In Brisbane I was fortunate to meet with members of the Smart Women- Smart State Taskforce. This taskforce is charged with investigating ways that the Queensland Government can increase girls’ and women’s participation in science, engineering and technology. The low numbers of girls and women studying and working in these areas means that they are missing out on excellent opportunities and well paid jobs, while the industries are missing out on 51 per cent of the country’s potential.
Some of the challenges the Taskforce reported included the difficulties of getting women and girls interested in these areas, and for those who are interested, supporting them to stick with it. The Taskforce has run a number of successful workshops with first-year female university students to encourage them, to introduce them to women working in their field, and to highlight the array of opportunities awaiting them after study. I think this is a great initiative and would have loved to have attended something similar back when I was studying computer science.
It became clear during this meeting that government, along with the science, engineering and technology industries themselves, can do much to attract, develop, and retain women in non-traditional fields of study and employment. The Taskforce has produced a great 12- point plan of practical things that could be done to attract and retain more women to the science, engineering and technology fields. To find out more about the Taskforce and to read their action plan go to http://www.women.qld.gov.au/work-and-life/smart-state-strategy/
I also met with the organisation Sisters Inside who shared some of the difficulties facing women in prison and upon their release. They explained that over 90 per cent of women released from prison have no where to go - they are homeless. Also, women who enter prison often have their belongings (such as furniture and clothing) taken away because they don’t have family to look after them. Without the basics of accommodation and their own belongings, how can these women go about the hard work of re-establishing strong support networks and avoiding reoffending?
From Sisters Inside, I made my way to Government House to meet the Queensland Governor and Australia’s future Governor-General, Ms Quentin Bryce AC. I was thrilled when Ms Bryce’s appointment was announced. Not only because she will be Australia’s first female Governor-General, but also because of her standing as an inclusive, committed leader and advocate for women’s rights. We discussed the progress that has been made in advancing gender equality since her time as Sex Discrimination Commissioner and the limited progress made on issues like the gender pay gap and sexual harassment in our workplaces. I left feeling inspired and very excited that this visionary, compassionate woman will be our next Governor-General.
There are many more highlights from the Queensland Tour. I met with some very insightful equal opportunity practitioners and government officials, and I heard a range of concerns and views at two very diverse and well-attended community consultation events. A focus group with lesbian mums highlighted the specific barriers to full and equal participation in many spheres of life for women in same-sex relationships. I also learnt a great deal about Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) from an academic in the field and a woman whose family has been touched by FAS.
Thank you to all the wonderful Queenslanders I met along the way for your valuable contributions to the Tour.