Young activists such as Ashleigh Streeter are paving the way for a better Australia, where achieving gender equality is a top priority. Despite only being in her mid twenties, Ashleigh has already been involved in an impressive array of activism, campaigning and projects, carving her name into the plight for equality. Some of these achievements include recently being awarded ACT Woman of the Year 2018, making the Forbes Under 30 Asia list for social entrepreneurship, a member of the Australian Civil Society Coalition on Women, Peace and Security, as well as a member of the United Nations Women Task Force (UN IANYD)- Working Group Youth & Gender Equality and co-creating Jasiri Australia, a self defense program for women based in Canberra that aims to aid and empower survivors of abuse. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a selection of her more recent accomplishments. Her Instagram feed @activist.ash is a visual feast of inspirational quotes related to gender equality and regular posts updating her followers on important topics and events in Canberra and nationally.
But all the fancy long-winded impressive titles aside, it is Ashleigh’s constant positivity and passion that makes her a force to be reckoned with. I was lucky enough to chat with Ashleigh about feminism, activism, self care and some things in between.
It is clear that you’ve been passionate about change making from a very young age. Was there something in particular that inspired you?
My journey began when I was 11. My parents had lived in South Africa for a few years before I was born and in 2005, we were fortunate enough to travel there for Christmas. That was how, for Christmas 2005, I found myself with my family in SOWETO, the largest township in Johannesburg. It was an experience completely different to any other – the colours, the dirt, the smells, the energy and the life, it was a complete contrast to my comfortable life in Melbourne. This was the first time I had come face to face with both poverty and hope in its truest form. From that day, I became uncomfortable and agitated and decided I was going to be part of the drive to end extreme poverty and inequality, where ever it occurred.
For a lot of people parading the title of feminist can be daunting. Where was your first point of contact with feminism?
To be honest, I don’t remember my first point of contact with feminism, it was a consistency in my life from a young age. I come from a family where women have both changed and chosen not to change their surnames, where marriage existed happily alongside de facto relationships and where women in my family had been supported to attend university, leave school early and start careers in male-dominated industries. I come from a line of inadvertent trailblazers and I couldn’t be prouder.
The first time I actively identified as a feminist must have been when I finished school around 16, Again, I don’t remember it as a conscious process but more of a label I could use to describe my existing views, passions and support for gender equality.
Has understanding the extent of inequality been pretty black and white for you or has it been more of a gradual process?
I’m constantly learning about new forms of inequality. Inequality takes many forms but ultimately, it’s about power. I’m extremely conscious of my experience as a middle class white female and I consistently look to hear and understand the voices of others. One of the most important things we can do is look to understand the experience of others and inequality is not a static concept, it looks different for different people at different points in time. 9/11, the rise of right wing politics and the Syrian crisis for example have all changed the experience of many people of colour particularly those who identify as Muslim. Similarly, social movements in support of these groups can further alter these experiences for better or for worse.
I definitely won’t claim to get it right every time, I’m constantly learning how to be better as a person and an advocate and sometimes, this means taking a step back and amplifying and supporting the voices of others. Ultimately, the best thing we can do is look to understand.
You’re very active on social media, would you say social media for you has been a medium for activism and spreading your message?
Social media has many downsides and I’ll be the first to admit it, but it’s also a great way to tie into movements and connect with like-minded people. I’ve met some fantastic people through Facebook, Instagram and twitter and last year set up a twitter account @GenderChat to have conversations around different aspects of gender. Social media is also an important tool for those who live in regional areas, those with a disability or those who cannot enter discussions in person to have a voice, and it’s a great mechanism for us to read widely and challenge our own understandings.
That being said, social media and social media activism must always be used responsibly. Having seen friends and colleagues be subject to rape threats, death threats and the most horrible vitriolic abuse, I live in constant fear of nasty messages and do sometimes hesitate before posting things. We have a joke in our community that once you’ve been targeted you’ve made it as a feminist – not a funny joke, but on the flip side, if you’re upsetting Men’s Rights Activists, you’re doing something right. Also don’t be afraid to seek advice (including legal advice) from people who’ve been in those situations or who can help you stay safe.
— Gender Chat (@GenderChat) October 19, 2017
Fighting for equality can sometimes feel like a never-ending struggle. How do you stay positive and and balance your work with self care?
Honestly, balancing self-care is a never ending battle I seem to often lose. From the people I’ve known and worked with, this seems to be a common trait in passionate people – we’re great at saying yes and taking on projects, supporting one another and turning up to events, but it commonly comes at the expense of self-care, particularly as this work is often done on the side of paid employment.
Self-care looks different for everyone. For me, it’s spending time with my partner, with my family, with my friends. It’s listening to music on my way to work in the morning and switching off, or listening to music and going for a walk. I’ve hit serious burn out once in my life and have gone through multiple periods where I’ve been close to the edge. It’s hard to switch off when you love what you’re doing! Moving in with my partner definitely helped though and I try my best to switch off when he gets home from work and to only do volunteer work from home on weekends. This helps me set boundaries. Recently, I’ve been practicing the art of saying no and while I don’t like to be unreliable, I don’t feel bad about cancelling meetings, coffees and skipping events when I need the downtime.
We clearly share your passion for gender equality here at Rosie, so it’s nice to see someone as young as you really paving the way for a more gender equal Australia. Is there any advice you would give to young people who want to make a difference?
1. Have a conversation!
Whether it be with your friends, family or colleagues, everyone holds an opinion for a reason. If someone is disagreeing with you, first seek to learn where they have developed that understanding before engaging them in debate. We cannot create change by failing to engage those who do not agree with us, and you might even learn something which makes you a better advocate.
2. Always be intersectional.
Gender inequality is the result of a societally crafted power structure which sees men as more powerful and more valuable than women. Remember that other power structures exist which further reinforce discrimination – for example, trans women, women with disabilities, women of colour and women who are refugees are subjected to further power structures which reinforce their inequality. Never forget these women in your advocacy and actions and similarly, never fail to acknowledge the part that your personal privilege plays in your own situation including your perspectives and prejudices.
3. Never underestimate your power as a consumer.
In a capitalist society, one of the strongest statements we can make is where we spend our money. Where possible buy from female-owned business or from businesses which support women through ethical accreditation, such Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance. Stores such as the Oxfam Store are fantastic places to go if you’re unsure, as are the online stores of organisations which support girls and women, such as One Girl.
4. Don’t be afraid to join conversations on social media.
If you want to learn more, following hashtags can be a great way to do this.
5. Follow politics.
In a representative democracy, our politicians are here to represent us. That is their primary function and I cannot emphasise this strongly enough. Pay attention and use your voice, follow proposed legislation, attend meetings, follow conversations and if you’re so inclined, sign up to a political party of even run for office!
6. Never underestimate your power to create change.
It may sound cliche, but activism, campaigning and creating change is a fluid process and there are many, many ways to get involved. Sometimes it’s just finding a way to engage that works for you! If you’re passionate about a cause but aren’t sure where to begin, ‘like’ a Facebook page. Send a message to someone who seems active in the cause – I love receiving messages from passionate people who are looking to get involved, even if i don’t know them.
7. Stay fearless and remember, the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Change is created by people and if you’re uncomfortable with the status quo, don’t be afraid to change it.
Like most of us, Ashleigh acknowledges that she is by no means the perfect feminist, and you can’t always get it right, but you should never stop pushing for change. Ever. She maintains her passion and positivity throughout her campaigning which has gotten her to some seriously cool places. Whether you’re advocating for policy change from the inside out, or whether you’re simply having a conservation with a mate who sticks their nose up at the dreaded word Feminist. We are all instigating change in our own way. As Ashleigh’s responses and social media account suggests, it is about acknowledging the struggle of every kind of woman, trans women, coloured women and non binary people, she says, “the best thing we can do is look to understand”. All the while recognizing one’s privilege, which plays dramatically into our own understanding of equality. The online world is full of like-minded individuals who want to make a difference. Reach out and connect with someone and see how you can get involved, be it today, or tomorrow. Gender equality begins with people coming together and supporting each other. As the movement for gender equality becomes more mainstream, we are not only speaking out but we are being heard. With slowly but steadily increasing political power and representation, the world is watching. So, “never underestimate your power to create change”. Go get ‘em girls.
Alice Claire Chambers
Alice is a volunteer at the Victorian Women’s Trust and a graduate from Melbourne University where she completed her BA. Alice is passionate about gender equality and believes it cannot not be achieved until the struggles of all kinds of women are heard. She is also passionate about quesadillas and her dog Scout (if you’re asking).