Celebrating female change-makers

3 minutes read
Posted 20 November, 2023
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The second annual Inspirational Women Awards and Gala is happening this Saturday – the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women – at the Rydges Lakeland Resort. The event raises funds and awareness for The Women’s Refuge services of Otago, as well as celebrates some of the region’s female change-makers and leaders.

Event organiser Julia Strelou hopes that the evening will play a part in reducing violence in the area, with funds going towards building a safe house in Queenstown. There’s currently no safe house here for women and children who have experienced domestic violence. The event isn’t just about shining a spotlight on physical abuse – abuse can come in many different shapes and forms, and that’s something that the Women’s Refuge is keen to highlight, too.

“One in three New Zealand women have experienced domestic violence, which is a staggering figure,” Strelou says. “It’s also the same figure as the global number, which is devastating for a country like New Zealand that prides itself on being such a safe and family-friendly country, that we have so much abuse in our country and that we’ve got the same number as the global figure. The idea is to bring awareness to that fact, because I think domestic violence is something that thrives in silence and suppression. It’s one of those things that where I think the best way to make a difference in that sector is to get louder, to talk about it and to make sure women who have experienced domestic violence feel that it is okay, they’re not alone, they can talk about it.”

The event will also showcase some of the inspiring women in the region during the awards part of the evening. Strelou wanted to give a platform to the women who were making a difference, and empower female leaders. The 2022 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Impact Report by Global Women and Champions for Change revealed that only 40% of NZX 50 companies have female CEOs. That’s in stark contrast the overall workforce in New Zealand, which consists of 47% women.

There’s four award categories; Inspirational Woman, Entrepreneurial, Community, and Resilient. Each category includes three finalists who are bringing about positive change in their respective area. Sunitha Karunakaran is one such finalist in the Inspirational Woman category – she founded the Lakes District Multicultural Council (LDMC), and is a tireless advocate for cultural diversity and inclusivity in Queenstown. Kiara Moore, founder of Aspiring Therapy, is a finalist in the Entrepreneurial Woman space for her business that specialises in equine-assisted therapy.

Award-winning Stuff journalist, the late Jo McKenzie-McLean, will receive the Honorary Inspirational Woman Award after she lost her battle with stage-four cancer earlier this year. She heroically rescued two adult men during an unexpected ordeal in Lake Dunstan, just a few hours after undergoing chemotherapy. She co-created the podcast Jo vs Cancer, which offered insights and support to others who may be dealing with cancer. There’s also six Highly Commended Medalists who have done some amazing things to stand out and help the community.

“We still don’t have a safe house in Queenstown and the idea is that we raise funds to help the refuges, either Central-Lakes Family Services or The Women’s Refuge, to get one here, or in the closer vicinity like Cromwell. This way women and children who are experiencing domestic abuse in our region don’t have to travel as far as Invercargill, Dunedin or Gore.”

The Inspirational Women Awards and Gala will take place at the Rydges in Queenstown on Saturday, 25 November, and includes a 3-course meal and 3-hour drinks package. There will also be charity auctions and speakers on the night. Head to inspirationalwomenawards.org to purchase tickets, make a donation or find out more information. All proceeds will go to The Women’s Refuge and Central-Lakes Family Services.


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