Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, a day to honour women’s achievements throughout history and across cities around the world. There’s plenty to celebrate, but according to the new CEO of the Brisbane Women’s Club, there’s still plenty of work to do.
At 107 years old, the Brisbane Women’s Club is one of the oldest social justice groups for women in Queensland. Now, after years of stagnant numbers, the club is now attracting a whole new generation of business and professional women.
The new CEO of the Brisbane’s Women Club, Balveen Ajimal, says the historic club is going through a resurgence.
“About a year ago, we wanted to bring the club back into the public sphere and we really wanted to look at modern and professional women living in Brisbane,” she says.
Balveen believes supportive friends, peers and professional connections are crucially important to women.
“Women thrive when they feel confident and supported; I think we’re much less willing to strike out on our own. We want people to endorse what we’re doing and get the support and approval of our peers,” she says.
“Since joining The Women’s Club and meeting new members, new women and businesses, I feel there is an enormous sense of willingness to give, in terms of time and professional skills, to other women. I think many of us have experienced challenges or really had to work hard to develop our own career path and profession, but we’re really happy to share that information with younger women. This becomes a type of informal, constructive and mentoring forum which can help women navigate similar circumstances and I think that conversation and freedom to talk and express ideas and share common interests is something we all look for and enjoy in different social circles.”
Balveen says that although women are well represented in most fields these days, some industries in Brisbane are still very male-dominated.
“Brisbane is still very male dominated at the senior management level in some industries and I think an organisation like ours — which is in no way hostile or aggressive to businesses — can help women in a more constructive way,” she says.
“Diversity is not necessarily the issue anymore. Women are hired and engaged at a graduate level and well represented in most fields. The issue appears in the leadership opportunities and promotional opportunities and whether a company is able to successfully retain and train women in their organisation — that’s where we find the issues are popping up.
“What we aim to do is to engage those women both at the beginnings of their career and that middle stage, where things can be difficult to navigate and give them the skills to make a positive decision at that stage, whether that’s to continue in a particular role or if it’s to move sideways or to take a break. We need to start that conversation earlier, not just through the women, but with the employers, and provide them with solutions and mechanisms to make sure that talent is getting utilised properly.
Balveen says the Women’s Club aim to help women feel comfortable and confident in the workplace.
“Some women are not in a position where they have a supportive teacher or parent who understand the industry they’re in, or a boss who are willing to answer their questions. We’re a very neutral and constructive place where you can feel comfortable asking the questions and getting advice,” she says.
“We want to teach women how to put their ideas forward, how to position themselves and how to assert their own professional confidence. It doesn’t just happen overnight. You need to be shown how, and that is often overlooked by a lot of big training organisations and workplaces, because they focus heavily on skills to get people trained up for specific positions. It’s only later on when they’re training people for leadership that they touch on those. In my opinion that’s actually too late for a lot of women, they need to start training people for leadership from the beginning.”
To celebrate its resurgence, the club has put together special collection of contemporary art that will be the highlight of their Regeneration Festival during Queensland Women’s Week and International Women’s Day.
The art exhibition, called Regeneration – A story of Change, will be held at Aspire Gallery in Paddington until 23 March and will support female victims of domestic violence.
Balveen Aijmal says the exhibition will explore hope, recovery and healing from trauma, abuse and violence, with all proceeds going to Queensland Women’s Legal Service.
“Domestic violence affects a great number of people in Queensland, the more publicity we can bring to charities and people working and helping out in that area the better,” she says.
“At the same time, art, painting and visual art can be very therapeutic for people — both for the artists and people who view emotional and emotive art.
“A lot of the artists involved are painting from personal experiences, not necessarily violence, but about recoveries and journeys and using events that have happened to them and turning them into more positive experiences.”
Prominent women from engineering, medicine and professional services have thrown their weight behind the festival, which focuses on the plight of people in tragic circumstances and the resiliency of the human spirit.
The exclusive fine art collection features 100 works by prominent local and Indigenous artists including Ros Paton, Hilary Herrmann, Jane Nicol and Wendy Rix, as well as emerging new talent.
Balveen says there is not enough support out there right now for women suffering from abuse.
“I think community support and support from your friends and peers are always crucial when you’re going through any type of hardship, particularly in cases of domestic violence. Women can be very isolated and can lose contact with friends and family and just that circle of friends or that forum or a person reaching out in that time of need can make all the difference,” she says.
“As an organisation the Women’s Club is really keen on breaking that cycle of violence in families, a particular person’s life or in a wider community. We try to empower women where ever we can, to either try and prevent them from getting into those abusive relationships or if they’re in them help them find ways to leave.
“I thought this exhibition would be a lovely way to bring attention to the Women’s Legal Service, which is a domestic violence charity, but also talk about how the cycle of violence can be broken and how people can heal and recover and go on to better things.”
The Brisbane’s Women’s Club Regeneration Festival also includes a series of events, book launches, public and private events in the gallery, including a gala showing on International Women’s Day, Tuesday 8 March.
Regeneration – A story of Change will be held at Aspire Gallery until Wednesday 23 March. For more information visit www.astoryofchange.org