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Discussing gender equality in Birchip

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Over 150 people came together at Birchip Community Leisure Centre last month to hear from comedian Nelly Thomas and a special guest panel of men and women who shared their experiences challenging gender stereotypes in work, life, sport and community.

Discussing gender equality in Birchip

Getting real: Tony Stephens, Dr Jessica Crofts, Riley Richardson, Nelly Thomas, Hayley Cull and Chantel Emonson.

Why Can’t I? Real Talk about Equality, hosted by a sub-committee of the Buloke Wellbeing and Equity Network and supported by Southern Mallee Primary Care Partnership brought together community members from across the Buloke Shire, spanning almost four generations of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters for a conversation that affects everyone.

Malmsbury Captain Tony Stephens represented CFA on the panel, which also heard from Plan International Director Hayley Cull, Riley Richardson, a nurse at the Royal Children’s Hospital and also assistant coach for Geelong Netball Club, AFLW player Chantel Emonson and Dr Jessica Crofts, Senior Gender Equality Specialist with Women’s Health Loddon Mallee.

"It was great to see over 150 people come out on a Wednesday night to talk about gender equality," said Tony Stephens. "It shows the passion and interest out there, including in our farming communities around this issue.

"It was a great opportunity to talk about CFA and the challenges some of our more rural and remote brigades have around recruiting and retaining members and the positive impact having a more diverse brigade membership brings. Talking to some of the audience, it was clear many had not previously seen CFA as a volunteering option, particularly females and youth, so it was a great opportunity to talk about how it is a great organisation to be involved with, where the community benefits also. 

"Some of the brigades in the area have already boosted their numbers of women, particularly firefighters, and in some cases their trucks would not get out the door without them being there," reflected Tony.

"In some rural communities the local brigade is the only community group or hub around, and with some of the challenges in the Buloke Shire, such as the risk of drought, rural decline, mental health issues and domestic violence, brigades can be leaders around these issues. A great place to start is around community engagement, increasing the numbers of women, youth and minority groups in brigade ranks. 

"There is clear evidence that where there's gender equality, where a community is engaged and where people are treated with respect and valued for their skills and input, there are lower levels of domestic violence, suicide and mental health issues. A great place to make real change can be at the local brigade. Gone are the days of brigades being a 'closed shop' – separated from their community. 

"At the end of the day we are the community’s brigades. We need to reflect the diversity in our community. We need to open the doors. We need to engage with them and do more than just fight fires. By engaging with them we not only educate them but make them more resilient.

"We also had Dr Jessica Crofts from the Rural Challenge Gender Equality Leadership Program on the panel. The work happening between District 2 and this program has been fantastic and gives brigades a real and tangible way to not only improve gender equality in their brigades, but define and sustain a positive culture that not only benefits the members, but the community as a whole. 

"It's a privilege for me to talk to community groups about CFA because it's a great organisation to be involved with and I get to tell people there is a role for everyone. Getting involved is a win for them and a win for their community."