Published by the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, University of Canberra

Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

Farewell BroadAgenda

Apr 9, 2021 | Policy, Equality

The wonderful thing about saying goodbye and packing up an office, are the hours of discovery!

As I’ve prepared to leave my role today as Chief Editor of BroadAgenda and founding Director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, I’ve been meandering down memory lane. Reading, sorting, tossing and pouring over the myriad files, letters, documents, projects, campaign plans, strategy notes and all the other paraphernalia I’ve collected over the past four and a half years in this job.

But now, as I prepare to vacate both BroadAgenda and the Foundation, with a new and energetic co-Director team – Kim Rubenstein and Trish Bergin – well and truly in place, I am a little shocked to be reminded how incredibly busy the past several years have been. Not just for BroadAgenda, but in the gender equality space in general.

The huge number of issues we’ve covered on BroadAgenda and the extraordinary amount of activity we’ve been privileged to witness – and help steer – is testament to a transformation I’ve long felt was happening right before my eyes: Australia has been building towards a major shift in women’s power and gender equality – for many years! Finally we’ve gathered serious momentum. And yes, the world is now looking very different from where it was even five years ago, when I first left my ABC news presenting role to join the University of Canberra, and establish the 50/50 Foundation.

So, before I close my office door and turn out the light, I wish to share with you a few fleeting reflections on some of our BroadAgenda moments. It is impossible to trawl through all 700 or so articles we’ve published since first launching on International Women’s Day 2017, so my eye has landed somewhat randomly, guided by … the goddess of chance!

Thanks to the visionary sponsorship of Prof Mark Evans, at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis (IGPA), at the University of Canberra, I was encouraged to launch BroadAgenda. The aim has always been straightforward: to build a bridge between mainstream media and academic research, in order to help improve public discourse. As a journalist and an Adjunct Professor with IGPA I was deeply troubled by the yawning gap between evidence based research and the public framing of gender equality issues in mainstream media. I believed there had to be a better way to bring these powerful and critically influential forces closer together. BroadAgenda has been our attempt to do that.

BroadAgenda launch 8 March 2017: Virginia, Adj Prof Carmel McGregor, Prof Mark Evans, VC Prof Deep Sani

BroadAgenda launch: Assoc Prof Nicole Curato (speaker)

With encouragement from one of UC’s Centenary Chair professors, the distinguished LSE Emeritus Professor Patrick Dunleavy, who established a number of the London School of Economic’s blogs, we boldly put out the call for writers, thinkers, academics and journalists to write for us. To my surprise, they did!

In one of our first BroadAgenda articles, world leading scholar Prof John Dryzek introduced readers to the power of deliberative democracy to shift systemic barriers to women’s political participation. His awesome colleague (in the true sense of the word!)  Assoc Prof Nicole Curato helped further this discussion with her focus on citizens assemblies on gender equality. Nicole also produced an award winning series for BroadAgenda, on press freedom in SouthEast Asia, featuring contributions from six young and incredibly courageous women journalists working in hostile environments. Back home in Australia, I took up the theme of gender bias in news media at the 2019 Women in Media conference.

Megan Deas, Dame Quentin Bryce (Patron), Pia Rowe and Jane Alver at the Launch of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, Sept 2017

Many people have contributed to BroadAgenda and helped shape it thus far, and I sincerely thank each and every one of you. Dr Lucy Parry was there in the first many months. Most readers would be well familiar with Dr Pia Rowe’s byline. Pia has dedicated years to BroadAgenda and her quirky humour and rippling laughter has often kept us afloat. Given our fascination with women in leadership, Pia cast her net wide, writing about roles models as diverse as NZ PM Jacinda Ardern back in 2018, to Taylor Swift in 2019. Not shy of honesty, Pia also tackled the menopause taboo in a moving personal account.

Pia held the fort, assisted by the ever cheery Mary Quinlan, while I did a few detours of the cancer ward in 2018. With only days notice in early October, we worked in partnership with DFAT to host a timely and terrific BroadAgenda Public Talks event: ‘In Conversation’ with Dr Caren Grown, Director of the World Bank’s Gender Group.

Dr Caren Grown, Dr Pia Rowe, Mary Quinlan

In late 2018 we launched the 50/50 Foundation’s first major research report, From Girls to Men: Social attitudes to gender equality in Australia. Pia and I then took the report on the road, presenting our national survey results at numerous events and conferences. At one of those events in Sydney, hosted by the Diversity Council of Australia, a little seed was planted in my mind, as the then head of the Office for Women, Trish Bergin, joined us in a panel discussion. Months later I invited her to join our 50/50 Foundation team, and she is now a co-Director.

To extend audience reach, (and because I love a chat!) I launched the BroadTalk podcast last year, in which the first series included interviews with leaders such as Foreign Minister Sen Marise Payne, Julia Gillard and Kate Ellis, and yet, the most popular episode from that first series remains … Trish Bergin!

In 2020, journalist Julie Hare took us to new heights with her prolific output and nose for a good story! It was no surprise when the Financial Review recently snapped her up as their new Education Editor.

Julie’s rapid turn around and sharp journalism enabled BroadAgenda to react quickly to many of the fast moving issues in the gender space, and I remain extremely grateful for her professionalism. It is impossible to nominate her stand out pieces, so here is one of my favourite quirky Julie musings that in fact nails a feminist conundrum – who pays for dinner on a first date!

As Editor, Julie’s commissioning was first class, and again it was often the quirky unexpected pieces that got many of you talking: after all, who doesn’t occasionally engage in a bit of secret salon disclosure?

Julie Hare, MC at one of BroadAgenda’s 2020 events, in her first week!

On this day, three years ago, Liz Broderick, the United Nations special rapporteur for Discrimination against Women and Girls, addressed the UN during the Commission on the Status of Women. Liz, along with Dame Quentin Bryce had been our inaugural International Women’s Day speaker at the 50/50 Foundation, and we were delighted to publish her CSW speech on BroadAgenda.

With an ear for good oratory, BroadAgenda has commissioned and published some excellent speeches over past years. In March 2019 we sponsored Dr Anne Summers AO to travel from her home in New York to deliver the IWD speech at the National Press Club. Titled ‘The Politics of Womens Political Representation”, like much of Anne’s work, she was ahead of the game!

Similarly, our 2020 IWD speaker, Natasha Stott Despoja AO, attracted a huge crowd. Like women around the nation, we were thrilled when shortly afterwards Natasha was elected to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

We also hosted the President of the Global Summit of Women, Irene Natividad to present a live broadcast at the National Press Club. When I recently re-read my notes from this day I did a double-take. Just about everything Irene said about the 2017 #MeToo movement and the Women’s Marches around the US, echoed precisely what is being said right now in Australia following the March4Justice rallies. The very same questions are being asked: ‘what was it all about?’; ‘were there too many issues confusing the central message?’; ‘what happens next?’ …etc. Irene was a fabulous guest speaker: uncompromising and blunt. When asked about male sensitivities over women’s progress she simply said, “get over it”. And she meant it!

Irene Natividad, President Global Summit of Women, speaking at the National Press Club, 2018

Pia caught up with #MeToo founder Tarana Burke and journalist Tracey Spicer at the Press Club, when they received the Sydney Peace Prize in 2019, with echoes of that movement and the Women’s March still reverberating through our work today.

BroadAgenda has extensively tackled issues around masculinity, commissioning some challenging commentary from writers such as Jane Caro, Phil Barker and one of our favourite academics working in this field, Dr Michael Flood. Our BroadTalk Public Talks panel ‘Emancipation of Men: masculinity at crossroads’, saw more young men in the audience than we’ve ever seen at our events.

As the realities of COVID-19 and a global pandemic were just dawning on us all in very early March 2020, and the annual Commission on the Status of Women meeting at the United Nations in New York looked like it may not proceed, our new co-Directors Kim and Trish kicked into rapid action. Within days they miraculously pulled together a highly successful gathering of Australian CSW delegates, speakers and academics, for an Australian ‘Seize the Moment 2020′ event at the University of Canberra. Gender policy specialist Sally Moyle wrote a powerful reflection of that day for BroadAgenda.

The legacy of the CSW event continues to shape and influence action and discussion through collaboration with a broad range of women’s networks and the formation of the Snap Forward Feminist Network, which collectively produced an excellent submission to the parliamentary COVID-19 Committee.

Quickly BroadAgenda’s attention turned to the impact of COVID on women, with Kim and Trish amplifying the 50/50 Foundation’s core vision for shared leadership.  We worried and wrote about the COVID threat to women’s employment, and pushed back against the idea of a ‘snap back’. We called for a move ‘forward’. Some of our regular contributors also wrote furiously at this time, with Amy Haddad arguing that COVID was not gender neutral, and Sonia Palmieri asking ‘where are the female MP’s in the crisis room?‘.

Sonia has also written for us on sexism and misogyny, subjects that BroadAgenda has covered extensively. However, the volume on our discussion turned up considerably, when news broke from the High Court with sordid revelations about the sexual predation of former judge Dyson Heydon. With a legal Professor on our team, Kim Rubenstein, we grabbed the moment and convened an excellent panel discussion with the journalist who broke this story, Jacqueline Maley and Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.

Whilst the Heydon story seemed extraordinary in its revelation of a disgraceful culture of male privilege within the legal fraternity and the abuse of power, little did we know back then that Australia was about to explode open with women disclosing long buried experiences of harassment, abuse, violence and rape – at the hands of men in positions of power and authority. Once again, Kim and Trish were ahead of the game calling for Kate Jenkins to conduct a workplace survey of Parliament.

Brittany Higgins: Photo by Hilary Wardbaugh

The 50/50 Foundation has been active in working with a collective of women determined to ‘seize’ this moment of cultural transformation, and embed significant policy reform. To that end, the Foundation, in partnership with The Shift, was instrumental in rallying over 100 women’s organisations and individuals to sign a joint Letter to the PM. And as we know – there is power in numbers! It would seem the PM has been forced to listen.

 

For my part, that moment of speaking at the Canberra March4Justice rally was a game-changer. Like Biff Ward, who recently spoke so movingly of this experience on our latest episode of BroadTalk, I didn’t expect I’d ever see the anger and rage I’ve long known is buried in many women’s hearts, expressed so openly and with such force. I wrote about this the day before the March in an attempt to explain that rage; and again recently as mumblings about this current wave of feminist energy suggest this moment might just ‘flame out’. It won’t. Of that I am sure.

It has been one of the greatest honours of my life, to be gifted the extraordinary opportunity to establish something as unique and bold as the 50/50 Foundation and BroadAgenda. The University of Canberra has shown tremendous leadership in not only supporting and funding these wild initiatives, but in truely believing in the mission!

I remain eternally grateful for the visionary leaders who run the joint!

As I now close this career chapter, to open a new one, I also wish to thank all those wonderful IGPA and BGL Academic Associates who have so readily given their time and attention to supporting our BroadAgenda endeavours.

But like many academic articles, I’ve buried the lead! The woman most responsible for ensuring BroadAgenda moved from big vision plans on paper into an online reality is the action lady of our faculty, Nilima Mathai. Thank you.

Virginia and Nilima Mathai at the Launch of the 50/50 Foundation, 12 Sept 2017.

As a long time television journalist, I always like to sign off with a good picture or two… so please enjoy some of my favourites from the Launch of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, back in September 2017, when it all began!

The 50/50 Foundation Advisory Council, with inaugural Chair, Dame Quentin Bryce; virginia. Dr Helen Sykes; Jane Alver

The 50/50 Advisory Council inaugural members meeting, Natasha Stott Despoja AO; Adj Prof Jane Halton PSM; Dr Martin Parkinson: 12 Sept 2017

The 50/50 Advisory Council inaugural meeting: Emeritus Prof Meredith Edwards; UK HK Mena Rawlings; Dr Martin Parkinson; Virginia; Dame Quentin Bryce; Prof Mark Evans; Natasha Stott Despoja; Dr Gordon de Brouwer; Carmel McGregor; Jane Halton, Dr Helen Sykes

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