International Women’s Day Speech

by Kit McMahon, WHISE CEO


Before we begin, I do want to thank Jillian for her warm and gracious welcome to country and want to also acknowledge that we are on traditional lands of Bunurong People  

I was born on the lands of the Eastern Maar, had my children and raised a young family on Gadigal land, I live on Wurundjeri Woiwurrong land and work on Bunurong Land. I have benefited from the colonisation of these unceded lands and waters and I pay my respects to the Aboriginal people of these lands for their custodianship and guardianship of these lands for over 60,000 years. Always was and always will be Aboriginal land. 

Investing in Women is a Human Rights issue 

Colleagues, it is a truth that is not universally acknowledged that the investment and financing of the work for women and gender equality is a human rights issue. 

That pesky, revolutionary, organisation called the United Nations as well as countless academics, researchers and, generations of workers in international development and equality tell us that it is.  

This reality should not be news. Nor is it new or, indeed, revolutionary, let alone progressive. 

And let me share another fact that these legions of experienced, hardworking – backed-by-the-evidence-people also tell us.  

Complicit in perpetrating gender inequality 

Our global, economic and financial systems work against an equitable future.   

That is to say the priorities of these massive systems and structures have goals that are not aligned to what is needed for (as my staff know I often say) “world peace”.  

These systems shape the lived experience of all our lives and in particular women. We know this, through the way women see our bodies, the way women access safe, common and legal health care – and even though it is safe, common and legal it is not available, the way that we understand the nature of work and workplaces – that it is not just about showing up in a building in the CBD —- and if this past week has shown us anything, it is not about explaining away a systemic pay gap because somehow women are “choosing”  to work part time, or not knowing how to ask for promotions, or lead, or taking too long to get their education sorted for those higher paying jobs… 

These financial and economic systems, they shape the way that women, people with a uterus, those that identify as a women see themselves. There work is unpaid, underfunded, considered unskilled, unrecognised, unrecorded, judged, unprotected… but somehow it is our fault.  


There are many reasons why IWD is important – and can I just say, it is not for cupcakes, although there is nothing wrong with a good cupcake. It centres our minds, it brings us together, it focuses global attention.  

There is much to be celebrated about an internationally declared day I think, but for International Women’s Day and why we at WHISE do all we can to focus attention on the UN themes – it is about all these things and so much more, It is also about focusing global attention on the deliberations and work of the Commission for the Status of Women.   

This principal, global, intergovernmental body is exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. It has been around since 1946, it is what the UN call a “functional commission of the Economic and Social Council” which is a big deal.  

CSW is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women. 

And the IWD theme is about setting up for 2 weeks of discussions that are about to commence, of what can only be described as back breaking, intense, emotionally rigorous, intellectually challenging and values aligning work.  

CSW Primary Theme 

And this year, its primary theme is about financing, funding, resourcing, enabling and accelerating the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by addressing poverty and equally important, strengthening institutions and financing with a gender perspective. 

Review Theme 

They are also going to look at the systems and structures that are in place for women and girls to access those services and infrastructure that they need to thrive, to have dignity, to have their human rights respected.  

A discussion to agree that the global systems and structures to treat women and girls with respect and equitably.  

In 2024. 

At Crossroads 

Because what the UN is saying is that gender equality is actually at a cross roads.  

We clearly have unfinished business. 

There is overwhelming evidence.  

…– again, by those pesky folks who know what they are doing, back it by evidence and have been demonstrating this evidence for decades –  

…. that if we look at the world through the lens of SDG 5 – through the eyes of women and girls – we know that “women’s power and freedom to make choices and seize opportunities remains largely restricted, and no country has achieved full gender parity. Low women’s empowerment and large gender gaps are commonplace.”  

Further, this is no longer about the “human development” agenda. 

Multiple and interlinked… 

In short – its everything.  

And I am really not being glib in saying this…. 

…because that is what happens when we let our biases, our attitudes, and our behaviours evolve, meander, trot along, manifest, build up in our own world, our own bubble, our own privilege.  

And when this compounds upon years and decades of assumptions, that become habits, and then practice, and then policy, and then strategy and then systems…. Well then: 

With a Lens (Part A) 

Globally, women will only be emancipated to achieve, on average, only 60 percent of their full potential, 

No country has achieved high women’s empowerment while keeping a large gender gap telling us that women’s and girls’ empowerment will remain elusive until gender gaps are eliminated.  

Today, girls’ education is on the rise, with decreases in harmful practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation.  

Maternal mortality rates are dropping, and women are living longer, delaying childbirth.  

More women are joining public life, holding roles in parliament, ministries, and the judiciary.  

A movement against gender-based violence is gaining momentum, supported by men.  

Women are actively involved in various social justice causes, including racial justice, workers’ rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and climate justice.  

However, despite progress, women receive fewer resources for health and education compared to men and have less access to paid work. 

With a Lens (Part B) 

Women are vulnerable to climate change because they have limited access to land and environmental resources, are excluded from decision-making processes, and are more likely to live in poverty.  

By the end of 2023, close to 10 percent of the world’s women and girls —will be living on less than $2.15 a day.  

The global population of forcibly displaced women and girls has reached a record high. 

The world was never on track to achieve gender equality by 2030, but current trends, shocks and crisis have pushed it farther off course.  

And we are witnessing right now one of those factors, the reality of war.  

If we are advocates for women’s health and being it seems to me that part of that work is to stand in solidarity with women’s peace movements worldwide. This movement recognises that gender power relations are significant drivers to the mechanisms of war. We can globally challenge entrenched notions of masculinity linked to violence and domination, we can pave the way for more inclusive and sustainable peace processes. 


A gender perspective is critical to building resilience to crises and shocks and here is one more thing. 

Thriving Women Drive Prosperous Economies 

While our work is centred here, in place, in Southern Metropolitan Melbourne, in the 10 Local Government areas from Cardina to Port Philip to Mornington Peninsula – we can affect the change.  

We can use the evidence, we can stand on the shoulders of giants, we can play our role in making a difference, we can advocate, hope for a better world, challenge ourselves, and do the work of addressing the systems and structures that combine together to create this inequal world… 

… and like it or not (and let’s not like it), this inequitable world does not like nor treat women and girls the same way it treats men.  

And moreover, treats even more poorly those women and girls who have a disability, do not have white skin, are without a permanent home, displaced by family violence, or fires and floods, parent on their own, decide to not give birth on their own or otherwise, are in low wage work that is low wage not because of the work but let’s be honest, in spite of it….are in  impermanent jobs, are not educated (so-called or otherwise), do not have health insurance, do not exercise enough, or exercise too much, wear the right clothes, speak with an accent, wear a head scarf, or maybe in love with another women and not a man. 

It feels personally ridiculous to me to argue for a “business case” to invest in equality and empowerment of women and girls because as the UN says, “human rights are priceless”.  

But the reality is that you can’t have a well economy and society without well women and girls.  But for those proverbially “up the back “as it were, lets drag those arguments out… 

The Stats 

If we close those pesky pay gaps, we increase GDP by 20% 

If we invest in feminised work this alone will return 3 times more jobs than that which will occur for the same investment in construction 

.. and globally if we enable decent work in care sector it will return 3000 million jobs. 

And broadly, labour productivity along increases by 25% when we remove those barriers. 

And can I again highlight that this is tested, trialled and real evidence – not Kit McMahon made up stats but deep thinking from another group of radical fringe groups like the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and those rabble rousers at the World Bank. 

So, then we come to the all-important question… How do we do this? 

Well for one thing we don’t make it a problem for women. We don’t blame women for not training themselves, or for choosing to be in a particular religion, or for having children, or for not working full time, or just not going for promotion, or wanting to lead…  

Because it is actually not a women’s problem, but it has become a problem for women. 

But so often the solutions that we get are the “add women and wait” or “fix women” approaches. Train more women in leadership, get more women into trade industry, build up women’s confidence to be more resilient, train women how to navigate the health system, the banking system the legal system…  get women to work and be mothers, get them to have one for mum one for dad and one for the country, get them to relax more, have baths, massages, do yoga, drink wine… 

The Practical and the Strategic 

The reality is that we need to work on both levels. We need to provide support to women for inclusion, and to address the immediate issues they face as a result of the social constructed gender roles.  

But all this means nothing unless we challenge those systems and structures that created those social constructions, the economic systems and financial structures in the first place.  

To not do this would not be… shall we say, following the business case. 

In a short while my colleague Dr Rachel Bush will tell you about the ways that WHISE and indeed everyone can address one of these barriers to equality – the pay gap, and the strategic and practical work required. 

However, before that, let me tell you another way which is not only at the heart of the IWD theme and, at the core of this CSW. 

Fund the work of women and the work of gender equality 

Fund and resource the work. 

For too long the work of equality has suffered the same impact as the issues it looks to address. It suffers from short term policy support resulting in short term funding, it is too often seen as women’s work and with that is often not called upon as a contributor to discussions on increasing economic productivity, improvement in community wellbeing, strengthening our health systems, our legal systems and structures, and, indeed our financial systems. 

Globally, the UN Women IWD theme is “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress,” focusing on investing in women, women’s organisations, and gender equality work. 

In Australia, the UN Australia IWD theme is “Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress,” centring on economic inclusion and the necessary pathways and support to achieve it. 

The significance of these themes lies in their focus on the urgent need to financially support the work of feminist and women’s organisations in the fight for gender equality. This effort must include resources to ensure equal opportunities for education, skills, work, and careers, granting all individuals access and control over their economic resources and opportunities. 

Before I close I want to highlight that as of this moment the future of the Victorian Women’s Health Services is the subject of the Victorian May budget and we have been collaborating strongly with our local parliamentarians around a budget submission, and learning about the systems and structures of government that need to be engaged with to make the business case. Personally, it has been a huge learning curve, and for all of us, a year’s worth of advocacy and partnership across the sector.  

This is more than the work of WHISE but about the structures and systems for equality and intersectional equity in our region, across the state and the influence that we can bring to those polices and structures that impact all women in Victoria, from Federal and indeed, international agencies. 

For the moment though, it is about solutions and making a difference in our world, our region, in our homes, workplaces, communities, and public places.  

We look forward to keeping you informed about the progress of our advocacy as a sector but also continuing to partner with all of you as we accelerate progress for a gender equal world.