When I was asked by the Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD), back in 2021, to work with them on their upcoming exhibition celebrating Australian Women Changemakers, naturally I was thrilled. And honoured! What a fabulous invitation. Who wouldn’t want to dive into the lives of some of our most stunningly successful women and poke around looking for that special ‘thing’ that propels an ordinary woman to do extraordinary things?
Or, could it be that they are not ordinary at all? Are some women simply cut from such different cloth than the rest of us that they are simply destined to charge forward, disrupt the system and create a storm of change along the way?
Or … does the crown of ‘Changemaker’ fall on a woman’s head quite by accident? Could a sudden twist in life’s fate take them down an unexpected path and – for inexplicable reasons – they just run with it? Unperturbed by the potential consequences from sticking their head above the parapet.
From the moment I left that first meeting with former Director of MoAD Daryl Karp, and the Head of Exhibitions, Nanette Louchart-Fletcher, I became an obsessive collector of women’s stories: not to mention, a forensic investigator into women’s lives, motivations, methods and inspirations. Whilst such focus has in fact been something of a lifelong fascination for me as a journalist and a writer, this commission gave me the opportunity to really dig deep in order to unpack … what makes a ‘Changemaker’.
Over the next 10 weeks, our Broadtalk Changemaker series will introduce you to 10 of the many dozens of Australian Women Changemakers I’ve identified. No doubt your list of leading Changemakers would be different from mine, as is your definition of what it means to be a ‘Changemaker’ . Which is why I thought I’d share with you my musings over what makes a Changemaker.
She is an agitator who sees a pattern of behaviour that needs to change… and sets about finding a solution. Invariably she is driven by anger or frustration at something she encounters in her own life, or perceives in the lives of women around her. She is not afraid to swim against the tide of public opinion and will venture out alone, if necessary, unshackled by cultural norms and social expectations. For her, the issue is bigger than self, but she’ll use her singular voice and efforts to push back against attitudes, behaviours, polices and laws that she believes disadvantage women. She has a social justice predisposition, that is highly attuned to gender inequity. She is personally offended by gender discrimination and the predominance of patriarchal norms. Whether publicly stated or not, she is driven by fundamental feminist principles that are grounded in equal rights for women and men, but which also acknowledge that gender equity demands deeper structural changes than simply turning up in equal numbers. She is a system changer, a rule breaker, a policy agitator. At some stage she will enlist the help of others, knowing collective effort and support is central to transformative change. She acknowledges the need to occasionally take centre stage, but she firmly believes in the collective power of women working together. She devotes energy to nudging others women towards empowerment and helps pull them up the ladder.
She leads by example, whether she intends to or not. Her trailblazing actions have lasting impact on a broad cohort of women and girls and provide much needed encouragement, usually in an area or sector that is lacking in female leadership. Her talent, daring and her success in cutting through new pathways that prize open the way for other women to then follow has been achieved with unrelenting persistence, dedication and belief in what she is doing: even when the end goal may have been unclear. She is proud of the women around her and energized by their success.
She is bold when she needs to be. She will stand her ground on a principle, even when it may be uncomfortable to do so, or is not popular. She swims against the tide.
She will turn up to support others when needed.
She is a changemaker.