A Bonza Sheila with an Agenda

20 / 03 / 2015

For our March edition of Sheilas, we’ve had the opportunity to interview the very driven and inspiring Renee Carr, co-founder of Fair Agenda – a new independent community campaigning group focused on fairness and equality for women. Thank you Renee for being such a Bonza Sheila and for working so hard in the fight for equality.

Beth Nokes (BN): You’ve previously co-directed the 2011 Live Below the Line campaign, a fundraising campaign focused on tackling extreme poverty, and were part of the team that led The End of Polio campaign to secure $118 million additional funding for global polio eradication efforts. Currently, you are the co-Founder of Fair Agenda – a community campaigning organisation working to drive change that promotes fairness and equality for women. They are all such phenomenal efforts and your passion for social justice is palpable, what created this drive?

Renee Carr (RC): I’m really interested in history, and when I was growing up, I read quite a bit about the Second World War. I think reading about the horrific atrocities, and the comparatively small portion of people who were involved in resistance movements really stuck with me. Hannah Arendt spoke about the banality of evil during the Holocaust, and I think it’s a really striking observation – how in many cases it is very simple to be part of systems that are causing great damage and harm; and to not engage with that fact or see it as unusual.

I think being exposed to stories about massive and systematic injustices when I was younger made me think a lot about what is going on in the world; and about issues like extreme poverty, climate change and gender discrimination as I got older. I was raised by parents who were really community minded and who supported me so that I could volunteer during university; which meant I had the opportunity to learn about campaigning, and how we can work to influence decision makers and affect change. Combine that with a fantastic gender studies lecturer at university who helped open my eyes to structural inequality, and I started thinking about how much better things could be if we could work together to drive change. Once you start thinking about that, it’s hard to stop!

BN: Over the past couple of years we’ve seen very public reminders of the long way Australia has to go before achieving gender equality. Young women are realising that misogyny and sexism are still highly prevalent and are overwhelmingly keen to change that, some label it the “Gillard Effect,” after seeing how our first female Prime Minister was decried in the media and beyond. Is there one defining moment that you thought ‘this needs to change’ and inspired you to start Fair Agenda? Can you tell us a little bit more about Fair Agenda?

RC: I’d say Fair Agenda was the product of a culmination of moments – dozens of small realisations about how bad things still are, the sudden surges of public engagement with gender issues, and the way moment-focused campaigning could help bring more people into the “women’s movement”.

The most pertinent moment for me personally was the awful attack on Jill Meagher: the horrifying news of what her murderer had done; the victim-blaming that went on in the media; and the peace march that saw 30,000 people turn out on the streets of Brunswick. Two weeks later came the misogyny speech – and a year later, the announcement of a one-woman federal cabinet. Each of these moments was striking in showing how far we still have to go on so many issues; but also in the way they galvanised people, and sparked engagement with gender inequality issues. We started Fair Agenda because we wanted provide an avenue to engage people who are outraged by these injustices, to grow a broad based community who can take action when these kinds of issues are in the spotlight, while also being brought into a movement that takes action together for long term change.

We wanted to use digital campaigning in a way that would complement and strengthen the existing work being done by so many incredible women and groups – those doing deep policy work, delivering critical front line services, and organising deeply committed communities who have been taking action on these issues for years. We wanted to use digital tools to help harness public energy in moments when issues affecting women are in the headlines; to grow a broad-based movement that could bring massive public pressure to bear on decision makers in these key moments; while also growing a movement large enough to wield influence on political, business and media leaders in the long term, and for structural change. We’re really excited that in our first year we’ve already been able to grow a movement of 25,000 Australians.

BN: One of the campaigns that I found particularly interesting and powerful, and am so happy you took up, was the one against Tampon company Libra, for installing print ads on the back of girl’s cubicle doors with the tagline: ‘Absorbs way more than you ever did in maths class’. Studies show that there is a crisis of confidence among girls studying maths and that girls had been let down by outdated assumptions about what they are good at, which has repercussions in life well beyond school. What was the reaction from people when you created this campaign?

RC: We were really struck by the response to this campaign – in particular from women who were working or studying in maths, science and technology fields, who spoke about the really damaging impact these kinds of stereotypes have on them in the workforce. I think it was Annabell Crabb who recently said ‘what we laugh at tells us a lot about our society’. I think that’s really true in this case; it was pitched as a joke.  It was interesting that the advert went up around the same time that Google had just launched a $50 million commitment to addressing barriers to girls’ involvement in so called “STEM” careers, because these kinds of sexist attitudes are creating massive workforce inequalities.

Sexist advertising has a really pervasive negative effect in our society; and I’m really excited about the growing number of people speaking out against this content – rejecting the advertisers who promote these harmful messages, and helping shape the choices of the advertising industry.

BN: Tell us about a campaign you’re running at the moment

RC: Our major campaign at the moment is around the funding that has been cut from domestic violence services (for example, Community Legal Centres who provide critical support to women trying to escape abusive relationships). Domestic violence is the greatest threat to the life and health of women aged 15-44; it’s appalling that services that help keep women safe are being hit by funding cuts, forcing services to turn women away. It’s clear there is massive public support for action on domestic violence – so right now Fair Agenda is working to channel that support into pressure on decision makers, to make sure they give services the resourcing they need.

We’d love for people to join the campaign, and share it with their friends. You can do so by clicking here.

BN: Fair Agenda’s impact is achieved primarily by your members – individuals who set your campaign agenda, and donate their time, money and voice to help bring us all closer to a fair and equal future. Tell us a bit about what people can do to get involved.

RC: As you’ve mentioned, Fair Agenda is a community campaigning organisation, so the first thing people can do is add their voice to our campaigns. You can find the campaigns we’re currently running here. Once you have taken part in one of our campaigns, we’ll get in touch via email to let you know about other opportunities to drive change on that campaign, and in future moments when issues affecting women are in the public spotlight.

We know that the larger our movement, the more influence we can have – so you can also help by sharing campaigns with your friends. Based on input from our members, the areas we campaign around most are: women’s representation in decision-making roles and forums of influence; gendered violence; pay inequality; attacks on reproductive rights; and sexism. Something in there for everyone, I think!

The other way people can get involved is by chipping in to help support our campaigns work. We’re an independent organisation and we exist to hold governments and businesses to account on discrimination issues – which means we rely on contributions from our everyday members to power most of our work. Right now we’re trying to raise $2,000 to fund more rapid response campaigns around issues like sexist advertising and women’s under-representation; and doing a monthly donor drive to support our ongoing domestic violence campaigning. Every contribution, small or large, helps.

BN: You seem to have an extremely full plate at the moment, but care to tell us about what you hope is on the horizon for Renee Carr and Fair Agenda?

RC: When I was at ‘At All About Women’ earlier this month, Germaine Greer said something that really stayed with me, it was: “why does the government beat up on this sector? Because they know they can get away with it. Why can they get away with it? Because 51% of the population has no political power.”  The issue of power really gets to the heart of why we started Fair Agenda, and to what we are working to achieve.

So I hope that what’s on the horizon for us is a major shift in the power held by women in this country. And since asking nicely for equality hasn’t worked; I think that means growing a mass movement of Australians who are using their political and consumer power to hold governments, businesses and media outlets accountable on issues like women’s representation, pay equality and gendered violence. I think that’s going to take a lot of work – so I hope the horizon also brings more Fair Agenda members speaking out on these issues; and chipping in so we can run more campaigns, and grow our movement sooner, rather than later.

BN: Final question – which we enjoy asking all of our Bonza Sheilas for a bit of fun – if you could invite anyone one person to dinner, dead or alive, who would be your pick of the crop?

That’s a tough one. There are two women I’m particularly impressed by at the moment, and I’m not sure how to chose between them. The first is Elizabeth Warren – who I’m convinced can and should be the next President of the United States. She’s done some remarkable work around reforming financial systems to make them less predatory, has had to work bloody hard to get to where she is, and I’m really enjoying reading her book ‘A Fighting Chance’. She’s got such warmth, humour and vision, and I’d love to meet her. On the other hand, I think Shonda Rimes is a genius, doing an amazing job of challenging important gender and race issues in her TV shows (Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder); and given how much I love her writing, I think she’d be pretty amazing dinner company!

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