The most effective tool for development is the empowerment of women (Kofi Annan then UN Secretary General 2006). It is a known fact that what affects women, affect children, affects men. The Norfolk Women’s Forum empowers women on the island, it gives women, previously silent, a voice and it provides leadership to make positive changes. The Forum is an advocacy group for the entire community of the island.
The Forum came into being as a follow up to International Women’s Day activities in 2007 and the then Minister for Community Services, Vicky Jack’s, initiative to get women to talk to her. Since then, women have been invited to participate in 5 Forums and 3 workshops.
The Forum provides women of Norfolk with a platform from which to promote reform and progress towards the United Nations goal of a society “free of gender-based discrimination, where women and men have equal opportunities and where gender equality and women’s empowerment are achieved”. It is not a political organisation but one that allows women to share constructive dialogue, gain a sense of participation and to feel safe so that they can talk freely without fear of reprisals.
The Forum is managed by a small band of volunteers (we welcome more volunteers). Our role is to collect the ideas, attitudes and concerns of the women of Norfolk, to document this and to interact and advocate with other organisations to ensure positive outcomes. Thanks to funding through the Volunteers Grant for small equipment (through the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) we now have a dedicated laptop, printer and camera for the Forum.
This year has been a busy year of advocacy for the Forum. We have facilitated 3 workshops and supported the White Ribbon Day Campaign. The first workshop determined what issues raised at previous forums needed to be progressed. It was decided that environment and health were the most urgent issues and this determined the direction of the subsequent workshops which Tarn will outline later.
In addition to the workshops, the Forum meets with both Norfolk Island and Commonwealth Government agencies to raise concerns about health, social welfare and environmental issues pertaining to the community’s well-being, and seeks to achieve standards comparable to other Australians.
An issue about to be lobbied is the need for regular Doctors on island who can cater to the majority’s needs. Good GPs with experience in remote areas are needed for our aging and our stressed population. Preventative Health measures not reactive health measures need to be urgently put into place at an affordable rate.
The Forum is also approached regularly by individuals to assist them: be it who to contact at the Foodbank, how to progress their health care claims or what pathways to follow when getting medical attention off island. The Forum is also monitoring at the school the lack of access to a counsellor and the recent cut of the gender programs.