By: Amy Cheng
International Women’s Day (IWD), Tuesday 8 March, is an opportunity to celebrate women but also to lament about how women have been treated, an academic and mentor to young women has said.
Dr Katrina Clifford, the Dean of Academics at Robert Menzies College, an Anglican residential college affiliated with Macquarie University, said IWD is a great way to appreciate that God has created men and women differently.
“There’s a real opportunity there to praise Him for His creativity,” says Dr Clifford.
“He could’ve made us all the same but He didn’t; a day that recognises women as a collective is a really great thing.”
Day to Lament
However, the day is also an opportunity to grieve about how things have gone wrong.
“It’s also a real opportunity for Christians to lament because a big part of International Women’s Day is recognising that women are not always treated as well as they should be,” Dr Clifford said.
“They’re often discriminated against or harassed or have all sorts of negative experiences just because they’re women.
“And the church has not been immune from participating in that and has not always sought to fight against that or sought justice.
“I think it gives us a real opportunity to reflect as Christian people on how have we been complicit in that.”
“I think it gives us a real opportunity to reflect as Christian people on how have we been complicit in [women not always being treated as well as they should be],” – Dr Katrina Clifford
Young women overlooked for leadership roles
The theme of this year’s IWD is #BreakTheBias, which is about longing for a world that is free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination.
In her role at Robert Menzies College, Dr Clifford trains, supports and encourages university students.
She is particularly passionate about training young women and empowering them to help change problematic college cultures.
Although the college that Dr Clifford is currently working at is supportive of women, she has seen situations at other colleges when that hasn’t been the case, particularly colleges that were previously all male.
“There’s a kind of a bias in terms of the male students are the ones who are worthy of investing in,” she said.
“It’s the young men who have really had people tap them on the shoulder to say, ‘hey you’re a real leader, you have leadership gifts, you should go off and take over the world’.
“Young women are much less likely to have had someone in their life saying that to them.”
This can impact on the experiences and future of young women, according to Dr Clifford.
“Young women and young men, they get different messages from society and that translates then into what they’ll stick their hand up to do.
“And that then translates into what sort of opportunities they get, what sort of experience they get and what they then have on their CVs when they apply for jobs.”
“There’s a kind of a bias in terms of the male students are the ones who are worthy of investing in,” – Dr Katrina Clifford.
Breaking the bias
The first step to addressing this bias is to recognise that it is happening, Dr Clifford said.
“It’s so normal that it can be hard to even recognise, we’re so used to seeing young men jumping up and taking charge and we’re less used to seeing young women doing that.”
The first step to addressing this bias is to recognise that it is happening.
Better training is also needed for young women, along with more female role models in leadership positions and mentors to encourage them.
“We need people who are really actively looking out for young women with leadership potential and encouraging them in that,” she said.
“Young women are often very motivated and very idealistic; they’ll often have a big problem in the world (that they want to solve).”
“The more we can empower those young women, get alongside them and help them to pursue those big dreams, that’s going to be good for everybody.”
However, structures need to be put in place to help them when they “hit a wall”, Dr Clifford said.
“What we don’t want is for young women to have an experience of leadership or activism, or whatever it is, as a young person that then damages them so badly that they never pursue anything else ever again.”
Recognising leadership potential in young women
Leadership can be thought of in different contexts, Dr Clifford said.
“The thing to be looking out for is, does this person have automatic followers?” she said.
“When they’re talking about the things they’re doing, do they mention that people are copying them or coming to them for advice or just kind of following what they’re doing?”
The other kind of leadership is “thought leadership”.
“(It’s) not necessarily inspiring people to do things but it’s a taking a role in pushing your passion or your area of interest,” Dr Clifford said.
“It’s taking human knowledge in a new direction and so people may not necessarily follow you as a person but what they’ll follow is the idea.”
Dr Clifford is one of this year’s fellows of the Anglican Deaconess Ministries fellowship, which raises up Christian women to engage the world with the good news of Jesus, as they serve in the church, community and the world.
For her fellowship project, she will be developing leadership training materials for young women and providing support for them.
“I really love seeing just how much young women can grow and thrive, with not even very much investment actually; just kind of a little bit of encouragement can take really huge leaps and bounds,” Dr Clifford said.
“We need people who are really actively looking out for young women with leadership potential and encouraging them in that.” – Dr Katrina Clifford
For more information about International Women’s Day, March 8, visit internationalwomensday.com.
Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.