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Enough abuse, where do we start?

22 May 2013

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Enlightening, humbling and numbing are the words I would use to describe the recent insight I was given into the extent of abuse relating to women in Australia. Through my involvement with “The Little Black Dress Group” and Janine Garner I attended a boardroom lunch with Elizabeth Broderick, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

The statistic discussed at the luncheon was that 1.2 million Australian women, representing 10% of the female workforce in Australia endure some form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

In my late teens I had a taste as many women maybe do of where I did not want my life to go. Enjoying the party scene, nightlife and wanting to be a part of the in crowd. It was the late 1980’s. Soon enough I found myself with friends who seemed in a great place until I saw the impact of alcohol, social drugs, endless party nights and low self esteem. This spilled over into seeing the results of the over binge, violence and dramatic hospital admissions. I thought I could save the world, me the teetotaler who still to this day more than two decades later does not ever drink alcohol and has never even held a lit cigarette. I had no idea. In a desperate and angry blast one of the women I so thought I could save told me the truth of my complete lack of understanding and deciding she was right I moved on and left the scene.

Who did I take myself to be exactly?

Actually I wanted to avoid the void. The void of realising that the only person I could ever lead in this lifetime is myself. Be the example to yourself only. I thought going to this place would feel so unsupported and so chaotic and yet even though my life continues to ebb in and out of the flow that is so awesome to experience the more I realise that sitting in the void creates freedom.

Coming back the luncheon with Elizabeth Broderick I was excited to hear all the women at the table go into fix it mode and discuss all the ways as businesswomen and leaders we could help the situation other women find themselves in. The despair of violence, abuse and insecurity must be horrific. Is thinking big the best way? Or do we need to think small?

With Lipstick Learning an outcome very dear to my heart is to assist as many women as possible to be successful business owners with autonomy, flexible work hours and early profits. What I have learnt is that a one by one approach is the key to making a difference.

Taking the same view as Jeff Olsen in his book, The Slight Edge, I have come to realise that helping resolve many big issues could be better achieved by the compound interest of the things we can do in small ways on a daily basis to affect big changes. When you start an exercise program for example you don’t feel great after the first week of 5 sessions, and yet after 52 weeks of 5 sessions a week the compounding effect of the activity adds up and you feel incredible.

After the luncheon with Elizabeth and all the fabulous big ideas for change that were spinning around the table I realised that each one of these great ideas would take time and resources bigger than the individual. What could I do as an individual right now today and every day to be the source of change for women? My decisions were easy and achievable: take an interest in communicating with women anywhere and anytime. Supermarket, train, co-workers, mums at the school gate, neighbours.

We have no idea the power of looking at another person in the eye and connecting with them in positive conversation so they know nothing more than another human being cares for them today. It was not until I heard the story of a woman who was in such a terrible state emotionally and feared the worst that I saw the impact of something as small as the time to chat with a stranger. She was shopping in the supermarket. Another woman in the queue bothered to talk to her and to make her feel like a valuable human being. She is here today to tell how this seemingly tiny event changed her life. We have no idea if a conversation we have today with another woman will help her beyond measure. So have the conversation just in case.


Madelaine Cohen Author

Lipstick Learning is an initiative of Sydney based business leader & entrepreneur Madelaine Cohen. Sharing information to increase the success of people who choose to lead. With more than two decades in her own businesses in consumer products, sports marketing and healthcare Madelaine takes a leading role in helping people transition from employment to their own business in the health, beauty and anti-aging sector. She works on a 100%, 10 x 10, $100K model leading people to success and an income of $100K per year or more in their own business.