We spoke to our Partners in Prevention network member Jodie Leahy about her work in driving gender equity advocacy at Nillumbik Shire Council, and what she has found useful throughout her primary prevention career.
What is your professional background? And how did it lead you to prevention work.
I completed my Bachelor of Social Work at Victoria University. There I learnt about feminist and structuralist theory. My working background was in the response sector, I then moved into prevention around 9 years ago.
In 2014, I was a Social Worker at a council, and I started representing the council at the primary prevention networks. I was drawn in by the collective action, and the amazing work that people were implementing across their different settings. Prevention is really hopeful work.
Coming from response and building my knowledge of prevention and the health promotion model, it’s been great to see more of a connection between response and prevention work. Back then we didn’t have ‘Change the Story’, so seeing the evolution of this work has been really interesting.
Was there anything about those networks that inspired you?
I think the collective action, the amazing work that people were doing. When I first started, I wanted to get to know as many prevention workers as possible and build that peer support network.
When did you become passionate about gender equality?
I think I always was, but I didn’t have a name for it. In Uni, I enrolled in women’s studies and thought “This is what I’ve been looking for, this makes total sense.” Over the years my understanding has grown through listening, watching, reading and having many passionate conversations.
Raising my children – a daughter and a son – has made me even more passionate. They know mum advocates for equity. With the support of my partner, we are raising them to be passionate about gender equality and social justice. I also love how much they continue to teach me!
Tell us a little bit about what you’re working on now.
In 2019, Nillumbik Council received funding under Free from Violence.
15 gender equity advocates, including myself, were trained in Gender Equity 101. We then went out to our team meetings and introduced this topic to the whole organisation. We wanted gender equity as a permanent part of the agenda. It was about building conversation.
The next time we recruited advocates we got more people from the infrastructure area, including the depot and engineers, they presented to teams about our journey of gender equity, unconscious bias, gender, and intersectionality. It created a good understanding of this work and why we’re doing it. It also created multiple touch points to reach community, which wouldn’t be possible with one person.
The advocates are now being trained to complete Gender Impact Assessments to build capacity across Council and embed this practice as part of what we do.
It’s no longer just me doing this work within the organisation and I see that as progress. We have a whole team of staff across the organisation championing this work.
What skills do you use in your role?
In my work, I use a lot of relational skills. Building connections and collaborative partnerships is important to me. I’m very open to learning and appreciate that we’re all learning together and supporting each other. Humour is also big focus for me, I like to have fun with my work.
What do you like about working in primary prevention?
In the primary prevention sector, you’re not in it alone. You may feel alone at the start, but once you build your support network around you, you realise you are part of a community and it’s very rewarding.
What have you found useful in the work that Safe and Equal and PiP do to support prevention workers?
I’ve really appreciated the opportunities to network, PreventX has been useful to hear what other people are doing and to be inspired. I’ve found the range of resources useful. Every month, I update our council intranet with new resources to share with the equity contact person in each team. This keeps gender equity and primary prevention on the agenda.
What advice do you have for someone new to the people sector?
Take the time to learn – you don’t need to know it all instantly. We’re all learning as we work in this space. You can get support by building up the network around you.
It’s important to have organisational care and support in this work, and important to have people you can debrief with when you need it because it’s emotional work and it has its challenges.
Whose work do you admire?
I admire all the people that work alongside me fighting for social justice and the amazing women who have gone before me. What I learn from them helps me in my work.