A woman’s place…

Photo: The Grand Ballroom @ ICC Darling Harbour, Sydney

In early 2018 I came across a tweet by a woman whose name I unfortunately cannot recall. She wrote down that in the previous year (2017) she had vowed to herself that she would grab hold of every opportunity that came her way. In the tweet she wrote something to the tune of – “as a young woman I tend to be passive and shy away from opportunities and I undersell myself. So, in the last year I vowed to write down my goals and go after each one of them because I told myself that the worst that can happen is it doesn’t work out but at least I would have made an attempt”.

I felt every emotion in that tweet and it resonated so much because in earlier weeks I had a similar realisation in my reflection time when I had been trying to account for my own achievements in the last couple of years. I had been thinking about my place as a young woman, what my thing is and what my domain of influence and action would be in the near future. I was also somewhat frustrated about a whole range of things and I had been trying to figure out how to address those points of frustration. So, I took to heart some of the recommendations this woman made. She had gone on to list 30 things she would have a crack at that were completely outside her zone of comfort, and to her amazement she had achieved 20 or so of the things she had listed.

I was inspired to set myself the task of proactively taking on new opportunities that come my way professionally and socially ( not just any new opportunities though, discerned opportunities fam, discerned opportunities). So, when the opportunity to volunteer for the International Women’s Day breakfast hosted by the United Nations Women’s Committee – Sydney, I was all over it! The opportunity arose from a casual conversation with a colleague who had mentioned that she was involved with the Australian United Nations Women’s Committee.

I had ventured to ask her what kind of work she did with the committee when I learnt that the UNC Sydney Chapter does several things including hosting the biggest International Women’s Day Fundraising breakfast in Australia. At the time of the conversation with my colleague, the committee was looking for volunteers to assist with raising funds at the IWD2019 breakfast. Funds donated would go towards a variety of humanitarian and female empowerment projects the UN has been supporting (one of which is the safe buses for women and children project that  aims to increase safety for women and children in nations like Papua New Guinea).

Thrilled at the unexpected opportunity to volunteer, I told my colleague I’d be interested in signing up if my schedule was to align well and as serendipity would have it everything lined up! The UN Women’s Committee breakfast was the first I have attended, and I was rather excited because I was venturing outside comfort and going after a goal. The breakfast was held at the International Convention Centre in Darling Harbour on the 8th of March. I will confess though, after the 4:30am rise on that Friday, I quickly recalled why it is I pass up on many city-based breakfast engagements. I live a fair distance from the city and anything requiring an early rise is not as appealing especially if it means I will be weaving through traffic with grumpy early rise drivers. On this Friday though it was a worthwhile sacrifice.

Having arrived at the ICC, I found my way to the designated room we were to attend the briefing before everything started. By 6:30am we were spread out in the building to welcome and assist any guests find their tables and locate the restrooms. By 7:00 am, the grand ballroom of the ICC was close to capacity and alive with the chatter of 1,800+ people that had made it out early to celebrate.

I was not entirely sure about what to expect from the speakers given I did not know much about most of them with the exception of the Premier of NSW – Gladys Berejiklian and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senator, the Hon Marise Payne. Yes, I have been living under a rock for and may continue to do so for a while – in case you were wondering, it is not by choice.

Mele Maualaivao’s segment

My highlight and fave for the morning was Mele Maualaivao. She is the UN Women Country Program Coordinator for Samoa. First and foremost, I learnt how to sneak an entire nation into a conference from this inspiring woman! She brought the whole of Samoa into the room with her. How? Well, she managed to do this by wearing a stunning dress that had all the Samoan towns listed on it. There was something intriguing about the pride in her voice when she drew the crowd’s attention to the fact that she had worn and brought the nation with her. Mele went on to share about the projects and challenges her nation faces in relation to female empowerment and representation particularly in leadership.

The key things I walked away with from Mele and other guest speakers was around this continuous thread about a woman’s place. I’ve been stewing on this for a while and I think that whatever a woman’s place in society, she must be first acknowledged, respected and appreciated because “she” is an integral being in society. I strongly believe that there is a role for “her” to play as a steward, leader and member of the whatever group she may be part of. You may disagree about certain things regarding the role “she” takes on, but I think the acknowledgement, respect and appreciation of “her” efforts should be without question.

We still have a very long way to go in terms of breaking down barriers and having to deal with faulty institutions that have continued to operate in ways that disadvantage women. In addition to this we still have a long way to go in terms changing attitudes around women and their leadership roles. It is one thing having to deal with institutions and fractured patriarchal systems; and it is an entirely different matter having to deal with other women who cannot come to terms with women being in leadership (*deeply massages forehead to remove creases that form at the thought of engaging this this group). I can go on about this for pages and pages, but at the risk of starting a book prematurely I will pause here and instead leave you with some closing thoughts.

On my drive back from the function, I found myself thinking through what I would have shared with other women based on where I have been and where I aspire to go to. Had I been a guest panelist, I think I would have shared the following:

“As a woman I have come to realise that many of the barriers before me are in my mind. Culturally there are certain things I was trained to not actively go after, but on more occasions than one, I have realised that some of those expectations contradict what I have been wired to do. I have no doubt that I am not the only female who has had this experience and what I would like to say to is don’t just take certain ‘norms’ to be the gospel according to your culture! You and I need to work together to challenge some prevailing norms  around the woman’s place. I say this because I do believe that when you and I engage  with other women, be it in community or industrial endeavours there will be some game changing innovations”.

To the males in the room I would have said, “Most of the perceived threats from a woman in leadership have been fuelled by faulty and fractured beliefs as well as the narratives around the issue. What we need to do to change the dialogue requires a level of strategic thought around the creation of opportunities for women. We need to be frank and open about how to reform our systems because most were designed in a way that disadvantages females. Whether it was a deliberate move or not remains a mystery. However,  when it comes to making progress we should redesign these systems to be appropriate and the process should include the input of women. In essence, it is saying that  women need to be in the room and at the decision-making tables when reforms are underway – not just one type of woman  but a diversity”. In closing, my parting  and unapologetic words to the crowd would have been  “in all your endeavours  remember that being sound, bold and connected is crucial to progress. You cannot go too far solo or in a silo!”

Now dear reader, This is where I throw the spotlight on you. Suppose you were the one on the panel, what would you have shared?

Yours truly,

Eugenia Fadzai.

My place is in Public Policy, Research, Community Development and Leadership amongst many other things.


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