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Elizabeth Broderick

07 March 2011

\"Focussing on commonality can get you answers you may not have found by only looking at differences. There is strength in what we share.\"

Liz Broderick is a consummate networker, a \"connector\", activator and doer. She doesn't just talk the talk, she walks it – with big purposeful strides – as many of us may already know from a recent Good Weekend feature on the Federal Sex and Age Discrimination Commissioner.

\"Everything I have done in my life has led me toward this position within the Australian Human Rights Commission. I have always followed my interests and one of my major drivers has been a deep interest in women, the diversity of women's experience, inequality at any level and wanting to change that to allow everyone equality of life experience and opportunity.\"

Liz freely admits that being white and middle class has meant disadvantage has not been one of her individual life experiences. But, she remains acutely aware of its existence – for males and females, old and young – and is determined to help exact the changes in society that will begin to redress the balances.

On Tour

\"When I first began in this role more than a year ago, I went on a listening tour around Australia and launched from that in July 2008, A Plan of Action Towards Gender Equality. On one of my tour stops I met a group of women in Fitzroy Crossing in northwest Western Australia from the indigenous community there. They were doing work around alcohol abuse and what they saw as the consequences of this abuse for the community.

\"They had had something like 13 suicides in the past year related to alcohol abuse. The last had been an 11-year-old boy. They had become acutely aware that the babies being born with foetal alcohol syndrome were brain damaged and that with impaired memory capabilities how could they learn the stories, the law, the spoken traditions of their own people.

\"What I saw here and admire – wherever I am – is meeting people who are inspired to make a change, have garnered support (in this case to request a partial alcohol ban) and then been brave enough to keep going, especially when they face opposition. Not everyone wanted the ban.\"

Two community members, June Oscar and Emily Carter, had convinced enough women and men to join them in requesting a partial ban on take away alcohol. Restricting it to light beer only. The ban in itself was not an end, but a way to gain some breathing space. Breaking an ongoing cycle of abuse, death and the accompanying grief, and allowing space for the community to rebuild.

Success and Failure

It's not been easy. These two women have been subjected to verbal abuse. They are looking after their community – I believe there has been 43% drop in incidences of domestic violence and an 81% drop in take away sales – but who is looking after them. What I wanted was to get this self-determined success story onto a bigger stage; to take the voices of these women working on the ground and provide a platform nationally and internationally for them to be heard.\"

And what better place to start than as part of Australia's ministerial led delegation to the United Nations 53rd Commission on the Status of Women. Headed by Federal Minister Tanya Plibersek, the delegation reestablished Australia's position on the world stage on human rights and status of women issues.

\"I had been able to secure funding from an anonymous donor to put together a film following the process of change at Fitzroy Crossing, and the community and women involved in it. As a side event to the Australian involvement in the UN Commission in New York we screened the film and had June and Emily with us to speak on a world stage.\"

The result was a standing ovation, a full house with people turned away at the door, acknowledgement of the project for its simple insightful content and applicability in a range of ways and communities.

\"Success is breeding success. These women have mobilized a world and their community is in rebuild.\"

Family Ties

Elizabeth Broderick is a twin with a younger sister. All three women share a close extended family life and grew up with parents who believed that friendship is defined by our connection as human beings and what each one of us has to contribute on a values driven level – nothing else matters.

Previous to her Commission position, Liz was a lawyer with Blake Dawson, where her efforts to develop a business case for flexible work practices \"contributed to creating a workplace where more than 20 per cent of the law firm's workforce now uses flexible work arrangements\".

She is also widely recognised as a leader in the delivery of online legal services to educate individuals about the law, and was a previous Telstra Business Women of the Year. Accolades and biographical details aside, it has come to Liz across the years that she deeply respects diversity, diversity of skills and ideas and opinions but that she has to feel a connection with people, a shared purpose and humanity if a relationship is to develop and grow.

And while she understands that diversity and difference make life interesting and form us into the individuals we are, there is much to be said about our sameness.

Key Achievements

The extended family life we share with my sisters and their families.

The 2009 United Nations project: taking the voices of women not normally heard outside their own community – in this case indigenous women from Fitzroy Crossing in north Western Australia – and lifting them to a national and global level.

Setting myself up and hopefully by example others to see that achieving economic independence is important for all women: I have used this before: \"a man is not a financial plan.\"

Things I have learned

The way we each experience life is different and what affects one person one way is not always the same for another. I remember when I began in the [Commission] position and my children came into work. My son said, when he saw the title on the office door: \"Why do you have to have that word, 'sex', in there?\" It was deeply uncool for my son to discover that his mother was the Sex and Age Discrimination Commissioner.

It's hard work to get motivated, garner support and be brave enough to do what you set out to do – especially if you find yourself facing opposition.

Personal Passions

Lifting visibility of Australian leadership in gender equality at a global level

\"If you can keep it simple, focus on the final goals, retain the stamina and give ideas a voice and a platform to play them out on, you can achieve many things.\"

Useful links

  • Commission for the Status of Women: www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/
  • Australian Human Rights Commission: www.hreoc.gov.au/sex_discrimination/index
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