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Engaging women in brigades workshop
We believe it is important that CFA is gender inclusive and we are committed to taking action.
On Friday 17 April, more than 40 CFA members attended a leadership workshop in Kerang to discuss the vital issue of engaging and encouraging women to be more actively involved in their brigades. A key outcome of the workshop was the development of the statement of intent - agreed by all - as an achievable vision for the future.
Attendees included 25 volunteers from across Districts 20 and 18, Chief Officer Euan Ferguson and his wife Kristin, North West Region ACO Mike Wassing and other CFA staff. The workshop was facilitated by Women’s Health Loddon Mallee Executive Director Linda Beilhaz OAM.
Peter Taylor, District 20 Operations Manager, came up with the concept for the workshop earlier this year following a Women’s Forum in District 18.
“To my mind, to be successful in engaging with and being part of communities, brigades need to be a true reflection of the communities they serve,” Peter said.
Currently Districts 20 and 18 have 14% and 16% female members, respectively, and yet the general population sits at around 51%.
“These figures present an opportunity to reimagine CFA. If it was started fresh today, who would we seek to have as part of our organisation?” he said.
Chief Officer Euan Ferguson spoke of CFA’s journey of developing a culture that embraces diversity. He challenged the attendees to close their eyes and imagine what a brigade meeting would look like with greater diversity. “Imagine these things happening – imagine a 50/50 balance,” Euan said. “But it doesn’t just happen; it takes a shift in thinking. What do we do differently? We need to think creatively,” he said.
Facilitator Linda Beilharz concentrated on the key messages in our gendered lives; that gender is socially determined and gender stereotypes affect both women and men.
”We are all much more complex than the stereotypes,” Linda said. “Stereotypes limit our thinking and expectations, and influence the way we treat each other ”she said. An example of this is demonstrated through a Youtube clip called ‘Like a Girl’, which sent a strong message about gender bias.
Linda also encouraged participants to explore the challenges stating that we need to address how we accommodate the traditional male and female cultures that are embedded in us all while expanding our expectations about how men and women participate in CFA, work together, do leadership, member participation and learner participation.
The workshop finished with a session focused on solutions and actions under three key areas and members came up with a range of creative ideas:
1. What needs to change?
- Encouraging women to have a go
- Explain to women what the roles are – how CFA works
- More female involvement in Group setting
- Recognise we are all equal – both genders capable of all jobs
- Community ownership of brigade
- All members confident and confident in their role
- Good mix of age and gender
- Existing women members feel encouraged
2. Reimagining CFA
- New categories of firefighters – urban, farmer, university students
- Encourage families – kids move up the ranks
- User friendly vehicles
- Inclusion – acceptance/more women
- Women coming up through the ranks
- Equal numbers of males and females
- Accepted values – walk the talk
- Training more friendly – online
- Being inventive – again
3. Steps to Take
There is still much to do, however the workshop was very beneficial for attendees in understanding gender myths and how they impact on men and women in decision-making. The next step is to develop the above ideas into more concrete actions, and with over 90 per cent of the volunteers attending wishing to continue their involvement in developing strategies and actions for the future of their brigades, the future looks bright on this front in the north-west.
The day ended with Linda speaking over dinner about her journey as the first Australian female to walk both the south and north poles. She articulated the hardships in these journeys and also that it was something that she fell into rather than had planned to do all of her life. She never intended to be an example to other women by breaking through the gender norms, ice walking was just something she wanted to do and she went about learning the ‘trade’, planning and executing the trip.
Below is some feedback from the session:
- It was a positive environment where everyone’s opinion could be heard and was respected.
- The availability of the Chief Officer, Assistant Chief Officer and Operations Managers and to be able to share and listen to our views and us listen to theirs (was the most beneficial part).
- Excellent exchange of ideas and ‘food for thought’.
- I think the younger generation are implementing this change naturally.
- Having a brigade where gender is not an issue but just happens.
- An opportunity to recognise alternative approaches to problem solving.
- People are people – we are all equal.
- Gender is unimportant – all are equal.