Read the latest blog post from WHWBSW CEO, Jodie Hill.

International Women’s Day (IWD) is for the women’s health sector what Christmas is to the retail sector, a busy time of high demand and great celebration. And so it was last week as we marked this year’s theme – Count her in. Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress.

Celebrating women 

Across the Barwon South West, we recognised and celebrated local women for their dedication to community, their efforts on big issues like climate change, their commitment to the economic empowerment of other women, and for inspiring others.

So many women in our region make a tremendous impact on the people, places and communities around them and I was privileged to attend and present awards to some of those women at IWD events.

Women supporting women

As we celebrated the women in our region I was struck by the power and prevalence of women supporting other women.  Women who have mentored and coached others to build skills, undertake training, or grow their careers to secure their economic future.  This is such a valuable contribution in an era where the highest growth in homelessness is amongst women over 65 years old.

We heard stories of women who banded together to activate working groups that rejuvenated public spaces to boost economic, social and wellbeing outcomes in their communities and deliver tangible change.

There is something quite amazing and incredibly valuable that happens when women put effort into supporting and uplifting each other.

Our humble heroes

I was struck by the humble surprise with which many women received their well-deserved awards, some clearly shocked to be nominated and many making mention of the work of other women.

Women can be conditioned to downplay their successes and not ‘boast’ about their accomplishments. So, it’s not really a revelation that some women will be uncomfortable receiving credit for their good work in the community. 

We all expect to see victorious tennis or cricket players hoisting a trophy, champion footy stars carrying team mates on their shoulders or season winning race drivers having a celebratory “shoey” in recognition of their achievements.  We are proud of their accomplishment; we share their joy and cheer that they celebrate their success. 

So why is it that many women, whether consciously or subconsciously, feel obliged to deflect recognition or downplay their achievements within the community?   Perhaps the “Matilda effect” and the increasing profile of women in sport and our shared joy at their successes will start to normalise women celebrating their own achievements.

One amazing woman, and award recipient, told me that she didn’t understand why she was nominated for just doing what she thought was good and useful.  Prior to receiving a nomination, she hadn’t been aware that there were any community awards for women. She said “now that I know, I’ll be nominating loads.”

This demonstrably selfless, community minded, proactive woman, like so many others, sat uncomfortably with praise of her own work, yet she was eager to recognise the good work of others.

Let’s walk with pride

It’s important that we continue to recognise the many and varied achievements of women.  It’s equally important that we create an environment where women can comfortably, proudly and joyfully accept that recognition. 

I hope that when International Women’s Day comes around next year, we see more women walk confidently to the podium to accept their awards with pride as well as humility.  Let’s commit to accepting recognition unapologetically, even if it feels inwardly uncomfortable, because we need to model that its normal, joyful and important to celebrate women.


Image 1: Jodie Hill presenting at ProviCo on IWD

Image 2: Award recipients for the Geelong Community in Life Awards, presented on IWD. 

It’s an often repeated statistic that Australian women are dying at the rate of one a week due to gendered violence. I am writing this in week fifteen of 2024, and we now have a reported death toll of 18 women, so let’s be clear that it is more than one a week.

At the time of writing, the headlines are dominated by the most recent incident, the shocking death of Hannah McGuire in Ballarat. A beautiful young life cut short in an incomprehensible act of violence, allegedly perpetrated by a man she knew.

Hannah is one of 18.

18 women who were daughters, sisters, friends, wives, mothers. Eighteen women whose dreams and potential will never be fully realised. And most were killed by men that they knew.

Our Premier Jacinta Allen along with women’s advocates and organisations, have been admirably vocal about the fact that this must stop, and I join the chorus. If 18 women had died because of faulty medication, tainted food products, or dangerous exercise equipment, the public at large would be united in outrage.

There would be demands for action, products would be recalled and there would be enquiries into how things could have gone so wrong. When we hear that women were killed in acts of violence, and by men that they knew, this outrage and level of ferocity from the public is not always felt.

At Women’s Health and Wellbeing Barwon South West, these statistics and headlines are part of our work everyday. We are feeling the outrage, and it motivates us in the work that we do on prevention of gendered violence. I often wonder though how this news lands for others.

Are the headlines so common place that they’ve lost impact? Is the way that the media reports on gendered violence obscuring the tragic facts and reality of what is happening to women? Or, perhaps the public reaction is tempered because the actions to make a difference are not as immediately obvious as a product recall.

Violence against women can be described as any act of gender-based violence that causes or could cause physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of harm or coercion, in public or in private life (Our Watch). This definition includes all acts of violence including family violence, intimate partner violence, coercive control, stalking, harassment and assault.

Men are most often the perpetrators of violence against women, and women are three times more likely to experience violence from someone they know than from a stranger.

Shockingly, in Australia violence perpetrated by intimate partners contributes to more death, disability and illness in women aged 25-44 years than any other preventable risk factor. That should be a mind-blowing statistic and one that really warrants our anger and our attention. We should be all be outraged!

Notably, this statistic refers to violence as a preventable risk, and the take-away message here is that violence against women is preventable.

Research on the matter is absolutely clear: the drivers of violence against women, the things that make it possible, are disrespect towards women, rigid gender stereotypes, men feeling they should control or have power over women, and social norms and attitudes that condone this violence. This is where it becomes clear that our societal attitude to violence against women, and more broadly our attitude to gender equity, has a very real impact.

There is consensus amongst researchers and experts internationally that violence against women arises from the social context of gender inequality, in other words, gender inequality is the soil from which violence against women grows. Maintaining attitudes and beliefs that foster gender inequality contributes to the prevalence of violence against women.

These harmful attitudes directly influence behaviours that produce violence.

According to Patty Kinnersly, CEO of Our Watch, this means that sexist, disrespectful humour and remarks do matter; that put-downs and controlling behaviour do cause harm, and that these all contribute to an environment in which men’s violence against women is more likely.

It’s important to recognise though, that the attitudes we hold also have the power to produce positive behaviours and drive acts of intervention.

Making change to deeply held attitudes and beliefs is challenging. It is long term work requiring broad involvement and commitment across our communities. We are fortunate to be in a region where we have a number of organisations, employers and community groups who have committed to the elimination of gendered violence.

At WHWBSW we have the privilege of being close to this work and seeing the genuine dedication, progress and change that is happening, but there is so much more to do. The 18 deaths of women so far this year clearly suggest that we cannot take the foot off the pedal on this.

Preventing violence before it occurs means confronting some of the more challenging ideas we have about men and what masculinity means, about gendered power imbalances, and patterns of abuse and control. It is about pulling down the cultural structure that we know and rebuilding it to be more inclusive, equitable and safe, for everyone.

It is also about a collective understanding that our attitudes and beliefs as a society matter, it is what drives the behaviours that either allow or prevent violence. Our attitudes to every day behaviours that perpetuate gender inequity, the jokes, the comments, the exclusion.

Our attitudes to the inappropriate behaviours. Our attitudes to minimising and trivialising violence against women, and our attitudes to blame shifting.

Our attitudes to the invisibility of perpetrators of violence. And inevitably, our attitudes to the procession of headlines about dead women that appear week after week. Our attitudes set the tone for society and, ultimately, as a society, we set the pace of change.

The women in those headlines deserve more than a cursory glance before we turn the page or scroll on. When you next read a headline about the murder of a woman, really consider how it makes you feel. If you feel outrage or disgust, use it as a trigger to check your beliefs and attitudes about gendered violence and gender equity.

Use it as an opportunity to drive the conversation with sons and daughters, partners, friends and workmates about their attitudes. Gendered violence must stop, and we all have a role.