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On Wednesday, the 2019 WA Women’s Hall of Fame (WAWHOF) nominations were launched at Parliament House. The event was created in 2011 on International Women’s Day to celebrate and acknowledge the high-achieving women of Western Australia, who have made significant contributions to their community and the state at large. With nominations across various categories, including business, art and culture, education, health, STEM, and more, the inaugural event hopes to acknowledge the great work of Western Australian women past and present, particularly those from diverse cultural, linguistic and bipartisan backgrounds.

Fiona Reid is the Chair of WAWHOF, and has been with the organisation since its inception in 2011. She sees great value in what their group does, arguing women are often underrepresented or given less attention in other national award ceremonies. She says that WAWHOF is “an opportunity at a Western Australian level to make sure that their contributions are acknowledged and to increase respect for women in the community more broadly.”

The organisation recognises the importance of inducting women who have achieved great things for WA historically, right through to the successful women of today. Award-winners range from Perth-born Edith Cowan, the first Australian woman to serve as a member of parliament, to Dr Ann O’Neill who Reid describes as a present-day “advocate and inspiration in family and domestic violence”.

When Reid was asked if she feels particularly passionate about any nomination area in particular, the Chair replied in the negative, saying that all of the categories are equally important. For her, these women come from a “rich tapestry” of backgrounds—from mining, law, social services, sport, art and culture, and elsewhere—and they all have incredible stories to tell.

One of those women is Suzy Urbaniak; she was nominated for WAWHOF for her phenomenal contributions as a science teacher and because she developed her own educational program, the Centre of Resources Excellence (CoRe), at Kent Street Senior High School where she works.

Urbaniak says that she was nominated because of her work inspiring young women and children in general, which she achieved by “contemporising” education and making it more relevant for children’s future careers in the resource industry—within which Urbaniak has extensive work experience and strong connections.

For her, science is more of a process of investigating and problem-solving than it is about content and equations. She likes to take a practical approach to learning with her students, taking them out on field trips to “see the science in the world around them.” She calls this #therealclassroom.

She also likes to create networking opportunities for the kids by introducing them to real world industry professionals in the resource industry, and taking them to summits and career expos—which exposes them to what their future careers could look like.

When asked about the government’s current push to see more women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workplaces, Urbaniak said that the biggest challenge to this will be breaking down the message that STEM is just for men, which tends to intimidate girls into considering following this career path. For her, the best way we could raise the numbers of women in STEM is by building their resilience and encouraging their assertiveness.

“No matter how good a young girl is at science or maths,” Urbaniak explains, “if she’s not confident within herself or if her self-esteem is down, she is not going to be the best she can be. So, it’s not about shoving down their throats irrelevant maths equations or science content—it’s about building up that person to believe in who they are, for them to realise their true capacities; and from there they will then go on that journey of STEM.”

But WAWHOF is more than just about the contributions of women today like Urbaniak; according to their website, they hope to remember the history of women and the feminist movement in WA, where, from the ‘60s until the ‘80s, there was an increasing push from women across the political and ideological spectrum to fight for equality and recognition. They refer to this time period as “The Age of Difficult Women”, because women refused to take no for an answer any longer.

Reid sees a need to remember this history because we still have such a long way to go.

“We can see that in the statistics around family and domestic violence, we can see that in the pay equity gender gap, [and] we can see that in our representation in leaders in the community,” she said.

“It’s not like that work is finished. There’s a quote that women didn’t have pockets in days gone by, because pockets held dangerous things—like guns and books,” Reid laughs.

“So, this isn’t about labelling women [as feminists or otherwise]; this is about saying, ‘No, this is the contribution we’ve made, and we need to be telling these stories.’”

Australia has recently faced criticism from some feminists that more attention is being paid to “national crises” like the needles-in-the-strawberry affair, than to the crisis of domestic and family violence—which has damning statistics, like the fact that one woman a week is killed by a current or former partner.

Reid says that in order to deal with this real, mostly ignored crisis, the issue itself needs to be reframed. At the moment, family and domestic violence is seen as an issue belonging to women and families only, but Reid said she knows that the crisis has broad implications for our communities and our nation at large.

She remarks that family and domestic violence has an impact on our policing and police resources, our courts, the homelessness crisis, people’s superannuation, their job security, and to the nation’s social support—just to begin with.

“If we don’t start putting the interventions and the strategies and resources that are needed for prevention, all the way through to [applying justice in] the court, then the cost will multiply,” says Reid. “That won’t just be a cost to that woman, or that family. Not only should everyone see that domestic and family violence affects them, but [they should recognise] that we all have a responsibility to stand up, to say this is no longer acceptable in our communities, because the cost is, and always has been, too high.”

In the long-term, Reid hopes to continue sharing women’s stories in schools, in public, and on a national-level, to help inspire the next generation of leaders to make their communities and their state a better place.

In the short-term, Urbaniak recommends you all attend next Tuesday’s CoRE Learning Foundation Launch and Industry Showcase, where you’ll get to see her Kent Street students showcase their newly learnt skills and talents in the resource industry.

While challenges for representation and equality more generally remain for WA women, WAWHOF is the right way forward for acknowledging our state’s amazing women and increasing respect for women in our communities.

 

If you’d like to learn more about WAWHOF, Fiona Reid, and Suzy Urbaniak, check out their website here.

If you’d like to know more about Urbaniak’s CoRE program and network with some industry guests, attend its launch event by clicking here.