International Women's Day 2019 - Eselealofa Apinelu

Posted 6 May 2019 6:53am

Ese Apinelu is undertaking a PhD at Swinburne University's Centre for Urban Transition in Indigenous rights-based approaches. As Tuvalu's first female lawyer and Attorney-General, her research focus is on the disconnect between individual and collective rights approaches in Tuvalu's development agendas.

On March 8, she participated in local International Women's Day activities, including the UN Women Australia IWD Breakfast, the book launch for Australia's former Ambassador for Women and Girls Natasha Stott-Despoja's On Violence, and Melbourne's IWD March. As an Australia Awards Women's Leadership Initiative participant, she reflects on what she learnt and how this might apply in Tuvalu.

 What did you think about these 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 of women only 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. However, the basic concept itself had provided 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 International Women's Day march was most enjoyable. It was my first time to be in any type of march, so everything was exciting. Importantly, 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.

Did your IWD experience change your understanding of women's leadership?

I was not surprised by the type of leadership I witnessed during the IWD week. I do not believe that only women can provide women's leadership. Leadership that is all encompassing and accommodating of meaningful changes and solutions for issues that impact negatively on minority and disadvantaged parts of the community is the ideal type leadership. The events of this week show how women do that best but men and women or anybody whose leadership fall within that category, for me, are all great leaders with women's leadership qualities.

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 week's 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 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 needed to be heard and understood. The need for women's leadership in this current climate of global catastrophe is like what water is to a scorching desert.

Anything else to reflect on?

My experiences of this 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 the core of the relationship is invaluable.

These experiences also provided me with a renewed outlook on life. I was at a time when I see 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. These experiences have made me realise how selfish I would have been to focus solely on my children, when I can continue being a full-time responsible mother to them and a leader for a better tomorrow for all.

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. 

Ese profile photo

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

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