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Two of the leading figures in Australia’s Paralympic movement have delivered the powerful International Women’s Day message that gender equity – like an equitable sport system – is in the interest of all Australians.

Paralympics Australia Chief Executive Catherine Clark was a speaker and panellist at the Woodridge State High School in Brisbane, at the invitation of the State Member Cameron Dick. The theme of the discussion was ‘You can’t be what you can’t see. Representation matters, regardless of ability, background, or gender.’

Later, Clark was the keynote speaker at an event at Brisbane City Council, at the invitation of the Council’s Chief Executive, Colin Jensen.

Clark’s engagements on International Women’s Day followed presentations at two Sydney schools on Tuesday by Australian Paralympic Team Chef de Mission Kate McLoughlin, including one at her alma mater.

Clark – who has been named one of the 10 most influential women in Australian sport – said speaking on International Women’s Day reinforced the importance of the work being undertaken by Paralympics Australia.

“In our Strategic Plan, which we launched last week, we announced our intention to lead the delivery of a fair and equitable sport system for people with a disability at all levels,” Clark said.

“That’s about fairness and decency, but it’s also about realising the incredible potential of a large section of the population who currently face roadblocks at nearly every turn.

“When more people with a disability are involved in sport, the mental and physical health outcomes are incredibly positive, leading to a range of benefits for the wider community.

“There are clear similarities with the message of International Women’s Day. Creating a system in which all women have the chance to be their best lifts us all. When we talk about the progress of women, we are talking about the progress of Australia.”

McLoughlin, who in 2016 became the first woman to be appointed Chef de Mission of an Australian Paralympic Team, spoke at St Ives High School before returning to Ravenswood School for Girls in Sydney’s north, where she spoke about her work facilitating the environment for Australia’s top Para-athletes to perform at their peak.

“I’m fortunate to do this work at an organisation that understands that the best results happen when everybody has the opportunity to contribute and excel,” McLoughlin said.

“Many of the top positions at Paralympics Australia are filled by women, including chief executive. Our board comprises three women and three men and our Athlete Commission is chaired and deputy chaired by female Paralympians and is majority female overall.

“Our Tokyo 2020 Team was 44 percent female and we hope to have parity for Paris 2024.”

McLoughlin acknowledged that “not everywhere in Australian society is as open and encouraging as the Paralympic movement”.
“In your lives you will almost certainly encounter obstacles, discrimination and possibly even harassment just because you are female,” she told students.

“You may be pigeonholed, shut out of activities or opportunities, and made to feel unworthy.

“My advice to you is to think about the many generations of women who came before you, who were brave enough to call out injustices because they knew it was the only way to force change.”

By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 8 March 2023