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Leadership for Senior Multi-Faith Women Leaders

Leadership for Senior Multi-Faith Women Leaders

This project aims to empower women to be key players in improving economic, social and cultural development in their organisations and the wider community, and to build global networks for future women leaders.

Australia Award Indonesia is Australia’s flagship program aimed at developing people-to-people ties and enhancing technical and leadership capacity in Indonesia. The Leadership Program for young Interfaith Women Leaders is the latest iteration of a program to link Indonesian women leaders with their Australian counterparts in NGOs and government agencies. In the first week of February 2023 the ADI team (Renee Davidson and Shahram Akbarzadeh) visited Yogyakarta to run the pre-course workshop with 25 leading women. The Indonesian cohort represented different faith groups, NGOs, academics as well as government departments charged with promoting religious tolerance. As part of the program, the cohort visited  Dian Interfidei (a long standing NGO committed to promoting religious dialogue and mutual understanding, led by the formidable Elga Sarapung). 

Prof Akbarzadeh (ADI Deputy Director – International) says:

“The Alfred Deakin Institute delivered the first multifaith women leadership program as part of Australia Award Indonesia in 2017. We have delivered this program every year since then. And it is a testimony to the strength of the program and the impact of past participants that ADI is running the program in 2023”.

Reflecting on its significance, he added:

“This project has highlighted the shared values and need to coordinate and build coalitions for social justice and women’s rights.”

Project Funding

This project is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade DFAT

March 6-12, Week one of the Program

In the first week of the programme, ADI partnered with resourceful and impactful partners across different sectors. The highlights of the week included interventions from Dr Niki Vincent, Commissioner for Gender Equality in the Victorian Public Sector, Ms Coral Ross, Founding Director and Chair of Australian Gender Equality Council (AGEC), Ms Emilia Sterjova, former Mayor of Whittlesea City and Ms Alice Gomez from the Centre for Multicultural Youth: Engagement and Impact.

A fascinating half-day panel discussion followed by rich debates on challenges faced by women leaders of faith-based organisations. Various questions on tolerant perspectives, religious pluralism and multiculturalism were posed to esteemed panellists who were multi-faith community leaders including:

  • Ms Celeste Liddle, Indigenous Arrernte woman, union organiser, social commentator, freelance writer, noted activist, and member of the Victorian Women’s Honour Roll;

  • Ms Tasneem Chopra, Leading Cross-Cultural Consultant and former Chair of the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights and;

  • Dr Diana Cousens, Secretary of the Buddhist Council of Victoria and Member of the Victorian State Government’s Multifaith Advisory Group.

The participants had a field visit to Women’s Information Referral Service (WIRE) during which they engaged in practical workshops and became well-equipped with resources on working with vulnerable populations while supporting their own mental health and well-being.

Another flagship field visit consisted of a trip to the Darebin City Council during which the participants met with Mayor Julie Williams and Darebin Interfaith Council. The sessions at the Council demonstrated a clear vision of interfaith dialogue at the level of local governance and enriched the participants’ knowledge with examples of how interfaith leaders communicate and mobilise activities.

Prof Shahram Akbarzadeh, Deputy Director of ADI, said:

“I am blown away by the energy, determination and humility of young women in this leadership programme. There is so much that we can learn from each other. The Australia Awards Indonesia has offered a unique opportunity for people-to-people relations.”

Renee Davidson, the programme coordinator, found the programme very inspiring and reflected on it by saying:

“All twenty-five women in this leadership program have engaged so thoughtfully and passionately with course learnings, and their insights and experiences have facilitated rich discussions with the Australian experts. It has been truly inspiring to observe the solidarity and sisterhood among the women as they endeavour to make positive change towards gender equality and multiculturalism in their communities and organisations in Indonesia.”

This programme is planning to expand its reach and impact in the coming years. In addition to offering more leadership training and support to participants throughout the process of award project implementation, it aspires to facilitate networking between members of its different cohorts across Indonesia.

The Young Multifaith Women Leadership Programme is an inspirational initiative, designed to make a real difference in the lives of the participating women and their communities. By ensuring that each participant will carry out relevant projects in their home organisations, this program amplifies its impact well beyond the participating cohort and takes us a step closer to gender equity and inclusivity.

Cici Situmorang, Founder of Inspiration House based in West Java, Indonesia:

“I was truly inspired by listening to the intervention of Ms Emilia Lisa Sterjova who was the Mayor of the City of Whittlesea and the youngest woman Mayor in Australian history at the age of 22 in 2019-2020. I learned from her that women can be brave, respectful, visionary and humble in their leadership.”

Jenifer Astin Septiana from the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA):

“We learned a lot of strategic skills including a great foundation on planning, monitoring and evaluation for our award projects from Dr. Barlow. We also appreciated all the lessons on self-care and mental wellbeing of women leaders.”

Miftahul Jannah from Nasyiatul ‘Aisyiyah:

“I was very inspired to be more open about interfaith dialogue in my community and abroad thanks to the experiences that I heard from multifaith leaders during the programme. We all share so many similar challenges.”

Itsna Syahadatud from the State Islamic University of Sunan Ampel Surabaya:

“Changing the world does not start from changing all the people immediately, but it starts from changing ourselves and our communities one by one who can then create even more change.”

Ahimsa Wardah Swadeshi from Suara ‘Aisyiyah:

“From our visit to WIRE, I learned the importance of well-being maintenance in our communities and organisations and how we should prioritise that. Ms Ross also left us with a valuable message: provoking gender equity is not only beneficial for women, but also for men and all universe.”

March 13-17, Conclusion of the program

The Leadership Program for Young Multifaith Women Leaders from Indonesia concluded on 17 March 2023, after a second week packed with diverse activities focused on a holistic approach to leadership. The participants were immersed in rich discussions with a number of content experts and dedicated time to strengthening their Australia Award Projects through group discussions and one-on-one mentoring with course leaders.

Course Leader Dr Rebecca Barlow conducted several training workshops aimed at equipping participants with tools to empower other women in their networks and communities in Indonesia. To strengthen their assertive communication and negotiation skills, Dr Barlow engaged participants in roleplaying activities and explored several case studies on women’s leadership.

With Respect at Uni Week in progress, the participants visited Deakin University’s Burwood Campus to meet with senior women leaders for a discussion on how to promote and support diversity and inclusion in leadership. Professor Julianne Moss, Director of Deakin’s Research for Educational Impact (REDI), Ms Laura Burge, Senior Manager of Gender Equity, Respect and Inclusion and Dr Amy Nethery from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, shared their experiences, insights, challenges, and success stories on how to ensure gender equitable practices in a male dominated field. Following the session, participants attended a workshop at Deakin Library to fine tune their skills in library research and data collection to support their work and Award Projects.

Given the importance of engaging with media, the participants thoroughly invested their time in dialogue with Ms Sushi Das, an award-winning British/Australian journalist of Indian origin, who is the Chief of Staff of RMIT ABC Fact Check and the Assistant Director of RMIT FactLab. Ms Das shared her wealth of personal and professional experience working in media and journalism and held the pulse of the session by responding to the many bold queries.

Another deeply impactful session was a discussion with Ms Lydia Tesema, a youth program facilitator and a multidisciplinary creative whose platform Below the Surface provides much food for thought on various forms of intersectionality. In conversation with Course Coordinator Ms Renee Davidson, Ms Tesema shared her personal leadership journey and strategies on how to engage and inspire youth in becoming agents of social change in their communities. In an open Q&A with participants, Ms Tesema explored several strategies on how to create an impactful social media campaign and how to expand women’s networks through various social media platforms.

A key focus of the course was the importance of mental health and women’s wellbeing. The participants were joined by Personal Sustainability Specialist Ms Thea O’Connor, who delivered a one-day training session on self-care, early detection of burnout and creating habits supportive of young women leaders’ mental health, well-being and the sustainability of their workplaces. The session also included a workshop on practicing decent sleep hygiene.

To gain an insight into how organisations in Melbourne are working to improve women’s economic empowerment, the participants visited Fitted for Work and its social enterprise The Conscious Closet. Participants learned about the history and services provided by Fitted for Work through a storytelling session, as well as the economic models they use to finance their projects.

The two-week in-Australia phase of the program was brought to an official close with a networking lunch at Deakin Downtown, with keynote addresses delivered by H.E Kuncoro Waseso, Indonesian Consul General in Melbourne, Ms Coral Ross AM, Founding Director and Chair of Australian Gender Equality Council (AGEC), and Professor Greg Barton, Chair of Global Islamic Politics at Deakin University. At the event, participants were joined by esteemed guests including the Mayor of Darebin City Council Julie Williams, members of Darebin’s Interfaith Council and former Mayor of Whittlesea City Council  Emilia Lisa Sterjova, as well as team members from WIRE and Fitted for Work.

The networking event was concluded by Prof Shahram Akbarzadeh (ADI Deputy Director, International), who remarked on the significance of linkages and coalitions made by the participants as they allow for women voices to be amplified: ‘there is strength in unity. Bridging ethnic and religious divides for gender equality will advance a just and equitable cause for women’.  

The participants’ time in Australia concluded with a weekend in Sydney, touring city sites before their departure to Indonesia. The Deakin team will meet with the cohort again in Indonesia in July 2023 for the final phase of the project, in which participants will present their Award Projects and explore their impact on gender equality and inter-faith dialogue in their workplaces and communities in Indonesia.


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