Today is International Women’s Day 2016. A day we celebrate the unique contributions that women make to our society and place value on the impact that women make in our world.
This morning I stepped out of my comfort zone and was an MC at an International Womens Day Breakfast. It was a breakfast designed to recognise and honour women in leadership in our city and encourage young ladies who have been making a difference with their work and voluntary commitments.
What a pleasure the whole experience has been! Two weeks ago my friend Tanya let me know that she was starting to organise something for International Women’s Day. Along with a collection of women Tanya also asked me if we might be able to help, in any way. Oh my goodness, a group of women united together working together for a cause is a powerful thing indeed. There was a facebook group messaging one another tossing around ideas and then accomplishing jobs. My phone has gone crazy for the last fortnight. Ding, ding, ding, in come messages with more ideas! Ding, ding, ding women were at work and posting what they had done to make it happen. From a venue being found, to crocheting roses and making lollie jars to highly organised run sheets. There were no egos, no hidden agendas, just a willingness to help. The role I played was relatively small, but just being in the group was inspiring enough to spur you onto continued action.
The event this morning was such a success with 150 guests including the mayor, councillors and council candidates in the upcoming local council elections, a police representative and school representatives. We had two inspiring guest speakers and gave awards out to very deserving ladies who are making a difference in our community.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2016 has been #PledgeForParity . The definition of parity is “the state or condition of being equal, especially as regards status or pay.” Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the divide that there is between the genders. Especially if you are a woman in the western world, where thanks to the efforts of women such a Emmeline Pankhurst, much parity for women has been achieved.
Did you know that the World Economic Forum estimated that if current trends continue, global gender parity will not be achieved until 2133? That’s 117 years away! What is more alarming is that in 2014 the forecast was that it would take 81 years to achieve parity. It’s alarming, that despite the great advancements gender equality and the achievements of women in social, economic, cultural and political contributions throughout the world, in some places, gender parity is actually going backwards.
Sometimes statistics like this can make me feel in despair. Especially when you consider that much of the inequality between men and women happens far away from me in countries I’ve never visited, and possibly never will. How can I make a difference in the life of those women? Not everyone is called to campaign internationally for global rights. However, we can make a difference in our sphere of influence. We can become agents of change by creating a culture that promotes parity, that promotes respect and inclusivity. Individually we can create a corporate culture in our cities and countries that becomes the model and the inspiration for others.
Here are three simple ways to implement a #PledgeForParity to make a difference for women worldwide. I know these suggestions are simple. Creating change can often be simple. The real challenge is gathering enough momentum so that there are many people doing simple things so a change can occur.
Follow Your Passions
A powerful woman, the type of woman who creates change, is a woman who is following her passions. Whether a passion is for her work, her hobbies or interests or for causes, a passionate woman loves what she does and she will go the extra mile to achieve her goals.
If you have something you are passionate about, but have been afraid, decide today to start following your dreams. Don’t let gender stereotyping get in your way. If you need to break the gender barrier in doing so, good for you! Go girl! In the same way, don’t feel like you shouldn’t do something you enjoy because it is stereotypically a ‘women’s task’. Do things because you enjoy it or it fulfils your personal objectives. Don’t be influenced by other’s opinions!
This morning we listened to a 19 year old who spoke about her passion for trekking and climbing mountains. Alyssa Azar was the youngest person to cross the Kokoda Track as an 8 year old. At 10 she trekked to into the Mount Everest Base Camp, by 12 she had climbed the 10 highest peaks in Australia and at 14 she conquered Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. As a 15 year old she set her sights on climbing Mount Everest. She has attempted twice, but has been prevented by small things like avalanches caused by the Nepal earthquake. In three weeks time Alyssa is beginning her 3rd attempt at climbing Everest.
I have zero ambition to climb mountains, but when I was listening to this young lady talking about her passion, it inspired me to keep striving despite the obstacles. A passionate person can inspire irregardless of whether they are doing the same things. When you are around passionate people, you just want to become your best self. If you haven’t fully discovered your passion yet, manoeuvre yourself to be around passionate people. I can guarantee you that they will inspire you to discover your passion.
Train Our Boys (And Men!) to Stand Up for Women’s Issues
I mentioned this morning that I have four boys. There have been times when I have wondered why I do so much for females when I have so many sons. In fact, women’s issues are just as important to my sons as they are to my daughter. I have come to recognise that by me setting example for my boys on issues that need to be addressed for girls and women, they will grow to become men who speak out for women and create parity between the genders.
Women’s issues are also men’s issues. They are issues that men can either directly change or they can support women to change. Domestic violence against women is a men’s issue. Men are often the offenders, so it is men that need to stand up and put a halt to domestic violence. The sexualisation of women is a mens issue. It the men’s desire to gratify their sexual desires that entice women into degrading scenarios where they are no longer valued as a person, but rather their value becomes the sum of their parts. And when women are no longer valued, we do not have a climate or mutual respect and then we cannot have a society where women are empowered to pursue their dreams or make contributions in the workplace that only a confident strong woman can make. It’s all a cycle that keeps going around.
To stop the cycle of abuse or disparity, we need to be training our little men on how to value a woman.
Encourage Other Women
The 2nd speaker this morning was Dr. Maree Toombs who is known as a leader in Indigenous health works at the University of Qld in Indigenous Health. She has actively improved the way people culturally work with Indigenous Australians.
Dr. Toombs was inspiring to listen to as she spoke about parity and women’s opportunities. What made her message more powerful, was hearing her stories. Stories always make messages more meaningful. She had grown up in a small community and her mob is the Kamilaroi/Kooma people. She had not finished year 12 at school and struggled with literacy so after school she had been working in low paid jobs. One day her grandmother and aunty, who both had received an education, used homemade scones to lure her into talk to her, but when she arrived the ambushed her and were insistent that she needed to go to university. She did and after graduating as a teacher, (I was actually in her graduating class!), she worked teaching for awhile before returning to university and working her way up the ranks at two different universities.
I just love that it was two older women that were insistent that she needed to receive an education. They had confidence in her and new that with prompting she could discover her full potential. Women need women that push them to extend their vision.
Too often it is the opposite. Women often feel perform in front of others. Too often the dialogue that us women can engage in can leave us feeling indequate or guilty. We need to be cheering one another or, encouraging each other on and being authentic with one another. I have lost count of the amount of women who have been grateful they hear about my failures! I don’t think we need to talk about our misgivings all the time, but dropping the perfect facade goes along way to empowering women. When we all realise that we are flawed individuals doing the best we can do, somehow we become more efficient and effective.
One more photo that I’d love to share with you on this special day. The women in my life that I love most. My two sisters and my mother. I’m one of their biggest cheerleaders, and obviously they are mine also. (After all they turned up to a breakfast at 6:30am when they all live an hour away just because they heard I was MC!) I’m proud to be related to these women that I admire greatly.
What is your Pledge for Parity on this International Women’s Day? Do you think gender equality can be achieved in our lifetime?
Linking with Essentially Jess for IBOT.