Right now, Australian women are living through a profound moment of reckoning. And International Women’s Day couldn’t have come at a better time.
This morning, with the sparkling Sydney Harbour as the backdrop, marie claire hosted its annual IWD breakfast, presented by Coach, and supported by Napoleon Perdis and Fred, to celebrate women in all their glory.
Guests gathered at Quay restaurant to hear from a panel of esteemed speakers: singer Jessica Mauboy, advocate for survivors of sexual assault Grace Tame, politician Tanya Plibersek, producer Bruna Papandrea and investigative journalist Jess Hill.
marie claire editor Nicky Briger kicked things off, noting that “despite the tragedy and hardship endured across the globe last year, women rose up and – in the words of Celeste Barber – said challenge accepted. They took their places on the frontline, they led with courage and compassion, they continued to use their voices to fight for change, and they made us laugh when we really, really needed it.”
Then, musician Jessica Mauboy, marie claire’s April cover star who fronts our L’Oreal Know Your Worth campaign, took the mic, and paid tribute to her mother. “She’s my greatest inspiration – she just did life,” said Mauboy, sharing that her mum had lost of her own mother when she was just 10 years old, and carried the sadness with her. “That’s where I gained a lot of my strength, from discovering my mum’s story.”
Mauboy also opened up about her big decision to part ways with her long-time management last year. “I’d fallen into a space of manipulation,” she said. “Although [the music industry] looks very pretty, it can be a scary environment. I felt quite trapped. In 2020 I took that leap and took back my confidence and my power. I owe music so much. It’s given me the ability to know my power and know my strength.”
Next, Grace Tame, 2021 Australian of the Year, took to the stage to thunderous applause. Groomed and abused as a teenager, Grace was silenced by Tasmania’s state gag laws which prevented sexual assault survivors from being identified in the media, but Grace fought to overturn that legislation. “I’m a representative of a community of survivors who have been stigmatised for far too long and I’m just proud to be a part of that community,” she said. “I like to think of myself as a little domino and I encourage people to think of themselves in the same way. People are sometimes deterred from action or doubt the value of their contribution. But I like to think of it as a domino, and the catalytic potential of that domino, because there’s a whole set of dominos waiting to be pushed over. Just be that one domino. Your tiny little contribution has enormous catalytic potential.”
Tame also emphasised the importance of survivors of sexual assault telling their stories on their own terms. “Survivors have unique insights that are born from lived experiences - we need those lived experience stories to inform structural change. It’s all well and good to have conversations, but unless we change things at the institutional level, cultures – corrupt cultures – will continue.”
Politician Tanya Plibersek, Australia’s longest-serving female Parliamentarian and the Federal Member for Sydney, echoed Tame’s calls for structural change. “It’s not women’s responsibility to change culture, but having more women in an organisation changes culture, almost inevitably,” she said. Plibersek noted that in 2017, as the world said #MeToo, she discovered that Australian Parliament didn’t even have a policy in place for sexual harassment. “I’m sick of women being told the reasons they don’t have an equal say in this country,” she declared, but she hopes that up-and-coming female leaders won’t shy away from politics. “I meet brilliant and inspiring young women every day – I want them to find their voice and find their place.”
Next, Bruna Papandrea, producer of Big Little Lies, The Undoing and The Dry, took to the stage and welled up with emotion. “This is why I put women at the front of my stories,” she said, gesturing to her fellow speakers. The Hollywood powerhouse has made it her mission to tell women’s “complicated” stories, and has championed them behind the scenes, too. And having recently returned to Australia to shoot Nine Perfect Strangers, she’s wondering if equality might be more attainable than we think. “Australia’s political and public response to COVID-19 proved that action can happen – and fast! Apply that to gender parity,” she implored. “We can do it.”
Finally, investigative journalist and author Jess Hill spoke about her decision to write See What You Made Me Do, which won the Stella Prize in 2020. “There had not been a book about domestic violence in this country, and this is an issue that affects millions of people. I thought if not me, who?”
It was a theme that threaded the five different speakers’ stories together: we all have the power to bring about change. Raise your voice, speak your truth and don’t stop fighting. In the words of Tame: “You can be the instigator of a revolution, too.”
And what better day to start than on International Women’s Day?