How International Women’s Day gave Ese a ‘renewed outlook on life’

Tuesday, August 27, 2019
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On 8 March 2019, Eselealofa (Ese) Apinelu joined local International Women’s Day (IWD) activities in Melbourne. These included the UN Women Australia’s IWD Breakfast, the book launch for Natasha Stott-Despoja's 'On Violence', and Melbourne's IWD March through the city centre. 

Ese is Tuvalu's Attorney-General and first female lawyer, as well as a Women’s Leadership Initiative(WLI) Leadership and Mentoring program participant and PhD candidate at Swinburne University. Below, Ese reflects on what she learned that day, how it might apply to Tuvalu and why context is everything.

What did you think about the IWD events and experiences?

They were great opportunities for networking, sharing and learning new and innovative ideas that can be utilised for addressing governance issues in my workplace.

In particular, the idea of having a ministerial council comprising only women from various backgrounds - media, the private sector, science and technology, sport and recreation, unions and the women's health sector - to provide expert advice to the Minister for Women was most intriguing.

The details of how such an arrangement is implemented in Victoria is something I would love to learn more about. The basic concept itself provides alternative governance strategies that I believe could be tailored and effectively implemented in the context of Tuvalu.

What did you enjoy the most during the week?

The Melbourne IWD march was most enjoyable. It was my first time in any type of march, so everything was exciting. I learned a lot in the couple of hours I was at the march just by asking for clarification on what was meant by some placards. I thought I understood women's issues until I encountered the likes of 'your vagina does not make you a woman' placards.

What did you learn from the whole experience?

Context is very important.

While we all seek to work together for a better tomorrow for everyone, we must not forget the context in which we are addressing a challenge. A brilliant idea used in the wrong context is a waste of a great achievement and a cause for more complications.

These experiences also provided a good platform for reflecting on the types of leadership relevant for my purposes when I go back home.

What are your thoughts on women's leadership?

I have always believed in the need for women's leadership in all sectors of governance, be that at local, national or international levels.

My IWD week experience reinforced my belief that women's leadership is all encompassing and is not only about being at the top or leading from the front. 

Leadership is about continuously adapting and reinventing yourself to be relevant to any calling; women’s leadership reflects that best.

In certain circumstances, it means that 'standing up to fight a good cause' is as simple as being able to sit, serve, follow and listen well to those voices that need to be heard and understood.

The need for women's leadership in this current climate of global catastrophe is what water is to a scorching desert.

Anything else to reflect on?

My experiences of IWD week would not have happened had it not been for the support of my mentor and new friend, Joanna Hayter. A good mentoring relationship with trust and respect at its core is invaluable.

[Pictured: Joanna Hayter, Ese's mentor, alongside Ese]

These experiences also provided me with a renewed outlook on life. I was at a time when I saw the only meaningful challenge left to be conquered was as a stay-at-home full-time mother to my three lovely children.

They seem to have grown so fast that it made me wonder if I had been a good mother or role model for my children when the demands of work and studies always seemed to take up most of my time.

The journey with WLI and this mentoring relationship re-introduced me into the world of real-life issues; a world away from the confines of a research office.

The events were also a timely reminder that we can always help a good cause.

We may think that we have nothing to offer but that is only because you may be comparing yourself to what someone else is offering.

You do not have to solve all the challenges of the world, but helping someone a day to improve his or her situation, even if it is just one step forward, is still a great help.

If we cannot change the way we think or look at challenges, we cannot be leaders. Good leadership, women's leadership, happens when our leadership is relevant and open to new ideas and challenges. 

[Pictured: Ese and Joanna, Canberra 2019]


This story was first published on the Australia Awards Global Alumni site.