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Women make history at Strathbogie Shire and across the state


They set about revamping the tired old park, upgrading cabins and tending the gardens. “We’ve more than tripled the patronage,” she says.

Ms Hourigan quickly settled into the town within the Strathbogie Ranges Shire, where she soon leapt on another opportunity – running for council elections.

This month she helped to make history by winning a seat on the shire council, which has a majority of women for the first time.

She is among a growing number of progressive women who ran successfully in local council elections across regional Victoria.

“I want progress for my kids,” she says. “I want them to have a town that’s progressive, not one that takes so long to do anything.”

There was a near-complete turnover of councillors at the Strathbogie Shire, with the longest-serving councillor notching up less than a year after winning a byelection in March.

Ruth McGowan (left) with fellow Honour a Woman founders Elizabeth Hartnell-Young and Carol Kiernan.

Ruth McGowan (left) with fellow Honour a Woman founders Elizabeth Hartnell-Young and Carol Kiernan.Credit:AFR

Local government equality expert Ruth McGowan says 43.8 per cent of councillors elected this month were women, compared to 38.8 per cent in 2016.

Across Gippsland, apart from South Gippsland where there was no election, the number of female councillors rose from 25 per cent to 38 per cent. In total, 23 out of 76 councils elected a majority of women.

Ms McGowan believes the parochialism that was a prerequisite for candidates in some areas is subsiding, particularly as Melburnians make tree or sea changes.

But some municipalities already had a long history of progressive voting and acceptance of diverse views, she insists.

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Ms McGowan moderated a Facebook group offering tips and sharing advice for women contesting the local council elections. When challenges arose for a particular candidate, others would make suggestions about how to respond.

“Every other day we’d be sharing resources,” she says.

While there were some “dinosaur” councils in which women’s representation slid backwards, Ms McGowan identified a positive trend overall in regional Victoria.

“It’s not just women. It’s more diverse young people.”

Ms McGowan says regional and rural communities are increasingly embracing the ideas and energy that new candidates bring.

Kristy Hourigan and Sally Hayes-Burke at the banks of the Seven Creek in Euroa.

Kristy Hourigan and Sally Hayes-Burke at the banks of the Seven Creek in Euroa. Credit:Joe Armao

Sally Hayes-Burke, who was elected in the same Strathbogie Shire ward as Ms Hourigan, agrees. She argues the council needed “fresh blood and fresh ideas”.

“I wanted to represent the changing demographic we’re experiencing here,” she says. “There’s been an influx of young families. I think it’s important the needs of young families and children are being met.”

Ms Hayes-Burke does have a long-standing family connection to the area and came back to Euroa two years ago after leaving when she was 12.

“I had my first child in Melbourne and about six months later we moved to Euroa,” she says. “I want the country lifestyle for my kids. It’s such a beautiful region.”

Monash University politics lecturer Zareh Ghazarian says there are plenty of high-profile examples of independent female candidates who have won seats at state and federal levels in regional Victoria.

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Although the Greens have focused considerable energy on winning local government seats, Dr Ghazarian says councils are fertile ground for candidates who are not aligned with major political parties.

“That gives other candidates that bit of an advantage,” he says. “They’re not competing against the well-oiled machinery of the major parties.”

Euroa Chamber of Business and Commerce president Stephanie Swift says “once upon a time” long-standing generational roots in a community might have been important for a local election campaign. But that is no longer the case.

“If you’ve got a love for the community and you’re willing to work hard for it, people see that in your personality pretty quickly and can judge you from that,” she says.

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Programs encouraging more women, of all abilities, to play wheelchair sports


When wheelchair basketballer Jess Cronje played her first game for a national mixed team, one of her opponents warned if she got in his way again and stopped him from scoring, he was going to squash her like a bug.

Instead of taking her off the court, her coach decided to give the then 16-year-old the job of guarding the much bigger man.

“She said something to him, then scooted off somewhere and the look on his face, that whole quarter he was just out of sorts, he was really off his game,” recalled Cronje’s mum, Kris Riley.

After asking her daughter what she had told him, Cronje replied “I just went up to him and went ‘buzz buzz’.”

The 22-year-old, who’s part of the Australian Gliders national squad, admits she was daunted when she first had to line up against grown men.

Now she thrives on it.

“When you compete against them, it makes you feel really good and like ‘yes, I can do this’.”

But not all young girls, or even women, have that same confidence to stand up to smack talk, and back it up.

Why do so many girls drop out of sport?

A woman in a wheelchair on a basketball court smiles .
Many women worry about being judged on how they look while playing sport and agonise over whether they’re good enough.(ABC Sport: Amanda Shalala)

It’s estimated nearly 50 per cent of girls stop playing sport by the time they’re 17, and women have lower rates of participation in sport and physical activity than men.

Many worry about being judged on how they look while playing or exercising.

Some wonder whether they’re good enough, and others, particularly mothers, don’t want to be questioned over their priorities (aka mum guilt).

It can be even harder for those who want to participate in wheelchair sports, because they’re largely unisex at the junior and recreational/sub-elite levels.

And playing with and against boys and men brings a whole other set of issues.

“The men have this idea that they can only pass the ball to themselves, to the other men in the team,” said wheelchair basketballer Patricia Luff.

A woman in a wheelchair holds an Aussie Rules football.
Patricia Luff started playing wheelchair sports to keep up with her sons and now she plays wheelchair basketball and Aussie rules.(ABC Sport: Amanda Shalala)

Luff started playing 15 years ago for the sake of her kids.

The 54-year-old and her two sons are all wheelchair users, and she wanted them to experience being part of a team.

But being involved in sport has been just as beneficial for her.

And now that she plays for the Sydney Uni Flames in the Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball League, she knows the difference female-only teams can make.

“You get to have a chance at doing everything, with the women.

“They force you and tell you to dribble the ball down the court, even though you say ‘I don’t want to’. But they get you to and you realise you can do it.”

Tracey Carruthers was a keen netballer when she was young, but at 17 her knees deteriorated significantly, and she decided to try wheelchair basketball.

A woman in a wheelchair smiles for the camera.
Tracey Carruthers decided to try wheelchair basketball after her knees deteriorated.(ABC Sport: Amanda Shalala)

While she’s a self-admitted extrovert, she believes many girls and women are lost to wheelchair sport because they have to play in unisex teams.

“Men’s basketball is very different and I’m still a little bit intimidated playing against the men. They’re taller, they’re bigger, they push harder, they get up on one wheel, something I’m hopeless at doing,” the 42-year-old said.

“Some of the girls can absolutely match it, but not me and not at the level that I’m at.

What can be done to encourage more women to play?

Wheelchair Sports NSW/ACT has started running a series of “HER SPORTS” events, to give women and girls a chance to try different sports in a welcoming environment.

A group of women sit in wheelchairs and hold Aussie rules footballs.
A series of events is underway to give women and girls a chance to try different sports.(ABC Sport: Amanda Shalala)

“There are too many girls and women out there in New South Wales and the ACT who are missing out on the opportunity that sport provides.

“And it’s not just the physical aspect, it’s about belonging somewhere, it’s about the mental health benefits and the social benefits of participating.”

Wheelchair Aussie rules is a new offering for the organisation, and unlike most para-sports, there aren’t classification requirements.

That means anyone, of any ability can join in.

“What we know from girls is often they’ll want to bring other people along with them when they try something new,” Garnett added.

“So if you have the opportunity to bring your able-bodied girlfriends or mum or sisters or whomever, then that’s a reason why we think that girls will be particularly attracted to wheelchair Aussie rules.”

Why wheelchair Aussie rules is more accessible to women of all abilities

The sport’s rise in popularity has taken on extra significance for Carruthers, who’s a mad GWS Giants fan.

Even though she needs a double knee replacement, and has a genetic condition which prevents her from participating in able-bodied sport, recent changes to wheelchair basketball classification rules means she’s no longer eligible for international competitions.

Wheelchair Aussie rules is played on a basketball court, and a handball is actually a kick, while a throw is a handball.

A woman handballs a football from a wheelchair while on a basketball court.
Jess Cronje has made a name for herself in wheelchair basketball, but has recently started to play wheelchair Aussie rules too.(ABC Sport: Amanda Shalala)

There are goals and behinds and a mark is the same.

Carruthers believes the nature of the sport means it’s accessible to more women than wheelchair basketball — where the hoop is kept at the same height as the able-bodied game.

“Basketball is a little bit discriminatory when you first start, it’s really hard to hit that ring when you start off. So given that you can score anywhere from the ground to the roof means that you’ve got a lot more capacity.”

While Cronje wants to represent Australia at next year’s 2021 Tokyo Paralympics in basketball, she’s also proven to be just as good with a Sherrin in hand.

And she hopes it will open doors for many more women to get active.

“In basketball, I’m not exceptionally tall like most people are. So I think in AFL it doesn’t matter about your size or what you can and can’t do, because there’s always something for you.”



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As professional women, we must back ourselves to shine


Why do many mid-career women find it so hard to put themselves forward? Why does this matter and what can be done to address this career-limiting attitude?

When I am working with women, I ask them two questions: firstly, how would you benefit if you had a greater professional profile? Most tell me it would make them more in demand, help them attract better-quality work and empower them to charge what they’re worth, instead of taking what they can get.

Secondly, what are the barriers that hold you back from self-promotion? Often, they don’t want to add to the social media noise; they lack the know-how and time; and they fear criticism or ridicule from peers, competitors and bosses. Instead, they dim their lights until they’re almost invisible.

According to research, these are typically female responses. A study by Kessler and Exley, published in the 2019 Harvard Business Review, showed that despite women slightly outperforming men in a series of analytical tests, when asked to predict how many questions they’d answered correctly, women rated themselves 25 per cent lower than men. They typically guessed they’d scored about 46 per cent, while men predicted they’d achieved 61 per cent.

Even when the participants were told their response would affect their job prospects and potential salary, women still played down their performances.

Furthermore, another study by Amazon executive Kieran Snyder for Fortune magazine proves women have good reason to feel timid about stepping up.

The research shows bosses are more likely to give women critical feedback about their personality rather than the quality of their work during performance reviews.

Reviewers used words like “abrasive”, “aggressive” or “bossy” more often to describe women. Men were occasionally called “aggressive”, but not necessarily as a criticism. Interestingly, the gender of the manager didn’t make a difference. Is it any wonder, then, that women don’t want to stick their necks out at work?

As professional women, we need to back ourselves as well as our sisters at work.

After years of working with celebrities, I’m on a mission to help talented women shine a light on their accomplishments. Women need to build their personal brands to reap their well-deserved rewards, which in turn will boost their confidence.

Increasing your profile won’t lead to overnight success. Rather, you need to have a process, put in the work, be persistent and have a support person or group to back you.

Your first attempts don’t have to be perfect. Just start and don’t look back.

Karen Eck is a publicist and founder of The Power of Visibility for mid-career women in business.

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These women are changing the sound of sport — and they offer lessons that stretch far beyond the commentary box


Entering a profession that’s been dominated by the opposite gender for decades can be challenging and unnerving at first.

Having to go above and beyond to prove you’re capable of doing the job is an unfortunate reality for many people, even in 2020 — and for women the field of sport is no exception.

These three ground-breaking commentators have found their voice in what has traditionally been a man’s world — and their experiences offer lessons that can help us in all fields of life.

Rise above assumptions

Alison Mitchell was the first woman to become a regular commentator on BBC’s Test Match Special, from 2007. She was the first woman to call men’s cricket ball by ball on ABC Radio in 2014. In 2018 she joined Channel Seven’s cricket commentary team.

In the early stages of her career as a commentator, she had to counter a presumption that men know about sport in a way that women don’t.

“It’s assumed that you don’t know what you’re talking about,” the UK broadcaster tells ABC RN’s Sporty.

“The number of times where people said to me, ‘Oh, you report on cricket? Do you like cricket?’ — as if that was a strange thing, for a woman to like it enough to actually understand it.”

Alison Mitchell commentates during day three of the Third Test match in the series between Australia and New Zealand in 2020.
Defying initial assumptions has been gratifying for Mitchell, pictured here commentating on a Test series.(Getty: Ryan Pierse)

In fact, Mitchell did her university thesis on the relationship between cricket and television.

“I actually had a 12,000-word document which proved I understood the nuances of the game,” she says.

But defying those initial assumptions was gratifying for Mitchell.

“I would get lots of emails from men, surprised at what I knew, and pleasantly surprised that a woman could talk so knowledgeably about cricket,” she says.

“And you could take that as being really condescending, but I would just tuck those emails away and think, ‘OK, that’s another person whose view I’ve changed about what women can know about sport.'”

The lesson? Know and value your own expertise.

You are not an imposter

Lauren Arnell grew up watching and playing AFL, and knows how to dissect the sport with precision from both on and off the field.

But when the time came to commentate on her first game, she experienced a level of apprehension.

Brisbane Lions player Lauren Arnell smiles as she holds a football at training in Brisbane.
Arnell was the inaugural captain of the Carlton AFLW team, subsequently playing for the Brisbane Lions. She is also a part of ABC Radio’s Grandstand commentary team for the AFL men’s competition.(ABC News: Tim Swanston)

“It wasn’t something I thought I could do until it actually happened, to be quite honest with you,” she says.

For weeks and weeks to come, she questioned whether she could do it. Was she the right fit?

“Obviously as a female voice, is that what people want to listen to? But also, is what I’m saying valid?”

Now, in her fourth season of commentating, she finally feels “quite comfortable”.

The lesson? You don’t have to feel 100 per cent ready. Jump in the deep end, and you might surprise yourself with how well you can swim.

Diversity matters. So does your opinion

Portrait of a striking middle aged woman with blonde hair, red lipstick, wearing a navy jumpsuit against a blue backdrop.
Bridie O’Donnell is a cycling commentator and a medical doctor.(Supplied)

Former road cyclist Bridie O’Donnell has also felt the need to prove that women can understand and communicate sport at the same level as men.

“It feels crazy just saying these words,” says O’Donnell, who represented Australia at the 2008, 2009 and 2010 UCI Road World Championships.

But she says women bring a “diverse opinion or perspective” to men’s events — be it cricket, cycling or football — and the impact of that is only positive.

And that diversity of thought is relevant far beyond the boundaries of sport.

Earlier this year O’Donnell became the first woman to commentate for the Tour de France for SBS TV.

She loved being able to draw on her road cycling expertise.

“When you know so much about the sport and you’ve experienced what it’s like to be exhausted or to crash or to win a race or to not win, you can bring that lived experience and insight,” she says.

“You don’t have to you have played men’s Test cricket to know what to look for or what to describe.

“I think it was a bit of an aha moment for a lot of people.”

Arnell commentates on the AFL for ABC Radio, where the broadcast has national reach.

Kelli Underwood holding binoculars in commentary box alongside Lauren Arnell with both wearing headsets.
Lauren Arnell commentating on AFLW with Kelli Underwood.(ABC News)

She says people text in from all over the country, and from some “quite rural spaces”, to tell her they like the way she describes the game.

“It’s always nice to get reinforcement that you are doing your job well, and a truckie in the middle of Kalgoorlie can understand what’s happening in the game in Brisbane — [that is] pretty awesome,” she says.

She thinks her diversity of experiences as a school teacher as well as a football player and coach works to her advantage.

“That might give me a bit more relatability than, say, a past men’s player who has been in the system 24/7, and speaking a language that your traditional listener and your average truckie may not understand over the radio.”

She says it might also inspire others to aim a little higher, and see others in a new light.

“Your typical male listener or female listener [might be] listening in and saying, ‘Hey, maybe there’s someone else in my life who is more than capable of doing that too’.”

That resonates with Mitchell, who says her presence on the airwaves helps people feel included in a space traditionally dominated by men.

“Last summer in Australia a family stopped me, and a father was there with his young daughter and he just said, ‘Thank you for what you do on the ABC because when my daughter hears your voice, she then feels that cricket is for her as well’,” she says.

“That for me encapsulated why mixed commentary teams can have an impact, because you’re speaking to a broader audience, and that is what it’s got to be about, isn’t it? It’s bringing more and more people in.”

The lesson? You have a diverse range of life experiences to draw on that give you a unique way of looking at the world, and that’s a good thing it can help others feel like they belong.

Some days will suck. Don’t give up

Despite there being plenty of highlights throughout their commentating careers, Arnell, Mitchell and O’Donnell have also experienced the odd lowlight too.

“I think the start is just a sense of being completely disregarded, spoken over, or saying something that you think is insightful and literally 10 seconds later having a male broadcaster repeat exactly what you just said,” O’Donnell says.

“That’s not something single to broadcasting, we see that in boardrooms, and that famous cartoon that Gillian Triggs talks about which is, ‘That’s a wonderful idea, Gillian, perhaps one of the men would like to have it’.

“Then I started to think, well, why am I here? If you’re just actually going to steal my ideas live on air, what value is that? And that doesn’t make for good broadcasting, and neither does speaking over other people or interrupting them. So that’s a negative experience.”

Speaking up for your values
O’Donnell encourages speaking up in the workplace.(Supplied)

Mitchell says she’s only had one really negative moment, when she sat down in a commentary box to call one of her first ever international games.

A male peer sat down next to her and said: “Hello legs.”

“I felt very glad actually for the support of the producer who I was working with then because he absolutely just said, ‘Right, I don’t think he will be working with us again’,” she says.

“It was just a moment. The massage of my shoulders on the way out of the box also wasn’t terribly welcome.”

Arnell, who’s also done some television, feels uncomfortable about the expectations of her appearance when reporting on-air.

“I think having to present yourself in a certain way, being female, being expected to look a certain way, have your hair and your makeup a certain way, that is certainly something that has never been enjoyable for me,” she says.

“I’m a pretty laid-back person, particularly if I’m just going to watch a game of football, I’m not really overly interested in dressing up.

“So arriving at a football game to work on air on television has been challenging for me in the past, and certainly the experience for me, the types of reactions from the crowd if I’m walking around the boundary line with full hair and make-up, boots and a long coat is very different to if I was arriving at a game and sitting in the outer and watching it.”

The lesson? Breaking down barriers isn’t easy. Some people will make your life hard, just because of your gender. But every day won’t be bad. All three commentators say the positives far outweigh the negatives.

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Women happier at working from home than men


“More than 90 per cent of Australians are benefitting from a reduced need to commute for work – a third gain nearly a productive day back per week, leaving more time for work and other activities”.

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Gina Metcalfe, a town planner who lives in the Blue Mountains, said she doesn’t miss her daily commute on the train to her office in Parramatta. Apart from a higher energy bill, the benefits of greater flexibility had improved productivity and allowed her to exercise “before the sun goes down”.

Going forward, Ms Metcalfe said she hoped to be able to continue working from home three days a week.

“I’ve benefited overall from working from home,” she said.

“The benefits have been seeing my kids and my partner more before and after school rather than relying on grandparents after hours.

“Women are typically primary care givers, even with the most supportive partners. For me, I felt I needed to be in two places at once when commuting. Flexible work allows me to take my ageing mum to a doctor’s appointment at lunch, be there to hear the important download of my 11 year old’s day and catch up on work at night if needed.”

Ms Metcalfe said she had lost some Sydney connections but had more time to forge new ones in her local community.

Gina Metcalfe prefers working from home in the Blue Mountains to a long commute to Parramatta.

Gina Metcalfe prefers working from home in the Blue Mountains to a long commute to Parramatta.Credit:Edwina Pickles

“We go to local shops and cafes during the week rather than CBD cafes. So that spending is not lost to the economy,” she said.

The study also found that 36 per cent of women and 31 per cent of men said that working from home provided a better work-life balance.

Overall, 45 per cent of people said working from home gave more flexibility and 35 per cent said they could get more done when they didn’t have to commute.

A third said working from home had provided a better work-life balance. Social isolation was a major reason for people who were having a more negative experience.

University of Sydney professor of gender and employment relations Marian Baird said working from home may have eased daily time pressures on women who were usually rushed for time getting to work and preparing children for school, meals and after school pick ups.

“The commute times for some workers has been reduced or removed, which makes a big difference to women’s lives, giving back and extra hour or so,” Professor Baird said.

“Women have always been approaching work and family commitments in a more integrated way, combining part-time work and some working from home with all the domestic and care responsibilities prior to COVID, so they know the drill.

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“Men on the other hand, prior to COVID, were not used to working from home or juggling work and family in the same way as women, and so men found it more difficult to work from home.

A separate survey shows men are more likely than women to prefer it when all employees show up to a common workplace. The poll by social research firm McCrindle found 27 per cent of men said it was “ideal” for everyone to physically attend a workplace all the time compared with 22 per cent of women. It also showed women were more likely than men to favour a workplace with the flexibility to work remotely one or two days a week.

Research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies also suggests that fathers who were working from home were spending a bit more time with their children, which may also have eased some of the care pressures on women.

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DFAT registers ‘serious concerns’ after women pulled off plane, strip searched


The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has registered “serious concerns” with Qatar after women were pulled off a flight to Sydney and subjected to invasive medical examinations following the alleged discovery of a deceased baby foetus in an airport bathroom.

Qatar Airways flight QR908 to Sydney was due to leave Hamad International Airport in the Qatar capital of Doha on October 2, but the flight was reportedly delayed for four hours.

In a bombshell revelation on Sunday, 7 News reported that women at the airport, including 13 Australians, were pulled off flights and forced to undergo “invasive” medical examinations in that time.

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7 News reported some of those examinations took place in an ambulance on the tarmac.

The women were reportedly forced to remove their underwear, before having their genitalia “invasively examined”, without their consent and without being told the reason why.

A DFAT statement to media said the department has been promised more information.

“We have formally registered our serious concerns regarding the incident with Qatari authorities and have been assured that detailed and transparent information on the event will be provided soon.”



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Women dip into market for Adore Beauty’s listing


“To me that’s just wonderful and that’s why representation matters.”

Adore’s listing is the most valuable float this year and it is the biggest women-led business to list on the ASX, with Ms Morris as co-founder and Tennealle O’Shannessy as chief executive.

Ms Morris said lots of the women investing were very familiar with the company and the products it stocks, including cult beauty brands like Aspect, The Ordinary and Skinceuticals.

“If you’re a customer of a business then you understand what the value proposition is and one of the things that appealed to fund managers when we were doing the roadshows is that we did have this base of just really loyal, passionate customers that kept coming back year after year,” she said. “It’s more compelling to get excited about a stock when you’ve had some experience with it as a customer.”

Entrepreneur Summer Howarth bought shares in Adore on Friday in what she said was her first ever share market investment.

“I literally had to teach myself how to trade this week,” she said.

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“I thought why would I invest in something I am not willing to be a customer in first? I always have a really great user experience [with Adore] and I know a lot of my friends are the same, Adore is their go to, it makes good sense if there are repeat customers.”

Ms Howarth said she was also keen to support a woman-founded business and particularly Ms Morris, who she admired for building Adore from scratch and teaching herself to code.

“It is also investing in the person and the product, it’s valuing what she has done and saying ‘let’s really support that’,” she said. “It’s saying ‘I want more of that’.”

Retail investors have been some of the big drivers of the strong performance of the Australian Securities Exchange this year with Commonwealth Bank’s popular trading platform Commsec recording 400,000 new subscriptions.

Oscar Oberg, lead portfolio manager at Wilson Asset Management, said while it was too early to determine to what extent retail investors made up Adore’s register, they often backed stocks in consumer facing products.

“When they can touch and feel it they probably feel more comfortable buying it,” he said.

Mr Oberg pointed to Temple & Webster, Kogan and Webjet as all having strong support from retail investors.

“Webjet is a great example of that, a big portion of their register is retail and effectively that was people trying to pick the lows with the travel sector,” he said. “To be fair the retail investor has done pretty well out of it.”

Mr Oberg said the coronavirus pandemic had also played a part in strong interest in the sharemarket from retail investors.

“A macro comment would be there’s just zero percent interest rates and more people working from home gives people more time to look at the market,” he said.

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Eating disorders and fitness trauma affect many women. This mum wants to make a difference


Personal trainer Shreen El Masry’s group fitness sessions look like any other from afar.

But when you get closer, it’s very different from the way a lot of the other typical, early-morning boot camps operate in their local park.

For a start, everyone is laughing and having fun.

There’s also hula hooping, potato sack racing, and dancing to classic hits.

And at the centre is Shreen, beaming as she guides her clients through their next activity.

A woman smiles and pokes her tongue out as she stands near the water with a young child strapped to her chest in a baby carrier.
A few years after being in recovery from her eating disorder, Shreen started trying to have a baby.(Supplied)

She’s not your average PT – she’s a non-diet, body inclusive personal trainer, as well as a certified intuitive eating counsellor.

“So I help women all around the world heal their relationship to food, exercise and their body,” the 35-year-old said.

“But mostly I help women exercise from a place of fun and for nourishment and for a tool for self-care and mental health, rather than for punishment.”

Why dieting and exercise was so dangerous for Shreen

While Shreen preaches self-love and body acceptance, it took her a long time to get there herself.

The Englishwoman, who now lives in Sydney, always wished she was skinny.

A woman wearing a colourful jacket stands in front of a beach in Sydney. She is smiling.
Shreen’s turning point in life came when her counsellor warned that she’d hospitalise her under the mental health act.(Supplied)

And that dream almost ruined her life.

“But what is ironic is that when I went on the diet that led me to an eating disorder, I nearly lost all those things because I had actually achieved all those things without trying to shrink my body.”

When she was a teenager, Shreen remembers going to see There’s Something About Mary at the movies.

“I came out of the film and I just wanted to be Cameron Diaz. I remember running straight to the chemist and buying SlimFast shakes,” she said.

But she hit rock bottom when she was weight-shamed at a bridesmaids’ dress fitting 10 years ago.

It prompted her to use a calorie counting app to help track her food, and she was overexercising to maintain the weight loss.

It also coincided with her move to Australia, and it all became too much for the former music licensing manager.

“It was definitely the hardest thing that I’ve been through,” she said.

“And I never really understood eating disorders before, I didn’t know that they were a mental illness.”

How exercise healed Shreen

Shreen’s turning point came when her counsellor warned that she’d hospitalise her under the mental health act.

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“I knew just there and then I had to do everything I could to get better. That’s when I really threw myself into recovery and learnt everything,” she said.

“It was a really, really hard journey, and I fell down a lot.

That experience prompted Shreen’s career change, where she adopts the Health at Every Size (HAES) approach.

It’s a movement that’s been around for a while but continues to evolve and appears to be growing in popularity.

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At its core, HAES rejects the idea that weight, size, or body mass index should be used as key indicators for health.

Instead it focuses on being inclusive of a diverse range of body types, helping people improve their overall health, eating for wellbeing, and finding joy in being physically active.

In Australia, there are around 80 verified providers — mainly psychologists and dieticians.

Shreen is one of the few personal trainers.

“I’m just really passionate in changing the narrative around fitness and diet culture and showing women that their weight has nothing to do with their self-worth,” she said.

Shreen adds that a lot of the women she trains have “fitness trauma” from bad experiences in gyms which don’t necessarily cater for all body types, and where there’s a tendency to push high-intensity exercise and working up a sweat.

“When you focus on exercising from that place of weight loss, it’s a very negative relationship that you get with your body.

“Whereas when you’re focusing on engaging in exercise as a tool for self-care, and something that’s fun and nourishing, you’re more likely going to stick to it and have a much more positive relationship to it.”

How diet and exercise can affect fertility, too

Shreen is also open about sharing her fertility struggles to help educate other women who may have fallen into the same trap of extreme dieting and exercising.

A few years after being in recovery from her eating disorder, she started trying to have a baby.

She came off the pill, but her period didn’t return.

She eventually discovered she had a condition called hypothalamic amenorrhea.

“And that basically means I’ve lost my periods due to years of dieting, overexercise, stress. And I had no idea, I’d never even heard of this condition. My doctor didn’t even pick up on it before,” she said.

“Even though I thought I was recovered, I clearly wasn’t because I was still engaging in a lot of exercise because it was so normalised.”

She had to stop all high-intensity cardio and gain a significant amount of weight.

After two years of trying, she became pregnant with son Bryn, and finally completed her recovery journey.

“That’s where I really learned about body acceptance and found this community,” she said.

“[I] just came to a place of peace with my body that I’ve never, ever experienced before.”

If you need support with an eating disorder or body image issues, contact the Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or support@thebutterflyfoundation.org.au

This story is part of a women in sport series called In Her Words. Head over to ABC iView to watch all episodes.



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Local News - Victoria

‘The budget overlooked many women when they needed it most’


“We’ve had lots of studies into various aspects of this, now we are able to see it in its entirety,” Carson says. “Women are carrying a load that doesn’t easily go away and it won’t with the male-driven recovery scheme we’ve seen so far. It will exacerbate.

“There’s a mental, economic and physical health crisis waiting around the corner if it’s not addressed. The budget overlooked many women when they needed it most.”

As the budget received criticism for focusing too heavily on creating jobs in male-dominated industries and failing to assist in areas such as caring, education and the arts, senior Morrison government ministers defended it. Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said “every single measure in the budget is available for women”.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said women would benefit from many of the headline items, for example, “as a woman, if you’re in the workforce you pay tax, you get a tax break”. “If you drive on roads as a woman, we do, you will benefit from our investment in infrastructure,” she said.

But the new research suggests women are not convinced of their financial security.

In May, 41 per cent of women and 31 per cent of men in all states other than Victoria were “extremely or very worried about not having enough money to retire”. In Victoria it was 40 per cent of women and 33 per cent of men.

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In September, 39 per cent of women and 28 per cent of men in all states except Victoria were extremely or very worried about funding retirement (41 per cent of women and 31 per cent of men in Victoria, which was measured separately due to the state’s second lockdown).

“It is harming women’s economic prospects, their wellbeing – with mental health concerns through anxiety about their economic prospects – and increasing their share of work they do at home while trying to work from home if they still have employment,” Carson said.

Nationally, 33 per cent women (compared with 28 per cent of men) were worried they do not have the right skills for the future of work.

Economists say they can understand why working women, particularly those over 35 and those struggling to afford quality childcare, are anxious.

‘Women are carrying a load that doesn’t easily go away and won’t with the male-driven recovery scheme . . . It will exacerbate.’

Associate Professor Andrea Carson, Melbourne University

Angela Jackson of Equity Economics says the chance to boost women’s economic participation and long-term economic wellbeing was largely missed in this week’s budget.

“It’s not good enough; they haven’t analysed how this recession is different from past recessions; they’ve come at it with the old male toolkit rather than a toolkit needed for this recession. And that hurts women,” she says.

“Ultimately it will hurt the whole recovery, male jobs as well as female jobs. If you just focus on one section of your economy [in this case, construction, infrastructure and manufacturing] and not on sections hurting and needing support, then recovery is going to be much slower.”

Women are suffering from the compounding effects of economic, physical and mental health burdens during the pandemic, new research finds.

Women are suffering from the compounding effects of economic, physical and mental health burdens during the pandemic, new research finds.Credit:Kate Geraghty

Jackson says the government came close to removing the tax disincentive that effectively means childcare support cuts out at three days a week, but when the rate of women’s job losses ceased to outstrip men’s, as they had been doing in the early months of the pandemic, the measure was scrapped.

“Economic growth in this country has relied on population growth … without immigration we need another source of growth and female participation could be that source of growth. Childcare is an economic reform, not a social spending program,” she says.

Jackson was “flabbergasted” by the omission of childcare or job creation programs in female-dominated industries such as aged care. “I was fuming, and so offended. They’ve taken a really narrow view of recessions and how you respond to them.”

Executive director of think tank Per Capita Emma Dawson agrees it was “shocking” that no new childcare measures appeared, especially in a downturn widely dubbed the “she-cession” or “pink recession” due to data showing its disproportionate impact on women.

“There was very little aimed at women, even though the evidence will show women have been much more badly affected in terms of loss of jobs and hours and detachment from the labour force, and those who have continued to work are doing so on the front line of the pandemic in care roles.

‘A lot of women who relied on those retail and hospitality jobs and shifted them around their caring responsibilities will be displaced.’

Emma Dawson, Per Capita

“The reason people are so incensed is because we felt the pandemic had shone a light on the issue that women do 90 per cent of the childcare and 88 per cent of the aged care, and even on the checkouts they are relied upon so much in a crisis and they have been ignored,” she said.

Incentives for employers to hire young people were positive and important but “cutting it off at 35 means a lot of women who relied on those retail and hospitality jobs and shifted them around their caring responsibilities will be displaced by that program”.

Women who had lost jobs in accommodation, food and retail businesses early in the pandemic, and who were not eligible for JobKeeper because of the duration of their employment, were pulling children out of childcare and losing contact with the workforce, which would mean “we will see an increase in the proportion of older women on unemployment benefits”.

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Dawson says women went into the pandemic in a weaker economic position, as shown by the fact the fastest growing group going onto long-term welfare was women over 60, followed by women aged 45 to 49. This had flipped since 2001, when the largest group on welfare was men aged 25 to 29.

“There has been a complete shift in the structure of unemployment but we’re still treating it as if it was 2001. It has completely inverted and I don’t think the government gets it,” Dawson said.

“There is so much gender discrimination and bias in our system but they really don’t see the structural inequalities or regard women’s participation as a problem, other than recognising occasionally that it would increase the GDP.”

Corporate women’s groups are also disappointed by the lack of action on childcare and the implication for women’s long-term financial security. Sue Morphet, president of Chief Executive Women, had been pushing hard for a fourth day per week of childcare to be subsidised and is disappointed it was left out.

Chief Executive Women's president, Sue Morphet, says the corporate women's group will take its campaign for childcare reforms 'up a gear' after it was overlooked in this week's budget.

Chief Executive Women’s president, Sue Morphet, says the corporate women’s group will take its campaign for childcare reforms ‘up a gear’ after it was overlooked in this week’s budget.Credit:Peter Braig

“There’s been support for business and 40 per cent of small businesses are run by women so that’s good, but for those women to employ more women, childcare was an absolute oversight on the government’s behalf.

“All aspects of government were aware childcare is a massive enabler, almost an infrastructure, that allows women to return to work and contribute their best to our national economy and productivity.”

Morphet says the government must return to applying a gender lens to budgets, which had been the case until the Abbott government scrapped it.

“It’s vital: if you don’t look at it through a gender lens you’re not going to see the disproportionate bias positively towards men and negatively towards women,” she said.

Many women could not afford to work more than part-time hours because of the childcare costs of taking on fourth or fifth days, which also meant they had less discretionary spending power, as well as less superannuation.

Older women, in this case women over 35, had “not been given the stimulus they deserve”.

Single women over 55 are the highest-growing demographic of homeless people in Australia, we have to fix that at the cause: they’re not earning their money through the second half of their professional lives.”

“They’re not building the financial security men are building so why weren’t they given more help in this budget is the question to be asked. I genuinely believe childcare is still treated as welfare.”

Morphet says chief executive women would “take it up a gear” in the campaign for greater childcare support in the May budget.

Professor Rae Cooper of the University of Sydney Business School agrees that the pandemic had highlighted pre-existing gender inequities and the greater financial vulnerability of Australian women.

‘All the data suggested women stepped into COVID behind Australian men, and what’s happened is an extreme exacerbation of the differences.’

Professor Rae Cooper, University of Sydney

“All the data suggested women stepped into COVID behind Australian men, and what’s happened is an extreme exacerbation of the differences men and women face in paid work and the labour market, and in terms of what happens at home,” Cooper says.

A way to improve the lot of women across age groups in the May 2021 budget would be “a forensic focus on care, including childcare … all the evidence from organisations like the OECD, the World Economic Forum and the ILO [International Labour Organisation] says we need a gendered focus on experiences and outcomes in the labour market.

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“[Saying things like] ‘women found businesses, women can get an apprenticeship, women drive on roads’ doesn’t cut it. There are so many constraints around women’s employment in the labour market and they [governments] need to give special attention to this,” she says.

“This is not a ‘do-gooder’ strategy, it reaps enormous economic benefits, not because we’re being nice to women, it’s well established it will drive labour force participation of women and therefore will improve productivity and massively fuel economic growth.

“That is seriously lacking in this budget.”

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Alleged rapist’s lawyers to quiz women who say he tried to get in car


Mr Russo has an intellectual disability and his lawyers have indicated that they would argue he was mentally impaired at the time of the attack.

Defence counsel Tanya Skvortsova said on Friday she wanted to question two women who told police Mr Russo approached their car and tried to get in the vehicle about an hour before the jogger was abducted.

Prosecutor Madeleine Sargent said police believed it was Mr Russo who interacted with the women, based on the “fulsome” descriptions they gave. However, Ms Skvortsova said there was nothing in the descriptions to suggest her client was the man at the car.

The defence lawyer also raised questions over the strength of DNA evidence, as she said some samples taken from the jogger had no signs of Mr Russo’s DNA. This, the lawyer said, meant some of the jogger’s allegations weren’t corroborated by the forensic evidence.

But she conceded Mr Russo’s DNA was found on other parts of the woman’s body.

Magistrate Carolyn Burnside granted Mr Russo’s lawyers permission to question medical staff, the women in the car and police at the committal hearing, including the two officers who arrested the accused man in the hours after the rape.

Defence lawyers want to question witnesses about what they observed of Mr Russo, including his speech, appearance, gait and ability to respond.

One of the women in the car told police the man she saw appeared “a bit slow” and his language was stilted, the court heard, and the other said the man was wobbly on his feet.

Mr Russo has an IQ of 63, the court heard. Previous hearings have been told that he also has an acquired brain injury and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Ms Burnside said there were “really important issues to be dealt with” at the committal hearing and granted defence lawyers permission to question 11 witnesses. The hearing is due to start on December 14.

Mr Russo faces 10 counts of rape and other charges including sexual assault and reckless conduct endangering life.

He was arrested in the early hours of December 4 when police allege he was trying to rob a service station in Carlton. He remains in custody.

Anyone needing support can contact the Centre Against Sexual Assault on 1800 806 292, or the National Sexual Assault Helpline (1800RESPECT) on 1800 737 732.

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