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Taking inspiration from women across the globe

After reporting a male co-worker who had sexually harassed her while working in Papua New Guinea, Stephanie Copus-Campbell found herself a social pariah.

“Nothing happened to him, and everything happened to me,” she said.

“Every time I’d walk into a room, people were talking to him and giving me funny looks. It was my reputation that was affected. It’s this that makes gender equality personal for me.”

Stephanie, Australia’s Ambassador for Gender Equality, made the comments as part of the at the Australian National University last month.

Along with her own experiences, Stephanie finds her passion for gender equality in the stories of the women she meets around the world. Oftentimes, obstacles like climate change, poverty and access to basic sanitation have gendered implications that are borne out in the lives of women in the Global South.

At the lecture, Stephanie talked about the impact that a group of women she met in Laos had on her perspective.

“The women in the village where we were staying would get up at 4am every morning and start pounding rice for the day,” she said.

“They then got their children ready for school, cleaned the house, cooked, hauled heavy buckets of water, then the kids came home. They took care of the kids, fed them dinner, got them to bed, the women collapsed, and then the next day they started it all over again.

“They had no time for leisure and recreation, for education, to learn how to read, to work and get an income. This is what an uneven care burden means.”

While Stephanie notes that an example like this may seem extreme to people in Australia, many similarities can be drawn between the limited amount of free time women have compared to men.

In Australia, despite progress over the past few decades, women are still doing more unpaid care work than men, completing  than men every day. This translates into less free time for women to devote to leisure and personal development, or even education.

A long road ahead

The path to achieving gender equality both in Australia and overseas is riddled with obstacles. The World Economic Forum estimates that if we continue on our current trajectory, it will take  to reach full gender parity across the world.

In her address, Stephanie outlined the myriad of challenges involved in achieving gender equality both domestically and internationally. She said of particular note was the fact that not a single country is on track to meet  by 2030.

The annual  is delivered in honour of the trailblazing feminist and women’s rights activist who spent much of her life advancing access to reproductive health services, promoting female political participation and working towards women’s economic empowerment.

It is delivered by the Denoon Family, the  (NFAW) and the .

A leading international advocate for the advancement of the rights of women and girls, Stephanie has spent most of her professional life working in Papua New Guinea and the wider Pacific region promoting gender equality, working to eradicate sexual and gender-based violence and ensuring better educational outcomes for women.

During her time in Papua New Guinea, she worked as Founding Director of , an NGO that works to improve resources and responses to family and sexual-based violence against women and children in the country. Since opening its doors in 2014, the organisation has assisted over 5,000 survivors of family and sexual violence and connected over 1,100 people with access to safe accommodation.

In her speech, Stephanie spoke of the personal impact that issues of family-based violence had on her as a young girl.

“Growing up in Alaska, I was exposed to violence,” she said.

“Alaska has six times the rate of child abuse than the rest of the United States and twice the rate of violence against women. I experienced violence in terms of just living in a community with violence.”

So many current world issues disproportionately affect women

In her address, Stephanie pointed out how an issue like climate change, that may not look like a feminist issue on its face, still has effects disproportionately felt by women as compared to men.

Stephanie recalled visiting a community in Malawi that had experienced a succession of mudslides due to increasingly changing climate factors.

“The mudslides had wiped out much of the homes and facilities in the village … the men left to find work elsewhere and the women were left behind,” she said.

“Then the traffickers came and they offered to exchange a bit of money for the girls so the women could eat. That’s what a disproportional effect of climate change has on women.”

Again, we can look to Australia to see how this uneven outcome plays out.

After the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, found evidence that 16 women experienced new or exacerbated instances of intimate partner violence that linked directly to the fires.

It was also found that women were seven times more likely than their peers to have experienced violence in communities severely impacted by the Black Saturday bushfires, compared to low-impacted communities.

“The reason why these issues are so important and why I spend my life dedicated to them is that women are very much part of the solution,” Stephanie said.

“When women are involved in solutions and can reach their full potential, everything’s better.

“We know when women have income, they typically invest a higher proportion of their earnings in their family and communities. When we see income in the hands of women, child nutrition, health and education improve.

“When women are involved in economies and gender employment gaps are closed, it means trillions of dollars for the world economy. If women had the same access to agricultural resources as men, we would reduce the number of hungry people around the world by 20 per cent.”

The key to addressing these issues is getting more women involved in decisions that often disproportionately impact them, says Stephanie.

“If women are involved in decision-making, they bring their lived experience to the table, and when we’re designing a world that’s meant for everyone, we need everyone in the room,” she said.

Even smaller things can contribute to or detract from achieving gender equality for women in certain spaces and that’s why it’s so important that we see a strong continuation of the feminist movement among the younger generations of women.

“The solutions are many and part of it is all of us working together. It’s all of us being aware,” she says.

Gender equality is not only a woman’s issue

“Gender equality is for everyone, including men,” Stephanie says.

“Addressing gendered social norms is part of the solution and it starts with us all being aware of what they are and the fact that we all have these unconscious biases.

“It starts from when we’re kids. We’re telling little girls to play nicely and we’re encouraging little boys to make more risks.

“When we get into the workforce, we expect women to still play nice and take care. We expect mento take risks and take charge. So, when these roles are switched up, none of us are very comfortable at times.”

Indeed,  do not agree that women are as capable as men in politics and in the workplace.

And  of us believe it is natural for a man to want to appear in control of his partner in front of his male friends.

It’s these statistics that manifest from these gendered norms, that negatively and disproportionately impact women.

“We’re not comfortable when a woman might be aggressive,” Stephanie said.

“We may not be comfortable when a man cries or shows emotion.”

While realities like these can be disheartening, Stephanie says there are many women around the world that give her hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

To conclude her lecture, Stephanie spoke of those women that inspire her own advocacy.

She talked of a midwife in Papua New Guinea who works tirelessly through the night to deliver babies despite living in an area with no electricity or running water; a transgender woman in Mexico who opened a safe house for trans women and others who needed it after seeing her friend murdered for her identity, and a tailor in India who opened a sewing centre which allowed all the women in her community to make their own incomes.

“These are just individual women, but there are millions of people like this all over the world,” she said.

“Individually they’re powerful, but when they come together, they’re a force of nature, and that’s why investing in these movements is the answer.

“It’s drawing on all of our passions to live in a world that is full of respect, love and humanity – a world that we want to leave for our children and future generations.

“Think about what you’re going to do. How are you going to make a difference? How are you going to make sure your voice is heard?”

Words and photo by Sarah Grieb.

Sarah is studying a Bachelor of Communication and Media (Journalism)/Bachelor of Politics and International Relations at the 69. She is currently interning at BroadAgenda and works at ABC Canberra as a radio producer and Network Operations Assistant.

The original version of this article was first published on  on 29 April 2024; this version has been edited for our platform.

BroadAgenda is Australia’s leading research-based gender equality media platform.

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