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Our Mission: A message from the CEO

Why We Do What We Do

Skills and employment are a path to independence, to a chance at lasting fairness. Some people face greater barriers than others to the jobs market. So much public debate seems dominated by conflict, but no matter your politics most if not all people share a belief in decency and opportunity. The thing that most matters is what we might actually do to make the things a little better and fairer. Here’s a story about fairness and equity. It’s a chilling tale, but one that demonstrates how collaboration between government, private enterprise, and not-for-profit organisations saves and rebuilds lives.

Afghan judges Zuhra Ibrahim and Mahtab Fazl were targets from the moment the Taliban almost effortlessly regained power in 2021 after the west, including Australia, pulled out without a plan for the day after. The Afghanistan regime persecutes women. It particularly disliked the nation’s almost 300 female judges, all of whom wished to continue their work after the Taliban’s retaking of Kabul. Zuhra and Mahtab were already in danger, but when the rulers threw open the prison gates, they knew they and their families were in mortal peril. Some of their colleagues were murdered. The released men were set on vengeance against the female judges who had sentenced some of them. So began an international rescue effort led by the Washington-based International Association of Women Judges. Dozens remain in hiding in Kabul, but most have been evacuated – 17 of them to Australia. They need the autonomy that comes from skills and employment. They are obviously highly skilled, but their expertise is in a legal system we do not use in Australia. Some of the women are going to learn to be bus drivers. WomenCAN Australia is organising the training and then employment. The judges need work. The Victorian Department of Transport is lining up some of the jobs for them and other women. Bus business Dyson Group is providing more positions. This story of rescue and transition might be extreme, but there are so many seeking escape from the tyranny of disadvantage imposed by circumstances beyond any individual’s control. Equity and equality are related to fairness, but there’s an important difference. Equity recognises people have different needs, abilities, and circumstances. Equality is about treating everybody the same way regardless of their circumstances, abilities, or needs. Imagine two people of very different heights needing to see over a barrier. Equity would be giving the shorter person a higher platform upon which to stand. Equality would be giving them platforms of the same height. WomenCAN Australia teams up with training institutions and employers to give free training and guaranteed jobs to women and girls. Community is one of the most powerful words in our language. There can be no prosperous high streets without healthy backstreets. Equity – and equality – can be seen as forms of enlightened self-interest. Women continue to struggle against structural discrimination. One persistent barrier is the lingering gap between male and female pay. Others are access to training, employment, and affordable childcare and accommodation. In a growing number of places – Melbourne, Bendigo, Shepparton, Mildura, Mornington and more – and with the help of volunteers who get so much out of their participation, we are helping women gain skills. And then we get them a job. It changes lives, buttresses communities, and boosts the economy. It also saves scarce taxpayers’ funds; the cost of doing this is significantly less than Centrelink payments. The benefit is significantly more than that provided by Centrelink, which is not to downplay the importance of that arm of federal government. What we are doing is a classic example of win-win-win. The organisation focusses on aged care, childcare, transport, and trades for the moment. But its close connection to communities means it picks up on what’s happening in the labour market early, and so is well-placed to help Australia’s women help fix Australia’s skills shortage. We plan to extend our services across the nation. Sometimes massive, systemic change delivers justice. But most of the time, it’s grassroots, incremental change that makes the world just a little bit better and fairer. Case by case, woman by woman. Mikaela Stafrace, a former corporate lawyer, is founder and CEO of WomenCAN Australia. Mikaela Stafrace set up WomenCAN Australia in 2019 after she realised her successful corporate law career of more than three decades had ceased satisfying her, leaving her needing a fuller sense of purpose. So she quit her successful job and started helping other women get jobs. WomenCAN Australia, which operates in Bendigo, elsewhere in regional Victoria and in Melbourne, teams up with training institutions and employers to give free training and guaranteed jobs to women and girls. "Our earn and learn programs, coupled with our unique peer-support model called The Placement Circle, builds confidence in these women as they gain skills, employment, and financial independence. We’re growing fast and the women report that coming to us has changed their lives,’’ Mikaela says. Her life has changed, too. Starting and running an organisation with a social and economic purpose inspires her; she’s thriving along with WomenCAN Australia "It’s thrilling and inspiring to see the effect the team’s work is having.’’ The organisation - a registered charity that receives funding from individual and corporate donors, the state government and philanthropists – has a staff of about 20 around Victoria and is currently working in aged care and childcare, as well as various trades. It runs a social enterprise that provides tradeswomen who do facilities maintenance and other work as commissioned. WomenCAN Australia is continuing to expand. "We’re picking up on increasing demand for hospitality workers in regional Victoria. Who knows who we’ll partner with next here to get more women trained and into great jobs,’’ Mikaela says.


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