Helping women to help themselves
1 November 2021 at 4:09 pm
Jessica Brown is the founder of the Warrior Woman Foundation, an organisation assisting under-represented, vulnerable young Australian women to become resilient, independent, and capable of taking their place in the world. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
While everyone has felt the effects of the pandemic, it’s been shown that women were hit disproportionately hard.
Research shows they were more likely to pick up extra caring and domestic duties during lockdowns, lose work due to industry shutdowns, and face increased rates of intimate partner violence.
On top of this, women aged 55 years and over have emerged as the fastest growing group to fall into homelessness, mainly due to retiring with less money than men and a lack of financial independence.
These are some of the reasons why Brown started the Warrior Woman Foundation.
Using her two decades of experience as a secondary teacher before that, Brown created the foundation to offer women of all ages holistic support to help with everything from education, mental health and employment.
Her goal is for every Australian woman to achieve independence through financial wellbeing, and to increase the financial literacy rates of young women in Australia so that they have the confidence to take charge of earning and managing their own money, plan for future economic security, and protect themselves from financial abuse.
In this week’s Changemaker, Brown discusses the challenges of starting an organisation from scratch, pivoting during the pandemic, and the power of those around her.
What led you to starting the Warrior Woman Foundation?
It’s kind of two-fold. There are the broader issues that women are facing, which were especially compounded by COVID. There was concern around women losing work because they’re in care-oriented jobs, and the rising rates of domestic violence during lockdowns. Something that was also really concerning to me was that women aged 55+ are one of the fastest growing vulnerable groups in Australia because they haven’t got the retirement savings their male counterparts have, and they might find themselves single at that time. So that’s really alarming. And so I really wanted to be able to address these issues, and to start teaching women about financial literacy as soon as possible. There’s a massive gender gap when it comes to financial literacy. Around 64 per cent of men have adequate financial literacy, and for women that number is just 48 per cent.
Why is it important to be holistic in the support you are providing?
Because it works. You can teach financial literacy skills to a young woman, but if she’s suffering from the trauma of domestic abuse that she’s been through, or the childhood abuse that she’s dealing with and can’t self-regulate her emotions, if she is not equipped with the skills to attract healthy relationships, or be able to set boundaries with people who are unhealthy around her, she’s not going to thrive. It’s why we have a three pronged approach. So it’s really about education – which I’m passionate about being an ex school teacher – the mental health support, and then the community support, because we know that a sense of belonging in community is vital to healing. Having that wraparound, holistic support means we’re much more likely to have the social impact results that we want.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced setting up an organisation from scratch?
There’s funding challenges, there’s the uncertainty of global pandemics that really affect donor engagement. I know that there’s a dramatic decline with donors in the amount of money they have to give to charity and that they’re not as readily willing to give multiple year donations at the moment. I think to combat that, it’s been about diversifying our income streams so that we can future proof our organisation. We haven’t been able to have an in-person fundraising event in two years, which has meant we’ve really had to go digital and rely on technology.
And what do you draw inspiration from as a leader?
Well, I would have to say that I’m really inspired by other women who are working with other women to make a difference. We’ve worked closely with the Sydney Women Fund, and Mariam Mohommed, the co-founder of Moneygirl is a trailblazer. She came out here from Pakistan with $300 in her pocket and has gone on to do extraordinary things. I’m really inspired by overcoming adversity.
City Women Fund, and Marian Mohamed, the co-founder, is a trailblazer. She came out here from Pakistan with $300 in her pocket and has gone on to do extraordinary things. I’m really inspired by overcoming adversity.
My volunteers also really inspire me. I started this organisation at the beginning of COVID, and had no idea what was to come. Organising volunteers amid lockdowns and restrictions was tricky, but it really showed me the strength of humanity and the Australian community, because everyone really did pull together. I had volunteers who, in this year’s lockdown, were doing lifeline trauma training because they knew that they had to up the kinds of support they were providing to people.
And you know, these were all volunteers who were in lockdown themselves and dealing with the turbulence of COVID, and homeschooling. So yeah, I absolutely take my hat off to our volunteer mentors for the young women we work with because we wouldn’t have been able to achieve the results without them and their dedication and commitment during a pandemic.
And how has being part of the social change space changed your view of the world?
I’m continually inspired by the younger generations who are really trying to make bigger changes within the world. I am inspired by the power of people helping other people, the power of them doing it for nothing in return other than to just be able to make a difference in the world.
There’s no agenda, it’s really amazing. I think that’s something I’ve learnt, the power of humanity and the ripple effect that it can have on the community and the globe as well.