Women in Environmental Leadership Australia (WELA) is an organisation that seeks to address gender disparity in positions of authority in the environmental sector. The organisation is founded on a series of inspiring interviews with women environmentalists, conducted by Dr Jane Elix during her research into Australian women and leadership. WELA, one of the most exciting outcomes of Dr Elix’s research, has captured the interest of ANU students Elyshia Weatherby, Alexandra Green, and Fenner School undergraduate Victoria Herbert.
‘I got involved in the organising after attending a previous event as I left feeling really inspired.’ Explains Victoria Herbert.
‘So Elyshia, Alexandra and I decided to host the next event. The discussion topic of the evening was ‘Women in Environmental Activism’ with two speakers sharing their experiences of being a woman in the environmental activist sphere. This space is becoming increasingly relevant in the face of the federal governments’ refusal to take substantive action against climate change, which is leading to a proliferation of grassroots activist groups in response. It is an interesting space to navigate as it demands that your voice is loud and for you to be highly visible, yet by being a woman you are simultaneously up against a broader socio-political context that pressures you to be quiet.’ She adds.
The team hosted an evening featuring two talks and group discussion. Guests heard from Julie Armstrong, founder of ACT for Bees; an educational and advocacy group pushing for Canberra to be bee-friendly, and Phoebe Howe, founding member of the Canberra Loves 40% campaign that secured the ACT’s nation-leading emissions reductions legislation, as well as other climate policies.
‘Hearing the lived experiences of these women and the sheer passion that motivated them was inspiring.’ Says Victoria.
Another highlight for Victoria was the candid conversation that followed each speaker, where plans for building social power and sharing projects and groups to further local collaboration, as well as a discussion about the potential of forming a group for young women environmentalists.
‘The WELA events aim to create a space where women can gather, share their experiences, openly discuss the barriers that constrain women’s participation and power and actively seek solutions together. The core objective is to motivate and empower women to step into leadership positions in their respective fields.’ Says Victoria.
‘The most valuable part of the evening is the diversity of women that it attracts; all varying in ages and backgrounds, spanning academics, public servants, artists, politicians, grassroots activists, students etc. – yet all sharing a common interest in environmental issues.’
‘As a younger women who has comparative little experience as well as feeling somewhat overwhelmed with the challenges that we are collectively facing, having the opportunity to build relationships with women who have been within the environmental field for decades is really invaluable.‘
‘From my experience, I think the power of the event is rooted in the informal networks and connections that it fosters between women. I’ve left both events feeling that I have extended the network of women around me. I’ve left with new contacts and offers from particularly older, more experienced women who have been more than happy to give me advice on future career prospects and life in general.’
Spurred by the success of the evening, the team are hosting another with Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters on the 28th of November - event details can be found here. You can like the WELA Facebook page, or email the team to learn more about their work and upcoming opportunities.