Highlights from the #GirlsTakeOver Program

26 October 2017

On Wednesday 18 October, nineteen young women made history by taking over the Australian Federal Parliament under Plan International’s #GirlsTakeover program. The program was  organised by fellow YWCA Canberra member Ashleigh Streeter and myself, and provided young women the opportunity to step into the shoes of our nation’s top leaders for the day, and demonstrate the power and potential of girls. Globally, women hold just 23 per cent of parliamentary seats, they represent five per cent of Major’s and under three per cent of CEOs heading leading 500 companies. The time for change is now – and luckily for Australia, young women are leading the charge.  

To prepare for the takeover of Parliament, Ash and my team organised a two-day training weekend with Plan Australia earlier in October,  to equip participants with the tools and skills they need to become our nation’s top leaders. Thanks to the generosity of the local Canberra community, we received overwhelming support from women of all walks of life who donated their time to spend with our young women.

The training began with a keynote speech from Leanne Close, Deputy Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, who shared her experience in the AFP and the characteristics required to be a leader. This was then followed by speaker training, delivered by Ingrid Tomanovits, who, in a short period of time transformed the young women into future TED speakers. Next, we worked on developing a presentation for our individual MPs, based on the findings from our ‘She Can Lead’ report (launched by Plan Australia on 18 October), and we finished off with a rapid-fire leadership networking session, inspired by the YWCA Canberra She Leads College Conference. Our speakers included PwC Partner, Rosanne Brand, local performer Ruth O’Brien, and Girls Uniform Agenda ACT Representative and Co-Founder of Young Women Speak Out, Amy Blain. During the session, we soaked in our incredible speakers’ wealth of wisdom and unique experiences, and ended the day feeling more empowered and confident in our abilities.

The second day had just as much impact as the first. During our first session, the young women discovered their leadership styles with the help of Barbara Baikie, the President of the National Council of Women Australia. We then listened in awe to ANU PhD Candidate, Tjanara Goreng-Goreng, who discussed how gender equality is an essential part of Aboriginal culture, and the myriad of ways we can consider different avenues of policy reform. Tjanara’s key insights helped many of our participants form the basis for their political recommendations. Later that day, Director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, Virginia Haussegger shared her wealth of knowledge gained though 25 years in media, through a political communication masterclass.

Overall, the weekend was incredibly inspiring, but don’t take my word for it. Here are some reflections from program participants Saba, Shafeen and Asha:

Saba Awan – Taking over the Hon Dr Anne Aly

Training for Plan International’s #GirlsTakeover was a phenomenal experience. Over two days, I had the absolute privilege of meeting 23 strong, intelligent women while we collectively prepared for the opportunity of a lifetime. During the training, I was able to receive expert guidance on effective communication, media engagement and building my personal leadership style as well as support from the inspiring Youth Activists. The training allowed me to connect with diverse, successful women in Canberra who are excelling in their respective fields and learn from their valuable insights. I found all aspects of the training exceptionally worthwhile. Particular highlights included the sessions on public speaking, quick-fire mentoring and the presentation by Tjanara Goreng-Goreng on gender roles and leadership in Aboriginal culture. My experience at the Girls Takeover training will ensure I advocate strongly for equality and women’s leadership on 18 October and help me make a positive difference in my sphere of influence and beyond.

Shafeen Mustaq – Taking over the Hon Senator Simon Birmingham

The #Girlstakeover training weekend was one of the most inspirational and mentally taxing trainings I have ever completed. It was a joy and an honour to be amongst so many passionate, intelligent and deeply invested women. I benefited greatly from the variety of trainers and the breadth of life and professional skills that they shared with us to prepare us for the 18th.

I particularly enjoyed the public speaking exercise from TedxCanberra because it allowed each of us to share our story in a very personal way, which made me feel connected to each woman in the room. The weekend as a whole has prepared and empowered me to utilise my research, communication and presentation skills in order to get our message across to the Australian Federal Parliament.

Asha Clementi – Taking over the Hon Rebekha Sharkie

The recent training weekend for our #GirlsTakeover Australian Parliament program provided an opportunity for all of the participants to bond, get to know each other, and to share ideas amongst the group. Two full days of open discussion and healthy debate with like-minded feminists, about girls’ rights and gender equality, was an absolute highlight and gave me a lot to think about for the 18th. Everything that I learned, from the speakers, report, and other activists, will contribute to the report I present to Rebekha Sharkie MP of the Nick Xenophon Team on the 18th. I have to thank Saúl, Caitlin, Ashleigh, and everyone else who contributed to the organisation of both the training weekend and the takeover. Without their incredible efforts, none of this would have been possible.

These are just three testimonials to give you a key insight into our weekend. When our original training location fell through, I thought our entire weekend was in jeopardy – but I knew, my sisters at YWCA had my back. After reaching out to Francis Crimmins, she literally saved our bacon (or tofu burgers for the vegans in the group) by donating a wonderful training room.

Because of YWCA Canberra’s generosity, young women from around the country will participate in the world’s largest political takeover and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

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