International Women’s Day 8 March 2021

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#ChooseTo Challenge

Contradiction seems to be alive and well. Does it seem strange to you that Grace Tame, an activist and advocate for survivors of sexual assault, is named Australian of the Year 2021, while at this same time, Brittany Higgins has struggled to find an equitable process to address her allegation of sexual assault in Parliament? Nonetheless, in speaking out, Brittany seems to have empowered other victims of abuse in that workplace to come forward. Women’s voices are important.

The IWD 2021 campaign theme is #ChooseToChallenge and it reminds us that we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions, to call out and challenge inequality, and to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements.

As I ponder on these issues in my own life, I am grateful for the champions and mentors throughout my professional career, who enabled me to break through invisible barriers, to step up to the next level. Choosing accounting as a career in the 1980s meant that female role models were scarce; my champions and mentors were men. Everyone, whether male or female, needs a champion who will speak for you, to enable you to be considered for a next step. #ChooseToChallenge is a call to all people, male and female alike.

Is it possible that there could be people in our community, with no one to speak up for them? When women involved in street sex work, and young women and girls affected by sexual exploitation seek support from St Kilda Gatehouse, they often come to us with a distrust of those who would speak for them, or those who seek to be their champion (or pimp). Their experience of life from a young age often includes abuse, domestic violence and/or child sexual exploitation. “Rape culture” is a culture that protects rapists and shames victims; recent media reports indicate that a rape culture may exist at our highest levels. It makes me wonder, how does a rape culture play out for those at the lowest levels – for those women and girls who don’t have a voice, for those more marginalised and disadvantaged?  A rape culture causes women and girls to blame themselves for not staying safe; they lose confidence and self-worth. The impact is far reaching and devastating.

Providing a safe place, where women can speak out if they choose, is perhaps the first step in their understanding of when they have been wronged, where they start to realise they are worthy. As the women and girls learn to trust the support provided by St Kilda Gatehouse, they have a chance to seek help to address the complex trauma they live with. These are early steps back to empowering these women and girls to take control of their lives.

At St Kilda Gatehouse our mission is grounded in a #ChooseToChallenge ethos. We confront the inequality the women and girls have experienced without judgment, but by providing dignity and respect for all who seek support. Women involved in street sex work, and young women and girls affected by sexual exploitation are accepted in a place of belonging, where they can feel safe and speak without fear of retribution. We know that the ability to speak freely brings empowerment; with empowerment each woman can #ChooseToChallenge the inequalities in her life. St Kilda Gatehouse will support her on that journey because every woman is worthy.

If you have a heart to #ChooseToChallenge the inequity some of the most vulnerable women and girls in our community face, please join with St Kilda Gatehouse in supporting our outreach.

Dianne Azoor Hughes

Chair – St Kilda Gatehouse

Email: dianne@stkildagatehouse.org.au

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