Schools Stepping up

The ‘Annas’ campaigning for women’s rights at Parliament House in Melbourne. Photo supplied

AEU members Kathy Sharp and Melissa Mavrids went on a journey of transformation as participants in this year’s Anna Stewart Memorial Project.

For decades, women have played a crucial role in the fight for equality and the progression of worker’s conditions. The Anna Stewart Memorial Project is a comprehensive two-week leadership and development training program designed to encourage more women to be active in their unions, celebrate women’s achievements, and inspire ongoing positive change.

As participants in this year’s project, we shared our time equally between workshops and activities at Trades Hall and working with our mentors at the AEU. One of the most remarkable aspects of the Anna Stewart Memorial Project was the diversity of its participants. The 2023 ‘Annas’, as we were affectionately called, were made up of 10 women from multiple industries and unions: the Independent Education Union, Australian Services Union, Australian Nurses and Midwives Federation, and the United Workers Union, along with the AEU. These unions represent women workers from hospitality, administration, nursing, horticulture, local government, and education.

This diversity ensured a richness of perspectives and ideas, sparking engaging discussions and inspiring collaborative efforts, as well as raw and vulnerable discussions. Our facilitators at Trades Hall – Carolyn Dunbar, Wil Stracke, Lilly Hallett, Nadine Medina and Kristy Steele – enveloped us with support and encouragement.

The Trades Hall building itself embodies solidarity and represents so much of Victoria’s political history. We encourage schools to take their students for a tour of the Worker’s Museum. It provides a fascinating timeline showing the progression of workers’ rights and conditions.

The Anna Stewart Project’s emphasis on personal growth and leadership development was genuinely transformative. The days at Trades Hall were carefully thought out and included a broad range of topics, from historical perspectives to industrial relations law, international sisterhood projects, occupational health and safety issues, emerging reproductive health strategies, and media and digital organising. We received training on how to navigate complex social issues with empathy and understanding.

It has empowered us to become more compassionate, informed and engaged global citizens.

While at the AEU, Kathy and I attended the Andrews government’s budget lock-up and watched our AEU president, Meredith Peace, prepare our budget response and media release. We also spent time with AEU organisers out in schools and TAFEs, as well as receiving recruitment training and campaign briefs.

What truly sets the Anna Stewart Memorial Project apart is its commitment to providing practical avenues for action. Much of our focus at Trades Hall and the AEU was centred around gender equality in the workplace. We unpacked the barriers faced by women and other marginalised members of our community due to the ancient, rigid, patriarchal workplace structures.

We looked at the impact of non-disclosure agreements on victims, the gender pay gap, sexual/gender harassment in the workplace, leave entitlements and superannuation discrepancies. These ideas became the central focus of our ‘Anna Stunt’, a digital advertisement promoting Women’s Parliament Day on 22 June – a day to discuss inequality with female members of parliament.

The networking opportunities provided by the project were also invaluable. We had the chance to connect with other passionate individuals, renowned experts, and influential advocates in various fields. This not only broadened our professional connections but also opened doors to new opportunities and collaborations.
We hope that the supportive network built during the Anna Stewart Memorial Project continues to be a source of inspiration and guidance long after the project concludes.

Kathy and I will forever be grateful for the opportunities, friendships, and knowledge we gained through this project. We cannot emphasise enough the profound personal growth and fulfillment we experienced throughout this journey.

The Anna Stewart Memorial Project challenged us to confront our own biases, to listen actively, and to be a catalyst for positive change. It encouraged us to step out of our comfort zone and embrace the discomfort of personal and professional growth. It has empowered us to become more compassionate, informed and engaged global citizens.

We strongly encourage anyone passionate about social justice and equality to join this remarkable initiative provided by the AEU and organised through Trades Hall. Together, we can make a lasting impact and honour the legacy of Anna Stewart, whose dedication to creating a more just and inclusive world continues to inspire us all.

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