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Posts Tagged ‘#girlstakeover’

On 16 October 2017, Rachel Bexendale of The Australian wrote an article about Plan international’s misleadingly pairing Education Minister Simon Birmingham as part of their #girlstakeover Program.

The article describes me as a “32-year-old Muslim activist”. An activist is “a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.” An advocate is “a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy”. I support women’s empowerment but am not part of any political party or campaign. Therefore I am an advocate of women’s empowerment but not an activist and certainly not a political one. I do not have, or claim to have, any political affiliations.

Plan admitted to making a mistake in communicating to Senator Birmingham that he would be paired with an “adolescent girl advocate” but at no point was I informed that this was the communication with him. If I had known I would not have proceeded. I attended a two day training with Plan where I vocalised my age but was not asked to withdraw. Instead I was paired with the Senator. I understand this was a genuine mistake and I hold no ill will towards either Plan International or the Senator.

While I agree with the crux of the Senator’s letter, I am disappointed that despite writing “Without wishing to reflect on the woman in question” he proceeded to do just that by stating incorrectly my age and that I am a political activist, but more importantly by assuming that I am “driven by alternative activist motivations” which is wholly untrue. I entered this competition because I believe in the right of all girls regardless of age, appearance, ability, creed and race to be empowered. I looked forward to discussing with the Senator how our Education system could facilitate this.

I am also disappointed that Plan deputy chief executive Susanne Legena’s comment, “Plan is fiercely non-party-political. It’s a mistake we made,” was written in a way that did not clarify that I am non-party-political.

The article indicates I did not respond to a request for comment. The request for comment came via email at 1:36pm on Sunday and stated a 4pm deadline on the same day. I didn’t see the email till 8pm and felt no need to respond if the deadline had passed. I also waited till after the event to post this reply as I did not wish to detract from the importance of the event and the coverage it deserves.

The author chose to misrepresent my online presence by stating that my blog contains posts about implementation of shariah law when in fact the blog post clearly states that the post is lecture notes from an open workshop held at Australian National University (ANU) about what shariah law is. If the author had cared to read the blog post – she would have realised the post states that there is no need for shariah law to be implemented in Australia as Muslim enjoy the full range of rights they require under Australian Law. She goes onto state that I have ‘videos of hairstyle tips to hijabis’. I have A video of hairCARE tips to hijabis. The rush to pen and print a sensationalist story sacrificed the facts. Besides the notes from that workshop, my blog also contains posts on my work with women and girls education, empowerment and health. Posts on Cricket, Korean dramas, charity work, poems and short stories. A decades’ worth of non-Islam related posts were overlooked and only Islam related topics were mentioned to sensationalise the story and further polarise the narrative.

Interestingly, the Huffington Post wote an article, federal education minister Simon Birmingham pulled out, the next day, which covers the same thing in a more straightforward manner (some lessons to be learnt here methinks!). The Huffington post article repeated the use of activist (although kudos to them they removed ‘political’ probably because a quick google search proved otherwise) and in doing so proved that repetition creates reinforcement of an idea, whether it is a fact or not. The Senator’s letter used the words and they were repeated by journalists. The lesson we can take from this, Senator, Journalist or member of the public, is to check our facts before making statements. And being mindful of the impact of what we say or write about a woman or women in general, especially if we exhort to supporting women in the same breath, letter or article.

The crux of the matter is that without confirming who I am and what I represent, I have been misrepresented as a political activist driven by alternative activist motivations to polarise an incident and detract from the real issues and the very important and much needed exposure and platform Plan International is providing young women to nurture their leadership ambitions.

The real issue is that girls do not see themselves represented in leadership roles and thus have decreasing leadership ambitions. Read the report by Plan here. And if my experience is anything to go by – the moment a girl steps into the public space she is judged with an armload of assumptions – so why would girls dare to nurture their leadership ambitions?

The real issue is that a female journalist misused her platform to misrepresent another female. I am not afraid to be known as a Muslim – I am proud of it. I am not upset that she stated I am a Muslim that writes about Islam in the article – I am proud of it. My concern is her lack of journalistic integrity allowed her to capitalise on my faith, and passion for my faith, by sensationalising her article with a focus on that, rather than the incident at hand. Fear of misrepresentation is one of the main reasons girls’ leadership ambitions are not nurtured – especially girls from minority and ethnic backgrounds.

The real issue is that activism has been tainted as a dirty word and something to be afraid of when activism is what has earned women and people of colour the rights they have today. I am not an activist because I do not campaign for, or affiliate with a political party. But if I was to become one – there is no shame in that. Enduring positive impact has to come from within the system and girls and women with leadership ambitions need to advocate for more political activists (regardless of colour, creed, ability and gender) within the existing system who will represent them and provide them with opportunity.

The real issue is that people fear what they do not understand. I am an open book. I come up in Google search results. If you want to know who I am and what I am about – come and talk to me. Don’t sit and make assumptions about who I am and use that as an excuse not to interact with me. This is what creates barriers between classes, genders and religions and the perception of the Other that I have written about previously. Don’t hate – Communicate.

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In preparation for the #GirlsTakeover Parliament Program as part of Plan International’s global #GirlsTakeover initiative, we all participated in a 2 day training weekend to prepare for the takeover.

Day 1 was full of introductions and hesitant smiles which quickly turned into insightful discussions sparked by a speech by the Deputy Commissioner Operations in the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Leanne Close, who shared her experience of her 26 year career as well as the leadership qualities she’s learnt and looks for when recruiting.

Leanne’s tips for leadership qualities are:

  • Be inclusive in your thinking so that you are generating a wide spectrum of ideas
  • Seek feedback from those around you – higher or lower in the hierarchy
  • Develop people – learn who they are and be invested in their success
  • Understand not only your strengths and style but that of others
  • Build confidence within yourself and others
  • Become a global citizen by reading and building awareness
  • Anticipate and build for the future by thinking about the impacts of now

To do this:

  • Know your job well
  • Try new roles and opportunities
  • Seek opportunities for personal development
  • Understand your team

Following Leanne’s speech was Speaker Training from TedxCanberra’s Ingrid Tomanovits. Ingrid is the ACT’s consummate learning and development specialist and is now the Licensee of TEDxCanberra. Her session was such a privilege to be part of because through her two exercises she drew out from a group of 20 odd women such personal anecdotes, life stories and insights that made me proud to realise I was in the company of such inspirational women. Some tips I took from Ingrid’s session spoken by either Ingrid herself or women in the group are:

  • Public speaking is answering the questions:
    • What do you want people to know
    • What do you want people to feel
    • What do you want people to do
  • Say your name and why you are here to establish for yourself and the audience that you are relevant to the conversation
  • It’s normal to become anxious, have dry mouth and a rapid heartbeat before you speak. It shows you care and that you are invested in what you are doing. Own it.
  • Any strength overplayed becomes a weakness
  • Drink water 48-72 hours before your speech to avoid dry mouth
  • Include everyone in the room and change the dynamic (if you feel people are not participating or active listening)
  • You don’t have to be the expert, guide the conversation by telling your story
  • The congruence of the words you use, what you say and the way you say it is the sweet spot for good public speaking.
  • If you become overwhelmed when speaking, pick a point to focus on and think about the negative emotion then look to your peripheral vision and the emotion will dissipate.
  • Be memorable for the right reasons, saying your name is one of the ways to help people connect to the points you are making
  • Watch Social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TedX talk, Your body language may shape who you are

After a lunch break of delicious pide from Yarralumla Turkish Pide House we were back. This time Saul took us through the findings of the “She Can Lead” report that Plan Australia commissioned Essential Research to do on the potential of girls to lead. We will be using the findings of this report to talk to members of Parliament.

Saul Zavarce is a Venezuelan Australian media professional currently studying a Masters of International Relations. He is the Media Officer at Plan International Australia and Head of Advocacy for Venezuelan Australian Democratic Council. Some takeaways from this session was:

  • Don’t mansplain and say you are trying to learn, if you genuinely want to learn – Google’s free.
  • 13 years of mandatory secular education (primary and high school) do not equip you to identify women’s sexual organs, issues, health concerns and discern between facts and fiction
  • Re: female sexual education – “Get a mirror, get acquainted” – Adriana
  • Animalistic male desire won’t stop you from becoming president but a period will – Saul
  • Women find it harder to negotiate remuneration and will more often than not settle for minimum wage or less than they deserve
  • Not only is there a disparity between the entry rates of men and women into professional fields, but the attrition rates are disparate as well with a huge number of women leaving the professional fields as the rank becomes more senior
  • Quotas are the demise of mediocre men
  • Women who infiltrate the boys club is either sexualised or ‘one of the boys i.e non-threatening’ or not part of the club and ostracised which has impacts on career development
  • We need education about what consent looks like to address the issue of victim blaming which is bigger than just the issue of consent. We need to address the social, cultural, religious and classist prejudice that implicitly and explicitly allows victim-blaming
  • Call out gendered language and behaviour to boys and girls. I.e. telling boys to ‘man-up’ if they cry or telling girls they need to look pretty rather than be smart.
  • As a youth, you can say radical things. Lobbiysts make deals. Your job as an advocate is to voice radical ideas
  • Venezuelan constitution states stay-at-home motherhood as an occupation in its constitution, which entitles housewives to wages and social security from the Government.

Recommendations that would make it easier for women to be leaders:

  • Gender studies in schools
  • Education regarding cultural concepts of love, relationships
  • Ban sexist advertising prohibiting public advertising that undermines the equal status of women
  • Job skills and negotiation training
  • Removing pictures and CVs from recruitment processes
  • Mentoring and support to provide more leadership opportunities
  • Remove gendered school uniforms
  • Address the gender pay gap by raising the minimum wage in public sector and providing incentives for private sector

Then we had a quick session on Media Training and how to have a successful interview.

  • Acknowledge a questions no matter how difficult
  • Bridge the gap to a topic you are comfortable with
  • Deliver your key messages succinctly.

Quick fire mentoring from:

  • Corporate: Rosanne Brand
  • Artist: Ruth O’Brien

The end of day 1 was celebrated by watching Bend it like Beckham and eating pizza.

Bring on day 2!

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Last month, I was browsing Facebook in bed at 11:30pm before I went to sleep and came across a post about a competition being held by Plan international called #girlstakeover. The brief was to write 200 words on what you would do if you were Prime Minister for a day. I had never heard about either the organisation or the initiative but it seemed to fit in with my passion of women’s empowerment so I applied a minute before the deadline with the response below:

If I were to be Prime Minister of this great nation for a day, I would focus my energies on the past, present and future. I would acknowledge the reality of Australia’s history and the rights of the original occupants of our wide brown land by ensuring indigenous people are recongised in social, economical and politcal forums and their opinions are heard with regards to domestic and international policies. I would ensure the present generation of women and children are protected from abuse, violence and vulnerability via displacement by providing shelter and education to those at home and those that come across the seas to our boundless plains. For our future, I would seek to address the refugee crisis and climate change. Two giant issues that have no easy solution by making educated and informed decisions based on expert opinion. To do all this I would spend my day as an inclusive and open leader, hearing all voices regardless of gender religion or race.

A week later I found out I had made it into the #girlstakeover Program so I thought I should find out what I had gotten into! It turns out I had gotten into something pretty awesome!

Plan International is an independent development and humanitarian organisation that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. They strive for a just world, working together with children, young people, our supporters and partners. Each year they hold a global event where young women are chosen, given training and support and then take over parliament in their city for a day.

This year I am part of a group of young women in Canberra participating in the #GirlsTakeover Parliament Program, part of Plan International’s global #GirlsTakeover initiative. As part of the commemoration of International Day of the Girl on 11 October 2017, 600 takeovers in 60 countries will take place across the world. Canberra will be one of the locations where this action is occurring.

This initiative is great because it creates a platform in a space young girls often have difficulty accessing. In Canberra, this activism will be occurring in both the Legislative Assembly and Federal Parliament. The program is being led by two awesome local young women – Caitlin Figueiredo and Ashleigh Streeter – who signed up local members of Legislative Assembly and members of Federal Parliament to be involved and commit to a multipartisan message that our Local and Federal Parliaments are “committed to defending the rights and potential of young women and girls.”

On 11 October, we will take over the offices of local representatives from across party lines. On 18 October, we will enter Federal Parliament and occupy the offices of 19 Parliamentarians from every political party. During this time, we will shadow the politicians for the day and present these representatives with Plan International Australia’s national report on how to increase the participation of young women in political decision-making.

I am so please to have stumbled across this program and will post about our training weekend and the actual takeover soon. Till then, you can read about the initiative here and follow it using #girlstakeover as well as follow Plan international on social media or their website.

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