Celebrating International Women’s Day and Highlighting the Need for Change

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day and the global theme for 2021, “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”.  This theme celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future.

Here our CEO, Irene Gallagher, responds to the theme and speaks to the significant impacts of trauma in the lives of women and girls who seek mental health support in a system that is ill-equipped to meet our safety needs.

What does this theme mean to you?
International Women’s Day represents recognition and solidarity, and the right for women to have their voices heard, respected and valued. It’s a day to acknowledge the struggles of gender disparity, to increase visibility of the need for equality and equity, and to celebrate our achievements as women.

This year’s theme, ‘Woman in Leadership: Achieving equal future in a COVID-19 world’, recognises the unique perspectives and skills of woman to reshape societal thinking. Whilst our voices can be loud and we can stand as proud woman and girls, the COVID pandemic has brought with it increased abuse and violence towards woman and girls, and increased stereotypical gender disparity amongst our society.

Through our solidarity and the integration of our voices, perspectives and experiences, we as woman have the power to shape more equal opportunities and break down social and systemic barriers and norms. It is through our individual leadership and our solidarity that we will challenge and bring change to stop the harm and hurt so many women face in our modern society.

What are the key challenges faced by women in NSW trying to access mental health supports?
Women are disproportionately affected and experience mental health issues at higher rates. Research shows that woman have higher rates of depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, and post-natal depression, and whilst there are services available, many are focused on crisis intervention rather than prevention.

Our mental health system is ill-equipped to deal with and meet the social, emotional, and cultural needs of woman and girls. Many women who access mental health services experience histories of trauma, yet frequently we hear that woman are traumatised and re-traumatised by the very services there to support their recovery. Women continue to be confronted by mixed gender mental health treatment facilities, adding to such traumatisation. We see a lack of female doctors, and women are often not given a choice of doctor or clinical practitioner to meet their safety needs.

The findings of the 1993 Report of the National Inquiry into the Human Rights of People with Mental Illness included the same issues which women experiencing mental health issues face today, such as shortages of emergency and long-term accommodation for women living with mental health issues, and allegations of assault and sexual harassment being common and requiring improved mechanisms for complaints reporting. We must also remember that many women who live with mental health issues have co-morbidity complaints, some specific to women only. We hear of situations where woman are not receiving the right treatment due to a lack of knowledge and lack of staff trained in women’s needs.

This is a significant human rights issue. Where is the dignity, respect, equality and fairness if such issues continue since that report in 1993?

What are three important traits for women leaders in the mental health space?

• Courage – to speak our mind and challenge the norms of male dominancy in executive positions.
• Solidarity – to stand with each other and hold each other up high.
• Leadership – recognition that we are all leaders in our own rights, our voices and perspectives matter and need to be heard.

Empowering Women for Leadership Roles

We recently launched our education program, BEING Leadership Academy, that aims to build leadership skills among mental health consumers, to share and enhance knowledge and to open educational pathways for people in NSW living with mental health issues, their family and carers.

On International Women’s Day, Manager of the BEING Leadership Academy, Janette Curtin, reflected on the qualities of Women in Leadership.

What does leadership mean to you?
Be your own leader! An effective leader will model quality behaviour to promote best practice. Define what your personal values are and live by them each day. Determine your own goals and strive to meet them.
What does it mean to be a leader in the mental health space?
To be a leader in the mental health space involves humbleness, honesty and accountability. Recognise your limits and boundaries and be honest enough to share them with your team.
What are attributes of a good leader?
Emotional intelligence and self-awareness, accountability, honesty, integrity, equality, courage and resilience.

BEING Leadership Academy Creates Pathways

Janette said the BEING Leadership Academy can assist consumers to harness their existing skills and use their lived experience and recovery to become leaders.
“The courses are aimed at creating future pathways for consumers who are keen to enhance leadership knowledge and skills, and embrace opportunities to engage in leadership roles,” Janette said.

“In terms of developing leadership skills, we will be offering opportunities to explore and identify best practice for facilitating effective meetings, dealing with difficult conversations, and ensuring effective and inclusive communication. We’ll also look at committees and consultations and how best to encourage productive participation and effect change”.

If you would like to find out more about the BEING Leadership Academy please visit the homepage here.

Enrolments are now open!