Saturday, December 21, 2013

Who are we to preach when our own backyard needs an upgrade!

Earlier last week the Abbott government appointed Natasha Stott Despoja as Australia’s  Ambassador for women and girls.

There is no doubt that Stott Despoja is the right person for the role, a strong female that many young girls can look up to.

I remember when she took on the role as leader of the Democrats, I thought that it was a shame a strong female leader will never get to be Prime Minister due to her choice of political party.
I often watch the Project and enjoy her banter with the other panellists and her point of view. I have also had the pleasure of meeting her several times over the last few years and she is someone who has a sense of self and a strong energy. What I admire is that her commitment to women’s issues is simply unfaltering.

I believe that the Liberal party have corrently chosen an admirable reprasentative for women's advocacy.  However I am still a little unclear exactly what the outcomes are supposed to be. 
Stott-Despoja hopes to focus on women in leadership. Additionally, empowering women through educational and economic independence is at the top of her list. Finally, the new ambassador hopes to focus on the treatment of females in the South Pacific and asylum seekers.

My question: If Australia is going to be the guiding light for other countries on the role of women in leadership, economy and education, then what example are we setting?

·         Top companies in Australia are still failing to promote women into board, key management and leadership positions; in fact it is still under 10% (according to the last census).

·         According to the same census Australia is lagging behind US, NZ, UK, Sth Africa and Canada, we have the lowest percentage of women in senior positions compared to these countries.

·         We are now in an environment where the option or threat of quotas is very real, something that many  women in leadership roles have mixed views on.

·         Top ASX companies are now required to report on their gender balance which has seen a slight shift increase of women being appointed as directors.

Sunday is Equal Pay Day: Women still need to work 64 more da...
Source: Womens Agenda,Aug 2012
Apart from gender imbalance there is the ongoing issue of pay discrimination. In fact women have to work 64 more days a year to earn the same as men.

It is interesting that we have a government in power that only has one female in Cabinet. Clearly if there is a glass ceiling in this country, it starts at the top!

I don’t have to or want to keep repeating the same mantra which is that gender balanced companies are far more successful than those that are not.
Then of course we have the issue of asylum seekers.  We will stop the boats said Mr Abbott, well the truth is the boats will never stop and now we don’t have the transparency we once had on the number of boats  arriving and how many actually die on their journey to what they see as freedom. So instead of stopping the boats we now have stopped the news on any boats arriving.

Part of Stott Despoja role is how women asylum seekers are treated, my issue however is male, female or child, when a boat is spotted entering Australian waters they are all treated the same.
They are they put into refugee camps where it takes us far too long process them. Prolonged detention is not the solution to stopping the boats.

Almost 80% of refugees are women, they arrive here with children, often no husband and health problems, chronic disease, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
There have been reports in the past of how refugees have been treated so I wonder exactly how transparent Stott Despoja will be with us and what influence she will be able to have on changes that she and her team recommend.

The first trip as the Ambassador was to lead a delegation to Solomon, Nauru and Vanuatu.
I wonder when or if Fiji will be one of the places they visit, given the current sanctions and the cold relations between the two countries. I would be surprised if she does.

However despite all political relations if the key focus is on women, and girls and leadership, economic and educational opportunities then these issues are surely far more important.
The Pacific certainly needs strong female leadership and it is great to see Australia place a focus on this.

My question remains, if we are to be seen as a leader to others then are we displaying behaviours that entitle us to teach and lead others?
If I was a woman in the South Pacific looking at countries that could provide me with hope and leadership by example would Australia be that country given their own culture?

You only have to look at our current team of ministers to question the committment of gender balances in our country. And yes I do see Julia Bishop as the token female.
Stott Despoja is a trail blazer, well known and respected. It will be very interesting to watch how she balances issues at home versus issues internationally. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mandela – Prisoner 46664, rebel, warrior, leader, unifier

On Thursday 5th of December the world lost a leader who not only changed a country but influenced leaders and people across the world.
He had a unique life and one that had many challenges. However he seemed to overcome these with grace and dignity.

Mandela trained as a lawyer and became the leader of the African National Congress that was fighting against the Afrikaner regime.
In 1962 he was given life imprisonment for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government and was imprisoned for 27 long years. He was held on Robben Island in harsh conditions, completely hidden from public view. However Mandela did have a constant view to his beloved country across the waters.

At the end of his trial, Mandela gave a now iconic 4 hour speech in which he said: "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination," he said. "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Even in prison he fought for rights of prisoners, which led to them to improved access to newspapers, radio, quality food and the right to study.

He was released in 1990 and South Africa began to move away from racial segregation. FW de Clerk, the last white President, ordered his release, called him a "unifier" and said he had "a remarkable lack of bitterness".   
Both de Clerk and Mandela jointly won the Nobel Peace prize in 1993.

Four years after he was released he became the first black president of South Africa. There is a wonderful image that many may remember of Mandela holding de Clerk’s hand up with his arms around him. The image resounded unity not just in South Africa but around the world.
In 1995 he used the rugby World Cup to unite the nation. Walking onto the field, wearing Afrikaner Francois Pienaar’s number 6. The almost entirely white crowd chanted his name and this simple act made a statement and bought Afrikaner’s and South Africans into the new South Africa.
Mandela message was always one of forgiveness and reconciliation. He peacefully negotiated an end to segregation, he had every reason to be bitter however rose above it. In fact he became the nation’s conscience as South Africa went on a journey of healing from the scars of apartheid.

"As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison," Mandela said after he was freed in 1990 
As you read about the life of Mandela you realise that he played many complex roles in his life, he was a freedom fighter, an activist, a prisoner, a unifier and lastly an elder statesman.

He had a steely gaze and a big wide smile. He was tall and many said he had an aura around him of dignity rarely seen. Twenty seven long years did not break this man, instead it made him iconic.
When you measure world leaders against Mandela most fall short, for those of us who have watched this man we have truly been blessed to be around in his time.

At the age of 86 Mandela stepped away from public life – “don’t call me, I will call you,” he said.
It is hard for us living in Australia to imagine Apartheid and segregation, what it can do to a person and how it can change attitudes and make you bitter about the system. In fact many left South Africa and immigrated to Australia.

Mandela was clearly special. He was a gracious man and transformational leader. A man his country locked away for 27 long years and yet still returned forgiving and leading his beloved nation on a journey that healed and changed it forever.
He called for an end to the bloodshed and forged a democratic political path for South Africa. By enabling blacks to not just vote but also participate in government, he made South Africa a global player. He proudly coined it the “Rainbow nation” in his inaugural speech.

He said: “We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
He was a generous man, doing a lot of work on the issue of Aids/HIV, a disease he lost a son to.

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace,”
"I would like to be remembered not as anyone unique or special, but as part of a great team in this country that has struggled for many years, for decades and even centuries," he said. "The greatest glory of living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall."

Rest in peace Nelson Mandela, you have taught us many lessons and as generations learn about you, you will continue to teach them.