Posted on August 27 2018
The following speech was given by Jane Sloane, Director, Women's Empowerment Program, The Asia Foundation at the Australia Day Council of South Australia's event - Inspiring South Australian Women Impacting the World on Monday 13 August 2018
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet tonight, the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains and to pay my respects to Elders past and present.’
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I’m so happy to be up on stage with these wonderful women, several of whom I’ve worked with and collaborated with in the past. While we have the label tonight of being “inspiring women”, the whole room is filled with people who are inspiring for many and diverse reasons and so it’s a night to celebrate inspiration in its many forms and moments. As well as looking to the stage, I encourage you look to yourselves and to those sitting near you for inspiration.
I want to share one of the programs I’m working on that illustrates some of the elements that have contributed to my work. Kalpana Viswanath is one of the social entrepreneurs we at The Asia Foundation are supporting in India. Kalpana worked with her team to create an app called Safetipin where women download the app and then they touch the eight visual icons that represent different forms of feeling safe including presence of street lighting, pavements, of other women on the streets, of cafes and meeting places. Women across India can record how safe they feel using this app and then this data is sent to a central point to capture and map women’s perceptions of safety. Added to this, Safetipin teamed with a transport service to place tiny cameras on its cars to continuously record at night so they could take images of where there were no street lights or of people around to provide real time data capture of safe and problem areas.
We then supported Kalpana and her team to prepare a safety audit for the Government of India that included graphs of Delhi dark spots and women’s perceptions of safety across the country. Recently the Government of India provided its own response to this safety audit to report where it had installed new street lights, pavements, given new licenses for cafes and installed stepped up security. And now the Government has requested a second safety audit so that it can continue to improve the infrastructure to support women feeling safe. That’s the power of a small group of women using technology and their own knowledge of what’s needed to influence a government’s policies and commitment.
Of course, addressing infrastructure is one thing however changing attitudes and beliefs is quite another. For instance, a government official said recently in India after another horrific rape of a young girl there, “Why the fuss about a girl? What’s the life of a girl? Girls die every day here.”
Increasingly I’ve recognized in my work the importance of engaging men and boys - not just as champions of gender equality but more how they can realize their potential by breaking free from rigid and harmful forms of masculinity and have more freedom and creativity beyond the confines of stereotypes. One man from Pakistan who participated in an honor killing told me “I wanted to be a poet, but my uncle told me to put down my pen and pick up a knife.” We’ve got to change that if we want to see our world change.
One of the projects we’re undertaking in India to do this is a Gender Lab for Boys. This gender lab is designed to support boys in schools to think about what it means to be male today and how to rethink and expand their ideas about masculinity.
When I think about what has contributed to this kind of work there have been some key moments and people who have shaped my journey.
A seminal moment occurred for me when I was working as general manager at the Sydney Media Centre for the 2000 Olympic Games. Nelson Mandela came to the centre to speak at an event called ‘What Makes a Champion’. When we talked about my plans after the Games, he said, “Jane, if you really want to make a difference in the world, you should focus on conflict resolution and citizen led change.”
It also happened to be the day when my grandmother, to whom I was exceptionally close, died unexpectedly and so it ended up being the best and the worst day of my life. My Gran was an incredible influence on my life and she deeply inspired me and so, while I was buoyed from meeting Mr. Mandela, I was also dealing with the grief of losing one of the people closest to me and who had inspired me from a young age. So, after the Olympics I booked a ticket overseas and I found myself in Candidasa, Bali where I met a woman called Ibu Gedong Bagoes Oka. Ibu Gedong was a member of Indonesia’s Parliament and she had created a Gandhi ashram as a training ground for the theory and practice of conflict resolution. She gave me a place to grieve and she also taught me a lot about how to approach conflict resolution.
When I returned to Australia I was introduced to another woman in her 80s, Stella Cornelius, who was the founder of the Conflict Resolution Centre and she became an important mentor for me for the next 10 years until her death.
The driving force of my work has been a commitment to justice and human rights, and particularly gender justice and women’s human rights.
Ritual and collaboration to drive social change have been essential elements in my journey. When I was executive director at International Women’s Development Agency we were supporting many women in the Pacific, which is still a forgotten corner of the earth for many donors. The oratory and attitudes of religious and faith-based leaders have a profound impact on the human rights of women in the Pacific and so we brought some Pacific women to speak at an event called Asia Pacific Breakthrough which we deliberately organised on the eve of the Parliament of the Worlds’ Religions in Melbourne, with the wonderful Jan Chorley creating an incredible opening ceremony. We ended up raising over 1.2 billion dollars to support projects at the intersection of women, faith and development in Asia and Pacific and then sending these Pacific women to speak at the UN General Assembly.
In my work, I’m conscious of paying attention to privilege and to who is speaking. For instance, it doesn’t work to be advocating for women on panels if the result is an all-white panel of women of a certain class, race, identity and geography. The Atlantic Fellowship I’ve been doing this year, as part of a global group of fellows addressing different forms of inequalities, has focused my work and attention on the fact that while poverty levels are falling in many countries, inequality is increasing in many of these same countries. We must be focused on inequalities to get a real picture of what is happening. Countries may be moving the dial on poverty without things changing at all in terms of women’s agency, representation and freedom from violence.
There are converging mega-trends that are impacting the world in rapid and devastating ways. Climate change is arguably the biggest issue of our time and the flow on effect of environmental disasters and forced migration are colliding with the impact of other trends including shrinking and ageing populations, a rise in mega cities and urbanization and a crisis in welfare support and the labor force. In my work, I’m also engaged in thinking about growing trends toward a retreat from democracy in Asia, increased border walls, increased privatization and the rise of civil society. Also, the influence of artificial intelligence, “smart” technologies and financialization of capital. The gender implications of these trends are profound and being able to assess and advocate for the strategies and solutions that will make a difference is critical.
What I’ve been finding in my work to support women’s climate leadership and engagement in the green economy is that even when women comprise most of the students studying courses like green design and green construction, it’s not usually translating to women securing jobs with employers in these fields – they are more usually going to men. So, we’re working to socialize female graduates to employers and connect them to mentors to support their pathways to these higher paid green jobs.
How as a South Australian Woman do you believe you are making an impact in the world?
For me, studying history and politics at the University of Adelaide was one of the best groundings for the work I do today in terms of honing critical thinking and discerning what’s really going down.
Understanding the dynamics of conflict resolution has also been an essential factor in my work – knowing how to open dialogue and expand the spaces to find common ground.
I think when you’re not afraid – or can face fear and go beyond it - when you have that sense of yourself, then you can venture into unchartered territory and not look back. Some of my friends have been quite horrified by the situations I’ve thrown myself into and yet I think that combination of compassion, desire to act, a sense of urgency and a deep curiosity have probably fuelled me on my own journey and led me to where I am today. For instance, in 2015 when I was with Global Fund for Women, I flew to Turkey the day that Ankara was bombed and spent time with women in Turkey who had escaped ISIS to hear their perspectives. I then went on to Lebanon to spend time with women who were in some of the refugee camps there just before one of these areas was also bombed. I subsequently created a Crisis Fund with $1 million in start-up funds so that we could direct money to women’s groups dealing with Boko Haram in Nigeria and in responding to ISIS and other armed groups in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Yemen. This funding also supported a convening of Syrian and Iraqi women activists leading an underground network to protect women and girls from ISIS and other armed groups.
You know, humanitarian work can be quite lonely, and I remember receiving an email from Stella, my mentor, at one point saying, “I hope you’re finding those lost pieces of yourself, darling girl” and being moved by her understanding of the high cost that sometimes comes with this work. Having a mentor who knows from personal experience what it’s like to be facing hard situations and to be experiencing a variety of emotions is deeply comforting and reassuring.
Coming from a state and city where the arts has always played a prominent role, including the risk taking inherent in festival making, has reinforced for me the role of artivism and of the arts as an essential medium for social change. Adelaide can be such a hub for creative change –and it can also be a counter point to the mega cities trend by reinforcing the value of little streets and squares, street level shops and communal gathering spaces that affirm the values of inclusion, cultural connection, togetherness and shared learning. I also see enormous potential for Adelaide to become a UNESCO Green STEAM city - that’s STEM with the arts added.
It was that great social activist, Dorothy Day, who once said, “I'm working toward a world in which it would be easier for people to behave decently. That seems right to me and it’s something that we can all commit to do in our lives. Those of you here tonight are sources of inspiration to many others, and so I hope you can use your personal power and choices to advance gender equality and social, environmental and climate justice. We have no time to lose. Thank you.