News » Celebrating women of history helps children today

Portrait of Malala Yousafzai against white background

Celebrating women of history helps children today

During the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, I said that I would relearn global history and research women who have changed the world.

My eight year old son often asks, “Mum, is that sexist?” (He also asks, “Is that racist?”, “Is that because they are old?”, “Is that because…?”)

It isn’t new. It is something that he has done for a very long time. And so have my daughters. I encourage these conversations but won’t claim to be the sole reason for their awareness – they have a father who is an advocate for equality and they are in an education environment and community that challenges discrimination.

For me, these are the most important questions. Discrimination and sexism are subconscious and systemic. We need to always consciously challenge our own views and decisions.

We also need to be telling women’s stories that challenge stereotypes or demonstrate the strength of women. There are some extraordinary female role models that history is largely silent on. We need to change that, so that our children grow up knowing about the achievements of women. So, over the last few days I have been talking to my children about the women that inspire me. There are many of them:

Benazir Bhutto. Rosa Parks. Malala Yousafzai. Julia Gillard. Penny Wong. Rosie Batty. Moana Hope and her sister Vinnie. Dawn Fraser. Raelene Boyle. Susan Alberti. Quentin Bryce. Evonne Goolagong. Turia Pitt.

Julia Gillard speaks into microphone in front of Australian flag
Julia Gillard, then Prime Minister of Australia in 2011


One of the greatest moments in recent years for me was Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech in parliament. Becoming Prime Minister was huge and told every female in Australia – and probably the world – that anything was possible.

In the speech she highlighted and called out the false, but widely held beliefs about differences between people based on gender. She highlighted that even some of our elected members of parliament are misinformed about the facts and don’t understand the harmful impact of gender inequality. She talked about the underrepresentation of women in power, the stereotyping of women’s roles, and the lack of respect shown to women in public life.

Black and white portrait of Nancy Wake
Nancy Wake, hero of World War II in 1945


Another incredible woman that we have been reading about is Nancy Wake – the “white mouse”.  Born in New Zealand, but growing up in Australia, Nancy was the most decorated woman in military history for her selfless acts of courage during World War II.

She worked with the French Resistance during the war and was one of the Gestapo’s most wanted. The Gestapo called her the “white mouse” due to her ability to evade them. At one time she rode her bicycle 500km through several German Checkpoints to re-establish wireless communication for the Resistance. Her many medals are now held at the Australian War Memorial. There is a memorial plaque in Port Macquarie, but there is no monument in recognition of the achievements of this extraordinary woman.

We all need to celebrate the women that have called out injustice and discrimination. There are many more. History is fully of courageous women, but largely silent about them.

Let’s tell HERstory.

I challenge you to list your Top 10 female heroes and speak to the people about you about their achievements.

Here’s my pledge video – and you can find out about other pledges we are making at Your Community Health here.


Cover image: Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist in 2015 Credit: Simon Davis/DFID