Empowering women

Meet Dr Anne Walker, an inspiring global mover and shaker behind the feminist movement, who has helped empower thousands of women across the world.

The 84-year-old lives at Uniting AgeWell Hawthorn Community and has led a lifelong crusade for women’s human rights that has seen her speak on the world stage.

And the fiercely proud feminist’s journey all started here in Melbourne – which is where she now lives, enjoying care and comfort after decades of helping others.

Anne grew up in Box Hill and worked as a kindergarten teacher before sailing to England with her friend Ruth. At the age of 20 and working as a community activist in London.

Next up was a trip to Canada to stay with her brother, who was studying architecture at the University of Toronto. Anne and Ruth both found jobs, bought a car and went on a mammoth road and camping trip across Canada and America with her brother and his friend. They rode donkeys down the Grand Canyon, slept in tents wherever they could pitch them and slowly made their way through the states and then back up to Canada.

Anne and Ruth ended up working in Canada and during the early 1960’s set sail back home to Australia. En-route they stopped off at Fiji where they were offered the opportunity to start up a YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) as well as starting the first multi-racial kindergarten in the country. For the 11 years she stayed in Fiji, Anne was deeply involved in early childhood education, women’s human rights, and public affairs advocacy, including the fight against nuclear testing in the Pacific.

“They were very happy, busy years,” Anne says. “I loved them.”

Then Anne was offered a scholarship by Pacific Conference of Churches in Developing Education at Indiana University. “This changed my career path,” she says.

Those years led her to undertake graduate study in development communications in the USA, following which she was asked to help establish the International Women’s Tribune Centre (IWTC) in New York. This thrust her into the centre of a global campaign for women’s human rights that spanned the next three decades.

Anne gave speeches, led protest marches, waved banners and wrote training manuals on how women’s rights could be implemented by governments in developing countries. She never lost sight of her focus: equal rights for women.

Anne had by now obtained her doctorate and was based at the IWTC headquarters opposite the United Nations where Anne and her colleagues met and worked alongside women from every world region on issues affecting their lives and the lives of their communities. Anne and the IWTC were involved in the historic series of UN world conferences on women held in various countries from 1975 to 1995.

Anne has a treasure trove of powerful stories; of some of the women she met at meetings, workshops and other events in Africa, Asia, Pacific, Caribbean and Latin America. She is the author of A World of Change: My Life in the Global Women’s Movement.

Anne says “I do have a sense of pride that I helped a lot of women, however collectively it was the achievement of women worldwide.”

In 2002 Anne returned to Australia, and back to the flat in South Bank she bought in 1999. A few years later Anne and Elizabeth bought an apartment in Carlton until Anne’s health declined, making it difficult to live safely at home by herself during the day while Elizabeth worked.

Last year she moved to Hawthorn Community and immediately felt at home “The staff are very kind, caring and compassionate, make my family always feel welcome and the food is excellent,” she says. “I am well looked after and I’m very happy here.”

Her sense of humour after all these years is still keen. “Yes, I’m Anne with an ‘e’ named after Anne of Green Gables,” she laughs.

And while she has a lifetime of memories, there are still lots of surprises to delight her. Recently a Fiji-themed luncheon was held at Hawthorn Community and she enjoyed every minute of it!