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Archive for 2008

Personal reflections on the Listening Tour

Over the last six months I have heard the real stories and lived experiences of more than 1000 people through more than 100 events. When I began my Listening Tour in November 2007, I set myself a number of objectives. I wanted to immerse myself in the everyday experiences of gender inequality. I wanted to build relationships with those key people and organisations who had a deep understanding of the issues. Importantly, I wanted to hear your ideas for how we can create a fairer and more equal society. I have learnt enormously from the Listening Tour.

The Tour has provided me with a depth of understanding that no number of written reports could. I have had the opportunity to meet a diverse range of Australians - factory workers, investment bankers, business leaders, community legal centre workers, Indigenous Australians, academics, Ministers, women’s services, refugees, gays and lesbians, young women and older people, to name a few. The Tour has allowed me to put the human face to the information that comes across my desk everyday. Not only have I gained a sense of what really matters in the community, I have heard about how it needs to be changed.

Covering the length and breadth of this country has changed the way I see things. I have heard the complexity of the issues that women and men in the Australian community face on a daily basis. I have become stronger in my belief that a one size fits all approach to policy will not work. We need considered, evidence-based policy solutions that are tailored and responsive. Most of all, we need to take a long term view of change. Making a positive impact on women’s and men’s lives will take time, but every bit counts.

Throughout the Tour I continued to strive for work and family balance by modelling what is possible. Yes, there were stressful times travelling with the kids. Yet, the kids made me see the issues from a different perspective. I was able to engage with people on a number of dimensions - as the Commissioner, as a mum, a sister and a daughter. It is important that we present ourselves as whole people, that is, as individuals with caring responsibilities. It is not until senior men and women in public life begin to model alternative ways of balancing work and family that we will see change across all levels.

I am proud and honoured to have heard so many stories that will make me an informed advocate for gender equality in this country. I am determined to continue listening and using technology strategically to engage with each of you. Thank you for being part of this incredible journey and I look forward to continuing the conversation over the next 5 years.

Liz

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Last stop of the Listening Tour: Brisbane

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.

Liz

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Listening to the voices of young people in Mackay, Queensland

On my first morning in Queensland I received a warm welcome at a large gathering of Mackay’s Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander communities. With traditional dancing, singing and music as well as lots of great ideas for change, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting members of these proud communities.

Students from three local high schools had come to share their experiences and concerns. Some students recounted feeling discriminated against because of their race. This is happening in very direct ways like being called offensive names in the playground, and in less direct ways like being watched or followed closely by security guards in shopping centres or being directed, unprompted, to cheaper items by sales assistants. It is disappointing to hear of such incidents given the huge cost of prejudice, both to affected individuals and our society as a whole.

Many students told me about their dreams for life after high school which included further study and employment. However, some felt that because they were Indigenous, expectations for them were much lower than for non-Indigenous students. As I told them, often the best come-back to people who put you down is to believe in yourself and achieve your dreams.

One idea put forward to support these young people fulfil their potential was to connect Indigenous students with mentors - professional men and women (Indigenous and non Indigenous) from the local community. I strongly support this idea. I have always found mentoring an excellent way of providing aspiring young people the confidence, motivation, guidance and support they need to pursue their goals.

I was very impressed with the young people I met. Articulate, intelligent and engaged with their communities, they shared well thought out views and suggested simple ways to improve the lives of the people around them. Hearing from them first-hand was invaluable to me and the elders present. I find this process of coming together and sharing our stories one of the best ways to build stronger understanding and unity across communities.

Liz

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