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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Monumental Women petition aims to smash ‘the bronze ceiling’

Jasiri Australia, a youth-led organisation, has launched a public petition to “smash the bronze ceiling” and celebrate the distinct accomplishments of women through statues and place names.

Home of the internationally recognised Girls Takeover Parliament incubator, Jasiri Australia launched the petition to spark conversations about equal representation after last year’s unveiling of the Andrew Inglis Clarke statue at Constitution Avenue.

The Monumental Women petition is calling for more diversity and recognition of female leaders depicted in public art, especially those of diverse backgrounds.

According to Jasiri national program manager, Olivia Kourmadias “you cannot be what you cannot see”.

“In the ACT, one in every 10 statues is [of] a woman. It is absolutely disproportionate and in no way honours the political heritage of women,” Ms Kourmadias said.

“It tells young women that their political heritage isn’t important and that their contributions to politics isn’t worthy of commemoration or honour like the contributions of men.

“The bronze ceiling is women don’t see themselves in architecture, they don’t see themselves in place names and they don’t see themselves in statues.”

She said that like statues, in the ACT an overwhelming majority of the suburbs, streets and electorates are named after male political leaders.

According to Ms Kourmadias, the Andrew Inglis Clarke statue started the Monumental Women petition because of its location and the democratic symbolism associated with it.  

“It was in Constitution Avenue and it was meant to represent our constitution and our political heritage and it’s yet again honouring another male … We are the Nation’s Capital. We represent the democracy of Australia and we, as a nation, want to be a model of leadership for other countries,” she said.

“Whilst putting statues up is a seemingly symbolic act, it actually goes further than that.

“I always bring it back to the Fearless Girl statue in Melbourne [a replica of the original in NYC]. When that came out, there were young girls taking photos of themselves, their hands on their waist, embodying that fearless sprit. It was a big moment; it showed women are powerful, women are commemorated.”

Jasiri national program manager, Olivia Kourmadias next to the Andrew Inglis Clarke statue.

Each year, over 165,000 Australian students visit Canberra. Jasiri Australia hopes the small change to the physical nature of the capital will spark curiosity in the minds of young women and girls and leave them feeling inspired to be the country’s next generation of political leaders.

Ms Kourmadias said that only once monumental women are commemorated “can our democracy be inclusive of, accountable to, and accessible for all women”. 

“It helps every young woman to realise that their contributions are worthwhile; that they are a part of a legacy of women who have paved the way into politics.

“It also helps to create that nurturing atmosphere for young women coming up into politics, especially at the moment as they look to parliament and they see somewhat of a hostile environment that’s hostile to their interests and their safety,” she said.

Member for Yerribi, Ms Suzanne Orr MLA, sponsor of the petition and an inspiration behind the campaign said: “If we continue to commemorate only the men in our political heritage, women will continue to be underrepresented and the message will be sent that their contribution is not as worthy of commemoration.”

Ms Kourmadias said the trend of male statues and street names in the ACT “is merely the legacy of men.”

“We put up a statue and the men are the ones who are considered because they’ve always been the people historically in the spotlight … It’s always been the kings; it’s always been the prime ministers. we’ve only had one female prime minister.

“If we’re naming all of our places after prime ministers and naming all of our electorates after prime ministers when there’s only ever been one female prime minister, it’s just not the pattern.”

Once the Monumental Women petition is passed through the Legislative Assembly, Jasiri Australia aims to have one statue of a woman erected in the ACT by 2023 along with five new streets named after female leaders. The first woman to be commemorated as a part of the petition will be decided on by the public.

“We have all of these women who have made such a big impact on our political heritage. We want to open it up to the public and get them to vote on who they think the first statue should be and who they want the young girls to look up to, the values they want to see represented in our architectural landscape.

“We want to make that change and from that we can start working with young women and show them this is what you can be, this is your legacy, this is your political heritage, and this is what you can aspire to.”

The final petition will be presented to the ACT Legislative Assembly in May.

For more information visit https://jasiri.org.au/

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