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  • Writer's pictureJack Ward

Two decades of celebrating local women

Published in The Ararat Advocate, Ararat's weekly newspaper published by West Vic News Pty Ltd.

INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day lacked a physical acknowledgement this year thanks to COVID-19, but local women still reflected on Ararat’s long history of promoting its message.

PHOTO: Former Why Not? and ACE member, Francesca Suffield, reflected on Ararat’s history with International Women’s Day this week. (Jack Ward/Ararat Advocate)

Ararat’s relationship with International Women’s Day spans two decades, beginning in October 1999 when a group of local women foundered ‘Why Not?’

The group, spearheaded by Janet Witham, was formed to create an opportunity for women in the Ararat area to meet and network on an informal basis.

Former member, Francesca Suffield, said the group was the beginning of a long history for local women to recognise the day and celebrate women’s rights.

“The committee decided that we’d have a cause, which was UNIFEM (part of UN Women), that we wanted to support,” she said.

“Through the agency of Janet Witham, a committee was formed to have UNIFEM breakfasts at J Ward, usually around the eighth of March, which commemorates International Women's Day.”

Once Ms Witham left Ararat, Mrs Suffield took over the organisation and grew the group’s events calendar.

“I continued the breakfast for several years still using J Ward, but then ACE (Ararat Community Enterprise) became interested in promoting the breakfast. So, we changed it from just an annual breakfast to more of a bimonthly event.”

In the last couple of years, ACE has worked in conjunction with Hopkins Correctional Centre to hold an event on or near International Women’s Day.

Mrs Suffield said the employer wanted to come on board and help promote the day to their workplace as well as the wider community.

Special guests in the last three years have included Mayor Cr Jo Armstrong, Central Grampians Local Learning and Employment Network’s former CEO, Jessica Patterson, and ABC Statewide Drives’ former Senior Producer, Kirsten Diprose.

Although the current climate has hindered a physical event this year, Mrs Suffield – who has just resigned from the ACE committee last month – said the day’s importance has never been clearer.

“Especially with what's been happening in the news recently, women's voices are perhaps still not being heard or being valued. So, it's more important than ever,” she said.

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