International Women's Day 2018: Bendigo community resolves to #pressforprogress

Bendigo Mayor Margaret O'Rourke, one of 200 attendees at the Zonta Club of Bendigo's 2018 International Women's Day Dinner in Bendigo. Picture: NONI HYETT
Bendigo Mayor Margaret O'Rourke, one of 200 attendees at the Zonta Club of Bendigo's 2018 International Women's Day Dinner in Bendigo. Picture: NONI HYETT

BENDIGO can boast of numerous achievements with respect to women’s advancement.

But there is a great deal more to be done, and the community’s leaders are aiming high.

Barriers such as gender stereotypes and economic disadvantage were among the issues front-of-mind for the organisations and individuals that spoke with the Bendigo Advertiser.

The city today joins communities worldwide in celebrating International Women’s Day by highlighting the achievements of women, and the need to press for progress.

‘We can’t wait’

The year 2234 is about when the World Economic Forum expects the economic gender gap to close, based on the current rate of change.

“I think that’s unacceptable, don’t you?” Women’s Health Loddon Mallee executive officer Tricia Currie said. 

“We can't keep doing the same and expecting a different outcome.”

Hers was a call for collaboration – for the community to gather and consider the contributions people could make as individuals, as members of groups and of workplaces to strive towards gender parity and equity.

“We can’t wait those 217 years,” Ms Currie said.

“Women are telling us how important it is that women stand strong together, that we listen and act for all women so we leave no woman behind, that we seek to encourage and speak up for those who can’t.

“Our press for progress is to strive for gender equity so not only can we realise the potential and aspirations of women, but we enable women to be their authentic selves.”

What is International Women's Day? Click on the image for answers to common questions. Image: Shutterstock

What is International Women's Day? Click on the image for answers to common questions. Image: Shutterstock

A time to show leadership

To Community Leadership Loddon Murray chief executive Leah Sertori, the ‘#pressforprogress’ theme implies pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones to achieve critical wins toward gender equity.

“CLLM’s vision for vibrant and sustainable communities can only be achieved where both genders influence the culture of leadership, work and responsibility in family life,” Ms Sertori said.

The organisation is promoting action to ensure both sexes retire with equal savings, that men and women share responsibility for caring for children and elderly members of their families, and that the nation has a unified and powerful response to end violence against women.

“It also means creating space for women to lead authentically, from their areas of strength, rather than modifying their leadership style to conform to the status quo,” Ms Sertori said.

“CLLM’s work across 10 local government areas is making headway on these issues.”

Click on the image to show your support on International Women's Day. Image: Shutterstock

Click on the image to show your support on International Women's Day. Image: Shutterstock

Central Victoria in the spotlight

As the region celebrates International Women’s Day, some of its strongest advocates for the prevention of violence against women will be packing their bags.

Annie North Women’s Refuge chief executive Julie Oberin will lead the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance delegation to the 62nd Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York City.

Centre for Non-Violence chief executive Margaret Augerinos is part of the delegation.

Empowerment of rural women and girls and women’s participation in and access to the media are among the key themes to be discussed at the meeting.

“We will be showcasing the work of the Centre for Non Violence and Annie North Women’s Refuge as two innovative best practice services operating in a regional area supporting women from regional and rural areas,” Ms Oberin said.

“We will talk about the challenges as well as the opportunities and strengths of working in a regional setting, as well as some of the barriers women in regional and rural areas face when they experience family violence.  

“Margaret and I will also be presenting a session on the challenges family violence workers face working in regional, rural and remote settings when they live in the same community as the victim/survivors and the perpetrators.”

She said the International Women’s Day theme, #pressforprogress, was an important message.

“We should never give up on our goal to achieve gender equality and preventing what is an epidemic of violence against women,” Ms Oberin said.

“Sometimes it is easy to become disheartened when we see more women and children murdered or seriously harmed by those who are supposed to love, respect and protect them.

“I know when our new refuge facility is finished shortly, women and children will quickly fill it.”

However, Ms Oberin said she could also see change happening.

More people were talking about gender equity and the prevention of violence against women, and governments were taking notice.

“The Victorian government is still in the midst of rolling out all of the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence,” Ms Oberin said.

“The front line workforces are being strengthened along with legislation, and so too are the attitudes throughout our community about not tolerating violent and abusive behaviour and making a stand.

“It will take all of us to make this social change where it becomes no longer normal and relatively acceptable to put down, abuse or harm the women and children in your family.”

Encouraging discussion

The City of Greater Bendigo will today host a forum to discuss gender equity.

“We're thinking about what it means for us as an organisation, but also what it means for the community and how women and men experience life differently and what we can do to build equality,” city health and wellbeing director Vicky Mason said.

“The idea of [the forum] is to engage with people. What can we all do to improve gender equity and how can we work together?”

The city is in the process of developing a gender equity strategy for the municipality.

A day for celebration, appreciation

Women represent Bendigo and its surrounds in all levels of government.

“We now have gender inequity in our council and management structure – we have more women than men,” Ms Mason said.

But Centre for Non-Violence acting chief executive Robyn Trainor said there was scope for greater appreciation of women’s efforts within the community.

“A key thing about International Women’s Day is the celebration and recognition of women in our community who are often going above and beyond, and sometimes in non-stereotypical roles, carrying a burden of responsibility, and they go unrecognised in the community,” she said.

“Women often aren't great at promoting themselves or other women and recognising the key role women play in creating that more equal society.”

She highlighted the importance of role modelling in influencing aspirations and expectations.

Addressing rigid gender stereotypes, attitudes and beliefs; promoting women in leadership and challenging support for male dominance and aggression were all known measures to prevent violence against women and children.

Ms Trainor said an awareness of the dominant male gender underlying advertising, media representation and the stereotypes that existed within the community were important steps in pressing for progress.

Challenging the status quo

Adam Fennessy has a favourite quote when discussing gender equity: “Progress is not success”.

He attributes it to Anne Summers, the author of The Misogyny Factor.

“There are some really good signs of progress and we’ve got to keep up the effort,” he said.

As a Male Champion of Change, Mr Fennessy said it was important for women and men to be engaged in conversations about gender equity.

“For some men it’s actually a big opportunity,” he said.

The sooner rigid gender stereotypes became a thing of the past, the freer Mr Fennessy said people would be to express themselves authentically.

“In any change process, including as we move to a more gender-balanced society, there is going to be pushback,” Mr Fennessy said.

He expected there would be men and women who might not be comfortable with the conversations taking place, and who might need to change their behaviour.

“It’s about treating each other with more respect, rather than fixing women or, indeed, fixing men,” Mr Fennessy said.