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UN Women calls for leaders to champion change

In the past year, only one of the 25 CEOs appointed to lead ASX200 organisations has been female.

UN Women IWD 2021

At the current rate of change, it will take 99.5 years before gender equality is achieved.

The startling fact ripped through one of the largest gatherings in Australia since the pandemic hit, where about 1,000 leaders – predominantly women – came together to celebrate International Women’s Day with UN Women Australia.

Hosted nationally across a number of capital cities, guests were treated to keynotes by inspiring speakers including Australian of the Year Grace Tame, youth advocate Yasmin Poole and lawyer Elizabeth Broderick.

Almost a year to the day when COVID-19 disrupted the world, Minister for Women Marise Payne shone a light on how the global health crisis has affected women the most during her welcome address.

“This year we mark International Women’s Day with the global theme – women in leadership; achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,” Marise said. “Putting women front and centre is key to our economic recovery from COVID-19.”

While the current rate of change predicts it will take close to a century to achieve gender equality, UN Women believe they can reduce it to just 10 years.

And it’s through powerful advocates who make calls to action and disrupt the norm that the greatest change will be made.

“Every single one of us is a leader because every single one of us has a truth, a story with unique potential to create change.” – Grace Tame

The most moving keynote of the day was from Grace Tame, who shared her raw story as a survivor of sexual assault.

“This year’s International Women’s Day theme could not be more fitting. It could not be more true; women lead,” she said. “Truly, one of the most important components of leadership is embracing vulnerability, embracing humanity, our shared truth. And that’s it. Our truth. Our truth is our power.

“Every single one of us is a leader because every single one of us has a truth, a story with unique potential to create change. A leader does not stand above the rest. A leader stands alongside their fellow champions, prepared to take direction as well as provide it. To listen, to encourage and to unite. A leader’s fearlessness is not so much an absence of fear, as a refusal to let it stop the moving forward.

Image: William Zheng of Moonshot Photography

“Indeed, it is through my greatest fears and witnessing and empowering others to do the same that I got here.”

Having spent the past decade turning her traumatic lived experience into advocacy and unity for other sexual assault survivors, Grace – who received two standing ovations either side of her moving keynote – encourages everyone to listen, show understanding and stand in solidarity.

Through working to evoke change across all sectors – especially the C-suite – the event highlighted the importance of making small changes often.

And the true power of more women in high places is evident. When women are at the negotiating table, peace agreements are more likely to last 15 years or longer.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Marise said. “Women in leadership roles are so vitally important across our communities, across our countries and across the world.

“And those of us who have the privilege, the responsibility and the opportunity to share in those roles, we have to continue to work together for a world that is more inclusive, where women are equal and respected leaders.”

Encouraging more female leaders to rise through the ranks globally is one of the crucial ways to empower the world.

Image: William Zheng of Moonshot Photography

In the past year, only one of the 25 CEOs appointed to lead ASX200 organisations has been female – leaving glaringly obvious room for improvement.

“Let’s be on the right side of history and quadruple our efforts and commitment to leveling the playing field so all women have equal opportunities to be leaders and shape an equal world for the benefit of all,” UN Women Australia’s Board President Debra Eckersley said.

“In the words of Leymah Gbowee – the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Winner best known for leading non-violent peace movements – “It’s time for women to stop being politely angry. You can never leave footprints that last if you’re always walking on your tiptoes.

“True to our belief and our strategy that every day women count, and they matter, we believe we can achieve gender equality in 10 years, but it requires tenacity, investment and a willingness to change.

“Speak out and take action against inequality whenever you see it and be champions in equality in everyday life.”

Feature image: William Zheng of Moonshot Photography

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