Initiated in 1975, the Order of Australia was established as a national platform to recognise outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions to the community – but since its establishment, many Australian women have been overlooked, while men have consistently received more than 70% of all honours and the majority of all the higher Orders.
That is, until now.
It can be difficult for women to step up and take on new opportunities – particularly since the onus has always been on them to enact change. But by taking it in their stride, three women have worked together to represent a movement where sisters are doing it for themselves. Honour a Woman was founded in 2017 as the brainchild of Elizabeth Hartnell-Young, Ruth McGowan OAM and Wise woman Carol Kiernan (above centre), who says she’s tired of inaction. Carol hopes the non-partisan movement can help women be recognised on equal footing with men – some of whom, she says, are awarded “simply for doing their jobs”.
“Women haven’t always been very good at touting their own achievements,” Carol begins. “I’m simply seeking equality – and that includes equal pay, equal opportunities and, on behalf of Honour a Woman, equal recognition.” Carol says she was encouraged by the women of Wise, through the breadth and diversity of their experiences and shared challenges, to further inspire younger generations of women like her daughter and granddaughter. “It’s obvious – women are 51 per cent of the population and should therefore receive half the honours,” she says. “Australia lacks depth in our range of female role models, but being recognised in the Order of Australia can change that by opening doors, offering new opportunities and providing women more visibility.”
Despite busy schedules, Carol, Ruth and Elizabeth successfully run the movement via Skype and telephone. “I hadn’t actually met Ruth or Elizabeth before Honour a Woman,” Carol explains. “I read a powerful letter to the editor from Elizabeth one day and remember thinking, ‘I need to meet her – this is the kind of person I can work with’.” To date, the women have built a social media presence and have garnered an impressive following, having engaged various political leaders and more than 60 ambassadors – including the likes of Julia Banks MP and Tim Fisher AC – to raise awareness of the movement. But what’s next? According to Carol, 2019 is a challenging but important year for Honour a Woman as the team delves further into the political landscape to fight for important structural changes that could help lay the groundwork for the future. “Men often nominate men, while women also nominate men – so we’re seeking national agreement at an official level to reform nominations,” she reveals. “This election year, we’re calling on candidates to declare their position on gender equality.”
Honour a Woman isn’t the only venture Carol has helped initiate. In addition to her work with Ruth and Elizabeth, Carol says she considers herself lucky for the number of rewarding career highs she has experienced during her lifetime. She has not only worked in communications and security and criminal intelligence, but also helped to form a World Bank Family Network Professional Development support group for spouses seeking work. Of particular note, however, was Carol’s establishment of Australia’s now-iconic National Missing Persons Week while working for Australian law enforcement. “I’ve had the opportunity to connect with families and see them through both triumphs and tragedies,” she reflects on her role, adding, “Although challenging, this work was truly fulfilling.”
Looking ahead, Carol hopes more women will recognise the power they have to create real change. “You really can make a difference,” she says. “I’d like to encourage all women to get involved in providing one another with opportunities to create more visibility to recognise our significant accomplishments. This is one simple way to support that – and all it takes is one nomination.”
Wise members can nominate women online any day of the year by visiting the Order of Australia website. For helpful resources for nominators, you can also visit Honour a Woman or follow the organisation’s progress on social media: Facebook and Twitter.