Gunnedah’s Keli McDonald has returned from New York full of inspiration and ideas.
Ms McDonald travelled to the Big Apple in March to represent the National Rural Women’s Coalition (NRWC) at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women at the UN’s headquarters. She was one of 11 women from the coalition who attended, including Gomeroi woman Lisa Shipley from Tamworth.
This year’s theme was women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work and the empowerment of rural women and girls, something the coalition is passionate about.
“It was just absolutely fantastic. It was a life-changing experience,” Ms McDonald said.
“I made some really amazing connections with people and with 193 country representatives, there were people you would never have had the opportunity to speak to or hear from before.
“I took a diary, so for everything I went to, I wrote notes and took quotes that absolutely inspired me or changed my thinking.”
The coalition’s chief executive officer said there were 450 parallel events, with the Australian government running three major side events – women in leadership, solutions for safer digital inclusion, and male champions of change.
Minister for Women, the Hon Kelly O'Dwyer, spoke about women in leadership alongside Leah Lions and BHP Biliton’s Alex Archila. Ms McDonald said some of Mr Archila’s words stuck with her.
“The BHP quote was, ‘We will be successful when our teams are inclusive and diverse’, and the other thing he said was, ‘There is not one role at BHP that a woman cannot do,’ and I think that’s really encouraging, particularly for women in Gunnedah,” Ms McDonald said.
“Women can do anything.”
The coalition’s president Alwyn Friedersdorff was on the panel for solutions for safer digital inclusion, which focused on “the role of rural woman and the way technology supports their social inclusion”.
“One of the things women tell [the coalition] when we ask them, is that they want safe and affordable communication channels. And when we have access to that, we know it improves the lives of women through education and training, financial improvement, and health, particularly for women who are geographically isolated or financially isolated, they can partake in things their urban sisters can do,” Ms McDonald said.
This side event tied in with Ms McDonald’s presentation on e-learning.
“It was a great way to share ideas and actually with our e-learning, there was a lot of interest there, particularly from the United States,” she said.
“E-learning is a great way, even for women with disability, to study in the comfort and safety of their own home, but of course it relies on affordable and reliable internet, which is why the coalition is lobbying the federal government to provide reliable and affordable internet for Australia.”
The coalition also made a presentation on domestic violence, using the children’s book Brave Danny as a platform to discuss the issue, “the idea being that storytelling cuts across all cultures”.
The Gunnedah woman said one of the highlights of the journey was “the openness of women to share, share their stories, share their journey”.
“You know, you might just be sitting on a lounge having a two-minute break and you’d turn to the woman next to you and she’d tell you her story, and there were quite heartbreaking stories like child marriage, and these women were advocating to help others,” she said.
“It can’t help but resonate with you, and it helps you know that what you’re fighting for is important.
“If people don’t fight, we’ll stay stagnant. And I think that’s something I’m learning – looking after my sisters as well. When I see things that aren’t right, I’m happy to speak up for it.”
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Ms McDonald is particularly passionate about financial literacy.
“I have a strong background in finance so I believe women need financial literacy and with that will come their independence and they’ll be strong within the family, within their business,” she said.
“Women need to have financial literacy as a lifelong right or journey.
“The coalition very shortly will be launching an e-learning webinar series and it’s based on financial literacy.”
The local is hoping to head back over to New York again next year for the 2019 commission, which will be themed “social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment or women and girls”.
“This theme is critically important to rural, remote and regional women as infrastructure supports the 85 per cent of Australians living within 50 kilometres of the coast line,” she said.
“Women and their families living in rural Australia need to have the same access and opportunities as those living in urban Australia.
“I’m really keen to make sure rural women’s issues and lives are in the forefront.”
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