SHE’S DONE IT ALL

ANNE SUM­MERS HAS BEEN A LEAD­ING AGENT OF CHANGE ALL HER LIFE AND SOME­TIMES AMAZES HER­SELF WITH HER TRACK RECORD OF ACHIEVE­MENTS

The Observer - - WEEKEND READ - WORDS: BET­TINA WAR­BUR­TON

Pol­icy maker, po­lit­i­cal ad­viser, board mem­ber, ed­i­tor, jour­nal­ist, pub­lisher, po­lit­i­cal ad­vo­cate and author. Dr Anne Sum­mers has ful­filled all of th­ese roles, and em­braced the chal­lenges as well as the tri­umphs.

Her lat­est book, Un­fet­tered and Alive: A Mem­oir, is the ex­hil­a­rat­ing story of a life that has in­cluded ev­ery­thing from ad­vis­ing prime min­is­ters and lead­ing fem­i­nist de­bates to pre­sid­ing over Green­peace In­ter­na­tional and writ­ing in­flu­enc­ing books.

She also frankly ex­plores her own fam­ily story, per­sonal anx­i­eties and mis­takes.

“I have been very for­tu­nate to have so many op­por­tu­ni­ties and to be able to do so many dif­fer­ent jobs and to travel the world many times over,” Sum­mers ex­plains.

“I some­times pinch my­self and think, ‘Did I re­ally do that’?’”

Sum­mers is a leader of the gen­er­a­tion and the move­ment that has im­proved women’s rights in Aus­tralia.

Her first book, Damned Whores and God’s Po­lice, pub­lished in 1975, changed the way Aus­tralia viewed women. The best­seller has been reprinted many times and up­dated in 1994 and 2002. A new edi­tion was pub­lished on In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day 2016.

Her con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety has earned her five hon­orary doc­tor­ates and in 1989 she be­came an Of­fi­cer of the Or­der of Aus­tralia (AO) for ser­vice to jour­nal­ism and women’s af­fairs. She won a Walk­ley Award for her jour­nal­ism in the same year.

Sum­mers, who co-founded Elsie, the first women’s refuge in mod­ern Aus­tralia, says by shar­ing her sto­ries in Un­fet­tered and Alive she hopes to en­cour­age peo­ple, es­pe­cially younger women, to have the courage and drive to achieve an ex­tra­or­di­nary life.

“As I write in the book, I have had my fair share of set­backs and I haven’t al­ways suc­ceeded, but I have taken the good with the not so good,” she says.

“As it states on the back (of my book), ‘I was born into a world that ex­pected very lit­tle of women like me. We were meant to tread lightly on the Earth, in­flu­enc­ing events through our hus­bands and chil­dren, if at all.’

“Well that is what I grew up with, that no­tion of tread­ing lightly, but I man­aged to turn my life into some­thing else – some­thing I am very proud of.”

Sum­mers has had many ac­co­lades, but one she be­lieves her late mother Eileen Cooper would be proud of is her image on a postage stamp. In 2011 Sum­mers, along with three other women (Eva Cox, Ger­maine Greer and El­iz­a­beth Evatt) who made their mark in ad­vanc­ing gen­der equal­ity, joined the ranks of great Aus­tralians to ap­pear on a stamp.

“She would have loved that,” Sum­mers says with a throaty laugh.

Sum­mers grew up as the el­dest of six chil­dren in a strict Catholic house­hold.

She says her fa­ther’s al­co­holism and vi­o­lent moods taught her to be tough. That re­silience put her in good stead for life.

Asked what had been her most ful­fill­ing role to date, Sum­mers replied: “I al­ways take the view that what­ever I am do­ing at the mo­ment is my favourite thing. I don’t want to say one ex­pe­ri­ence or role was bet­ter than the other. Ev­ery­thing has been in­ter­est­ing,

“AS I WRITE IN THE BOOK, I HAVE HAD MY FAIR SHARE OF SET­BACKS AND I HAVEN’T AL­WAYS SUC­CEEDED, BUT I HAVE TAKEN THE GOOD WITH THE NOT SO GOOD.”

ev­ery­thing has been dif­fer­ent.”

Sum­mers says re­forms passed in the Queens­land Par­lia­ment last month re­mov­ing abor­tion from the crim­i­nal code was a ma­jor win for women. “This is crit­i­cal for women’s rights. It is one of the most fun­da­men­tal rights a woman needs in or­der to be in charge of her life and ev­ery­thing she does.

“She has to be able to de­cide when she is ready to have a baby.”

Sum­mers says that al­though much has been achieved in women’s rights over the past four decades, the fight for women’s equal­ity is far from over.

“The changes in women’s work­force par­tic­i­pa­tion and women’s ed­u­ca­tion have been hugely dra­matic in the past 40 years.

“And that has made a phe­nom­e­nal dif­fer­ence to women. If a woman has ed­u­ca­tion, a skill, if she can get a job and earn her own money, that gives her a de­gree of in­de­pen­dence which was un­heard of in the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of women.

“There are still a lot of chal­lenges though. Women still don’t get equal pay, they still don’t get pro­moted on par with men, and they still don’t get all the op­por­tu­ni­ties we should have.

“We are in a bet­ter po­si­tion than we were be­fore when it comes to em­ploy­ment but that has thrown up a lot of other is­sues that as a so­ci­ety we have been pretty slack at ad­dress­ing.”

Sum­mers says child­care re­form should be a pri­or­ity.

“We spend a for­tune on child­care in this coun­try and the sys­tem is hope­less and it doesn’t work,” she says.

“We haven’t ac­tu­ally thought through what sup­port sys­tems need to be in place to al­low women to fully par­tic­i­pate in the econ­omy.

“The idea that women should sac­ri­fice their lives and their ca­reers be­cause they have given birth to a baby is some­thing we have to get over.

“Men have to be in­volved. If men’s jobs were as dis­rupted as women’s jobs be­cause of chil­dren, we would sort the is­sue of child­care out su­per quick.”

With the in­crease in the num­ber of women par­tic­i­pat­ing in the work­force, the spot­light has been shone on the #MeToo move­ment which has high­lighted the is­sue of ha­rass­ment of women in the work­place.

“One of the things that is so sig­nif­i­cant about #MeToo is even though it was started by Hol­ly­wood ac­tors com­plain­ing about a Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer, those sto­ries still res­onated with women ev­ery­where no mat­ter what job they have and the role they hold,” she says.

“Whether it is a Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer or a man run­ning the lo­cal fac­tory or run­ning a restau­rant or what­ever, #MeToo res­onates with women.

“Women are shar­ing the most hor­ri­ble sto­ries of what they have had to put up with in their work­places. No­body has re­ally spo­ken about it un­til now.”

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