This year’s theme for 16 Days of Activism against Gender based Violence is respect. We are asked as a community to respect people – in this instance women and girls - by letting them be themselves, building them up and supporting them to express their emotions. When we look around the world in this time of pandemic and climate crisis, with so many social and political problems, this has never been more important. We need to listen to the voices of young women as they have never had more to say. When empowered, young women challenge their society to deal with many pressing issues, they build solidarity and focus and create a better world for us all.
On the world stage there is a cohort of young women showing leadership on social justice issues, the sports fields, in music and the arts. They are not afraid to tackle big problems such as climate change and gender equality and have made their mark speaking truth to power. Plan International Australia asked thousands of young girls about the female leaders they admire, their list included Greta Thunberg, Serena Williams, Julia Gillard, Emma Watson, Jacinda Ardern and Malala Yousafzai. Most of us are familiar with these names, and could add even more to this list such as Emma Gonzalez and her fellow students from Stoneland Douglas High School as they tackle the entrenched problem of gun control in America.
In sports mad Australia Ash Barty who is Australia’s Young Woman of the Year and Sam Kerr are role models for many as young Australian sportswomen who have handled themselves with integrity, and given so much back to the community, while achieving amazing things in their sport.
While young women already contribute so much to the world, many are still fighting for access to education and facing barriers of child marriage, harassment, violence and social discrimination. Organisations such as UN Women Australia seek to strengthen young women’s leadership not only to make their future brighter, but for the benefit of their communities as well.
Locally, many councils are also seeking to strengthen the awareness of the contribution young women make to our communities. Nillumbik Council has created the Young Women Leaders of Nillumbik Awards to recognise and celebrate young women contributing to their community. The awards were run for the first time in 2020 and cover a broad areas of achievement from creativity, sport, environment and gender equity.
We spoke to some of this year’s winners asking them about their journey and what winning the award meant to them. All of the young women have the passion to make a difference in their community in their chosen arena and carry with them real hope for the future.
Libby was Nilumbik’s Young Woman of the Year in 2019. Her concern for Australian wildlife, particularly koalas inspired her to create her own charity. She raises funds through donations and selling craft at markets which she donates to wildlife shelters who support sick and injured wildlife. She also works with community groups such as the Guides and schools giving talks to raise awareness – not only of the plight of the koalas, but to share her message that young people can take action and they can make a difference.
The women who inspired Libby are Bindi Irwin, Jane Goodall, and her mother Rebecca, along with all of the dedicated wildlife carers that she has met such as those from the Dutch Thunder Wildlife
Shelter who have dedicated their lives to helping wildlife. She is encouraged by the changes she sees, and the support of young people who respond to her goals and support her. She is encouraged by seeing the change that she has helped create at the shelters, and is happy making a difference in the world.
Jhemma won the Nillumbik Council’s Young Carer of the Year Award in 2019 and 2020 for her work with Headspace Greensborough supporting other young carers and working with the team there to provide resources for families affected by mental illness.
Jhemma grew up in a family with strong women as role models –her sister in particular has been an inspiration to her. She believes that education is the way forward in dealing with issues like mental illness in workplaces and in society so that people to learn to be more open and less judgemental towards those with mental illness. Jhemma remembers a time when people judged her family negatively because of her mother’s illness which made the situation worse for her family. Jhemma’s inspiration is her sister Kaytlyn who remained hopeful and showed that it was possible to make a positive life for yourself. Jhemma wants to make a better world for her niece who will be born in 2021.
She believes that supporting each other with empathy and kindness will make a better world and adds when reflecting on the contribution of young women like herself, ‘we are doing good in the world.’
Eliza was awarded young woman excelling in Arts or Sports in Nillumbik. Both drama and sport have played a major part in her life, allowing her to express herself, and she has tried to help others to find the same opportunities through her work mentoring young actors at the Eltham Little Theatre, and through her role as a volleyball player and coach.
She believes young women significantly contribute to their communities, and their contributions are often under-appreciated. However she believes our society has begun to not only acknowledge but support our young female leaders, as they continue to break barriers and make a difference. She was excited to win the award and says it was wonderful to be recognised by her community.
Her inspiration comes from ‘my parents, every day’ and says they have been her support all along, helping her to develop as a person. She is sustained by her family and friends as she goes forward in life to find her purpose.
Other winners of the Young Women Leader of Nillumbik Awards this year were Tara Frost who won the Gender Equity Award for her work with the Kangaroo Ground CFA and The Violet Fems from Eltham High School who were awarded the Youth Led Group of the year for their ongoing work on feminism related issues, including an installation titled The Catwalk which explored the issue of catcalling. Nillumbik are now accepting nominations for the 2021 awards.
Written by YPRL Staff Member Lynne Siejka