During a pandemic, and while working to support her husband and two teenage children who are studying on student visas, 2021 ACT Woman of the Year, Sonam Choden, fought for secure jobs and fair wages for women employed as essential workers.
Mrs Choden was humble receiving the prestigious award last night, Thursday 18 March, which recognised her work leading her colleagues, Calvary Hospital cleaners.
“I am extremely honoured to receive this award, though I don’t deserve it,’ she told Canberra Weekly.
“It’s not just me who did it, it’s we, the Calvary cleaners, who did it as a team with the strong support from union workers.”
In November last year, it was reported staff employed at the hospital by cleaning contractor Compass Medirest were offered a meagre five cent bump in their hourly rate, which would have equated to $22.07.
Mrs Choden, who migrated from Bhutan and speaks English as a second language, was an instrumental member of the team that protested for higher remuneration.
Minister for Women Yvette Berry congratulated the newly appointed ACT Woman of the Year.
“Sonam is an incredible woman who has brought awareness to women who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and advanced gender equality and respect for migrant women in her workplace.”
This year’s ACT Young Woman of the Year, Dhani Gilbert, is a proud Wiradjuri woman focussed on sustainability, caring for Country, community and young people.
Ms Gilbert was the 2018 Young Canberra Citizen of the Year, and is the granddaughter of prominent Aboriginal activist Kevin Gilbert.
She said it was an “absolute honour to be in the room last night”.
“My biggest thing about the award was just really acknowledging the absolutely powerful contributions that all the women nominated make in their communities, and how crucial that is to achieving a more just, inclusive and sustainable future for everyone.”
Ms Gilbert said someone “very close to her” nominated her for the award after she organised an International Day of Women and Girls in STEM event for female First Nations students earlier this year, which involved networking with “STEM superstars” and discussions about leadership.
In 2020 she helped organise the inaugural National Landcare Youth Summit, and this year she’s looking forward to continuing her involvement with Landcare at a national and local level.
The busy ANU student said she was also excited to get back into hosting weaving workshops at local high schools and colleges, to build relationships, particularly with First Nations students.
Minister Berry said Ms Gilbert was an exceptional community activator and advocate.
The 2021 ACT Senior Woman of the Year, Liz Stephens, works at Diversity ACT and co-ordinates the Southside Women’s support group.
She is described as “a tireless community volunteer for the queer community who has brought women together to connect and make friends for life”.
Ms Stephens was very surprised to win the title.
“I don’t think you ever expect to get nominated, you just do what you do,” she said.
Ms Stephens loves running events, which is her specialty, and she has been organising Southside Women’s for two years.
“The ladies nominated me, and they said to me last night that because of my group, they’ve made connections,” she said.
In addition to her work with Diversity ACT, the ACT Senior Woman of the Year is passionate about making Canberra a sustainable city.
Posthumous recognition of Sue Salthouse
A “fierce advocate” for women and girls with disability for nearly three decades, Sue Salthouse was recognised with a Special Posthumous Commendation at last night’s awards. Ms Salthouse was killed in a road accident in Canberra on 20 July 2020.
Women with Disabilities ACT CEO Kat Reed said the award was well-deserved, and the former board chair’s work affected “thousands of women and girls across the nation”.
“There is not a day that goes past that I do not interact with an organisation or an individual that was impacted by Sue’s commitment, passion and her legacy,” Mx Reed said.