Reflections on International Women’s Day – By Sarah Sutter, CEO Nature Play SA

If I’m being honest, it saddens me that we celebrate International Women’s Day because shouldn’t women just be equal?

As women, we know there is a need to keep championing for a gender-equal world. And whilst it’s not easy, particularly for young women navigating their identity, there are some positives (like the introduction of a Women’s AFL league which has seen packed stadiums, new mentors and role models for young girls, and boys witnessing the makings of gender equality).

Personally, International Women’s Day allows me to reflect on what I do, how I can influence equality, and how I can be the best role model possible.

As the CEO of Nature Play SA, I strive to lead an organisation with flexible working hours for all employees and challenge male colleagues in other organisations to have equal gender representation on their Boards. I am proud to share our Nature Play SA Board reflects gender equality and features inspiring women as our Ambassador and Patron. 

But perhaps the most powerful influence I can make for a gender-equal world comes with my role as a Mum.

Raising confident and resilient young women

As a Mum to a 12-year-old daughter, Jazz, I strive to empower her and provide opportunities to make her resilient and confident, so she believes she is equal in this world. 

The language I use is always encouraging and never biased towards gender. There is no such thing as ‘throwing like a girl’. She is a competent young woman who deserves to feel confident, valued and equal.  I have always encouraged her to challenge herself physically and mentally, to take risks.

To climb the biggest of trees you need to have courage and belief, and from that point, the foundation of resilience begins to unfold.

Too often we associate risk-taking with boys and we shouldn’t. 

What I have learned from my work at Nature Play SA is that society is overprotective of our children when it comes to risk. I see this in our traditional playgrounds where everything is so safe, removing challenges and risks for children.

Our children need opportunities for resilience to grow and thrive, and thankfully, our perception of the need for children to take risks is now changing again. 

New, more challenging and exciting play spaces are being built, allowing children to fail, make their own decisions and learn to assess risks. I have loved watching both my daughter and son explores these places, be brave, and challenge themselves.

The strength in failure

My latest request from Jazz has been a desire to play AFL footy. If I had asked my parents this forty years ago, the definitive response would have been ‘no, girls do not play football, it is too rough’.

But the rise in women in AFL has enabled me to say a resounding ‘yes’. 

By providing her the opportunity to experiment in a physical sport it enables her to decide whether she wants to play – it’s her choice. I endeavour to let Jazz make her own decisions, but I don’t shield her from the consequences if she makes a mistake, for there are great lessons in failure.

I talk to Jazz about failure a lot: it is ok to fail because it is how we develop resilience and understand the road to success.

Some of my biggest life lessons have been from failure.

When I was dropped from the Australian netball team, I could have gone two ways – given up or worked on my weaknesses and had another go. I’m so glad I chose to work through this ‘failure’ and my parents encouraged me to persevere.

When I was re-selected, it was one of my biggest achievements.

Even today when life throws me challenges, I know through my previous experiences if I work hard and keep positive, I will get through it: to succeed you need to fail.

Navigating technology

One of the biggest worries I have for Jazz is social media, including how girls and women are portrayed. This social media world can feel like a nightmare – sometimes, I would love to throw the devices out of the house – but we need to realize that technology is a big part of their world and will continue to be.

As a collective society, we need to help show girls and women that what they see on social media is not a true reflection or expectation of what they should or shouldn’t be. We need to show them the power of acceptance, courage, and compassion. 

Navigating technology for our kids is not easy and never will be. I guide Jazz through the world of online media the best I can whilst also having the necessary restrictions to keep her safe.

Trust and honesty form the basis of our relationship and it needs to when it comes to growing up in a technologically driven world. In the conversations we have, I always reinforce her strong attributes and praise her positive behaviours recognising that I can’t control everything in her life – but I can have a positive influence, empower her with life skills, and be the best mum and role model I can.

It is not easy being a woman, but I strongly believe that if we all, as a collective society, keep working together for equality and helping each other be the best version of ourselves, then we can achieve great things.

And – just maybe – we’ll no longer need to celebrate International Women’s Day because it will be organically celebrated every day.