Making space for women in the community
13 May 2019 at 8:40 am
Working in the sexual and reproductive rights space for over a decade, Bonney Corbin, senior policy officer at Marie Stopes Australia, is fighting to empower women in their communities and create policy that spreads to the homes of everyday women. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
Corbin’s first job as an urban planner showed her that in planning anything from a hospital or a school, the community and their needs have to be at the centre of any decision.
It also showed her that despite women being an integral part of the community, they were rarely consulted on what they wanted or needed, putting them on the back foot from the very beginning.
Since jumping over to the community sector, Corbin has fought for policy and legislation that empowers women, and gives them autonomy over their sexual and reproductive health, aiming to make changes that actually make a difference to women’s lives.
In this week’s Changemaker, Corbin discusses her practical approach to her work, how she stays grounded, and what she loves about her job.
Why did you want to get involved in the community sector?
I actually started out as an urban planner and working within communities, and it was really clear that social, inter-cultural and intra-cultural conflicts were preventing development.
Whether it’s designing a new hospital or looking at rezoning an industrial area, so much of the conversation around that is around community needs, conflict within communities and political or structural barriers. To progress the conversation, it requires community-centred frameworks and community-responsive care. It’s difficult to do that in structures where communities aren’t in the centre, and the community sector allows us to do that.
Why did you gravitate towards women’s rights groups?
When I was doing urban planning work, around really standard things like designing hospitals or schools or offices, some of the major barriers to cohesive community development was violence against women.
Even in basic community planning processes, women were often not invited to participate, or those who participated were harassed or bullied for being there. I’ve been in Elder-led women only planning meetings where women have been threatened for attending, or they have experienced violence after attending. Women are definitely a part of communities and in my planning work, it was important to centralise gender and gender-diversity in the conversation to actually have genuine community engagement.
You recently moved to Marie Stopes, what made you take that change?
I think Marie Stopes are doing really exciting work around sexual and reproductive health in Australia and internationally. The organisation is currently embedding trauma-informed care into our policies, procedures, and practice, with executive leadership and all of staff training. Australian community organisations need whole of organisational approaches to trauma-informed care to invest in community and staff wellbeing. It’s also at the forefront of discussions around legislative changes for sexual and reproductive rights, which is really important.
The work that we do around sexual and reproductive health is at the core of someone’s understanding of how, where and when they have access to make decisions around their own body. I think the most powerful sexual reproductive health care we have goes on around the kitchen table and in spaces where people socialise. It’s how communities support one another to access their own health outcomes and their own health needs.
How do you keep grounded in your work?
I surround myself with very loving people and have a lot of peers and mentors here, and in other parts of the world. I keep really strong boundaries around different parts of my work and I’m very clear on when I need to assert those boundaries or when I need a break. Within those boundaries, I try to identify when it’s not appropriate for me to be doing a piece of work and support someone else to do that work instead.
I try to be aware of my own compassion fatigue and the areas I have reduced energy to work within. I avoid areas of work that are linked to parts of my own story that I am still processing. If or when I feel stressed or fatigued I share my concerns with a colleague, an external supervisor or someone in my broader support network.
I think it’s really important to nourish each other and know when to step down to let someone else step up because encouraging that fresh energy and a diversity of perspectives is part of keeping things moving. For me, it’s about knowing where my limits are and being able to call it when I reach that limit. Compassion is not competitive. Knowing where our limits are, is really important in the sector because we all need to stay healthy and hopefully enjoy what we do in the day-to-day.
What are some of your biggest achievements?
The thing I’m most proud of is all the incredibly strong people and particularly strong women I have worked with along the way, from all around the world, who have shared with me their knowledge and understanding of life. I’ve been banking that knowledge inside of me, so I try and move forward referring to that knowledge where appropriate and using it to inform the decisions I make today. I feel like, for me, one of the things I celebrate in my career is the strengths we have collaboratively within the sector and within the work we do and the fact we never work alone. We need to be doing it together because strength is in numbers.