It was one of those ‘ah ha’ moments you can get as a teenage girl when I realized the power of language. A poster for an exhibition of women’s stories was called “Her Story’. As I wandered through the inspiring displays of stories and photos of amazing women, I had the then-stunning realization that most of history is the recording of His Story, that’s why it was called history. Doh! What a realisation for a budding feminist.
Why does Her Story matter?
Recognising and validating women’s stories as worthy additions to the public record is an important way of validating women’s worth. In fact, it is a pre-requisite to gender equality.
As a gender equality activist, last year I co-founded the Honour a Woman movement to further recognize women on the public record by working towards equality in our national awards system, with Elizabeth Hartnell-Young and Carol Kiernan.
Honour a Woman have a bold goal. We want 5050 recognition of women in our national awards by the year 2020.
Whats wrong with our Gongs?
Receiving an Order of Australia, or The Gongs as they are affectionally known, generally relies on a citizen being confidentially nominated by a member of the community. Men are nominated at a higher rate than women – by both men and women. And, ever since Prime Minister Gough Whitlam introduced the awards in 1975, men have consistently received the lions share of the awards.
After 43 years, it’s surely time for Her Story to be recognized equally on our national public record.
While most Australians are enjoying a long weekend this Australia Day, our movement has been busy today counting up the numbers of women recognized in our national Australian Honours. It’s frustrating to note that yet again only one-third of the honours have gone to women. Having been awarded an OAM myself in 2014, I know this recognition is a great honour and I congratulate all who have been recognised today. However
In a country that prides itself on equality and fairness, how can men continue to receive the majority of our honours while many worthy women remain unacknowledged? The system does not reflect the rich diversity of our society.
The system is broken
Why are women consistently missing out? It’s like the many excuses around why there are low numbers of female CEOs in corporate Australia. We hear ‘women don’t put themselves forward’ or ‘there are not enough suitably qualified women’. *Yawn*
We’re tired of hearing the Canberra public servants who manage the award system saying that the problem lies with us, the citizens for not nominating enough women. Along with my co-founders, we’re getting impatient about inaction on the perennial gender imbalance which always favours male recipients of the Order of Australia. While the men are deserving, so are so many (absent) women.
I want more women to join me by being recognised with an Australian Honour. I want to see her achievements, her record, her story – all given the same prominence as men’s history.
It’s time for action
We’re now stepping up our advocacy to the Federal Government and are calling for gender targets to be immediately introduced into the Australian Honours to ensure women are equally acknowledged by the year 2020. As a passionate advocate for women’s leadership Carol Schwartz AM said today on ABC News, if the UK can do it and get equality and diversity as priorities in their UK New Year’s honours list, so can we!
In 2018 we will be lobbying the Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer to introduce targets in our national awards so that we can fairly celebrate diversity while recognising outstanding service of all Australian citizens.
We’re saying that the Government must stop blaming the community for the low nominations of women.
The system doesn’t deliver equality or fairness. It’s time to change both the way people are nominated for Orders of Australia and the whole selection process. That’s why we believe that bringing in targets will drive fairness as well as better resourcing of States and Territories to put their own nominations forward.
What we really want is structural reform that commits to fairly recognising women and their outstanding contribution to the Australian community.
There is hope things will get better. After a year of effort as a volunteer, grass-roots movement Honour a Woman believes we are making a significant difference. Our advocacy and encouragement to thousands of Australians to nominate outstanding women is bearing fruit.
Today, the Victorian Government has announced the appointment of a dedicated awards officer who will focus on organising an additional 200 nominations of Victorian women each year to ensure a gender balance. It’s great to see State leadership on real action to address this inequality.
Also, today the public servants that manage the selection process announced a 40% increase in the past year of nominations for women. This is a result of the fantastic work by everyone who has nominated a woman recently.
Will you help us reach our goal of equality in the honours? Nominate an outstanding woman from your community or profession and get her story on the public record. Download the form here.
For more information on our movement see this week’s article on our Push for Gender Targets in the Order of Australia in the Australian Financial Review
Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant in local government and gender equity advocate. In 2014 she was recognised for her outstanding leadership in her community with an Order of Australia medal. https://ruthmcgowan.com/