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Ongoing commitment to honour women

Ensuring that women’s contributions are part of our history is what drives Dr Elizabeth Hartnell-Young to nominate women for recognition in the Australian honours system.  

“History will ask, ‘Where were the women’?” she says. “The public record is very important in the long term. We need to see a diverse range of people recognised; those who have contributed over and above. Role models for women are very important. You can’t be what you can’t see.”  

In 2017, Dr Hartnell-Young wrote a letter to the editor of a news outlet, lamenting the low number of women in that year’s honours list. She identified that women needed to organise if they wanted to see change.  

Among those who responded were Carol Kiernan and Ruth McGowan OAM. The #HonourAWoman movement was soon formed to inspire and support others to nominate more women for the Order of Australia – because people can’t be recognised if they are not nominated first.  

“We had a goal of achieving gender parity of recognition in the Order of Australia with the slogan ‘50/50 by 2020’. We found that many people were busy and needed support and guidance in making nominations. There had been lots of reports done previously about how to increase women’s representation, but recommendations hadn’t been actioned. We invited sixty ambassadors, male and female, to help us to spread the word. “ 

Since then, #HonourAWoman has engaged with government ministers and Commonwealth and state departments, worked with other advocacy groups, and used social media and formal events to suggest improvements to the process and to encourage others to nominate. They’ve helped to increase awareness of and engagement with the Order.  

Acknowledging the work undertaken in recent years by the Governor-General and his office, Dr Hartnell-Young says she is pleased to see changes particularly to the Order of Australia nomination form and in promoting the diversity of recipients.   

“It was fantastic to see gender parity across the June 2023 list, including 50/50 or better for women in the highest levels, for the first time.”  

However, Dr Hartnell-Young is concerned that maintaining the gender balance will be an ongoing challenge. “Ultimately, we still need more women to be nominated. And sometimes women's voluntary contributions are taken for granted.”  

She and her colleagues will continue their work on the #HonourAWoman campaign.  

“We are also focused on ensuring that the numbers of women honoured at the higher award levels continue to equal or better those of men. Women who already have an OAM might be in a position to be nominated for a higher-level award.  

In preparing a nomination Dr Hartnell-Young encourages people to think broadly about the nominee’s contribution.   

“Some have national or international impact that may only be understood by the community in which they work.”  

And when considering potential referee recommendations, she says, “Be brave when seeking strong referees! They can provide insights about the person that might not be available elsewhere. And if the referee has an Order of Australia honour themselves, they will understand the significance.”  

“Don’t delay … it’s better to write a nomination than an obituary!”  

Follow the activities of #Honourawoman on Facebook

You can nominate someone you know for an Order of Australia at any time throughout the year. Learn more here.  

Watch the Order of Australia’s live webinar on how to nominate someone for an Order of Australia on Tuesday 10 October from 5.30PM AEDT on the Australian Honours and Awards Facebook channel. If you can’t watch the live broadcast a recording will be available after the event.