By her own admission, Virginia Haussegger AM thought she was a long shot in an all-women field of finalists for the 2019 ACT Australian of the Year.
When her name was announced as the ACT Australian of the Year by Andrew Barr, the ACT Chief Minister, it was, for Virginia, one of those surreal experiences when the moment in time goes into slow motion.
Just to make it to the awards night was an achievement in itself, after undergoing surgery in July following a diagnosis of bowel cancer.
"I almost didn’t make it because I have been undergoing chemotherapy. It was touch and go as I’m at the end of the chemo cycle," said Virginia.
She was rewarded for her role as a leading advocate for women’s rights and gender equality but says there was a bigger picture at play.
When I read about the nominees, I was elated with so many women nominated as finalists, so we have all won. Out of the 16 nominees, 13 were women. It says a lot about the ACT. I have lived in five capital cities, and Canberra stands out for its phenomenal support.
Virginia, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis (IGPA) has been campaigning to improve women’s representation in leadership roles in government and public administration for the past 30 years.
With the support of Professor Mark Evans, Virginia has advanced the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra, which pushes for gender parity in leadership roles across Australia.
"The opportunity presented by the University was a golden one as I have been working across gender equality for many years. So to have the opportunity to set up the 50/50 Foundation provided the impetus to move this agenda forward," Virginia said.
Before setting up the foundation, Virginia needed to be convinced that the project had full support at the top level of the University.
"Deep Saini (the University’s Vice Chancellor) has been marvellous," Virginia said. "I met with him because I wanted to be sure that he fully supported gender equality. I came away after a two-hour meeting very impressed with his commitment, and thrilled to find a genuine equality champion."
That was back in 2016, when Virginia made the move from ABC television newsreader to pursue full-time advocacy.
From the outset, the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation made an impact highlighting many aspects of gender equality throughout the world. The Foundation’s latest report, titled From Girls to Men: Social Attitudes to Gender Equality in Australia, is the first research in Australia to combine a large-scale national quantitative survey with nation-wide focus groups and large data analysis of social media activity on gender equality issues.
Virginia says she has been encouraged by the inroads the Foundation has made so far, and the ACT Australian of the Year award inspires her to keep moving forward in her pursuit for all women.