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Our Governor General is a passionate feminist, who knew?

Jodi Morrell

I’ve always been a big fan of our current Governor General, the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove. Hearing him speak yesterday at the UN Women’s International Women’s Day Luncheon just reinforced why. The Governor General was eloquent and had a clear message to convey about gender equality. As a military man, I expected his speech to be well researched and factual but given the subject matter I did not expect the General to be quite so passionate and on message in his speech.

General Cosgrove listed a number of statistics that he was appalled still existed in 2015. These included the fact that women work two thirds of the world’s working hours; do more paid and unpaid hours of work in a day; and more are tertiary educated than men. But still, women earn only 10 per cent of the world’s income; own less than one per cent of the world’s property; and represent 70 per cent of the world’s poor.

The General also reinforced the message of this year’s Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, about the need to address family violence in Australia. General Cosgrove expressed that violence against women and children is a heinous crime and violation of human rights, which has a negative impact on both human lives and entire communities.

He finished with a statistic and a call to action for all of us. Only around 30 per cent of the nominations for awards in the Australian honours system are for women.

“It defies logic. I know you’re out there; you’re not looking for accolades; I know that’s not what drives you. But the rest of us need to see and learn from what you do,” said the General before finishing with a call to nominate women who are making a difference in Australian society for public awards so they can lead by example.

Our host, Virginia Haussegger, thanked the General for his speech, lauding him as a passionate feminist.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Governor General’s speech but I have to confess the speech was the only highlight of the lunch for me. In comparison to my last experience in 2008, today was a bit disappointing. I felt that the message behind the day was a little bit lost in the midst of the pleas for donations, the other speakers, and a speaking panel, none of whom we could hear on the tables at the back of the room. I’m sure they had inspiring messages to convey, but I couldn’t hear any of them.

In 2008, there was just one speaker. Young Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya spoke about the work being carried out to progress human rights and the rights of women in Afghanistan. As one of her country’s first female politicians it was easy to see why she’d been elected. She was persuasive, passionate and dedicated to her cause. Much like the Governor General was yesterday. I feel that if his message had been left to stand on its own, like Malalai’s was, no one would have needed to ask for donations.

It was great to see that the event has grown and the level of support in the community is significantly higher. But I would urge organisers to reconnect with the reason behind the event. Yesterday seemed to be more about donations than igniting discussion of the issues we are all concerned about. Then again, I couldn’t hear the discussion on the stage from where I was so maybe I’ve come away with a misconception of the event. I certainly hope so because the UN International Women’s Day Lunch is a wonderful event supported by some amazing, influential people and it’s great to see it getting so much traction in the community.

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Jodi Morrell

Jodi Morrell recently abandoned her long-term public service career to pursue her passion for writing full time. She is passionate about politics, federal and local, and loves to explore and understand opposing political standpoints. Jodi loves travel, good food and wine, fitness and obstacle races (the muddier the better) and books. More about the Author

  • Hey Jodi, I was at the luncheon too. I really enjoyed it, especially Irene Santiago who urged that women stop trying to be ‘superwomen’, and Miriam Silva who talked about the critical importance of education in fostering positive outcomes for women and girls.
    For me, these two messages resonated so strongly – Irene’s point echoed the call by Annabel Crabb to give the men in our lives more responsibility for household tasks and caring for children, while Miriam had all the educators in the room vigorously nodding their heads. Neither of them made particularly innovative suggestions, but this is an issue that hasn’t progressed since 1995 so that’s not surprising.
    I agree that it was hard to hear over the clanking of cutlery and sometimes I had to strain forward, but like you I thought the Governor General was fantastic.

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