by Dr Deborah Towns

Graduate House recently hosted the Melba Group’s meeting, convened by Jenny Standish. The meeting brought together women leaders from many spheres of influence in the Victorian community, from different generations.

The Melba Group’s first meetings were held in the 1980s and members continue to focus on activities bringing about social and cultural change for women. Two members, Lynne Selwood and Kay Oke, were congratulated as recipients of the 2017 Queen’s Birthday Honours List. However, Jan Harper explained that women continue to be under-represented in the national Honours system. She introduced a plan to nominate more women to be considered for future Honours awards.

A special guest at the meeting was University High student, Sara Draca who won the Patricia Goble Award for her speech at the 2016 Your Voice Your Vote event. She was presented with the Award by Dr Deborah Towns, Vice President of the League of Women Voters Victoria (LWVV) which funds the award and Sheila Byard, immediate Past President of the National Council of Women Victoria (NCWV), which organised the event. The award honours the late Pat Goble, who was a local, national and international human rights activist. Sara’s notable speech was eloquent and thought-provoking and she shared a summary with the Melba Group’s members.

Sara described how today we live in a world where feminism can be commodified; it can be a t-shirt with a feminist logo, made by mistreated workers, and packaged and sold to us as a commodity. “Feminism has been stripped of its radical and progressive roots. Corporate feminism – if such a thing exists – has never truly helped them”, she said. Reflecting on feminist activism, Sara advised, “I think, on our own small scale, it’s quite easy to be productive; all I ask is that you are always conscious as a feminist. That means critiquing your own actions, critiquing those of the feminists around you, and never, ever settling for the ‘lesser evil’. For me, solidarity is the only way forward – take care of the people around you, like those who don’t have the same privileges as you do.”
“We need to open ourselves to new perspectives and critical thinking.”

Sara said how honoured she was to participate in Your Voice Your Vote. Now we are looking forward to this year’s Your Voice Your Vote, organised by the NCWV, to be held on 1st September in the inspirational Legislative Council Chamber. We will be privileged to hear from Sara again, as she is one of the lead speakers, together with other secondary students. Responses will be provided by a panel representing the Australian Local Government’s Women’s Association Victoria. It’s another opportunity for current and future community leaders to engage with feminist ideas and activities designed to bring about greater leadership opportunities for women.

Sara Raca, Sheila Byard, President of the National Council of Women Victoria, Dr Deborah Towns, Vice President, League of Women Voters Victoria