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Using the past as a power

15 June 2021 at 8:20 am
Maggie Coggan
Dr Marilyn Metta is the founder and CEO of The Metis Centre, an organisation working to address gender inequality, violence and injustice against women and children. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Maggie Coggan | 15 June 2021 at 8:20 am


Using the past as a power
15 June 2021 at 8:20 am

Dr Marilyn Metta is the founder and CEO of The Metis Centre, an organisation working to address gender inequality, violence and injustice against women and children. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Dr Marilyn Metta wears a lot of different hats. She has spent the past 20 years as a practising trauma counsellor, and is an academic and researcher for the Centre for Human Rights Education, an accomplished author, and charity CEO.  

Passionate about addressing gender inequality and the safety of women and children, she is using her lived experience as a survivor of domestic violence to engage and assist people through a range of community programs covering workplace diversity, leadership and personal development. 

She was recently awarded the 2021 Westpac Social Change Fellowship for her Feeling Safe and Free initiative, a project that creates safe spaces for young people to engage in conversations about challenging but important issues around sex, sexual harassment, consent, coercive control, intimate abuse, and safe relationships. 

In this week’s Changemaker, Metta discusses the evolution of her career, the challenges and power that comes from lived experience, and why it’s important to know your limits. 

What led you to starting the Metis Centre? 

When I finished university, I knew that I wanted to work with people. I’ve always been a very good listener. When I was growing up, people would come to me with their problems and I would just listen, even if I didn’t have advice to give. Now, I know about deep listening and how that’s really a powerful thing to do for people in distress. 

My lived experience in this area has also played a massive part in why I want to do this kind of work. I grew up in quite a turbulent family, and then when I was about 19 I got into a relationship that lasted 12 years that was very, very abusive and controlling. I think these experiences have really shaped who I am as a person, but also the career path and the work that I do today. 

My mum also instilled a belief that education was the most important thing, because she never had the chance to go to school herself. So I really see my education that my mum provided as my inheritance, and I know that I would not be where I am today without an education. So providing access to education and the right information and the right guidance for young people is a big passion of mine. The Metis Centre really started off as a way to bring together 20 years of working in this space, but also as an opportunity to really focus on providing social justice and educational programs for young people and women who have been exposed to abuse.

How do you manage working in a space that you have lived experience with?

I would say that if you’ve got lived experience, you’ve got to work through it and it’s a never ending process. I’m still working through it. You have to have the skills and you have to be ready to use your lived experience as part of your toolset, because there is nothing more powerful than sharing your lived experience. That’s how I use my lived experiences, I understand what it’s like to be a victim and survivor. I know what it’s like to be trapped. A lot of my work is now about demystifying trauma, which is an uncomfortable topic for many people. The message that I really want to share is that I’m a living example of how you can get through and recover and go on to live a fulfilling life.

You lead a very busy professional life, how do you manage your time and your energy between so many different roles?

It’s a very challenging thing. Over time, and also by working through my own trauma, I’ve discovered that I have to have a minimum of eight hours sleep and make sure that nothing comes between me and my sleep. When my kids were really young, I always prioritised time as a mother, that was the most important job, and I think family does give you that balance. You cannot sustain working in this area if you don’t understand what self care is for you. I think it’s taken me a long time to really get that, and now it’s a non-negotiable. Sleep, rest, and whatever else nourishes you. For me it’s getting out into nature, camping, spending time with your loved ones. I think it’s also important to reach out for support when you need it. I see a counsellor, I have been doing that for a long, long time, and that’s just part of my whole self care practice.

Where do you hope to see the Metis Centre in 10 years time?

My dream would be to have a whole team of young people who’ve got the skills to go out in the community and carry on and for me to retire from it. So I think I’m going to spend as much time as I can actually building young people’s capacity. The more young people we can equip with the tools and the capacity and the skills, [the more] I think we’re going to see them leading the way. That’s my dream.

And lastly, any books or podcasts that you can recommend to our readers? 

I haven’t actually read it but it’s been on my to-read list for a while, the new book by Tarana Burke and Brene Brown, You Are Your Best Thing. They are two women I admire a lot and I think it’s just the acknowledgment that we’re standing on the shoulders of many, many women who have fought for us, and that can often be such a hopeful thing.


If you, or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call 1800 RESPECT.  

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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