Happy International Women's Day

This years International Women’s Day is all about inspiring girls – I was asked to write a piece for The Canberra Times “Femme” supplement which was an insert in the Canberra Times today (which by the way I thought was a great read, I particularly liked the article with interviews of women and girls of every age) so I wrote an open letter to the women leaders of tomorrow.

Here it is.

An Open Letter to future female Chief Ministers of the ACT

Dear girls,

I don’t know what your names are or what any of you look like. I don’t know whether you’ll be Labor, Liberal, Green, or belong to parties that don’t even exist yet. But I do know that some of you will be Chief Ministers of the future.  And I thought International Women’s Day was a perfect time to say to you that when your day comes, you should seize it and give it your all.

I am a politician ( I can hear you groan but please stay with me). Some of you may aspire to a life in politics from a young age. Probably most of you don’t. And that’s fine, because the paths that lead to a job like this definitely aren’t straight or predictable.

I never imagined I would be a politician let alone Chief Minister of the ACT. I use the word “would” there carefully as whilst I never imagined I would be a politician I never doubted the fact that I could be. This was the gift I was given by those around me. I was never allowed to believe that there were limits to what I could achieve. I was allowed to dream, to imagine and to learn.

This year’s IWD theme is about inspiring girls and for me the single biggest female inspiration I had came from close to home.  My mother. She taught me to be kind, tough, fair and to fight for what I thought was right. She taught me never to accept discrimination on any grounds and she demonstrated through everything she did how special it was to contribute and put back. Now I don’t want to sugar-coat this – we had our arguments. As a teenager I definitely thought I had the worst mother ever and moving out of home was a cause for celebration (for her as well I learnt later). It’s only now she is gone that I understand fully the gift she gave me, from one generation to another.

I am a beneficiary of the women who came before me. They campaigned hard for equal rights to work, for equality before the law, and (I know this is hard to believe for young women in 2012) but the right to vote and indeed to stand for election. To these women,  women of my generation are eternally grateful (if not a little tired).

In the early 1990s my generation was given the job of making sure that opportunities and progress for women of all ages continues. The baton of responsibility was handed to us.  Great progress has been made on many issues for women but there is much more to do. In time it will be your turn to grab the baton and make the best you can of it and of the campaigns that are not yet complete.

My advice to you is work hard, take opportunities rather than taking a back seat, take advice rather than taking offence, take the occasional risk (if my 14-year-old daughter is reading this only the sensible ones, ok?) , believe in yourself and never, ever accept the view that you can’t be anything you want to be. Hopefully, some of you will want to be a politician!

I, of course, have a personal stake in seeing you all succeed because when you are ready I will be there with the baton polished, eager and very ready to hand it over.

Katy Gallagher MLA, ACT Chief Minister