By Grace Angwin
Angwin: Tell me a bit about your background and how you got to where you are today?
Seddon: My undergraduate degree was at Monash, Bachelor of Arts (Politics and International Studies), but I had a big feminism focus throughout my subjects. I did one year in Sweden during that time, and it was interesting to learn about the Swedish welfare states. From a political point of view, this was quite influential. I finished in 2009 and wasn’t sure what I was going to do professionally, especially during the Global Financial Crisis. The not-for-profits weren’t really hiring, so I decided to do my Masters of Teaching at Melbourne University, were I went on to teach for two years at Alkira Secondary College. Alongside my formal study, I’ve also done a certificate in PR at RMIT and I’ve just started the Australian Centre for Progress Leadership Course. It’s a fellowship program in social change and advocacy that I’ll be doing for the next six months alongside full time work. In the future, I’m thinking about doing an MBA. Volunteering has been a huge part of my life.
When I finished my undergraduate degree I did an internship with UN Women in Canberra for four months, working with Julia McKay the Executive Director of UN Women Australia. That’s where I started doing policy work around the Commission on the Status of Women. I worked on the background papers for delegated attending CSW and researched the impact of HIV/AIDS on women, particularly around the implications of caregiving. In 2009, I set up the Melbourne chapter of Young UN Women. I was involved with the work for two years as the founding chair. It was an amazing experience and an awakening of experience of the feminist world outside of my university study. I really valued that space that Young UN Women created, that safe space where young women could have leadership opportunities, can up skill and advocate on issues around Gender Equality.
In 2010, I worked with the Youth Advisory Board with the Red Cross, which was my first experience sitting on a board.
In 2011, I successfully gain a place in the Australian Youth Ambassador Position for Development program. I left my teaching job and travelled to Hanoi, Vietnam and worked with UN Women and the UN communications team for a year. My role was Communications Program Officer, but the role on the ground was quite different to the position description. I ended up doing quite a lot of field work, where I’d go out with the program staff and interview Vietnamese women about their experiences and stories. My work was about how do you actually share the stories on the ground with the broader public, and translate that into stories and communication messages?
In 2012, I returned to Australia and decided to focus on the Not for Profit space in Australia. I did some work with the Electoral Commission in their education outreach program, and for the last 12 months I’ve been coordinating the Victorian Student Representative Council (VicSRC). I am guided in my work by a team of 15 Secondary School students to set the direction of the organisation, but I have learnt a lot about strategy, partnerships and building up the organisation to reach more students around Victoria. Most importantly, the work focused on advocating for student voice and student participation across schools, communities and government in Victoria. I also currently sit as a Director for YWCA Victoria and YWCA Australia. The YWCA is a fantastic organisation which provides services and opportunities for women in housing, mentoring, economic empowerment and leadership.
Angwin: A lot of the work you do is in education, for example you are on the board of the Victorian SRC. Why is education so important in improving gender equality?
Seddon: Education is the first step in any kind form of social change. If you want to change attitudes or peoples belief systems, the first step has to be educating people on what are their rights and responsibilities, and then they can become change agents themselves. Unless you provide people with the information that they need, they’re not going to be able to be creating change. That’s definitely the case for the young people that I work with, it’s all about empowering them by providing them with education, training and skills they need to take action on issues they are passionate about.
Angwin: What work did you undertake with the UN Women in Vietnam?
Seddon: I worked with the One UN Communications Team in Vietnam, as well as in the UN women Vietnam office. Vietnam was interesting because it was one of seven countries around the world piloting the One UN Model, which is where all the different UN agencies work together, rather than in isolation, on projects. The communications team was an interesting place to be because it was the only department of the UN that had people represented from all agencies. Issues and events cut across all agencies which makes much sense especially for development. My role was to support program staff to include communications into their everyday work. Day to day, I worked on updating the UN Women Vietnam website, creating systems and tools that the program officers could use when they were in the field, going out and actually writing content, meeting different women, speaking about their stories and capturing videos and photographs. This material would be used by both the regional and national offices. The other important work was supporting events throughout the year like International Women’s Day, being the conduit for the UN, donors, civil society and putting together these events.
Angwin: What contribution can feminism and feminist scholarship make to education and economic empowerment and development?
Seddon: What feminism has brought the development space is very important. In wasn’t until July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. In doing so, UN Member made a commitment to the importance of a stand along agency focused on Gender Equality. The other area that feminism and feminist scholarship had contributed to development is around gender mainstreaming. My work in Vietnam was a lot about including gender mainstreaming into UN projects. It’s something we really need to consider at all levels of our work, but it still feels quite new in terms of being systematically included into program development, implementation and evaluation.
Angwin: What are your thoughts on social media as a tool for advocacy, for example in campaigns like #YesAllWomen? Is social media important to your work?
Seddon: I think social media is amazing and I’m a massive advocate of using social media to advocate in the feminist space and in the educational space. I attended the United Nations Commission for the Status of Women in March this year as a delegate for the World YWCA. In just one week, I had over 12,000 views on twitter account. During the conference it was like a parallel conversation that was happening and I was engaging with delegates, with government officials, with UN staff, the UN itself was retweeting me. For people that weren’t at the event who were interested in what was going on, it was a great platform for them to engage as well.
Angwin: You were recently on the panel of the CSW Review with Carole from JERA. Why is framework like the CSW documents so important?
Seddon: 6000 NGO delegates, government officials, and UN staff attended CSW this year. The CSW outcome document was an incredibly important outcome because it creates a space where governments and civil society come together and set the agenda and commitment for the next MDG’s. After CSW this year, the outcome document committed to a stand along goal on gender equality and gender mainstreaming in all of the other development goals. Sometimes people are cynical about how does this effect women on the ground, but at the same time, we need to set the high level commitment for money, law, and services to filter down to the grassroots level.
When you have that commitment from governments then funding follows, then hopefully legislation, then hopefully people’s attitudes change too. It’s the job of the NGOs and civil society to be pushing the boundaries on issues. We need to be fighting the hardest to advocate for women’s rights around leadership, decision making, economic empowerment, sexual and reproductive health rights and comprehensive sexuality education. The governments will always land somewhere in the middle.
Angwin: What do you think of our female leaders in Australia?
Seddon: In formal politics, I have been inspired by Gillard’s leadership and what she achieved under in a hung parliament. Female politicians in Australia have it incredibly tough and still have different challenges placed on them than men. I believe in quota’s to get equal female representation in all sectors. There’s research that says when you get to 30% of women in those environments in becomes a tipping point, suddenly different, female views are being considered and it encourages more women to become involved. Theirs is still a lot of structural change that needs to happen before we see equal men and women in Parliament.
Angwin: How do you see the role of groups like the YWCA and JERA International in the fight for gender equality?
Seddon: The female leadership in Australia often have roots or connections with organisations like the YWCA. I see these organisations as a safe space to provide real, meaningful opportunities for young women to explore their leadership potential in whatever shape or form that may be. The current Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, has her roots in the YWCA. These organisations become a network across the world, a community. We need to create our own support structures for women to help advocate for them, elevate them and build their leadership.