us forward.
Every blessing of peace and justice