13 Australian heroes you haven't heard of: Joanna Hayter CEO of the International Women's Development Agency

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

This week, we meet Joanna Hayter, the CEO of the International Women’s Development Agency a non-profit organisation which defends women’s human rights in the Asia Pacific region.

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

Leading the International Women’s Development Agency as the CEO is a balancing act between purpose, prioritisation and perseverance.

Joanna Hayter, CEO, International Women's Development Agency. Source: Supplied

2. How did you become involved in humanitarian/aid work?

I became politically active as a young woman living in London during the terrifying global escalation of the nuclear arms race. I transitioned from being an anti-nuclear peace campaigner to a pro-human development and justice worker in the late ‘80s. I found myself working as a field officer with Australian Volunteers International in Botswana, Namibia and Swaziland. I had to look up Botswana in my Atlas!

As I grew and learned more, I was to become the Regional Coordinator responsible for 13 African countries. I loved this work: it was enthralling, dangerous and meaningful. Over the next 10 years, I went on to live in Vietnam and Burma, taking on the Country Director roles for international NGOs.


There was no career path to international development – it had to emerge through life’s journey and a commitment to working for a better world, for anyone who could pay you! After working across 4 continents in 28 countries with NGOs, businesses, the UN and governments, I can truly say the involvement has been worth it. Change is possible. The personal is the political.

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

The greatest reward is being able to demonstrate what lasting change looks like for women and girls as we strive for equality. Sadly, the more we succeed, the more dangerous it has become to be a champion or defender of Women’s Rights. The conservative and fundamentalist backlash from every country is extremely violent.

Joanna at the Asia-Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment. Source: Supplied

4. In general, do you think Australians are generous givers?

Yes, but both institutions and individuals with wealth could try a bit harder to invest in a sustainable planet.

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

The aid cuts in the last couple of years are unprecedented. It is both a humanitarian imperative and smart governance to resource and support global stability and human security in our world. Cutting aid sends a very different message. It tells the world we don’t really care about anyone except ourselves. Parochialism is a dangerous thing.


6. What are the most significant humanitarian crises we are facing, both at home and abroad?

Three things come to mind:

Firstly, inequality continues to drive extreme poverty and injustice here and off shore. This manifests in so many ways –food insecurity, economic exploitation, inequitable land and asset distribution, local national or regional conflicts, racial and sexual discrimination, and escalating violence.

Secondly, the eco-system is fragile and threatened so we must respond to increased extreme weather and natural disasters.

Thirdly, the changing nature of global power and new power blocs in the world has forced us to work differently. The mass migration of people brings a new generation of challenge and crises.

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

Actually I think they are men’s challenges. It’s 2016!

Civil and political representation must be equal – any decision that is made with only men in the room is illegitimate. Access to credit, resources, pay scales and work conditions must be equal. Violence perpetrated by men, whether it be in the home or in zones of conflict, must stop and be criminalised. The sexual identity with which we are born cannot continue to determine our choices and voices in life.

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

Speak up. Speak out. Donate or volunteer to organisations driving and delivering outcomes for gender equality at home or abroad. Join a network, sign petitions, demand your government takes action, criticise hate or fear mongering media, challenge family attitudes that maintain discrimination and intolerance.

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

Go for it. International relationships and understanding have never been more important for a sustainable and peaceful planet.

If you'd like to donate or learn more about the International Women's Development Agency, check out their website here.