Summer brings the opportunity to enjoy leisurely breakfasts, read the paper, and especially the Summer sections which seem to be filled with nostalgic recollections from writers who grew up in the era I remember – in the 1950s and 1960s when life was definitely a lot slower, no-one I knew as a teenager had any money to spend, no-one had a part-time job, there was nowhere much to shop which was just as well, because we didn’t have any expendable income, and Just Jeans and Target hadn’t been invented, let alone Billabong or Apple stores. So forgive me if I indulge in a little nostalgia, and reminisce about how my life has been shaped and changed.
School was something that most of us actually enjoyed – in that era, everyone who wanted to do so could generally get a Commonwealth or Teachers Scholarship and go to university, and everyone lived at home, so there was less pressure to work while studying.
So where did we learn to stand up for injustice and start to recognise the limits on what women were able to achieve in what was generally known as the age of apathy before the Vietnam War taught us the power of demonstration?
As many young women did at that time, I moved into marriage, and gave up work so that I could stay home and bring up babies, because the concept of child care was unknown. What this time did give me was the opportunity to learn the power of networks of women, as we had time to get together, to share each other’s lives and issues, and support each other in those physically challenging times of sleep deprived nights and busy, busy days revolving around satisfying everyone’s needs to be fed, clothed, cleaned and entertained.
In hindsight, it was a liberating time, when I could make the decisions about what filled each day – with the kids I could go to the beach, play tennis, enjoy lunch with friends, whatever….. And it didn’t last forever – the kids grew up a bit, went to school – and then the decisions about how the days were filled were still mine.
This became the time to get involved in many community activities – to take on leadership roles, and to make a difference in the communities of which I was a part. Through the Girl Guides Association I coordinated youth leadership forums, activity camps, learnt to sail and then worked with others to re-vamp the State Water Activities training centre so that it became a place where girls and women could learn to sail and take part in all sorts of water activities, instructed by women, in what has often perceived to be a ‘man’s world’.
Opportunities to make a difference come to most of us at various times, but the difference will only be achieved for the better when the attitude to the opportunities is a positive one, and opportunities are grasped with optimism and enthusiasm.
What I would like to see for young people today is for them to have opportunities to work with significant other adults in their lives – not necessarily their parents – but other adults who will take time to believe in them, to talk to them about their dreams and wishes, and to trust them to take on challenges which will transform their lives and open up new horizons.
It makes a huge difference when we treat each other as equals – where gender and status doesn’t come into the equation as a power broker or power breaker, but people give each other the time to know that they are worthy of respect and esteem.
Our world is so much larger now – information bombards us and we are as aware of the situation for women in Afghanistan as we are of what is happening for women in adjoining suburbs or cities. It brings with it the responsibility for us to take seriously our role as a global citizen – all those adages of ‘think globally, act locally’ can become much more than just words if we each of us can decide what is the issue or cause that we want to support or adopt, and then make sure that we take seriously our role to become the champion for that cause – whether it is women’s empowerment, saving the whales, or solar energy.
As we think about what the resolutions we may have made this New Year to make a difference in our lives in 2012, I hope that this year on 8 March – International Women’s Day – that you will join me in supporting UN Women Australia’s events right across Australia to draw attention to what International Women’s Day means – it’s about celebrating the vital role women play in enhancing economic prosperity in their families, communities and countries while recognising that significant barriers to achieving women’s economic security and equality continue to exist.
Our attitudes and our actions will make a difference – join me in being the catalyst.
Sue Conde joined the Australian National Committee for UNIFEM (now UN Women Australia) in 2002, and was elected President in 2008. Since 2003, she has also been actively engaged as a member of the National Leadership Group of the White Ribbon Day Campaign to end Violence against Women. Sue held various Executive leadership positions at State and National levels of Girl Guides Australia from 1985-2002. Representing the Girl Guides, she attended the UN General Assembly Special Session on Women in New York in 2000. In January 2005 Sue was appointed a Member in the Order of Australia for service to the community through organisations and advisory bodies that promote the interests of women, to youth through the Guiding movement, and to the Uniting Church in Australia.