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D18 and 20 Connecting Women Forum
On Sunday 22 February 2015, a typical hot day in the Mallee, 63 women from Districts 18 and 20 attended the Connecting Women Forum in Berriwillock. The purpose of the day was to build confidence and encourage women to be more actively involved in their brigades.
By bringing women together to share their experiences, this forum enabled participants to build friendships and networks. The day also showcased the other roles that are available for volunteers that are not operational.
Guest speakers included CFA Chair Claire Higgins; D17 Poolaijelo brigade Captain Mary Frost; Trudy Ryan, Manangatang brigade secretary; Mike Wassing, Assistant Chief Officer; Maxine Sleep, Peer Support Coordinator, and Peter Taylor, D20 Operations Manager. D18 Operations Manager John Breaks was the MC for the day.
Our guest speakers were amazing and shared their personal journeys – where they began, how they started with CFA and the support they received along the way to be where they are now. Claire also encouraged women to have the courage to call out behaviour that makes us feel uncomfortable or that we know is wrong and this was reinforced by Mike, both in his role as ACO and also as an ambassador for the White Ribbon Foundation.
“The behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you accept,” said Mike. Whether this behaviour is within the family home, work place, brigade or out in the community, our guest speakers encouraged the women attending to be the ones who facilitated change by speaking up.
Mary and Trudy were truly engaging and also very humble in their speeches. Both women have been a part of CFA for a long time, and clearly love their brigade communities. Mary never planned to be the captain of Pooliajelo but was willing to step into the role as part of a succession plan for the brigade. Trudy has often been the only female member of a brigade, however she stressed that this has never held her back and, in fact, she has only ever felt supported by the brigades she has been involved with.
All our female guest speakers highlighted how important the support of their husbands has been in their life journey, emphasising how much of a partnership their involvement is.
Another key message from the day was the need to strike a work/life balance. Claire challenged this: “The phrase work/life balance implies that we can all achieve this. I question that and suggest it is more about finding what in life works for you, or keeps you happy."
After a lovely meal provided by the Berriwillock community (it was noted how many men were actually on kitchen duties) the women were able to enjoy the time to visit the displays set up around the air-conditioned room and look at the impressive array of appliances set up outside.
Bringing everyone back into the cool of the Berriwillock Community Centre, Peter discussed ‘where to next’. The plan is to bring a team of people together in April, inviting brigade leaders from Districts 18 and 20 and also key female volunteers to workshop how we can further engage women in brigades, particularly those which currently do not have any female members. The objective of the workshop will be to develop actions that can be implemented to improve female engagement in CFA.
The day ended with a round up by John and a special thank you to volunteer Miriam King whose initial idea grew into a very rewarding day.
Thank you to all of the volunteers who attended, our guest speakers, the volunteers and staff from Mildura who brought down the appliances, the volunteers from the Berriwillock brigade who assisted with the operational display, the Berriwillock community for their very generous welcome, and the staff who supported the day.
Some of the feedback from the day included:
“I fully enjoyed the whole day. The speakers were informative.”
“I realised that there are many more roles available to me than just catering and fighting fires on the truck. I feel more aware of an active role I can play in my local CFA."
“Great speakers, particularly hearing Claire Higgins. At times the Board seems quite remote [from us]. Good to know we have Claire as Chair and to observe her passion for CFA."
“All of the guest speakers were fantastic, very engaging and informative.”
"The trucks were really great, overall the whole day has been very enjoyable."
"Good speakers – relevant to women, displays and their presenters good to talk to and get some specific answers; good to meet and talk with women from other areas/brigades."
"Appreciated the range of stalls set up and the appliances available to play with!"