Two Master of Social Work students at the Australian Catholic University in Canberra are finalists for the 2022 ACT Woman of the Year Award, to be announced tonight, Thursday 3 March at 6pm.
The award recognizes outstanding contribution in improving the lives of the ACT’s women and girls.
Born to political activists in South Africa, Cara Jacobs’ mission to support the vulnerable members of society began long before stepping up as Acting CEO of YWCA Canberra.
During the pandemic, Ms Jacobs helped establish the NGO multi-disciplinary support hub, part of the Ragusa Quarantine Facility. The hub continues to assist vulnerable Canberra residents who can’t safely quarantine at home.
“The COVID pandemic exaggerated inequality that was already in our community. To be able to lead a team of extremely passionate staff, who dropped everything to up their workload and accommodate those using our services, that has been my proudest achievement.”
Her efforts have particular focus on delivering safe and affordable housing options to women and children, homeless older women, and survivors of domestic violence.
“Older women are the fastest growing cohort of people experiencing homelessness in Australia,” says Ms Jacobs.
“These are women who have led ordinary lives but reach retirement, face the death of a spouse or divorce, and are now facing homelessness.
“We work extensively to make sure they and their children are safe, that they can recover, get their lives on track, and reach their goals.”
Ms Jacobs believes that solving homelessness within the ACT in her lifetime is far from impossible.
“We can do it, and significantly reduce domestic and family violence, too. The answers are right in front of us. I’m optimistic, as I’ve seen change. I’ve seen the difference housing can make to the trajectory of a life.
“I’m humbled and inspired every day by Canberrans providing their private properties to our facilities for affordable housing. We can do so much more if we do it together.”
At just 24 years old, Camille Schloeffel is the Founder, Director and Safeguarding Manager of The STOP Campaign, a not-for-profit organization addressing the sexual violence that festers in learning environments.
Additionally, she works as a Senior Policy Officer for the Federal Government in Child Abuse and Family Violence Policy.
“I founded The STOP Campaign in 2018, when I was studying at a different university and living at a residential college.
“I was shocked by the prevalence of sexual violence on university campuses. In the beginning, I thought this would just be a campaign to raise awareness. All I wanted to do was increase sexual wellbeing literacy.
“But when I had those conversations with leaders in the university sector, they weren’t interested in addressing it at all. It was disheartening, but it became why The STOP Campaign grew into creating response initiatives, safe spaces, and advocacy workshops.
“It’s been an amazing experience. I founded the campaign as an individual and now we have over 60 members volunteering their time.”
“The program that I’m most proud of is our ZINE and video series. It’s a creative platform for survivors to share their stories on their own terms, through an anonymous avenue.”
Her role of Safeguarding Manager means that Ms Schloeffel is the only member of the campaign who knows the identities of the survivors who wish to share their artwork, writing, or video diaries.
“Sharing stories can be very difficult. Through this program they can do it on their own terms, have an exit, be anonymous, or share their name.”
Ms Schloeffel notes that, being a victim-survivor herself, she feels “uneasy” about recognition.
“However, being recognized by the ACT Woman of the Year Award lets me feel listened to and acknowledged.
“It lets us feel like the ACT jurisdiction is willing to engage, and support our cause, preventing others from experiencing what I did growing up.
“I advocate for women because we don’t have enough people advocating for us. We deserve better.
“Every woman has experienced some form of sexual violence or harassment in their lives, and if they haven’t, then they know someone who has. Sharing our stories is so important for protecting the next generation of women.”
“If I could achieve one thing by the end of my career, it would be creating enough change that when a woman comes forward with her experience with sexual violence, the first thing we do is believe her.”
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