Today we mark International Women’s Day 2016, joining in the global celebrations to #pledgeforparity and further encourage women’s empowerment and equality- in a variety of realms and areas, both personal and professional.

To continue our diverse IWD blog series, we asked contributor Jill Bolen from Queensland what the 2016 IWD #pledgeforparity theme means to her in her personal and professional life. Jill has worked in the private and public sectors, with her primary career in policing. When she resigned in 1993, she was Queensland’s most senior policewoman at the rank of Chief Superintendent. Jill has lectured at various universities, worked on two AusAID projects in Papua New Guinea and now spends time volunteering both with the Ageing in Diversity Action Group, and as a JP (Qual.) at the Brisbane Magistrates Court and St. Vincent’s Private Hospital at Kangaroo Point.

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As a member of our LGBTI community, Jill’s thoughts on the importance of #pledgeforparity cut straight to the heart of modern debates:

My #pledgeforparity is to continue my volunteering work to ensure that ageing LGBTI folk will be treated with understanding, dignity and respect by their families, neighbours, friends, carers, and by society in general. In our communities, we have a saying -“Nothing About Us Without Us”. We encourage all LGBTI people to speak up about their needs, while acknowledging that some can’t do that because of past injustices. Until one has walked a mile in our shoes, nobody would truly understand the weight we carry from the lifelong experiences of homophobia or transphobia.

While legislative change is important, it is in the everyday interactions that can soothe or harm the individual. Many older lesbians and transwomen are still not open about their sexuality, gender or sex to their families, and/or friends. When it comes to service provision, a lot of service providers think they need to “treat everyone the same”. But we are not the same. We haven’t had parity. We should be treated equally but our differences must be understood and respected. We as a society have to acknowledge the wrongs inflicted on people – sometimes it’s through carelessness or ignorance, or even shame. And sometimes, it is also through religious discrimination: whether that be on a personal level within the family, or on a societal level through institutions. Current Safe Schools Programs and the Marriage Equality debate are clear examples of where this plays out. I believe that by working together, we can make a positive difference.

However, there is still an enormous amount of work required to ensure that the principles and goals of the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy are fully implemented – both in residential aged care and for older people needing services in their own homes.

As women – both lesbian and transwomen – there are additional issues for each of us to acknowledge. I won’t speak for transwomen but some issues are the same. Despite vilification, shame and exclusion, many older lesbians create fulfilling lives loving women but are still a largely invisible minority. The double discrimination of sexism and homophobia exists for many. The patriarchy, misogyny, the level of violence against lesbians, the medical “solutions” for lesbians, the traditional division of labour that saw women relegated to home and family responsibilities, religious oppression, depression from living a ‘closeted’ life, financial insecurity and disadvantage, and invisibility all mean that there is a long way to go in achieving parity for lesbians in 2016.

Try a little kindness, don’t assume heterosexuality and make a big difference for lesbians particularly but also for the marginalised LGBTI people more generally!

Stay tuned for the third in our blog series!

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