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13 Australian heroes you haven’t heard of: Briony Mackenzie and Carmen Hawker - Founding Members of The Global Women’s Project.

Each week we will be running Q&As with Australian women doing vital humanitarian and aid work. Women you may not have heard of.

With that in mind, let us introduce you to Briony Mackenzie and Carmen Hawker, founding members of The Global Women’s Project.

What does your role entail on a day-to-day basis?

As The Global Women’s Project is still in its early stages, both of us are really required to be a ‘Jill of all trades,’ so there’s really nothing that we don’t do! On a day-to-day basis though, our roles entail developing and monitoring our international programs, liaising with our grassroots partners, engaging the global community in conversations about gender equality and just generally smashing gender stereotypes all day! We love collaborating and meeting like-minded people and regularly attend events that get us thinking about ways we could be doing things better and how to innovate harder.

How did you become involved in humanitarian/aid work?

Carmen: For me, there wasn’t this one moment where I thought ‘this is what I’m going to do with my life’. I’ve never really questioned that I would fight for everyone to have the same rights I’m lucky enough to have. I have always been passionate about learning new things, hearing people’s stories, women’s rights, global issues and social justice. I want to see equality in my lifetime. It’s as simple as that. I know Briony feels the same and so we started up The Global Women’s Project with a couple of other similarly passionate young women and the rest is ‘herstory’!

Cambodia work
Carmen Hawker in Cambodia. Image supplied.
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Briony: The penny really dropped for me when I was travelling through India and the Middle East. I’d always felt really passionately about social justice and, in particular, women’s struggles for gender equality. I feel so grateful that I’ve always had opportunities, rights and a voice and I know many women aren’t so lucky. I’m really about helping to amplify their voices and being part of a larger movement that works to increase women’s opportunities and rights.

What are the most rewarding/challenging parts of your job?

We don’t really see there being a separation between ‘work’ and ‘life’ as if your job is something you do with your day and then you switch off and live your life. We both approach what we do as our life’s work and it seeps across every area in our lives, often in the most wonderful ways. The rewarding parts of the work are many: seeing tangible changes in women’s lives and the impact that has on their family and community. Witnessing that moment a woman realises that she can do anything is incredible.

We enjoy supporting our grassroots partners to learn more skills and scale their impact and likewise, we love learning things from them and hearing their ‘war stories’, so to speak. We also love when the community gets involved and runs a fundraiser or gives us words of encouragement on social media. Those little things make our lives a lot happier and the work a lot easier.

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It’s rewarding to see the “tangible changes in women’s lives”. Image supplied.

Challenges can be plentiful in this line of work and some of our major headaches are caused by uncertain funding environments, corruption, gender inequality, blatant discrimination and also a lack of resources. We try not to dwell on these too much – we’d rather spend our energy looking for new opportunities to disrupt the status quo and innovate new ways of working towards gender equality.

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In general, do you think Australians are generous givers?

Absolutely because we’ve seen it firsthand! Once the first earthquake hit Nepal on April 25th we set the goal of raising $5000 in the first 48 hours to provide emergency assistance to whoever we could. However, in those two days we had completely smashed our target! We thought we’d keep fundraising for a month to see how many people we could support and the community’s response was unprecedented. We managed to raise $201,500 in that first month, which allowed us reach 65,000 Nepalis, many of whom had not yet received any assistance. We could hardly believe it! It’s an extraordinary testament to the generosity of the Australian people and people around the world. We could not be more grateful.

Do you think that the Australian government is currently meeting its global responsibilities in terms of aid?

It is pretty hard to defend the low amount of aid the Australian government is currently providing. Although, the 2016 Federal Budget (currently scheduled to be announced on 10 May) will be an opportunity for the government to reverse its scheduled $224m cut to the aid budget – a cut which will take us to the least generous aid budget ever. We know government funding fluctuates a lot so we secure our funding from a range of sources including grants, community donors, corporate partnerships and social enterprise. Our main focus is on leveraging the market and business for social impact. This is one of the major trends in international development work at the moment and one that we see as being centrally important to our sustainability.

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A vigil in Canberra to remember those lost in the earthquake in Nepal. Image supplied.
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What are the most significant humanitarian crises we are facing, both at home and abroad?

As a women-focused organisation, it is hard to go past the egregious violence, poverty and discrimination that women face every day and in every country in the world. Women’s experience of poverty, discrimination and violence prevents them from accessing their full human rights, it prevents them from fulfilling their potential and it also prevents entire communities from developing and thriving. We cannot hope to succeed if half of our world’s population is held back.

We see evidence of this every day in our work in Nepal and Cambodia (and also in Australia and globally). That’s why we’re on a mission to see women equal, empowered, educated and employed. Only when this happens can we hope to eliminate the poverty, discrimination and violence that is holding us all back.

Watch the trailer for ‘I am a Girl’, a documentary that explores what it’s like growing up as a girl in the 21st Century. 

What do you see as the most significant challenges for women in the developed and developing world?

We know that in some countries women are more likely to be raped than learn how to read. We’ll say that again – more likely to be raped than learn how to read. This is outrageous and should offend each and every one of us to our core.

Women are the only majority treated like a minority and continue to experience marginalisation, discrimination and poverty on a global scale. This is fundamentally unjust. There is not one country on Earth that has achieved gender equality and while some are closer than others, in no country are women treated as well as men.

We acknowledge without reservation that there are very different challenges and issues that affect women globally depending on their postcode. However, as far as we see it, no matter the challenge – they are caused by the same things; gender inequality, rigid gender stereotypes and a belief that those two things are not only inevitable but that they should exist.

While it is undoubtedly important to acknowledge the plights of particular groups of women and to approach our work with an intersectional feminist lens, we also think it’s important not to get caught up in conversations that focus on ‘which woman is worse off than the other’ or ‘if you think things are bad for you, you should try being a woman in X country.’ Not only is this incredibly insulting to the courageous and resilient women from that country, this kind of pitting women against each other seeks to distract us from the struggle at hand – the struggle for gender equality, women’s liberation and empowerment.

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Indian girls
“Women…continue to experience marginalisation, discrimination and poverty on a global scale.” Image provided.

What can everyday Australians do each day to make a difference?

We like the saying ‘think global, act local.’ There is room for all of us to do our bit to make this world a better place. If we all do what we can, using the resources that we have at our disposal to transform our corner of the globe, et voila, the whole world is changed for the better!

As much as we’d love to see everyone fighting for gender equality and women’s empowerment, we understand that some people are passionate about turtles, or vegan lipsticks or knitting or engineering. Search for whatever sets your soul on fire and use your skills and resources for good!

Get informed, don’t shy away from challenging conversations and activism, don’t be complacent and most of all – do what you can, use what you have and start where you are.

Do you have any advice for young women who want to do aid work?

Stay humble and focused on your ‘why’. Interrogate why it is that you want to do aid and development work – commit to learning continuously and being open to having your ideas challenged. We think it’s important to work for an organisation that aligns with your values and learn everything you can from the incredible grassroots women already doing the work, often without the resources that we have at our disposal. They know the context and culture better than we ever will, we have a lot to learn from working alongside them and sustainable change is only possible when it is community-driven.

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