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IWD: We choose to challenge

To celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) this week, students found different ways to ‘Choose to challenge’, including an IWD lunch with Grace Tame, speaking at Assembly and selling IWD ribbons.

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At the Principal’s Assembly on Tuesday, Amelie, Kate and Lexie gave an interesting talk on the origins of International Women’s Day, raising awareness about the importance of gender equity.

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Amelie: “International Women’s Day first came about in 1910 at the second international Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. I won’t bore you with a multitude of dates, just know over the years it has developed and evolved to be about much more than that.

What started as a gathering of predominantly wealthy white women to discuss the things affecting their demographic, has developed into a movement that includes a wider range of women and the diverse issues that they are currently facing, as well as their triumphs.

Since 1913, International Women’s Day has been held on 8 March and has become a global celebration of how far we have come in women’s rights. This day also serves as an opportunity to assess where we still need to be globally in terms of gender equity.

We see in increasing research, as well as in the evident, repetitive and damaging patterns in our society, that issues regarding the gender spectrum run much deeper than women getting the right to vote or equal pay. The ‘When Will She’ll Be Right’ campaign was launched by UN Women Australia last Friday and poses the question as to how we can speed up the road to gender equality in Australia. Over the last 14 years, Australia has fallen behind from 14th to 44th on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. At the current rate of change it will take Australia 100 years to reach gender parity. What can we do to make that 10 years?”

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Kate: “This year’s theme for the UN International Women’s Day is Women in Leadership. Seeing a range of strong, empathetic, decisive women lead in politics, corporations, media and CEO positions is critical to bringing different skills and perspectives that will help to drive change in gender equity. It’s challenging to be what we can’t see. As seen in the current discussion in the media, despite how far we’ve come, sexism and misogyny still pervade and inform our society’s structures. Structural change, improved economic opportunities, especially regarding the gender pay gap, is essential. Over the past few months, we have seen the emergence of three inspiring women in a global, national and local context.

26-year-old Grace Tame was named the 2021 Australian of the Year for her work in campaigning for survivors of sexual abuse like her. Her impassioned speech urged other victims to speak up and ‘make some noise’. Then the news of federal ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins speaking out about allegations that she was raped by a colleague in 2019, was splashed across the headlines everywhere. Breaking the ‘Canberra bubble’, she inspired more women to speak about their experiences of sexual assault whilst in Parliament. Then, a little over two weeks ago, we saw ex-Kambala student, Chanel Contos’s petition for earlier sex-education in schools, detailing hundreds of testimonies from ex and current Sydney schoolgirls who have experienced sexual assault. The fact that this oppressive rape culture exists in one of the most privileged parts of the world, in parliament, and in Australia, is even more evidence of the urgent need for more women to speak up and lead the way in discussions about gender equity. None of us can stand back and say, ‘This does not affect me’.”

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Lexie: “We need to talk about these issues and normalise discussions around gender equality and respectful relationships - calling out harmful, misogynistic cultures and behaviour. There is no better way to achieve this goal than being a leader in the classroom, extracurricular activities or just in the social playground. Stand up against sexism and don’t be afraid to call people out.

We understand that it is hard to stand up to people who say things we disagree with, especially when it comes to gender. So, this year, Gender Equity is creating a Pushback Pack in the hope of providing gentle techniques and evidence for when you get into a discussion and need to spread awareness more effectively. Once you have the means to do this, why not give it a try!”

The students then conducted a role play:
Amelie: “I reckon men are sexually assaulted just as much as women.”

Lexie: “Do you really, Amelie? According to the statistics, 1 in 6 women have experienced sexual assault since the age of 15 compared to 1 in 25 men.”

Kate: “But women have just as much career opportunity as men - they just choose to have children instead!”

Lexie: “Yeah, Kate, it’s just as well women still want to produce the next generation….so that at least there will be people around to pay taxes for our old age pensions! Did you know that women earn an average of $242.90 a week less than men? That’s why they are often the ones who stay home to look after the children. No wonder women have difficulty in supporting themselves in their old age without much superannuation saved up!”

Amelie, Kate and Lexie: “So this year’s theme is Women in Leadership, and we can all be leaders. Armed with your Pushback Pack (coming soon), you needn’t be afraid to call people out, stand up for yourself and become a leader.”

On Wednesday, the Gender Equity Club sold purple IWD ribbons at the school gates. And during Friday lunchtime, they held a lunch in the Arches before holding a virtual screening of the IWD UN Luncheon in the Independent Theatre, with the Community and Service Learning Captains acting as MC’s. Senior Gender Equity students and a selection of the Student Leadership team were in attendance.

Elsewhere, other students met up to discuss the UN Australia’s ‘When Will She’ll Be Right” campaign video, which was launched last week. They explored the following questions: To what extent do you think Australian society is complacent about issues affecting women/gender equality? Are we too 'easy going'? How might the inequalities impact women and girls with regard to the gender pay gap, physical safety and domestic violence, and unequal leadership opportunities? What do you think needs to be done to speed up the rate of change so gender equality can be reached in 10 years instead of 100?

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On Friday 5 March, a group of Wenona students and teachers went to the IWD Luncheon. Karoy in Year 11 said, “We listened to the speeches of the Australian of the Year, Grace Tame and many of the extraordinary female figures that are leading our world. Grace Tame shared her story of being a sexual assault survivor, the challenges she faced during her recovery, both from her past and the social shaming that gave her secondary trauma. I was amazed by her resilience during this tough journey and her willingness to fight against the cultural silence that has been deeply embedded in our society. She proved that individual voice could lead to big change: the reforming of law in Tasmania, ‘Let Her Speak’ campaign. As she said, 'Everything starts with conversation'. Conversation is the only way to allow change because ideas need to be communicated, and everyone has the obligation to let her talk, to let them talk. We have come all the way here, and we don't want to wait for another 100 years. When will she be right? If we do this together, she will be right in 10 years.”

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Helena in Year 11 said, “The IWD luncheon has certainly opened up my eyes about the importance of educating the younger generation about respecting women. Especially with issues that are currently happening in parliament. Through her own personal experiences, Grace Tame educated me on the steps we could take to make our future better. In addition, seeing such strong female figures talking on the stage to more than 1,000 guests, including the Governor General, has made me feel a sense of confidence, in knowing that I could strive to do such things in the future.

Chloe in Year 11 said, “The IWD luncheon highlighted important issues regarding equality for women and women in leadership. It was surprising to learn that it will take another 99.5 years for true equality of women. Grace Tame was an incredible speaker, being open about her traumatic experience and the emotional impact her trauma had on her. This was confronting and emotional for the audience, creating an immediate response. One of my favourite points from her speech was that sexual assault and women's rights is too big of an issue to be politicised, as we see happening a great deal in the media today. Elizabeth Broderick spoke about how discrimination is political and how our generation especially is rising up at the intersection of social issues to bring about change. One example was women's rights and Black Lives Matter. She spoke about the fact that for those with privilege and power, equality can seem like a negative thing and we need to challenge our viewpoints around this.”

Frances in Year 11 said, “Grace Tame's speech taught me that the issue of sexual abuse transcends all divides and is far too important to be politicised. Thus, men and women alike must work together to advocate for women's safety and equality, particularly in places of education and work. She also enlightened me as to the shame that victims of child sexual abuse feel, and that it takes an average of 23 years for victims to publicly share their experience. Finally, the day taught me that it will take 100 years to achieve gender equality should we continue at the current rate of improvement.”

Imogen in Year 10 said, “I was absolutely stoked to be able to hear from the Australian of the Year Grace Tame whose speech was not only a call to action for the government and civilians, but also an encouraging and supportive message for survivors of sexual abuse. Speaking of her own experience with sexual abuse at a young age, Grace discussed the damaging nature of victim blaming, which urged me and the rest of the audience to openly stand in solidarity with survivors to give them a safe space to share their story. We also heard from Yasmin Poole who spoke about discrimination and prejudice against women of different cultures and her experience of feminism stemming from the roots put in place by her mother. Overall, I found this experience to be extremely valuable and not only found out more about feminism and how to be a feminist, but I was also able to see and hear stories from powerful, inspiring women. I know I will remember this experience for a long time.”

Annika in Year 9 said, "A number of speakers, including Yasmin Poole (Writer and Youth Advocate), Elizabeth Broderick AO (Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls) and Grace Tame (Australian of the Year) discussed relevant topics celebrating women's achievements and visiting issues concerning gender equality. One discussion that really stood out to me was the speech made by Grace Tame. She spoke about her traumatic and distressing experiences with child sexual abuse/child grooming, and her speaking out and advocating for other victims. She called for education on child grooming, focusing on helping people understand how grooming works and psychological manipulation involved, as a means of prevention. Tame also spoke about eradicating victim blaming, especially for women, and normalising speaking out about abuse. Overall, my experience was an unforgettable one; it was inspiring and eye opening. "