14 August 2020

Rural women encouraged to have their say

| Edwina Mason
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Hannah Wandel standing in front of shed.

Hannah Wandel grew up in rural South Australia but her efforts to empower young women nationally have catapulted her onto a world stage. The ACT Young Australian of the Year is behind the Country to Canberra initiative which encourages young women to have their say. Photo: The University of Adelaide.

If you’re a young rural woman with something to say, there’s a competition that is giving an opportunity to speak up.

Just ask Jessica Larter from Tumut, who was one of four NSW winners in 2019.

Up for grabs is a five-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Canberra where you can rub shoulders with some of Australia’s leaders while participating in a leadership program geared to build your skills and confidence.

If you have a way with words – either written or spoken – this is your time and it’s thanks to an initiative called Country to Canberra.

It was founded by Hannah Wandel in May 2014 with the assistance of a Great Ydeas grant from YWCA Canberra. The $2000 grants are awarded to young women with innovative ideas that bring about social change.

Proving that big ideas have small beginnings, within 12 months of launching Country to Canberra, Hannah – who grew up in rural South Australia – had already orbited to The Australian Financial Review’s prestigious Australia’s 100 Women of Influence list, won a Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation scholarship and was a finalist in the ACT Young Woman of the Year Award.

Hannah Wandell sitting in front of rural shed.

“I strongly encourage all parents, teachers, sports coaches, politicians and community leaders to invest in our female leaders of tomorrow, and spread the word about the competition” – Hannah Wandell. Photo: The University of Adelaide.

By 2016, she was Canberra’s first ever finalist in the NSW/ACT AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award, and in 2017 won the National Emerging Leader Award from the Institute of Managers and Leaders Australia and New Zealand. In 2018, she represented Australia at the 2018 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

In 2019, Hannah was named ACT Young Australian of the Year, and in 2020 she was named on the ACT Government’s Women’s Honor Roll.

Much of this stemmed from the Country to Canberra initiative, which began with the simple aim of empowering rural girls across Australia to help them realise their leadership potential.

Hannah says the initiative offers four standalone programs – including a Project Empower Roadtrip, blogger team and mentoring program – that educate about leadership, gender equality and self-empowerment.

“Distance, time and financial costs can isolate rural girls from education and career opportunities,” she says. “Country to Canberra gives these students a helping hand.”

Through its final program – the leadership competition – Hannah aims to bridge the gap between rural areas and Australia’s capital, connect girls to inspirational role models, and empower more women to become leaders in their local community.

All that is required to enter is a 400-600 word essay or a three-to-four minute video around under the title of “Lifting us Up” and answering the question: “How can women and girls empower each other and their communities in times of uncertainty and change?”

Jessica Larter posing outdoors.

Jessica Larter, from Tumut, was a winner in the 2019 Country to Canberra competition. Photo: Country to Canberra website.

Hannah is encouraging schools and leaders to motivate hundreds of girls across Australia to enter.

The prize, which is open to girls in Years 10-12, provides winners with two days of leadership training and sightseeing followed by a “power day” where they will be guests of honour at a Powerful Women’s Breakfast to meet with some of Australia’s female leaders, a lunch at Parliament House, a behind-the-scenes tour of Parliament House and a session at question time.

Additionally, the top 15 essays will be published on the Country to Canberra website to showcase the girls’ writing talents on a national stage.

“I want this initiative to help raise the profile of women’s empowerment in regional and remote communities,” says Hannah.

“I strongly encourage all parents, teachers, sports coaches, politicians and community leaders to invest in our female leaders of tomorrow, and spread the word about the competition.”

For Jess Larter, participating in the 2019 Country to Canberra competition provided an opportunity to voice her opinion.

“I love writing and I am passionate about feminism; this competition embraces both of these,” she says.

Information about the program and the essay competition can be found on the Country to Canberra website, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

Entries for the 2020 competition close on 4 September, 2020.

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