Itís International Womenís Day on March 8 and for Cairns women, celebrations began on Saturday, recognising the best of women in the community and the support they give one another.
Cairns Regional Council’s International Women’s Day breakfast was at the Pullman Reef Casino on Saturday, revealing this year’s Woman of the Year and Young Woman of the year (under 25) among 20 contenders.
Arts worker and counsellor with ARC Disability Services, Velvet Eldred, who spoke at the breakfast, was the Woman of the Year for 2012, and recalls the moment she won and how the year has changed her life.
“It came as a big shock,” Velvet says.
“I had been working so hard I missed the email that a friend had nominated me.”
Velvet says her work is manifold, involving the physical, mental and emotional aspect of people’s lives.
“I do personal care, I hold their hands when they are crying, but art helps people to have a purpose, to have social connectedness and finally to have their place in the world,” she says.
“I think a lot of arts workers now do pastoral care and I think a lot of women’s work is about pastoral care.
“The family nature of women means we have the capacity to make everyone feel at home.”
In keeping with Queensland’s theme for International Women’s Day of women and connectedness, Velvet says she doesn’t do her work alone, but with many women, including Avril Duck, president of community theatre group Tropical Arts, with whom ARC Disability Services is planning a partnership.
Next Friday is the opening of JUTE’s new play, Soph and the Real World, with a women’s day theme celebrating strong women in the arts. On the same evening there will also be two big celebrations at Tanks Arts Centre – Vickie Hartland’s exhibition Bust Out for Breast Cancer, and music with Women in Song.
The idea for Vickie’s exhibition evolved because she had three inspirational women in her life who died of breast cancer.
The spark, though, occurred when a friend was having a mastectomy and wanted a way to celebrate her breasts before the day of the big operation.
“It was December 2011, and she said she should have a ‘boobs out’ party before they were removed in June 2012, and I knew a lot of people were going through that process,” Vickie says.
“I said, ‘let me do a (sculpted) bust’, and it just grew.”
The project, initially 50 bust sculptures of women’s breasts, was intended for Pink Ribbon Day for the Cancer Council, but Vickie says it grew bigger than Ben-Hur, and became a year-long vocation.
“It took four months to do 50 and then I did 50 in six weeks,” Vickie says.
Vickie also held art workshops for women who wanted to decorate and personalise their pieces, building up to her deadline of January 3.
“Over 25 days, I was working from 10am to 10pm and there were 20 people every day going through my house,” Vickie says.
As a result of the exhibition, a community of women was formed and Vickie says she was taken aback by women’s bravery.
“Every single woman, and that’s over 100 women from 18 to 96 years of age, dropped her barriers and prejudices, and united, and they would never have met each other otherwise,” Vickie says. “Every bust has a story to it.”
Vickie, who was supposed to be in a gap year recovering from a spinal injury rather than work more than ever, says she feels privileged and has learned so much from the project, which she also hopes will encourage women to attend more screenings for breast cancer.
“It’s about women supporting women,” Vickie says.
“I was shocked all the women seemed to have some form of body image problem, and it was quite comforting for them to see themselves in 3D for the first time,” she says.
“At the cast reveals, they realised how beautiful they are.”
At the International Women’s Day dinner organised by the Cairns Women’s Network and the Association of Women Educators on next Saturday night at the Pacific International Hotel, author and community educator Denise Brewert will ask women to push their fears of their perceived less-than-perfect self-image away and to support each other by being more kind.
“My topic will be the gold at the end of the rainbow, our young women, aged between 14 and 16 years old,” Denise says. “They often feel they are somehow flawed because they don’t fit the media perception of what beauty is.”
Denise runs a program for Centacare in schools, Be Me, about developing inner strength, finding good role models, debunking media images and perceptions of women and beauty, and examining what makes a good relationship.
The program is in its fourth year and has been rolled out to 675 students.
For Denise, International Women’s Day is a celebration of choices.
“We emphasise that education is the key and then we have choices,” she says. “We can be homemakers, but it is a choice based on information, not a choice forced on us.
“We promote to get an education behind you, then you will have choices in relationships and employment.”
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International Womenís Day award winner 2012, Velvet Eldred (centre). photo // marc mccormack