FORMER Bendigo councillor Yvonne Wrigglesworth has broken her silence, using an address to supporters of a specialist women's health service to inspire leadership on gender equity.
"You need to get behind this," Ms Wrigglesworth told attendees at Women's Health Loddon Mallee's annual general meeting.
As the guest speaker, she reflected on the issues and opportunities highlighted by the community's response to her comments about the use of 'ring girls' at a high-profile boxing event in Bendigo earlier this year.
Ms Wrigglesworth said she received an outpouring of support for her concerns about how women were portrayed at the 'Battle of Bendigo' - an event the City of Greater Bendigo supported, to the tune of $54,000.
"You should see how many text messages, Facebook messages, Twitter messages, LinkedIn messages... people wanted to support me, but everyone felt unsafe," she said.
"I didn't blame them... they could see what was happening.
"It was heartbreaking, actually, because it confirmed to me how public life treats women that want to say something. It's frightening and those that wanted to support me only felt safe to reach out in secret."
But, with the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence fast approaching, she urged those who supported gender equity to take a stand.
Ms Wrigglesworth said those representing the community needed to know there was support for leadership on the issue.
The City of Greater Bendigo is in the process of developing a gender equity strategy - work Ms Wrigglesworth was involved in as a councillor.
The city played a leadership role in developing the Greater Bendigo Coalition for Gender Equity Leadership Statement, which was launched around International Women's Day this year.
When it was time to test the mantra, Ms Wrigglesworth said it 'fell flat on its face' with 'far-reaching impacts'.
She was critical of the council's handling of the controversy and exposed some of the 'misalignment' between her values and those of some involved in local government in Bendigo.
Examples ranged from being 'chastised' for speaking out, to being told someone didn't 'see what all the fuss about gender' was anyway or how it was relevant to 'the business' of local government.
A difference in values was the reason Ms Wrigglesworth resigned from council in September.
Her speech also highlighted the work yet to be done to achieve gender equity.
"Why is it when women speak up it is still such an issue?" Ms Wrigglesworth said.
She cited the male rage levelled at females in leadership, like the social media abuse directed at climate activist Greta Thunberg.
"It doesn't matter what the issue is. They just see a women speaking... they get on this frenzied keyboard warrior attack," Ms Wrigglesworth said.
"It's evident that male rage is absolutely alive and well and it's on our doorsteps."
She believed her comments about the use of 'ring girls' "hit the nerve of many males who felt my view threatened their enjoyment of a sport."
A number of events are planned throughout the region to mark the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based violence, which starts on November 25.
The Greater Bendigo Against Family Violence Community Action Showcase is among them, on November 27.
Gender inequality is at the heart of violence against women and children.
City of Greater Bendigo representatives present for Ms Wrigglesworth's speech were contacted for comment.
How the Bendigo Advertiser covered this issue:
- September 19 - Bendigo councillor calls for answers on gender equity policy
- September 13 - 'A mockery' - Experts call council out on 'ring girls' response
- September 12 - Bendigo councillor Yvonne Wrigglesworth resigns
- September 6 - OUR SAY: This is an issue bigger than Bendigo
- September 3 - YOUR SAY: Opposition to 'ring girls' at Battle of Bendigo applauded
- September 2 - Government's 'ring card girls' rebuke
- September 1 - City flags more detailed event staging discussions
- August 31 - Bendigo boxing event drops - then reinstates - 'ring girls'
- August 30 - Boxing 'ring girls' disrespectful to women, advocates say
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