Nearly 700 women gathered in the Crown Towers ballroom for the annual Business Chicks’ International Women’s Day event this morning.
Business Chicks is a highly influential community built to empower women in Australia. Each day, it supports women in their journey of empowerment to help them achieve incredible things without boundaries.
This year, the theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) is #EachforEqual, which calls upon everyone (not just women) to work together to achieve gender equality.
Business Chicks’ CEO Olivia Ruello kicked off the event with some important and eye-opening statistics.
Interestingly, just 6 per cent of CEO’s of ASX-listed companies are women.
And in Australia, the police receive a call-out regarding domestic violence every two minutes.
Additionally, if you’re an Aboriginal woman, you are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised.
Some may read these figures and think “yes we know, we’ve heard this before.” But do we ever stop and think about how these are real women with real families, real lives and real dreams? Women are more than a statistic.
“It’s so boring. Like we really need to get this stuff right,” Olivia said.
Following her introduction, Olivia welcomed the first speaker; Amna Karra-Hassan.
Amna Karra-Hassan is a bi-cultural woman who defied the odds. She started the first women’s AFL club in Western Sydney back in 2011 and is now recognised for her strength and persistence in facing adversity.
Amna was born and raised in Australia but came from a Lebanese-Muslim background. Growing up in Western Sydney, she struggled with looking different to many girls and coming from a family with different beliefs and values.
Everyone had an opinion on her identity, both as a young woman, and as a Muslim.
Amna recalled starting the Auburn Giants (then known as Auburn Tigers) as being a very bold move. She had very little experience playing football; in fact, she used to make excuses to get out of sports class.
But she saw starting a women’s football team as being about more than just sports. She saw it as an outlet for women to feel a sense of place and community.
Amna didn’t have any funding when she began, and yet, she endeavoured.
“I wanted to do something that disrupted the ideas that I experienced all around me in society that said women can’t.”Amna Karra-Hassan
The year 2014 was triumphant for the Auburn Tigers as they were approached by the GWS Giants. The team recognised the work of Amna and her team and wanted to fully support them. That’s when Auburn Giants were born.
Aside from tackling this venture, Amna has continued to be an intersectional feminist ally.
To do this, she said it’s important to understand your privilege, listen and make space for others to learn, and understand the power of language.
We can no longer accept the idea of “boys will be boys,” she concluded.
Rabia Siddique is an Australian criminal and human rights lawyer, author, professional speaker and retired British Army officer.
Rabia is the daughter of an Indian-Muslim father and an Anglo-Saxon mother. In the mid-1970s, she moved to Perth with her parents and her brother.
Her family befriended the neighbours, especially an elderly couple that lived right next door. Rabia recalled being fond of the elderly man and even called him ‘Pop’.
But she then went on to say that Pop was a pedophile. For months, he sexually abused Rabia. To keep her quiet, he threatened to give her little brother some ‘special time.’ The abuse continued.
Rabia confessed to her parents, but like many children who opened up to their family, Rabia was told to never speak of it again.
Instead of letting her trauma define her, Rabia worked with refugees, victims of domestic violence and other people who did not have a voice.
20 years ago, Rabia joined the British Army Legal Services. In 2005, she became the first female army lawyer in Iraq and toured the country for that year.
During the al-Jameat hostage crisis in Iraq, Rabia was ordered to negotiate the release of two of her colleagues who had been kidnapped. Once she agreed, her life changed forever.
Rabia and her colleague, James Woodham, were held hostage with Iraqi elders, police officers and four British soldiers.
It was during this time that Rabia endured humiliation, discrimination and sexual abuse from the kidnappers.
A woman who had just come from so much power was trapped in a cell and abused at the hands of a man in the presence of other bystanders.
When they returned, the male officers were commended on their bravery and offered trauma counselling. Rabia was offered nothing except a day off.
Rabia’s turmoil continued when she silently suffered an ectopic pregnancy while her husband had been diagnosed with cancer.
During this traumatic time, she received two letters. One letter informed her that her colleague James had been awarded a military award for his role in the al-Jameat hostage crisis. The second told her she was never to speak of her role in the situation again.
After deciding to sue the U.K. Ministry for Defence in 2006, Rabia won her case 18 months later.
Her story is that of an extraordinary woman who has endured discrimination and unthinkable abuse and trauma. What defines her though, are not these experiences, but the way in which she has risen above to tell her story and inspire others.
Susan Alberti AC
Susan was born in May 1947 and during her lifetime, she has had three main dreams. The first was to see her beloved Bulldogs AFL team win a premiership, for women to play AFL, and only one remains – to find a cure for type 1 diabetes.
Susan is the co-founder and Managing Director of the DANSU Group, based in Wheelers Hill in Melbourne’s east. This building and construction company was established alongside her late husband, Angelo approximately forty years ago.
Tragedy struck her family, however, when her husband was involved in a hit and run and left for dead. After his passing, Susan had to work 16 hour days, seven days a week to keep the business afloat as well as her employees.
Susan faced adversity in a male-dominated industry. She talked about feeling ashamed that this remained the same for many women, even in 2020.
“Just 1 per cent of plumbing, carpenter and brick layer workers in Australia are women and these stats don’t seem to be improving.”Susan Alberti
“In 2018, only four per cent of people who started their electrician apprenticeships were women.”
While these stats are shocking, what moved myself and the audience was the story of Susan’s daughter, Danielle.
Danielle was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the early 1980s when she was just 12 years old. As she got older, Danielle’s suffering worsened until she needed a kidney transplant. Susan was going to donate one of hers. However, in 2001, Susan and Danielle were on a plane heading to Australia for treatment when Danielle said “mum, please hold me.”
Danielle then died in Susan’s arms.
Since her daughter’s passing, Susan made it her mission to raise awareness around type 1 diabetes. She raised awareness and nearly $300 million in funding.
Amid all this, Sue faced her own struggles with lifestyle habits. This led her to become unhealthy and overweight. She was diagnosed with cancer and underwent intense chemotherapy in 2013. Since then, she has turned her life around and has lost nearly 60 kilograms.
For her philanthropic work, Susan became a state finalist for Australian of the Year Award in 2009 and has been appointed a Member and Officer of the Order Australia for her contribution to diabetes research.
Not only is Sue a successful businesswoman and medical research advocate, but she’s an avid supporter of the Western Bulldogs.
For nearly two decades, Sue has been a Bulldogs Patron and was the founding Co-chair of the Western Bulldogs Forever Foundation.
She then went onto become the Vice President of the Club.
In 2016, her dream of the Bulldogs winning the premiership came true. It was after this that Susan announced she would be stepping down as Vice President.
Throughout her life, Sue loved football. She played until she was 15 and actually recalls accidentally breaking the arms of her opponent during a game.
She stopped playing because she was told she should shift her focus and that girls can play but shouldn’t prioritise things like football.
“One day this has got to change. It’s not a privilege to play, it’s their right.”Susan Alberti
Sue played a big part in the historic first-ever season for women’s AFL in 2017. She provided millions of dollars in funding when there wasn’t any.
Last year, during the grand final in Adelaide, 53,000 people attended the game — a record number for a women’s AFL game.
In honour of International Women’s Day, three women were brave and proud enough to share their heartbreaking but triumphant stories.
As Rabia said, everyone has a story, everyone has a defining moment. And finding the humanity in every part is something to be celebrated beyond March 8.