International Women's Day Panel - How to be an activist

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International Women’s Day was a special day for us this year – not only a day to mark the achievements of feminism, but it was also her words’ first birthday! To celebrate we held our first event – a live panel discussion on How to be an Activist, hosted by One Roof Women. We wanted the night to be about bringing women together to learn, listen and support one another in the ongoing fight for equality.

We were lucky enough to be working with some amazing women for our first event, moderated by writer, commentator and human rights advocate Roj Amedi. Amedi was joined by Indigenous activist Aretha Brown, South Sudanese artist Atong Atem, transgender advocate Georgie Stone and queer disabled author Jessica Walton. Each woman provided us new insight into activism, intersectionality, storytelling and self-care.

With the focus of the night being on activism, our panellists shared their beginnings as activists, and the state of social justice in Australia, with Aretha Brown telling the audience that “as an Aboriginal person, I don’t get the privilege of being interested in politics. I was born in to politics.” They spoke of amplifying marginalised voices, and the need for greater representation for those communities, exemplified by Georgie Stone’s mission to inspire other young trans people to speak their truth. Our guests also discussed the need for tangible change – in the words of Atong Atem, ‘It’s not about performance, it’s about action.’ It is clear that while feminism in Australia has come a long way, marginalised communities who suffer multiple forms of oppression are still being held back – it was a reminder for us at her words to keep striving for intersectionality in everything we create.

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Self-care is another topic that has gained attention in activist circles, and our speakers offered us their insights. They agreed that focusing inwardly is not inherently a bad thing - you can’t give to others if you have nothing left in the tank. Even though it can feel counter-intuitive it’s important to put yourself first – Atong Atem said it best when she said “I can only be the best for my community if I’m at my best as a person.” And of course, we wouldn’t talk about self-care without mentioning the internet – each of our guests talked about how the internet is a double-edged sword. It has incredibly supportive and amazing communities, ready to welcome new members in, but it is also a hurtful and scary place when faced with hate speech and trolls. The panel encouraged the audience to recognise how they are feeling, and to step away from the screen during difficult times if needed. We were reminded that self-care and self-love is an ongoing journey – not something we arrive at overnight.

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At her words we are passionate about inspiring change through conversation and connection, and we could not have asked for more thoughtful or inspiring group of women to embody those ideals at our first event. Jessica Watson summed it up beautifully when she asked ‘How do we teach empathy? Once people know someone who comes from a certain group and then another and another you start to have more empathy. Representation matters. Telling stories creates empathy and that can lead to real change.’ Jessica’s words serve as a reminder to us at her words of the power of representation, and how storytelling can create genuine change. Our International Women’s Day event was an opportunity for us to celebrate our achievements during our first year at her words, as well as for our guests to share their stories. We hope that all of our panellists, audience members and partners left feeling inspired and motivated to keep creating change – we sure did.

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Domini Marshall