Country to Canberra – Elise Toyer

Mrs SUDMALIS (Gilmore) (11:16): Yesterday, a number of quite inspiring young women gathered in parliament to meet their MPs. They were the winners of the Country to Canberra 2016 leadership competition. This is an Australian not-for-profit organisation that empowers young women from regional, remote and rural areas to reach their full potential through a nationwide leadership competition based around gender equality for high school students in regional areas. Winners have their work published, are awarded a trip to Canberra, get to meet influential role models and politicians, connect with mentors through the raising Hope Foundation and participate in public speaking and leadership training. I was introduced to Elise Toyer, who is only 16 years old and is currently in year 10 at St Peter’s Anglican College in Broulee but actually lives in Batemans Bay. Her role model is her Tia, her father’s mother. Elise is passionate about achieving healthcare equality within Australia, particularly in rural and remote areas, and would like to become a rural and regional paediatric specialist after she finishes high school.

Elise is a vivacious and enthusiastic young woman with a contagious personality. I asked her to send me a copy of her winning entry and the following are her words which she presented in an empathic and powerful video, especially relevant as we emphasise White Ribbon Day this week:

Why is gender equality important to me and my community? This is my friend and I proudly laying a wreath on behalf of our local scout group at Anzac Day last year. We were introduced as representatives of the Boy Scouts Association of Australia.
The only problem? We’re both girls. That man that introduced us did something we all do myself included. We attribute certain qualities to a particular gender. The typical view of a woman is meek and humble, submissive and emotional. A man is strong and tough, emotionless. But these stereotypical labels that are doled out to us are not a gift, they are a burden; a heavy weight that limits our potential. For gender equality to occur, we must see past the gender labels given to a person and see their qualities not as female and male but as human.
Gender equality means that when the young women in my community become leaders in their schools and workplaces, they are not bossy or rude but confident, strong leaders. As Beyonce said, ‘I’m not bossy – I’m the boss.” And when the young men in my community have had a tough week and are struggling to see the light in each day, they know it’s okay to ask for help, to talk and to hug. To know that it’s okay not to be okay.
Gender equality means to me that when I’m a scout and I am out there leading in the community, it’s not automatically thought that I belong to a boy’s group because those qualities are for men I belong to Scouts. Because women and men can be both strong and humble and kind and confident.The qualities that make a person aren’t male or female they’re human and that’s why gender equality is important to me and my community.

Elise, you are wonderful. Thank you.

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