Dr Elizabeth Hartnell-Young
Educator, Activist & Co-Founder of Honour A Woman
Tell us a little about your story and your purpose.
Sitting in a desk with the only other sixth-grade girl in my one room country school, I dreamed of becoming a teacher and travelling the world. The sky’s the limit, I thought, and my parents encouraged me. At that time I didn’t realise that women’s options were limited, but when I arrived at university my eyes were opened to gender inequality. Ever since I have worked to support girls and women and to achieve a fairer society, particularly through education. Along the way I have travelled and worked in other countries, always learning something new.
A few years ago, I was so annoyed at the lack of women in the Order of Australia, our highest honours, I co-founded Honour a Woman, with Carol Kiernan and Ruth McGowan OAM. In a year when 14 men and only one woman received the top honour, the Companion of the Order of Australia, we started a social movement aimed at equal representation. We’ve provided resources on social media to support people to nominate women. We’ve lobbied state and federal governments, and the Governor General. Slowly, the statistics are improving, but changes still need to be embedded. You can find out more at www.honourawoman.com
Who are the women that have made the biggest impact on you and your journey so far? And what have you learned from them?
My mother, described by all as a gentle, loving woman, enjoyed literature, valued learning and even had us speaking schoolgirl French at home sometimes. She believed in her children and encouraged us constantly. Later, as my career developed, I really appreciated the sisterhood of feminist women who were willing to share their ideas through mentoring and informal connections, and those who stuck to their values of social justice in difficult situations. A highlight was collaborating with the women of Osaka, Melbourne’s sister city in Japan who felt they had much to learn from us, but of course it was a two-way relationship. In 2001, a group from Japan was enjoying their visit to Melbourne when 9/11 happened. Our shared concerns about the state of the world drew us closer together.
I feel inspired by the four women who are 2021 Australians of the Year: Grace Tame, Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM, Isobel Marshall and Rosemary Kariuki. Such wonderful women of diverse backgrounds who have all achieved so much for others. I’m also impressed by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s work with the Global Partnership for Education, with its focus on education for girls.
What does International Women's Day mean to you?
It’s really important to share the history of feminism with the younger generations so that the gains we have made don’t get lost. Nearly one hundred years ago, the first Australian International Women’s Day was organised in Sydney by the Militant Women’s Movement. Women wanted equal pay for equal work, an 8 hour working day for shop girls and paid leave. COVID has had a negative impact on many women, with job losses in retail, hospitality and the arts, increased stress in the health sector, as well as a lot of responsibility for children learning from home. Recently IWD has become more commercialised as a day to celebrate women’s achievements, but we mustn’t lose sight of the barriers that continue gender inequality, both here and in other countries.
What is your hope for women and girls in the future?
Education, recognition, equality
If you could have told your younger self anything, what would it have been?
It’s great to have dreams, and to take action for a better world. Be strategic about your career and your projects, rather than taking on too much and burning out. Surround yourself with others who want to achieve the same, and work collectively to impact society. Keep on learning!