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Heather McTaggart

16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence

Heather’s story

Please introduce yourself

I’m Heather McTaggart, House Manager of the Basin Community House in The Basin. I’m 55 years old.

What does Gender Equality mean to you?

To me, Gender Equality means that everyone feels valued, safe and respected and have the opportunities to be the best they can be.

When did you first start noticing / caring about Gender Equality?

I first noticed there was inequality between men and women when I was working in Stockbroking and Finance in the 1980’s / 90’s. There were few to no opportunities for women to progress, there were some in middle management, but mainly women were seen as baggage and attachments. For someone starting their career, although this was seen as normal, the inequality was incredibly apparent.

What’s the biggest issue that bother you about Gender Equality?

One of the biggest issues in this space is the normalisation of inequality. Women are constantly tested and judged when in leadership roles, and have to fight to prove our merit. This is not just in the workplace; we constantly have to prove our worthiness for safety and security in our homes.

Have you experienced Gender Equality in your day-to-day life?

Unfortunately, Gender Equality is a day-to-day experience, but I do see some great work happening to change that culture. Schools are running some fantastic programs – I have twin 16-year-old girls, and their school run leadership programs for girls & boys, teaching them to be empowered and have the tools to enter the world.

Schools are also instilling a rhetoric of respect, a culture of equal opportunity; taking an early prevention approach will have long-term benefits for future generations.

Another thought in thinking about experience of gender equality is bravery – be brave in saying something if you see or hear disrespectful or abusive language, sexist jokes, comments – don’t be a bystander. It is so pervasive, that in some instances it takes bravery, so be brave!!

Tell us about something you’ve done that has helped promote Gender Equality

My work through the Community House has been incredibly rewarding, and has given me the opportunity to raise awareness and provide education about gender equality. We have over 300 Community Houses in Victoria, and I’ve been privileged to help galvanise the network in some great campaigns and speak at their peak body events. One campaign I coordinated was the Clothesline Project – which was part of a 16 days of Activism campaign. We wrote messages on t-shirts and hung them on a clothesline in front of the Community Houses – it was a great talking point and provided the opportunity to break the silence around violence against women, gender quality and create a conversation in the community.

It also highlighted the impact a designated campaign like the 16 days of Activism can have in creating engagement and conversation, and breaking down barriers for everyone to talk about gender equality.

It also highlighted the great platform that are the Community Houses. We are safe space for the community and we play an important part in facilitating conversation. For instance, at The Basin Community House, we have developed a 10-week writing course, empowering women of domestic abuse to tell their stories and create an anthology of experience. Their stories are so powerful and deserve to be heard. The course, whilst providing a creative outlet for their stories, also gives them skills to take forth and continue to develop.

How would you explain to someone the links between Gender Inequality and violence against women?

The links between gender equality and violence is based in a lack of respect. Where any women isn’t valued or respected or have equal rights, they are in a controlled environment. These environments can breed violence and abuse. That’s why educating people on the need for respect, from an early age or through providing safe spaces to talk, works on breaking down the barriers, empowers everyone and leads to a more equitable society.

Why do you think Gender Equality benefits the Eastern Metropolitan Region?

In Knox and the East, our rates of reported gender based violence are high when compared to other regions in the state. However, we are making inroads; local government, local agencies and community groups are working to provide increased opportunities to connect and feel safe. Campaigns like 16 days of Activism help create the space for more conversation.

In one sentence – what does this issue mean to you?

Everyone deserves to feel valued, safe and respected; and to have equal opportunities to be the best person you can be.

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