As we learn to grapple with our changing world, wondering how long this strangeness might last and when a new normal might settle in, I was deeply saddened and unsettled this week by the death of one of Australia’s greatest treasures, Dr Catherine Hamlin AC. At a spritely 96 years young, she had dedicated every breath of her life over the last six decades to caring for the most marginalised women in Ethiopia. She and her husband Reg became world leaders in the fight to eradicate obstetric fistulas –a shocking childbirth injury that renders women ‘incontinent, humiliated and isolated.’
In a fierce and dangerous part of the world that little sparrow sized woman, with her trademark soft voice, stood out as a gentle giant. I met her in 2011 when Australia hosted CHOGM and Catherine politely asked me if she could pose a question to the panel of leaders on stage. Of course, I was delighted to hand her the microphone. At that moment an African bully tried to intervene. But one fierce, steely glare from our then Governor General, Dame Quentin Bryce, ended that commotion. Catherine stood. She spoke. The ballroom fell silent. I recall everyone leaned in to listen. By the end of her statement many were on their feet. There was thunderous applause.
Catherine Hamlin’s achievements are nothing short of magnificent. But it was her inexhaustible courage and unwavering belief in a better world that so deeply touched those who met her. She reminded us all of the sheer beauty of humanity, and the soaring power of understated kindness. Which is why I so desperately wish she wasn’t gone.
Thankfully, Catherine’s legacy of wise, gentle leadership lives on. It’s a gift to us all.
In times such as these, when we’re confused and flung apart, there is great solace to be found in sharing. Last Friday at our ‘Sezie the CSW Moment’ conference, before the crackdown on crowd gatherings, we indulged in a wonderful day of sharing, listening and learning – perhaps one of the last times we will meet in such numbers for some months. Sally Moyle was Special Rapporteur for the day and her summary on BroadAgenda today provides excellent insight and takeout from that feast of discussion.
“We recognised that gender equality is essential in addressing all the existential challenges we face as a globe – from COVID-19 to climate change to world poverty and war. But experience tells us that gender equality will be traded off in the face of these crises. And we mourned the short sightedness of our world’s leaders as they do so.” (Sally Moyle)
Our piece by Amy Haddad on the gender implication of COVID-19 was ahead of the game, which is why, unsurprisingly, it was picked up by mainstream media and Channel 7 news. Also this week we focused on debt, with an examination of partner induced economic abuse and sexually transmitted debt. And still on money matters, Julie Hare’s take on gender equality and dating is a must read for all those savvy young feminists considering a first date – check out ‘Guess who’s paying for dinner’.
Across the globe in other news: Vanuatu women candidates unlikely to win a single seat out of 300 in this week’s election (and yes, next to PNG, it has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world); the falsity of new ‘freedoms’ for Saudi women; why rich, privileged women in Dubai want to flee; and a decade into the Syrian war UNFPA warns of the ‘dire situation facing women and girls.
For the pod lovers, a chat with Jess Hill on power, control and DV.
And some happy news – yes, there is some! Aussie women composers shine.
Not so happy, this week we farewell our Gender News hound, the meticulous and irreplaceable Paula Mellado Campos. Paula and her young family are on posting in Bangkok and we wish them a safe and wonderful experience. (But my goodness, I will miss those exquisite news spreadsheets. Pure art!)
In these very challenging times ahead I like to think ‘what would Catherine do?’. My guess is that right now she would pull on her shoes, roll up her sleeves, throw back her shoulders and get on with living … by helping others to do the same.
May your days be calm, your sleep restful, your mornings sunny and the view out your window bright!