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Why girls and boys must come out to play – equally

06 August 2014

Jo Hayter IWDA in PNG

“It’s 2014 and they’re still burning women as witches,” the CEO of International Women’s Development Agency Joanna Hayter (above far left in PNG with women human rights defenders), and one of our 100 Women of Influence, reveals.

Jo has just returned from the Papua New Guinea Highlands where she spent a week in a protected space with the Women Human Rights Defenders who are both the leaders and front liners tackling the problem of women’s safety and security in PNG.

IWDA is Australia’s leading feminist development agency and works in Asia and the Pacific focusing entirely on gender equality and women’s rights. In 2013, IWDAmade the important decision to be part of the solution to eliminate violence against women in PNG and is funneling significant resources into that decision, including having its CEO attend discussions around what a solution might look like.

PNG is routinely described in the media as having one of the world’s worst records of family and sexual violence. The very worst cases of violence, says Jo, are in the Highlands.

“We need to work with local women to find a way through and to do that we need to be as close to the problem as possible, we also need to show real integrity in trusting our local partners to decide what is most needed and most important to resource” continues Jo, who is honoured to have been asked to take part in this formative work.

It’s dangerous. The Women Human Rights Defenders face life and death decisions almost every day.

(Only recently a peer of Jo’s in Bougainville was murdered: “decapitated”.)

“We have our own driver, guards and vicious dogs and we’re staying with the nuns,” Jo explains.

Not because the nuns are immune to the violence. They suffer their fair share of bashings, machete attacks and all the rest that comes with it, but, as Jo points out, similar to IWDA, “they see it as their mission to confront the problem and make a difference”.

In fact, Jo says, “it has become clear that our research with one of our partners in the Highlands has proven to be ground breaking as it has now identified 30 distinct categories of Violence against Women which can not only be tracked, reported and analysed through time but also brings a really important next step to define the factors (attitudes, behaviours, beliefs, laws, customs, etc.) that are specific to causing these acts and therefore the direct link to prevention in future. Up until now it has been too generic.”

Nominated in 2013 as an Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence, Jo was in the final top 10 for the Global category, which included Care Australia’s Dr Julia Newton-Howes.

Explaining early career moves, Jo says she’s always been motivated by “a strong sense of social justice” and became actively engaged in the peace movement from a young age: “I was balancing volunteer work in the peace movement with my paid work as a nurse and eventually that balance shifted completely to peace work. The career options when I left school didn’t include international women’s development.”

It was after a stint in Japan on an international fellowship working with peace and environment groups that Jo found herself back in Australia wondering what she would do. She decided to move to Melbourne where she felt the political heartbeat of Australia was at the time and landed her first job with a non-government organisation as a field officer in southern Africa.

Building influence takes time

That was 1987 and Jo has now worked in 26 countries across four continents for 28 years. It’s a lot of economy flying miles she points out.

“Political engagement is a priority in this work and that means cultivating and sustaining many international partnerships. You have to leave Australia to do that,” says Jo, who admits with a laugh that if she had to represent herself as her job, she would draw “a globe”.

Certainly, the nature of Jo’s work has meant she’s experienced leadership in many forms.

“I’ve watched leadership of all sorts in action. I’ve lived and worked in communist, capitalist, socialist, and militarist countries, and in places where the division between church and state is often nebulous. I’ve worked in private enterprise and not-for-profit. I’ve seen all these different leadership cultures and I’ve learned to adapt when necessary.

“I’ve also learned with age and stage that I don’t accept as valid many of the leadership styles I’ve experienced. It’s why I love being the CEO at IWDA,” says Jo, indicating her role.

“The days of command and control should be packed up and put away,” says Jo.

As for decisions that fail to include women in the decision making: “they’re outrageous and morally corrupt”.

“You have to be courageous as a leader, and that usually means being controversial, disruptive and by virtue of that, an agitation to somebody.

“One of our program priorities is working with women in the safety and security space. That covers issues from family violence all the way to what defense should look like in our nation or how we define regional security. The commitment by defense force leadership to gender reform is profoundly encouraging. At the same time the Federal Government’s development of a White Paper on Australia’s defense where no women have so far been included on the committee makes that entire White Paper process illegitimate,” says Jo.

What it takes to be a women leader

Jo Hayter admits she was the teenager who organised her and her friends’ social calendars. Perhaps it’s no wonder then that when she was still in her 20s she was chosen as the senior manager for the 13-country Africa program in which the agency she worked for was involved.

The rapid, accelerated learning curve to which she was exposed in her early career meant she found herself in senior management often 10 years younger than her peers.

“I am pretty confident and extroverted, and I think I might have been born with a management gene. When I think about what’s supported me to effective, there are two things: believing in yourself, and understanding you can’t do it unless you have the people around you to be effective, or that you help to be effective. When the team around you is effective, that is, you’re all on the same page, it actually consolidates strengths, amplifying and accelerating success.”

Leading a feminist organisation is terrifically liberating, Jo goes on to explain. With no ongoing need for discussions around attitudes to equality, or internal struggles with structures that don’t fit the philosophy, you’re free to spend time on the really important stuff: money, power, security.

In 2014, Jo believes, “we simply should not have to put up with a system that discriminates because you are born a boy or a girl. It undermines so much untapped potential for the world.”

Gender reform here and abroad is significantly greater than at any other time and the organisation’s skills and specialisations are in demand.

As that demand grows, Jo has found her role as CEO taking two very different paths.

“I am a driver and a helicopter pilot. I keep the organisation steady. I navigate the road and any hazards. I also have to lift myself up and into another space to go ‘okay, so what is this going to look like in five years, and how do we make the most transformative decision about who to work with on this because there’s quite a bit of noise and traffic and sometimes it sounds like everyone is  is saying something similar’.

“When it comes to decision making we work to make sure that those who the decisions affect are involved in the decision making. When that rolls out successfully what you see is diversity of thought, diversity of identity, diversity where being different feels safe, not marginalized,” Jo says.

If you’re going to be influential, you’re going to be busy. There will always be a desk or notebook full of documents to get across, 100s of emails, 40 percent with attachments, can be a pretty daunting prospect. Jo’s advice, “Do the key reading. You have to get across the issues and be informed. You need the evidence, the advice, the varying opinions held within the key reading to be truly helpful in decision-making and in the dialogue.”

IWDA is the leading Australian agency supporting women and girls across Asia Pacific. Federal budget cuts have occassioned the organsiation to work toward a much higher fundraising target this 2014-15 financial year. 

You can read more about IWDA's fundraising appeal here:

IWDA also has a Tax Calculator to help people estimate their deduction: