What I do value is people having the freedom to make the choices that work best for them, and the freedom to fight for things, as long as they are not harming anyone else
I am currently working as AFL (Australian Football League) Victoria‘s female development manager. I have been there for three years, prior to that I was a teacher for six years, teaching psychology at Taylor’s Lakes.
My background is that of immigration. My father came from Turkey in 1969.
My mother’s father came from Hungary, A member of Hungarian SS; he was forced into the military during the depression. He spent the whole war trying not to be in the war. In 1943 he was put into a Nazi camp because he was not doing what he should have been doing.
When the war ended he went back home, was captured by the Russians and put in a Communist Gulag. The English helped him to escape and he got on to a boat somewhere and was asked where he wanted to go. He said: ‘Take me to a country where there are no borders’, and he ended up here.
My grandfather was always a staunch left-wing supporter who stressed the importance of democracy and was always prepared to talk about politics with me. You knew you weren’t allowed to vote for the Liberal Party in our house!
I suppose I have a background of people who have been involved in global movements – in both senses of the word.
My mum’s mum taught me everything I know about sport. She always talked about, for example, ‘Just do. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything’. She was always someone who stuck up for me, too. She wouldn’t let anyone walk over her or put her in her place. She was a pretty tough old woman – she was great.
She taught me that you shouldn’t let anyone walk over you, in a relationship or in life.
My mum was fifteen when she got pregnant. She married when she was five months pregnant with me and she was sixteen when I was born. She wouldn’t let Nan look after me because of Nan’s alcoholism, so Nan threw out all the alcohol in the house and never drank again. I was born in 1976 and she died in 1994.
That said to me that I was valuable, so valuable, that she would do that just because of me. I understood this to mean that I should value myself, too. That was pretty powerful.
On the other side, the Turkish side, well, even though they were a very progressive Muslim Turkish family politically, patriarchal influences were strong in the family. Women were the ones who did the dishes and were fed last if there weren’t enough places at the table. I was seen as a bit of an oddball because I wanted to play sport and do all those kind of things.
At the same time, I have a lesbian Auntie from that side of the family. I didn’t know that when I was a child, of course, but I knew she was the only woman who had gone to university. She became a magistrate, a solicitor, a manager of a bank, and she had things published. She was opinionated and strong willed and there was trouble between her and the family until she was contacted again when my grandfather was dying.
It was always joked that I was just like her. I wonder if that was a put-down? I never took it that way. I thought this mystical woman who lived in Turkey who defied Islam and defied patriarchy was amazing. She was a really strong role model for me.
What I do value is people having the freedom to make the choices that work best for them, and the freedom to fight for things, as long as they are not harming anyone else. It shouldn’t make a difference if you are short or tall, fat or skinny, whether you have a disability, and whatever your sexuality is.
I think my family history taught me that big things are possible, and if you want to make big things happen, you can.
My work at AFL Victoria is, I guess, my life’s work. My job is to involve female participation, particularly with a focus on playing the game. Given that Australian football is the oldest football code in the world in its present format, there is quite a cultural legacy that comes from the game.
Though it is open to women more than soccer or rugby, our code has always said that a woman’s role is to support the men behind the scenes. It is to be a volunteer but not to play and not to coach. It is not a woman’s role to actually make decisions.
My role is partly about changing the community’s perception on this, to change the cultural legacy and to overcome the barriers and to say to men and women that this is a space for women now. I want girls to know that if they want to play the game, this is a safe place for her.
That is what most of my work is about. I also work with Fair Games – Respect Matters - making sure toilets are clean, that if there is alcohol there is a check on drinking, etc. You have to realise that women don’t generally put their hands up, so encouragement might be needed.
This year I have also been part of Bigsport – a program involved in mentoring women in management. Have you ever noticed how, if there is a good job going, women will tend to think ‘But I only have 80% of the skills they need’ whereas men will think ‘Wow! There are only 20% of the skills they need that I don’t have’.
I find it is the same with encouraging girls to come and play the game. If I can get a few to give it a go, to come to training, to have a kick, they will go back to school or back to their friends and say it was awesome. Then their friends will give it a go. I find these girls are the ones we need to tell the others it is a safe environment for them.
Safety is so important. It is vital for women and girls. Whether it is playing the game or going onto a board a woman has to know that it is a safe place where she is not shouted down by blokes who disrespect her.
Some clubs have done things like putting together an email list of all the partners of their players. The President may email them to say, for example, that there is a function on and that the women would be welcome. When women get a direct invitation as opposed to the husband coming home and announcing they are going, it changes perceptions from ‘this is a boys’ booze-up and they probably don’t want me there’ to ‘you are important, this is your space and we want you to be part of this space’.
This is only a small step, but a first step to cultural change. We hope we are creating an environment that respects women that will carry over to the rest of their lives for the footballers, also for their friends.
I think that in twenty years time it will be interesting to look back. There has never been a time when the involvement of women in the game has been more changing. This is quite an amazing place to be. The shift even in the last twelve months in the thinking of the AFL and our thinking of what we can achieve. We can see the progress every year.
I find that at the moment a lot of girls don’t have role models. We don’t tell the story and I think it is really important we tell the stories of the women that have gone before so they can think ‘Oh, wow, I really like her, oh, she is amazing’. I have started a blog - kickinglikeagirl.blogspot.com - to tell the stories of the women I admire. These are people who are respected because they respect others.
I would like to sit back when I am eighty and on Fridays and Saturdays watch these wonderful and talented women athletes on TV, from all over Australia and even other countries around the world.
I would like to be able to know I helped build that; to know that I helped create opportunities for these women, hopefully millions, that I will never meet, but who will never have known the sense of absence or loss or grief that I feel for things and opportunities I didn’t have because I was a girl.
If I don’t do anything more than this I will be happy.