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Power Trip: Inspiring young women

Hannah Wandel

Recently my family was visiting Canberra, and like any respectable Territorian, I swiftly took them up to Capital Hill.

Parked out front, my three-year-old niece called Poppy, asked who was wandering the parliamentary halls.

“Well first, there’s Malcolm Turnbull, and he’s the main man that makes decisions. Then there’s a man called Barnaby Joyce, and then there’s a guy called Bill, and Bill’s there to ask a lot of questions,” we said.

After sitting in silence for a few seconds, I felt a rush of emotion, and an urge to continue.

“Women are in there too,” I asserted. “Women like Julie Bishop, who makes big deals overseas, and Tanya Plibersek, who stands up for people’s rights.”

My extremely watered-down explanation of the phenomenal females running our country was spurred on by a desire to reinforce hope and squander stereotypes. I didn’t want Poppy to become accustomed to an underrepresentation of women in political leadership, desensitised to a shocking 16.2% gender pay gap, or used to more men called Peter running Australia’s ASX 200 companies than women altogether.

Hannah and her niece Poppy

Hannah and her niece Poppy

This passion to ensure tomorrow’s leaders are dealt an even hand, is what originally propelled me to create a nationwide organisation called Country to Canberra: a not-for-profit that empowers young rural women, like Poppy, to reach their leadership potential.

From 20-23 November, Country to Canberra is bringing a group of 12 rural teenage girls out to Canberra for our annual ‘Power Trip’. These inspiring young women won our nationwide Leadership Competition, and will travel from every state and territory to meet CEOs, Ministers, receive leadership and public speaking training, formal mentorship and more.

They’ll have a real-life opportunity to rub shoulders with the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop herself, as well as women like Deputy Nationals Leader Fiona Nash, Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann and UN Women Australia’s Janelle Weissman at our Powerful Women’s Breakfast, hosted at the Hyatt. Plus they’ll go on radio and dine with MPs like Plibersek at Parliament.

This is critical, as same-sex mentoring and sponsorship has been proven to inspire young women to succeed, as they often model behaviour on high-ranking leaders.

Yet, a 2015 survey by Plan International and Our Watch found that one-third of young women believed it would be easier to secure their “dream job” in Australia if they were male. It is our duty to change this perception and potential reality.

Country to Canberra Power Trip

A previous Country to Canberra ‘Power Trip’

Excitingly, another proactive way we’re creating change is by connecting the girls with members of the Canberra community. On Tuesday 22 November, we’re asking Canberrans to join us for a special Premiere Movie Screening of the the uplifting (and highly rated!) blockbuster Queen of Katwe. Not only are we rolling out the red carpet for an advanced screening, networking, free treats and speeches, it’s an opportunity for locals to champion young women’s leadership, share their career experiences with the girls, and support a worthy cause. In the wake of the disempowering discourse flowing from the recent US election, we encourage you to join us for an event that celebrates hope, encourages equality, and lets young women know that we support them to succeed.

Co-hosted with our community partner, Canberra Wise Women, we couldn’t believe how perfect the film suited us. Queen of Katwe, is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi, following her from the rural Ugandan slums to the world stage of international competitive chess. This beautiful, real-life tale shares themes of resilience and dreaming big, which is something our Power Trip winners know a little something about.

What they also know, is that the New York Times found that nearly a quarter of teenage girls said Hillary Clinton’s recent presidential candidacy encouraged them to seek leadership positions. They also know that racial, cultural and gender diversity is a critical factor when pursuing corporate success. Plus, they know we must invest in rural and remote education, because for multiple reasons, education outcomes worsen the more remote a student is.

Sitting back and waiting for generational change is not an option.

At Country to Canberra, we are proactive about disrupting the status quo, because in five, 10 or 15 years time, I don’t want my beautiful, smart niece to live in a world where women are subject to structural bias. I don’t want her to earn less compared to her male counterparts and I don’t want women to be dying at the hands of their partners. I want her to thrive on an even playing field, and I genuinely believe it’s our contemporary duty to build it.


Secure your ticket to Country to Canberra’s Premiere Movie Screening of Queen of Katwe for $18.99 at Eventbrite.

You can learn more about Country to Canberra, the winning girls, and its other inspiring leadership programs, on their website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Hannah Wandel

Hannah Wandel is a social entrepreneur, gender equality advocate and the founder and CEO of the nationwide not-for-profit organisation, Country to Canberra. Passionate about creating meaningful change, Hannah leads the Country to Canberra team to deliver education, mentorship and leadership opportunities to young women across rural and remote Australia. For her efforts, she was named one of Australia's '100 Women of Influence' for 2015 by the Australian Financial Review/Westpac, won a 2015 Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Scholarship, was a 2015 Finalist in the ACT Young Woman of the Year Award and was a finalist the 2016 NSW/ACT RIRDC Rural Women’s Award – the first ever Canberran in the award’s 16-year history. More about the Author

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