International Women's Day

The members of Parliament will celebrate International Women's Day this week in Sydney and in their communities. This amazing event, which has been running for over 100 years, provides an opportunity to recognise local women through the Local Women of the Year awards. It is pleasing to see all women members of Parliament working together, regardless of their affiliation, to celebrate women at a variety of events being held around the State. But there is still more to do. At the 2015 elections the percentage of women in the Legislative Assembly of the New South Wales Parliament rose to an all-time high of 30.1 per cent, but since 2003 women's representation has been steadily dropping in the other place. More must be done to increase the participation of women in all leadership roles across the community. Only one in five directorships in ASX 200 companies are held by a woman and business owners in New South Wales are more than twice as likely to be men. Until we achieve equality in leadership positions, we will be unable to fully address inequality in other key areas, including health and wellbeing, education and learning, work and financial security, and safety and justice. Speakers at the International Women's Day breakfast organised by The Greens Dr Mehreen Faruqi, MLC, at Parliament House today highlighted the importance of diversity in the parliament and in community leadership. Speakers Nakkiah Lui and Randa Abdel-Fattah challenged women to consider race, ethnicity, ability, sexuality and other areas of discrimination in their quest for equality, and to ensure that diverse voices are heard in feminist discussions. The intersectional experience of discrimination is far greater than just sexism, racism or other forms of discrimination on their own and is becoming more widely discussed in feminist discourse. This was explored in depth by Ann Summers at a conference I attended last year, 40 years after her groundbreaking book Damned Whores and God's Police was published. The role of Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians is to advocate for all women in leadership both in the parliament and across the community. As women parliamentarians, we are uniquely placed to hold discussions with women across the community on issues of gender inequality, and to promote women from diverse backgrounds and to ensure their voices are heard. This year in New South Wales the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians will be working on strategies to engage young women in leadership programs, specifically through the parliamentary education units program, through a special event for young women leaders at Parliament House to be held later this year and through the introduction of Male Champions of Change by male members of this place. Most importantly, women members of Parliament will continue to advocate and work towards equality within their electorates to improve the lives of all women in our State. Last night in my electorate we celebrated the contribution of Maitland Local Woman of the Year Ms Pennie Kearney, the chief executive officer of disability service provider The Mai-Wel Group. Pennie is a former school teacher who for 12 years worked with the unemployed. She joined The Mai-Wel Group in 1997 to coordinate the specialist employment division, which is now known as Mai-Wel LabourForce Solutions. She then accepted the role of chief executive officer in the year 2000. Over the past decade Pennie has taken Mai-Wel, a mainly voluntary group, through all of the governance, compliance and safety changes that have happened in the disability sector, including the first trial of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in the Hunter and its current rollout in the Maitland area. One reason I nominated Pennie for the award is that she is a strong campaigner for people with disabilities. She has brought people with disabilities into the everyday life of our community and enabled them to have contact with many people who would not normally interact with a person with a disability. She is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities live full lives that include many opportunities for work, socialising and becoming an integral part of the community. The latest program she has opened in Maitland is called The Hub, which is a gathering space and activity centre for young people with disabilities. Ever the fundraiser, Pennie has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Mai-Wel through her strong networking skills and positive role modelling of community service. She is involved in a number of community and corporate networks and is an inspiration to many women in our community. It is also important to recognise former Maitland Local Woman of the Year Award recipients Samantha Meyn, Michelle Davis and Yvette Cavanagh and to note that last night's celebration in Maitland was the first public recognition of their work in their roles. I congratulate all women across New South Wales and all members of this place who nominated women for these awards. I urge all of us to work together to improve the outcomes for half of our community, which will, in the end, improve the outcomes for all of our community.

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