Stronger together: The collective fight for a fairer future
8 April 2019 at 8:26 am
Renee Carr is CEO and founder of Fair Agenda, a community-led organisation fighting hard for a fairer and more equal future for women. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
In 2013, Australia and the rest of the world witnessed a resurgence in energy around women’s rights issues.
Carr, with a strong background in the advocacy sector, took hold of the opportunity to take charge and enact collective change for Australian women.
With Fair Agenda’s membership now sitting at 37,000, the group has been instrumental in the decriminalisation of abortion in Queensland and has won over hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to address family violence.
In this week’s Changemaker, Carr talks about what keeps her motivated as a leader in the sector, taking the wins with the losses, and providing an opportunity for everyone to make a difference.
What inspired you to get into the sector and to start Fair Agenda?
It was in 2013 when I saw a real resurgence in energy around women’s issues. I remember watching the peace march after the horrendously tragic murder of Jill Meagher, and other discussions on women’s issues. I started thinking about the importance of adding the value of community campaigning into the space.
I knew there was a really incredible sector of people doing work on policy issues, service provision, women who were breaking glass ceilings. I wanted to help expand the community campaigning capacity to come in alongside all those other incredible leaders and help put pressure on decision-makers to help us get closer to a fairer and equal future for women.
It often feels like it’s one step forward two steps back in achieving equality for women, how is your organisation fighting to change that?
When we work together there are incredible opportunities to secure change. We’ve seen some really positive progress on certain issues including the decriminalisation of abortion in Queensland. It shouldn’t have taken quite so long, and it’s horrifying that it was only in 2018 when that reform was achieved, when there were people working on that issue for decades.
At the same time, we can’t take any progress for granted. We have seen attempts of regression, particularly looking at the kinds of attacks we’re seeing on reproductive rights in the US at the moment, so it’s a constant battle on both fronts… to help progress, but stop regression simultaneously.
The federal election is just around the corner, what policy commitments are you looking for?
Addressing gendered violence, and issues of economic inequality for women are two big-ticket issues we are looking at. We’ll be looking at the party’s policies on funding of family violence services, we’ve been campaigning alongside partners for better Federal Government action to address university sexual violence, and to try and secure improvements to government policy around workplace sexual harassment. Work will also continue alongside other advocates around the ParentsNext program and the impact that has, particularly on single mothers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
What does your day as CEO of Fair Agenda look like?
It really varies day to day, depending on what we’re working on and what’s happening in the news cycle. We’ll often spend a bit of time as a team looking at the next step and opportunities on a particular issue, and support the team and our members to take effective action to influence a decision maker. That might be supporting them to send emails, or to make a call, or to record a video of the people impacted by a certain policy so the public can understand what it means for impacted women on a really personal level.
What drives you to stay focused and motivated?
I’m really inspired and moved by what the Fair Agenda community has been able to achieve together over recent years. Standing in the gallery in the Queensland state parliament, alongside colleagues, partners, and community members in October last year, when the legislation to finally remove abortion from the criminal code was passed was a feeling unlike any other. That was the result of two and a half years of campaigning by our members, in conjunction with others who had campaigned over various periods of time, and people who’d been working for over 50 years to see that change. It just shows that change is possible, the future isn’t set and the actions we’re taking each day can help shape decisions different people are making, and that’s really empowering.
What advice would you have for a person wanting to start their own organisation or get into the sector?
One of the really important pathways for me was volunteering, but it is a product of privilege to be able to do that. If our sector continues to only provide opportunities for people that can afford to volunteer, then that really limits the breadth or richness of life experience we can draw on and represent in the work we do. It’s really important for organisations to think about how we bring up the next generation of leaders, and foster activists to make sure we do what’s inclusive of everyone.
How has this experience changed you?
It’s an immense privilege to do the work I do and to work alongside the 37,000 Fair Agenda members, and also the partners and the people with experience who we work with on various campaigns. I’m also constantly struck by the incredible resilience and bravery of people working on the issues we campaign on, who are being harmed by policies that need to change, and whose voices aren’t being listened to enough in public policy debates.