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OPINION PIECE: for International Women’s Day

Dale Wakefield: Executive Officer

One of the places I always take my interstate and international visitors to Alice Springs is the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame. As one of the few women focussed museums in Australia it reminds us that Australia and particularly outback Australia would not exist as we know it today without a large number of extraordinary and resilient women.

As Executive Officer of the Alice Springs Women’s Shelter (ASWS) I am aware daily of this legacy. ASWS was one of the first women’s shelter started in Australia forming in 1977. Central Australian women from all walks of life have contributed to ASWS through the Board of Governance, volunteer work, donating goods and working at the different services we provide. Sadly a large and unacceptable number of women in our community from all political, social and economic backgrounds have relied on the service to keep themselves and their children safe.

Womens services for women run by women are not just about women’s safety from violence –they are about women’s leadership. In the 1980’s there was outrage in the community when ASWS’s crisis accommodation was defunded. A broad cross section of Alice Springs women rose up in protest by staging a sit in. When the power was cut to the then premise women parked their cars around the building and shone their headlights into the building to provide light for the protesters. For a short time there was no service and women hid women in their own homes or their backyards at great risk to themselves. This commitment and courage is the foundation on which our service is built and it inspires our daily commitment to the work we do.

Alice Spring’s amazing history of strong, independent thinking and courageous women continues today. This International Women’s Day I believe Alice Springs should take a moment to reflect on today’s women leaders in all aspects our town and think about how as a community we grow and nurture our future female leaders. The significant leadership of Central Australian women in building a sustainable community and driving economic development is undeniable. I am not going to list all our female leaders but Alice has a wealth of women small business owners, CEO’s of all types of organisation, politicians, senior lawyers & police officers and those in senior positions in government. We also know that many of our sporting clubs, recreational clubs, charities and service organisations would not exist without the significant leadership of many women.

Recent research has shown one of the previously unmeasured costs of domestic violence is reduced participation in community activities. This research showed that during a violent relationship women’s participation in volunteer groups, church, political parties, sporting clubs, service clubs and other recreational activities dropped by more than two thirds in some cases. This reflects what we see in our daily work with women who are often increasingly isolated or shamed into not living the life she wants or is capable of living.

As a community we must acknowledge that the talent of rural women must be utilised if small towns are to remain viable. The challenges facing outback, remote communities are significant and as a community we require all citizens to participate fully if we to overcome those challenges. At ASWS I have the privilege of meeting, employing, working alongside and supporting many women across our community.

From where I sit future of Alice Springs is looking bright as we have many extraordinary women in our midst. We must ensure that they are supported to overcome the barriers that still exist to women feeling confident enough to take on leadership roles and fully participate in community life in whatever way they chose.

As a community Alice Springs history of strong women leadership has enhanced us all. We must aim to be a town where young women can see opportunities to contribute meaningfully and become the best person they can be by committing to our community. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but if small towns like Alice are going to survive and thrive, we will need every hand on deck.