What are you doing to positively change the world? After reading Renee Carr’s biography, we certainly felt that we need to pull our socks up and get busy!
In 2015, Renee was named as one of ‘100 Women of Influence’. Today, Renee is the executive director and co-founder of Fair Agenda, an independent not-for-profit organisation that campaigns for a fair and equal future for women. Fair Agenda’s numerous successes are a testament to Renee’s talents as a strategist, campaigner and leader of the organisation’s growing community.
Don’t believe you can have an influence? After reading the following interview with Renee, we feel you’ll be inspired by the power of positive people.
Renee, where are you from and what is a really fond childhood memory for you?
I grew up in Morwell and lived there until I was 18. I went to primary school in Morwell, then attended Trafalgar High School.
I have really fond memories of hanging out with school friends on their farms. One friend lived on a sheep farm in Callignee, which was particularly delightful in lambing season. Unfortunately, the house burnt down during the bushfires.
Can you please describe the pathway that has led you to this point, the executive director and co-founder of Fair Agenda?
At both primary and high school, I had some great teachers who fostered my sense of curiosity, enjoyment of writing and interest in history.
When I finished high school, I moved to Melbourne University to study Law and Arts. My arts degree led me to spend a lot more time learning about history and also doing some really fantastic gender studies courses. They greatly advanced my understanding of the structures that perpetuate inequality and got me fired up about doing more in the area.
At the same time, my law degree gave me an insight into the gap between our current legal system and what many of us would consider ‘justice’. From memory, it was a particularly depressing class about corporations law that prompted me to want to work on changing the laws that our courts and police enforce. That led me to get involved in advocacy and community campaigning!
I think a love of learning about history has helped shape my interest in social change — and a belief that it’s actually possible. I’ve always been struck by the stories of resistance movements throughout history, and the really significant amount of good that an individual or small group of people can do, even in the most horrific of circumstances.
Can please provide us with an outline of Fair Agenda? What projects do you work on and what are your objectives?
Fair Agenda is a community of 37,000 Australians campaigning for a fair and equal future for women.
Our members take action on the issues of gender inequality that are important to them. Whether championing measures to address gendered violence, campaigning for women’s economic equality, or protecting reproductive rights, Fair Agenda members use our collective people power to put fair on the agenda for political representatives, business leaders, peers and the media.
To win change we collectively take strategic actions in key moments. We might use petitions to capture community support, meet with and contact decision makers, put issues in the media headlines, amplify the voices of experts and survivor advocates, or use our consumer power to affect positive change.
How can other people become involved in Fair Agenda?
Anyone can get involved in the Fair Agenda community by signing up as a member on our website.
Right now we’re campaigning on issues like securing adequate federal government funding for the services women need to escape violence, working alongside student and survivor groups to tackle sexual violence on university campuses, and working to reform laws in NSW and SA to allow legal access to abortion care for those who need it. You can sign up to get involved in any of the campaigns that interest you on our website.
You can also support that work by making a donation towards the campaigns — we’re an independent not-for-profit organisation that doesn’t take money from governments, which means we rely on the donations of community members to operate.
What is your proudest accomplishment with the program to date?
I’m proud of so many things our community has been able to achieve over the past few years.
The two standouts are probably the advocacy Fair Agenda drove over a number of years, in partnership with services and survivor advocates, to secure an increase in the federal government’s funding of family violence response. Our years of joint campaigning kept the issue of service access on the political agenda, and helped push the Federal Government to announce an additional $150 million of funding in the area over recent years.
The other standout would be the work we did to secure the decriminalisation of abortion in Queensland. Until last year, laws from 1899 were still in operation in Queensland, making abortion a crime for a woman and her doctor, except in very limited circumstances. Those laws increased the distress, delay and financial burden faced by Queenslanders who needed to end a pregnancy, particularly for those living in rural areas. Together with partners, Fair Agenda was able to drive campaigning that ensured a majority of MPs passed new laws removing abortion from the criminal code.
Many of our youth have mentioned that they find it difficult to implement change. How can we help them to realise the agency that they can have? What are some steps that they can take to have positive social impacts?
There are so many ways that we can all help affect change — but it can be really difficult to know where to start!
Obviously, I’d encourage anyone who is interested in issues of gender equality to sign up and become a Fair Agenda member. Once you do, we’ll email you from time to time about opportunities for you to take action and help win change on issues around women’s rights.
If you’re a young person who is interested in more in-person opportunities, I’d really encourage you to find out if there are any events or local groups you can get involved in through a national youth campaigning organisation. For example, the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and their work for a safe climate and just transitions (and their Power Shift conference); or Oaktree and their work advocating for an end to extreme poverty; or the new group YOUNG and their campaigns for an economically fair future.
I believe that our ability to win change is amplified when we work together with the people around us, and a great place to learn how to start is within campaigning communities. Many of those youth organisations will also provide training and other learning opportunities to help you find really practical steps to get started.
As a strategist for social campaigns, what are some of the leverage points or objectives that you try to achieve to make the campaign successful?
Foundational to everything I do with Fair Agenda is the power of the community and of community campaigning. With all of the issues that we’ve campaigned for and won change on, if I was the only person who felt that way or took the action, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we did. But because Fair Agenda is a community who collectively take actions in key moments, we’re able to have a much bigger impact.
Every campaign we run is different, because every campaign is about convincing whoever the decision maker in charge is to do what we’re calling for. And we know that different people make their decisions for different reasons. So I always try to understand the things that are most likely to impact a decision maker (be they a local Member of Parliament, a business leader or the Prime Minister) and then focus on supporting our community to take actions in those areas.
The UN estimates that only 5% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are female. How do we encourage more young women to corporate leadership?
In my experience, we don’t lack incredible young women aspiring to leadership. But there are a lot of steps between a young woman who is graduating high school or uni with her eye on becoming a CEO, and the experience you need to be appointed for the top job.
A lot of those barriers are structural — and can make it much harder for a young woman to advance. Whether it’s something like a narrow set of behaviours being recognised and rewarded in her workplace, the pay gap that often starts to emerge even at a graduate level, graduate and entry-level jobs being advertised as appropriate for women returning from maternity leave, or being unable to access flexible working options that allow you to balance care responsibilities after you have a child (It would be better for everyone if workplaces encouraged men to take parental leave and provided flexible working options for all parents, regardless of their gender), there are a number of obstacles facing young women.
We should absolutely be encouraging more young women to leadership, but I think it’s vital that we also all work to change the structures that are creating barriers to women’s leadership at the same time.
For any young women out there who are interested in leadership, and — just as importantly — those who want to support more women in leadership, I’d really encourage you to read Not Just Lucky by Jamila Rizvi. It’s a brilliant book that explores the structural and cultural disadvantages that can impact on women’s confidence in the workplace, and provides really practical tools to help women succeed personally and to help all of us fight for a more inclusive and equal workplace.
How do you maintain a sense of positivity when faced with stories of injustice on a frequent basis?
I feel like being part of campaigning communities really helps me to stay positive — because it means I see the little wins that often happen on issues I care about, that I might otherwise miss. And because I see those changes, they help me be hopeful that we can win more of them.
I definitely do struggle with staying positive though — there’s a lot that still needs to change! But there are some incredibly heartwarming stories about change being won in communities around the country and around the world.
One of my favourite recent stories is from the Netherlands. A local family who had joined the community eight years earlier as refugees were suddenly at risk of being sent back to the country where they’d been politically persecuted.
A weird feature of Dutch law prevents police from interrupting church services, so ministers at the local church took the family in and began running round-the-clock services to protect them from being taken away and sent back to danger. They started the service in mid-October and since then almost 1,000 pastors and priests had come in to help keep it going. And, a few weeks ago, after 96 days of continuous services, the family finally received confirmation that their case would be reassessed.
What are your personal goals for the future?
I would love to continue to grow Fair Agenda’s impact and the size of our campaigning community, to see us in a position to drive even more change for women.
How can we better support the currently disadvantaged in Gippsland?
There are many ways — including by supporting local services and groups working to support people experiencing disadvantage. I would also encourage anyone interested in providing support to find out whether or not there are any avenues to advocate on policy change locally — for example, through local council decisions.
To join Renee and become part of the Fair Agenda community, please sign up as a member on their website www.fairagenda.org.