What women in Canberra are thinking about on International Women’s Day


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International Women’s Day means different things across the generations. Here, we ask five Canberra woman – and one schoolgirl – what’s on their mind in 2019.

Laura Guerschman, 10, primary student at Telopea Park School

At school, I am worried about bullying, because I think it happens all over the world, in every school. Generally, I think cancer and climate change are important. Lots of people have died from cancer. Also animal abuse and stuff like that.

I worry about getting to school on time, because my home is very far away [in Belconnen]. I’ve started going on the bus with my dad and my brother, because I have dance, and I have to go on the bus because my parents can’t take me everywhere. Today we went for the first time. I’ll be fine. My brother is eight turning nine.

Laura Guerschman, 10.

Laura Guerschman, 10.Credit:Karleen Minney

With dance, I’m in a troupe and I have to go because if I didn’t go twice, I’d probably be out. It’s a ballet lyrical contemporary and also a bit of acrobatics. I sometimes worry about my friends, if they don’t like me anymore, or if I did something wrong. I have at least four best friends, and the others are just friends-friends.

Dance gets me really excited with the competitions, and at school I get really excited because I’m working with my friends, and some of the activities that I really like to do, I really enjoy. I think I have more English homework than French homework, but I manage. I also do Spanish after school because my parents are from Argentina.

Tanvi Nangrani, 18, psychology student at the Australian National University

As a student my main attention is on school and university, family, friends, all those things, and how to manage them all. I think that’s what most kids my age are coping with, because there’s so many parts of life when you’re a uni student – extracurriculars and hobbies and mental health. All those things are important to manage.

Tanvi Nangrani, 18.

Tanvi Nangrani, 18.Credit:Karleen Minney

In terms of the bigger picture, it depends on where you’re looking. In Australia, of course, there are issues like sexual harassment in the workplace, and we keep hearing things about the #MeToo movement, but I do think in 2018 we did see changes starting. I think we’ve transitioned from a phase of recognising that there are faults to actually making solid achievements. But again, International Women’s Day is around the globe, so there are definitely things in other countries that need to improve in terms of how women are treated, be that abuse or violence or anything.

I think we’ve transitioned from a phase of recognising that there are faults to actually making solid achievements.

Also, I think sometimes people perceive gender equality to be a race or a competition in Australia – “We’re ahead, so what’s there to complain about”. But from a privileged place, I think we could also see how we could help countries and target aid towards women’s empowerment in other places, as well as improving Australia.

As a woman of colour, it’s really good to see in the media more faces that look like mine come to the forefront. If that could continue this year, that would be great.

Ashleigh Feltham, 29, dietician and nutritionist, founder of Feed Your Future Dietetics

I’ve always been very active. I started off with group fitness and then did my masters in nutrition and dietetics, so my motto to life is to help women, especially, be more positive in their minds and also healthy in their bodies.

I think from a health perspective, what worries me is potentially disregarding the need to be healthy at both ends of the spectrum. Yes, we’re in an obesity epidemic, but on the other end of the spectrum, there’s a lot of push by numerous companies and even social media stars to be living in a way that’s not healthy either.

Ashleigh Bentham, 29.

Ashleigh Bentham, 29.Credit:Karleen Minney

It’s the imbalance. There’s so much negative and incorrect information that that imbalance in health in a woman is almost unseen. It’s a big problem because information and the truth about how to be healthy to everyone is not known. People don’t understand that healthy at every size doesn’t mean accepting the obesity epidemic.

It’s a really fine line, because we need to be able to use our bodies not just to look good, but to feel good and to optimise what we can give to ourselves, but also to our families and to others. If we’re not healthy, I think that lesson has been lost.

I think women need to feel comfortable whatever they’re doing. It comes down to having confidence in yourself, but we do need to keep sticking up for each other as woman.

Maylee Thavat, 41, part-time public servant, micro-entrepreneur and founder of co-work space Good Work Canberra

Maylee Thavat, 41.

Maylee Thavat, 41.Credit:Karleen Minney

I’m fascinated by the politicisation of the #MeToo movement and how there has been a complete swap between left and right on issues of trade and social liberalism.

The left is now pro-trade, with women arguing for the benefits of inclusion. When I was coming back into the workforce after having a baby, new opportunities in technology and trade in services allowed me to start a business, Good Work Canberra, but this was, and still is, a micro-enterprise that supplemented my income.

Much is made of start-up and innovation cultures, but while many women are starting up increasing numbers of businesses, few of them make it past micro-enterprises. In fact the vast majority of innovative and successful start-ups at scale are by men who have access and networks to finance, expertise and support. We need to peel back words like “innovation” to see what they really mean from a gendered lens.

I’m also surprised that the #MeToo movement hasn’t yet provided a groundswell of women’s action around healthcare issues, especially given high-profile cases concerning the Sydney gynaecologist, the Johnson and Johnson vaginal mesh case and more locally public letters from staff at the Canberra Hospital regarding the adequacy of maternal services. These issues are linked.

If we want more innovative, diverse and open economies, then the major issue that we know affects women’s careers and earning potential is ensuring that their reproductive capacity doesn’t end up disadvantaging them at the least, and certainly not traumatising them further.

Fiona du Toit, almost 50, architect and urban design manager of Transport Canberra Light Rail

Fiona Smith du Toit.

Fiona Smith du Toit. Credit:Karleen Minney

This year, I’m thinking about the circle of life, the sense of home, history and intergenerational legacy.

I spend a lot of time thinking about time spent with friends and family, and our connection to place and landscape. I’m also worried about the health of the planet, of climate action and politics – part of Canberra’s DNA!

As a born-and-bred Canberra, I’m thinking about safe places to play, social equity and sustainable housing opportunities.

Through my work as the urban design manager for Canberra’s impending light rail, I’m thinking about strategic design and smarter sustainable decision making. From a larger perspective, through my work as a whole, I’m thinking about community investment and communicating value through great design; caring about public architecture, infrastructure and the everyday urban realm.

As a born-and-bred Canberra, I’m thinking about safe places to play, social equity and sustainable housing opportunities. As a mother, I’m thinking about adventures with my daughter, and the joy of learning new things. As a homebody, I’m thinking about what to plant in the veggie garden over winter and where we could fit in a fig tree. And finally, I’m thinking about the long view; where to best focus my energy, about having a voice and the best way to use it.

Claudia Hyles, 71, retiree, India enthusiast and refugee advocate

Claudia Hyles, 71.

Claudia Hyles, 71. Credit:Karleen Minney

The plight of the refugees is certainly on my mind, not just the men on Manus and the people on Nauru, but refugees all around the world, and I belong to a refugee support team at my church, which is St Pauls in Manuka. We have fundraising events, three or four a year, and with another member I run an emergency linen cupboard, and we supply good household linen – blankets, doonas, sheets, towels – to several organisations in Canberra, especially Companion House.

I don’t feel my age, most of the time. We all suddenly think, ‘Oh, I’m not as fit as I used to be’, but I think I’m pretty fit.

I’m mad about my family, they’re always on my mind, my four grandchildren. And I really value my women friends. I think small circles of women friends are so valuable, at any age.

I don’t feel my age, most of the time.

As for the #MeToo movement, I was never bullied in the workplace. If anyone was ever tricky in the workplace it was usually a woman not a man. And several of my friends have had that situation. When all this stuff with harassment started, many of generation said well, we all had people groping and unpleasant things like that, but we just said, “Piss off”.

I do understand that the workplace is much more competitive than it was 50 years ago, and women do have to keep their wits about them. I’m not inpatient with it, but I think it’s got a bit overblown.

Sally Pryor is a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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