From the Newsroom

International Women’s Day shares message to #BreaktheBias

Emma Pritchard

More than 70 people celebrated International Women’s Day at a gala event hosted by the Grafton Chamber of Commerce on March 8. 

Describing the occasion as a celebration of women everywhere, President of the Grafton Chamber of Commerce, Natasha Watkinson, said the Clarence Valley is home to some amazing and inspiring women, and she was honoured to welcome three of them to share their stories during the night.

In addressing the theme of the event #BreaktheBias, Ms Watkinson said she hoped the occasion would provide an opportunity for attendees to reflect on their own experiences and what it meant to them.

“International Women’s Day is growing in recognition, and I think it’s crucial as a businesswoman that young and emerging women in the workforce feel empowered and know they can perform the same roles as men, and they also have equality,” she said.

The first guest speaker of the night, Maddie McKeown, 2022 School Captain of Clarence Valley Anglican School, spoke about many courageous women’s impacts on Australian society.

“I looked at women’s educational rights, when voting laws changed and the first Olympics where women were eligible to compete, and I am so grateful for the path women of the past have paved for us, and how fortunate I am to live in a time where I am entitled to an education, just like any of my male classmates,” she said.

“When I have the same sporting opportunities as them, and I am able to be treated as an equal, that is something which these women did not have, but fought so tirelessly for.

“It is important that we acknowledge these women and recognise the example they have provided and strive to empower those around us, just like they have.”

As the second guest speaker, the Honorary Canon of the Christ Church Cathedral Camellia Flanaghan stepped up to the microphone, her opening words resonated with the room.

“If you are not p****d off at the world, you are just not paying attention,” she said as she was met with resounding applause.

Speaking of her first experience with gender bias as a 10-year-old girl who was not permitted to sing in the choir at St Luke’s Church in Thornleigh because she was not a boy, Ms Flanaghan revealed she encountered bias again as an adult while working as a fashion designer but persevered with her career.

“This year’s International Women’s Day theme is breaking the bias, and it is about working towards a world free of stereotypes and discrimination, a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive,” she said.

“It is a world where difference is valued and celebrated.

“But the long term and fundamental change will begin when it starts from the top and the heavyweights of management in our country and the world model the behaviour of respect and equity.”

In sharing her story with the audience, the third guest speaker, local businesswoman Michelle Hockings from Grafton and District Funerals and Simplicity Funerals, spoke of her determination to break the bias and achieve her dream of becoming a funeral director when it was not a popular career choice for a woman.

“It doesn’t matter what we choose to do,” she said.

“I can be a really strong woman, and feminine, I don’t have to be masculine.

“So, all I say is break the bias.”

The evening concluded as Helen Reddy’s classic hit, I Am Woman pumped through the speakers.