Landmark women: Julia Newton-Howes
Dr Julia Newton-Howes AM, Chief Executive Officer, CARE Australia , 27 June 2014
MONICA LINDEMANN: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to our first winter Landmark Women speakers’ event. Thank you very much for coming out on such a cold morning.
Before I welcome our wonderful speaker this morning, I have a few announcements to make. Firstly to be aware that this event is recorded, so if you are meant to be somewhere else and you are trying to be anonymous, please don’t speak. There will be questions and answers at the end, but we would ask that you wait for the microphone so that our speaker can hear your question and also so that we can capture that in the recording as well.
I would also like to do a few promotions. You will notice on your chairs a promotional flier for ‘A spirited brunch’. This year the Museum is hosting Spirited: Australia’s horse story, an exhibition talking about the history of the horse and its role in building our country. On Sunday, 13 July we are having a fundraising brunch, a spirited brunch, which will involve best dressed, hat competitions and all sorts of lovely events. Please put that one in your diaries if you are available.
Next month’s [Landmark Women] speaker is Susie Beaver so put that date in your diaries as well. Susie is the owner of the very well-known Beaver Galleries here in Canberra.
Now on to today’s event: I am very pleased to welcome Dr Julia Newton-Howes to today’s speaker program. Dr Newton-Howes has been CEO of CARE Australia since 2007 and has spent the past seven years ensuring that gender, equality and women’s empowerment are central to CARE’s programs. Julia is on the board of CARE International and is vice president of the Australian Council for International Development.
Prior to joining CARE Australia, she was assistant director-general at the former AusAID. She held numerous positions within AusAID, including as Counsellor (Development Cooperation) in Vietnam and was an adviser for two years to Australia’s executive director to the World Bank based in Washington DC.
On Australia Day this year she became a Member of the Order of Australia in recognition of her significant service to aid organisations and particularly to women.
Julia was born in India, spent her early life in Zimbabwe. She left Zimbabwe to attend the Imperial College at London University where she obtained a bachelor degree and PhD in science. She has two beautiful children, a daughter and a son, and she is going to share her personal story with us today. Thank you, Julia.
JULIA NEWTON-HOWES: Thanks very much, Monica, for that lovely introduction and thank you all for coming along today. Winter has really set in in Canberra, so I appreciate your willingness to come out on this freezing morning to hear a little bit about me.
It’s actually a great luxury to be asked to talk about your life, your work and your passions. When I thought about my life, I thought there were three themes that perhaps traced the strands of the things that I have pursued during my life. I hope those themes will come out during my talk. It’s nice to recognise a few faces in the audience, by the way, and it’s lovely to see some old friends here.
Let me tell you what these themes are: poverty, aid and development; gender equality and women’s empowerment; and also, because I trained as scientist, a fascination with numbers, with data and wanting to see evidence and proof of things. I hope I can draw those themes out in my talk.
First of all let me introduce you to my parents, which is where one’s life starts, isn’t it? [slide shown] This is Joan and Rex Newton-Howes in 1950 and their beautiful dog Rita. That was pre children, and I am not sure we ever really managed to replace Rita in their affections. But I think for so many of us, the introduction to gender issues and gender stereotypes really comes through our parents. Both my parents’ lives were very affected by the Second World War. They both left school and immediately joined the British Army. My father fought with the gurkhas and ended up in extraordinary places like Balochistan. My mother, who left school with a bit of domestic science, was a cook in various army messes and couldn’t wait to get out and see the world. She ended up in Italy and then in Malaya where she met my father in the Cameron Highlands.
My mother was a really practical person. She could do anything from making a wonderful dinner to making all our clothes, to painting the house, to becoming an accountant, training herself in bookkeeping, and she really kept the family going. My father was a dreamer, a very clever man but really quite impractical. He also left school with no qualifications and then had this time in the army and did various things - became a salesman and then opened his own photographic studio. But for my father the grass was always greener on the other side of the hill, which is really why I ended up being born in India. He was always saying to my mother, ‘Joan, why don’t we move to country X, why don’t we move to country Y?’ So my mother kept us grounded, kept everything going.
Then when I grew up and read Betty Friedan and things like that, I thought if my parents were my children’s generation, it’s pretty clear that my mother would have taken the role as the breadwinner. My mother would have been the one to have a career and my father perhaps would have been a lot happier looking after the kids and being much more of a home body. So I suppose that was my early thinking on gender equality.
But if I fast forward about 16 years, [slide shown] this is my mother with all her children in Zimbabwe. It’s Christmas Day. That’s my very long-legged sister and my brother who has got his first bicycle and I am standing there very proudly with a barbie doll. I don’t know if you remember back to 1966 but those are Beatle boots I am wearing. I was very keen on those Beatle boots and I wore them to shreds.
I grew up in Zimbabwe, and it was one of my father’s wild flights of fancy that took the family off to India where I happened to be born but we came back fairly shortly afterwards. I wanted to tell you a story about an incident that happened about 18 months before this photograph was taken. I came from a happy family with loving parents and at this age I had just started school. We had just moved to Bulawayo. This was a new city, a new adventure, and I had the usual kind of excited and loving childhood. For some reason I wasn’t at school that day, but my older brother and sister were both at school. I was at home with my mother, and we were still unpacking from our big move.
Someone came to the door that day who really had a profound influence on my life. There was this knock at the door, and I went with my mother to see who it was. When she opened the door, there was a young woman there, a young African woman with a baby strapped to her back. She looked at my mother with absolute desperation in her eyes - desperation and I think fear - and she said to my mother, ‘I am so hungry. I have no food. I can’t feed my baby. Please help me.’
I watched as my mother went to the kitchen and she invited the young woman to sit down. She cut some thick slabs of bread, put it with some cheese and meat and made a cup of tea, and gave it to the woman, who ate some and wrapped some up to take with her - and she left. But something from that very brief encounter has really never left me.
Why did I find it so confronting? Because, as a child, I looked to my parents for everything: for love and care, for food and warmth, for safety and security. My parents were always in control, and I thought all adults were like that. Yet here was a woman - an adult, a mother - who clearly wasn’t in control. She couldn’t feed herself or her baby. I found that so confronting and shocking. It left me with a lot of questions: what sort of world allowed this to happen; what had happened to this woman that had left her in these desperate circumstances; and why wasn’t someone else doing something about it?
I think that young woman who I met so briefly has been something of a beacon throughout my life and in some ways set me on a course, a journey that has resulted in me spending the last two and a half decades of my life working on issues of poverty and aid and development. The path to how I got here certainly wasn’t a straight one. But many times when I have had to make a decision, when I have thought about where I want to go and what’s important to me, I have thought back to that young woman. I can still see her in my mind’s eye, and she has helped me to make those decisions.
Another thing about growing up in Africa is that we grew up very conscious of war and politics. We were all politicised from a very young age. Even as children, we discussed and debated the system of government that we had. One of the things I also remember from my childhood was that we used to pile into this old van that my parents had and drive down to Beira, which is this little town on the Mozambique coast. We would pitch a tent and have two glorious weeks running around in the sand.
There were probably a lot of Australian families on the other side of the Indian Ocean doing pretty much the same, but there was a difference in Mozambique in that it was still governed by Portugal and there was a war of independence. As we would get into the car, my parents would get us out of bed at 4 a.m. and stick us back in the back of this van and tell us to go back to sleep. My father would give us this lecture about ‘Now, if you hear shooting, you are not to look up. If there are explosions or loud noises, don’t look up. You stay lying in the back of the car.’ You can imagine, that became a bit of a dampener on the holiday, but my parents loved Mozambique. The Portuguese food that you could get there was extraordinary. My father had this thing about peri peri chicken and my mother adored the Portuguese wines. Frankly, I can remember the cashew nuts you could buy in Mozambique. They were dusted with a bit of chilli and they were just fabulous. You couldn’t get anything like that at home. So we kept going on holidays.
Part of the family ritual was that you would come across the border, drive down this huge African escarpment and then across the flats to the coast. It was really spectacular and somewhere along the way, not so far across the border, there was a café where there was a ritual stop for breakfast and we’d have our first taste of this delicious Portuguese food. But one year we went in and sat down, and the same rather ageing but very dignified waiter came to take our order. We looked through the menu and chose our favourite dishes and, as we each ordered, he would say, ‘No, I am sorry we don’t have that today.’ My mother eventually said, ‘Well, what do you have?’ He said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, because of the fighting, we haven’t had any resupplies here for a long time, but I think I can make you a cheese and tomato sandwich.’ That was our last holiday in Beira and I suspect that my parents thought it might be worth being shot at for peri peri chicken but not for a cheese and tomato sandwich.
There was this constant stream of refugees through Rhodesia, as it was then. I remember in 1974 when Portugal pulled out of Mozambique and then I think it was 1975 when they pulled out of Angola, and of course wars of independence much earlier than that in places like Zambia and Nyasaland, which became Malawi. Through my childhood there would be these periods where you would see refugees. Suddenly there were a whole lot of different people in the town looking confused, moving through, some of them were anxious, some of them desperately uprooted from the lives they had. It did make me reflect on whether we would be the next ones. One of the things about those wars - and of course my adolescence was during a period of intensifying civil conflict in Zimbabwe, in Rhodesia as it was then – was that it made me work very hard at school because I did see that having a decent education was a way to escape an increasingly unbearable situation of civil war.
I was very fortunate to pass my A levels and get accepted into London University to Imperial College. I set off with a backpack, with my parents’ good wishes and a couple of small scholarships to start life in London, and that was extraordinary. I ended up doing a bachelors’ degree and a PhD and it was a lot of fun living in London. But I also recognised that I did not want to spend the rest of my life living in England. Robert Mugabe came to power and he took away the citizenship of all Zimbabweans who were not resident. This was part of trying to control the diaspora. So I lost my Zimbabwean citizenship and looked around. It was much better than winning the lottery really. I got a job in Australia and came here with a work permit and managed to get citizenship. I have been incredibly fortunate to call Australia home for the last 30 years. It really is an extremely fortunate country to live in.
I came to Australia and I worked first of all at Monash University and the University of New South Wales in science as a post-doctoral research fellow doing various different scientific things, but all the time I had been studying science, I still saw that young woman who came to our doorstep and I still thought a lot about particularly African politics. But of course when you come to Australia, you don’t hear very much about Africa, you hear a lot about Asia, so I started to learn more about this region and what was happening here.
I know while I was studying my PhD, and I probably should have been writing more papers, I was actually off at SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies) going to courses on African politics. Eventually my husband at the time had moved to Canberra for a job and I was at the University of New South Wales with a young baby, expecting my second, and decided that really it was time to move to Canberra. I looked around at what job opportunities there were and really the one place I wanted to work was AusAID. It was an opportunity to pursue this interest in aid and development. I was again extremely fortunate. I had helped set up one of the first cooperative research centres at the University of New South Wales with a really inspiring group of people. I became its executive director and then, as a lot of women do, I took a big step sideways and down in my career and joined the Public Service in a fairly junior capacity. But I was pursuing something that I found deeply interesting.
When I reflect back on those 13 years in AusAID, where I met several people here in the audience, it was an extraordinary privilege to work in that organisation. I started out working in appraisals and evaluations. I worked on our program to Papua New Guinea, to Indonesia, to China. I was based in Vietnam for a couple of years. This was an opportunity to come to grips with the history and the culture of those countries, to try to understand poverty from the lens that it was seen within those societies. It was an extraordinary and interesting place to work.
I also had the opportunity for a secondment to the World Bank. I had been promoted a few times and I was managing a lot of Australia’s multilateral aid, particularly the relationships with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. I had responsibilities across a huge portfolio of hundreds of millions of dollars, and it was terrific. And then I got a call from a headhunter who said, ‘Did I know that this job at CARE was coming up?’ I said, ‘Oh yes, I had heard about it.’ He said, ‘Well, have you thought about applying?’ I said, ‘Look, I thought about it for about 30 seconds but I am really busy.’ Anyway he persuaded me to have a cup of coffee with him.
The one thing that is part of the context for aid and development is that a developed country has a capable government; it has a thriving private sector; and it has a vibrant civil society - and actually you need all those things to come together for development. But my critique of a lot of government-to-government aid is that it focuses almost solely on government, giving aid to government through government to try to create that capable government. Yet the need to balance that with a vibrant civil society has been too much - not ignored but too much overlooked. It’s been too much of a secondary priority.
When I thought about this opportunity to move to CARE, although CARE has a much smaller portfolio of activities, nevertheless it was an opportunity to really engage in an area that I know is incredibly important for poverty and for effective development.
What I would like to do next is introduce you to Lifineti and tell you her story. Lifineti lives in Malawi and she lives in a community that CARE has been working with for about a decade. When we first started working in that area, which is an area that has a very high prevalence of extreme poverty, Lifineti told one of our staff that, when she went to the market with her husband, she would walk away from him. She would leave him over there because they couldn’t afford decent clothes and all her husband had was a very ragged torn shirt and a very old pair of trousers. She was embarrassed for people to realise that her husband was so poor.
CARE has done a range of things in this community but I want to talk to you particularly about the micro-credit work. When we come into a really poor community like that, we have had 20 years of experience at bringing groups of maybe 12 or 15 women together - it is mostly women although sometimes men also participate in these groups. They come together and they decide how much they can save together, and maybe it is just 20 cents a week. But when you have 15 women saving 20 cents a week, after a few weeks there is enough there for them to start taking small loans. Lifeneti took a loan for $5, and with it she bought a metal tray and a five kilogram bag of flour and she baked scones in an outdoor oven that her husband and she had built with no need for expenditure. She then sold the scones in the market and managed to double the $5 to $10 so she could pay that back the next day with a small interest rate.
Over the years with these schemes, with only the savings that those women had, they gradually changed the women’s circumstances. When we do evaluations of this work, and we have done a lot of evaluations of this sort of work, the interesting thing is that the women tell us not just how important it has been to get access to these financial services to be able to save, to be able to take a small loan, and there is usually a social safety net associated with these, a little insurance scheme that is tied to these - but it is also when the women come together, they elect a chairperson, a treasurer and a secretary. They all say, ‘I have never done anything like that before, I can’t do it.’ But they come together and they encourage each other and they do what women do everywhere - they sit down in their community and talk about their problems and issues and find ways to solve them.
When we evaluate these schemes, what the women tell us is that ‘the money has been very important because it has enabled us to dress better, to put a new roof on our house. I can now afford the books for my children to go to school.’ But it’s actually the social capital that has been built up. Women tell us, ‘I now have so much more confidence. I understand money. My husband respects me because I am contributing to our family. I now understand things better and I speak out at our village meetings.’ So the ability to work closely with these communities is incredibly important in bringing about social change. Poverty is never just a lack of money, it’s also a lack of voice; it’s a lack of connections within your society; it’s a lack of confidence.
Lifineti’s community lived in extreme poverty, and many of them have now moved beyond that. But when I say ‘extreme poverty’, I am not sure what that means to you. Extreme poverty is currently defined as living on less than $1.25 a day. People sometimes say to me, ‘But actually life is quite cheap in developing countries.’ It would be equivalent to trying to live on $1.25 here in Australia. It really does mean that every day is a disaster and the simplest thing can push you over the edge. An illness in the family, well, you can’t afford medicine. You can’t get that book your child needs for school. If you break a cooking pot, you might have to go without a meal in order to replace it. To live in extreme poverty is to live in circumstances that are unbearable.
When we think that we currently have a global economy worth about $70 trillion, it seems almost unbelievable that there still could be a billion people in the world today who live in extreme poverty. A billion people sounds like a huge number. It is and it’s unforgivable, but actually we have made huge progress in addressing extreme poverty. This graph [slide shown] shows that in 1990 in developing countries, 43 per cent of the population lived in extreme poverty. And this data shows that by 2010 it had halved and it was 21 per cent. So the world has made enormous strides in overcoming extreme poverty. But it is not enough, and we need to do more.
The Brookings Institute did some calculations a few years ago to show that it would take $60 billion to create a social safety net that would bring everyone over $1.25 a day. By the way, $1.25 a day is still very poor, but it’s just above that minimal level at which life is less desperate. Actually the total aid that is given in the world each year is about $130 billion, so if aid were focused on extreme poverty, we have enough resources to eradicate it.
The other thing about extreme poverty that is very striking is that actually the majority of people who live in extreme poverty are women. Unless we can address gender discrimination and the inequality that women face, we actually won’t be able to overcome extreme poverty. One of the statistics that is most striking for me is that three-quarters of the illiterate people in the world are women. Women in developing countries grow perhaps 50 per cent of the food that is consumed, yet they own probably only one per cent of the farmland and still in many places women are prevented from inheriting land. When you go to a country where it is customary for women to be married off perhaps at 16 to much older men, you might be a widow in your early 20s with young children but not able to inherit anything from your husband. It’s these inequalities that have created and continue to create extreme poverty in the world.
One of the reasons I was so pleased to move to CARE is that CARE has done a huge amount of work in trying to understand gender inequality and women’s empowerment, because in some ways these things are abstract concepts, and I know for all of us our understanding of them is rooted in our own social and cultural context. It’s interesting to try to analyse what it might mean and whether we can paint a picture globally of what would it take to address these issues.
I am going to run through this very quickly [slide shown]. Based on a huge amount of work across 44 countries around the world, we said, ‘We have got to work with women in three areas.’ I will run through this because I think it is something I want my daughter to understand. I think we all need to understand this. A lot of aid works here on women’s agency so this is women’s individual skills. Let’s give this woman training, access to some credit, that’s enough and she will then be empowered and able to go her way. But actually it isn’t enough because, if you get the girl to school, if her father or her husband won’t let her leave the house or start a business, she is still not necessarily able to make what she wants out of her life. We actually also need to effect the relationships through which women negotiate their lives, and that is relationships with siblings, with parents, with husbands and with those within the community that set the expectations that women live with.
And then if you can address those two, you still face cultural or social or legal barriers - women can’t inherit from their husbands - you still haven’t created the full picture. What we seek to do through our programs is work through all three of those domains of women’s lives. When you can bring about change in all three of those domains, you do see change. And that probably still sounds a little bit abstract.
We have done some work to say ‘Okay but how do you know if you have brought about sufficient positive change?’ [slide shown]. We have tried in quite simple terms to say that this is actually what an empowered woman looks like. She is a woman who can control productive assets, who participates in her community; she makes important household decisions; she makes decisions about her body and her own sexual and reproductive health; and she can live a life free from violence. I think this work is very important in trying to translate some quite potentially theoretical concepts into really practical sets of issues. But more important than that, these are issues that our staff discuss within their communities in appropriate ways, and the communities themselves can take on these issues and seek to bring about change.
I am conscious of the time. I would like to very briefly talk about humanitarian emergencies [slide shown]. CARE does a lot of responding to humanitarian emergencies. It’s been a very bad year for emergencies with typhoon Haiyan, and we are entering the fourth year of the Syrian crisis and there is a major emergency in South Sudan. We are seeing massive displacements of people. These are terrible events that push people back into poverty. Women and men face these emergencies very differently.
When I look at the time I am going to skip over that slide and give you one last story about my mother, because she really had a huge influence on my life. [slide shown] This is her and me when I was very young. I have always had a problem with neat hair. It started at an early age. I think I mentioned before that my mother was fed up with staying at home and looking after children. Once she had got me, her last child into school, she trained herself in book keeping and went and got a job, very much against my father’s wishes so that was an interesting negotiation, with a government owned bank at a fairly junior level. She was very clever and very capable so she kept doing more and more things but she was a woman so she couldn’t be promoted. What she ended up doing was they got her to train all the men who came into the bank, and the men would be promoted and she wouldn’t be.
But there were some senior men who were quite sympathetic to her situation. One day one of them took her aside and said, ‘Look, this management position is coming up. You could do a very good job in it. Why don’t you apply?’ I think it was a hard decision for my mother, but she did apply. You put yourself on the line when you go out and do something like that. But she did apply, and all the men got together in horror at the idea of letting a woman into management and she was blocked - and someone she had trained got the job. Anyway she didn’t tell me about that at the time but she told me about it many years later and she was still absolutely furious.
When I look back at my life, I know I have been incredibly lucky to have so many opportunities. But we still do live in a world that can offer us everything or nothing. Poverty is not actually something that is about our own talents, our own abilities; it’s very much a lottery of birth. I think it’s not really tolerable to live in a world that still lets this happen, that still lets a billion people live in such degrading circumstances. I hope you will agree with me. Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk. [applause]
MONICA LINDEMANN: That was wonderful. Thank you, Julia. We do have some time for questions and answers.
QUESTION: I am interested in the fact that, in many countries that you have served, the inheritance does not go to the wife. Does that mean that she has to provide for herself and all her children and none of the inheritance goes to them, even if they are boys, in a society that values men first? The other thing is: who does it go to?
JULIA NEWTON-HOWES: That’s a really interesting question. There isn’t a single answer, because it is very cultural specific. But certainly this is a massive issue in parts of Africa, particularly Sahel and West Africa. It will go to the man’s brothers and back to the man’s family, so usually his brothers, any land and any assets. Yes, often the woman is thrown out with nothing but her children. That’s clearly an issue that causes poverty. In some places the children have to stay with the family and she is thrown out. These are things that will occur differently in different places. It’s not universal. But still we can see in our programs across Africa that that is a major cause of poverty. Female-headed households is a big factor in poverty. It’s the lack of legal support for women’s inheritance that is at the heart of their inability to fight for any rights around that.
QUESTION: You mentioned that you had worked in areas in Asia like Vietnam and so on. I gather you have seen first hand some of the traumas of poverty. How do you personally handle that? It must be a huge feeling of almost anger at times. How do you manage that?
JULIA NEWTON-HOWES: Yes, particularly when you go somewhere after a major emergency, it can be very confronting and very depressing. But I suppose the way I handle it is that I have a very strong conviction that this is a problem we can solve. This is about doing more to overcome that issue. I am usually going into communities where we have things going, and it’s about assessing: how do we do more, how can we change this? Particularly extreme poverty is very solvable. It has to reaffirm your commitment to tackle this issue.
There are many issues around politics that mean some issues are beyond us to solve but, by working with people to give them a voice, to support them to a point where you can dream about a future, then it’s up to them to choose their government and to create the society in which they live. But to overcome extreme poverty is something we can do, and I think it deserves more focus.
QUESTION: One of the other millennium development goals, I believe, was targeted at education, and particularly education of girls. Can you tell us how far that has been going and what are organisations like CARE, AusAID and other development organisations doing in that area?
JULIA NEWTON-HOWES: The Foreign Minister has just made an announcement today of, I think, $140 million to a big education initiative. Actually the millennium development goal has had a big impact in the area of primary education. We have seen primary education really increase significantly and also in many countries we have close to parity between girls and boys in primary education. I think it’s a success story. But we are still seeing that transition rates to middle school or senior school for girls are much lower than boys, and girls tend to start dropping out very quickly.
The other thing is that getting girls into school or boys is not enough, we have to concern ourselves with quality of education. But in the case of girls in particular, it’s incredibly important to teach girls leadership and to address some of those issues around the societal expectations of girls. There is an interesting study in Latin America that shows that, even when girls in some poor places are graduating from senior school, they are actually not getting jobs, there is still very high teen pregnancy rates because we haven’t addressed those issues of girls’ self-confidence and the society’s expectations of girls. Those things really still constrain girls in the sorts of opportunities that they see and the sorts of futures that they can imagine for themselves.
We have done some work in Timor-Leste where we produced material on successful women in Timor-Leste. Of course there are some amazing women in government in Timor-Leste and some very well-known international figures, but we chose to profile the woman who ran the shop, people close to home, to give girls an idea of people close to them and opportunities that they could aspire to. We often in schools would go in and run specific activities for girls. If you live in a society where girls are expected to play a secondary role to men, then you will see in the playground or when clubs are set up that boys take all the leadership roles. It is important not just to get girls into school but also to ensure that they have the voice and the opportunity within that to dream a little bit more.
QUESTION: Julia, it was a lovely talk and very interesting. I had a question when you talked about sustainable empowerment, which is a wonderful concept universally. How do registered and government aid organisations such as CARE, the Salvation Army and whoever, how do you feel about philanthropists - Bill Gates or whoever you want to pick - putting bulk amount of money into those systems? Does it undermine the systems that you are trying to put in place or does it work against you?
JULIA NEWTON-HOWES: No, I think philanthropists like Bill Gates are doing some truly amazing stuff. He funds a really broad range of things but he has had a particular focus on health. There are many ways in which you can work on development - as responsible companies through ensuring your business operations in developing countries are ethical, through new initiatives to promote anti-malarial campaigns. There are many things you can do and I support all of them. But not enough focus is going on very poor communities and extreme poverty and I suppose that is the theme that I want to see.
These are solutions that perhaps with very good governments and different policies would be overcome, but I don’t believe those good governments will come unless we have addressed the issues that hold whole communities back because of the extreme circumstances they live in. So let’s create empowered women, empowered communities.
The other thing which I should have said and didn’t say is that - and we have done some research - we do know that when women have access and control over assets, they put most of their assets back into their family and immediate community whereas men are much less inclined to do that. So the intergenerational benefits from women having access to resources are huge. It has a huge impact on child nutrition, the extent to which children go to school, and so forth. I have strayed a bit from from your question.
Much more energy deserves to be going into community development to creating empowered women and empowered communities. But there are plenty of difficult development challenges to get people engaged. It’s wonderful when people do think beyond their shores. A question I am often asked is: ‘But there are poor people in Australia. Why should we look overseas?’ We live in a really globalised world and what happens in Papua New Guinea does affect us, and as a very wealthy country we should be doing both. I think for people who are struggling with some of these difficult issues, it’s terrific.
QUESTION: Coming from that, you talked quite a lot about the lady as a breadwinner, yet there is frequently a husband in the background - for example, the scone lady. To what extent are the husbands dragging them down?
JULIA NEWTON-HOWES: Thank you for that terrific question. We are not going into these communities wanting to start gender wars, and most people want to have a good relationship with their spouses. It is about working with men and women on community attitudes to women. Without going into a whole lot of technical detail, it’s about setting up dialogue within the community. We have found in some of our work on education in Cambodia where girls weren’t going to school that actually working with men and boys has been critical to getting girls into school. The last report I read on that work - we have done a survey of men’s and women’s attitudes to the changes – is that men have embraced it. There are comments such as: ‘I used to have to make all the decisions in my household. I am very happy now that my wife is bringing in some resources and we make decisions jointly, because some of the decisions we make are really difficult.’ What we are trying to do is to create gender equality.
In that community in Malawi which I have had such fortune to visit twice, I have never seen a TV there. There are a few mobile phones. There is still such an oral tradition. The first time I was there, they put on a play for me - and I will never forget it - in this very crowded little school hall. The play was all about this drunken man, and there was a lot of alcohol problems, how he was a drunkard and he was letting down his wife and family. And now his wife joined the savings and loans scheme and made this money, it woke him out of his bad ways, and now he’s a reformed character. We work for women’s empowerment as a way to change whole communities and we have found it very successful.
MONICA LINDEMANN: Thank you so much, Julia. That was an absolutely wonderful and inspiring presentation. Please join me once again in thanking Julia for spending some time with us today.
JULIA NEWTON-HOWES: Thank you. [applause]
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Date published: 10 July 2014