South Coast Women’s Forum

A group of women members and guests gathered in September at the Camden Valley Inn for the IEU's South Coast Women's Forum to hear union women speak of their journeys.

Ellen McNally from the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), Sally Stevenson from the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre and Mich-Elle Myers from the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and Vice-President of the Australian Labor Party spoke on the night.

IEU Executive member and former President Christine Wilkinson, opened the evening with a question posed at a recent ACTU event by paralympian Kurt Fearnley: What makes a powerful teacher?

Introducing the guest speakers, IEU Organiser and President of the South Coast Labour Council Tina Smith continued the powerful theme as she gave the audience an overview of each woman’s professional achievements and their association with the union movement.

It was obvious each speaker had respect for her sisters and all those who paved the way across generations.

McNally spoke of the legacy of women from the Illawarra and how their struggle had motivated her throughout her career.

She wanted to be an example to young women considering a trade as a career pathway, and said women could not be what they could not see. An impromptu Q&A session by Stevenson and Myers provided insights into what motivated them, how they viewed power and making a difference for women.

Myers shared her recent journey to Kalkarindji (Wave Hill) in the Northern Territory to commemorate the 1966 Wave Hill dispute and the life-changing impact it had on her, not only as a unionist but as a white Australian woman.

She wants to educate Australians about the Uluru Statement from the Heart and for them to embrace its enshrinement in the Constitution.

IEU Principals’ Organiser Pam Smith shared the ongoing gains of union women and IEU President Tina Ruello expressed her gratitude for the sisterhood and awareness of what we might take forward from the evening.

Comments from members shared after the forum:

• I took away that we need to expose more of our girls to the opportunities in trades and educate our parents on the validity of these as a career choice for women.

• I have been inspired to learn more about the Uluru Statement from the Heart and what a Voice to Parliament will mean for First Nations people.

• What resonated with me was the empowerment of women and the stories behind the women. It gave me the confidence to use my experiences to empower others.

• Women in a range of industries are facing similar issues (pay inequality, superannuation inequality, WHS issues, etc) that teachers are facing and it’s important that we rally together.

Valerie Jones Organiser