Continuing Susan’s legacy

9 March 2021

"The Annual Susan Ryan Oration will be a high-profile point of national focus, continuing Susan's legacy and driving the important conversations which she helped to ignite"

The University's flagship International Women's Day (IWD) event will now honour one of our community's greatest gender and age advocates, with the Vice-Chancellor announcing the inaugural Susan Ryan Oration will be held in 2022.

The announcement was part of the University's celebrations of IWD on Friday 5 March which also included a panel featuring three generations of feminist legal thought discussing the progress made on sex discrimination in our society over the past 40 years.

The Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said through this annual oration our community will remember Susan for her incredible advocacy and far-reaching contributions that have changed Australia and our world for the better.

The Honourable Susan Ryan AO was one of the University's greatest pioneers for equality. Susan worked as the first female Senator for the ACT in 1975 and was also the first female to hold a Cabinet role in the Hawke Government.

Susan pioneered extensive anti-discrimination and equal opportunity legislation and was Australia's first Age Discrimination Commissioner from 2011 until 2016.

"Susan was a remarkable Australian, who, when you look at it, as the single woman in the Hawke Cabinet, pushed through all of these things back in 1984, which I think you could correctly say probably wouldn't even be able to happen in 2020."

Susan's legacy was recognised in 2017 when ANU awarded her an honorary doctorate, and again 12 months later when she was named ANU Alumna of the Year.

"The Annual Susan Ryan Oration will be a high-profile point of national focus, continuing Susan's legacy and driving the important conversations which she helped to ignite," Professor Schmidt said.

The panel of distinguished speakers, ANU Emerita Professor Margaret Thornton, ANU PhD candidate Radhika Chaudhri and Dr Karen O'Connell from the University of Technology Sydney, tackled questions about how we define our political, legal and social systems, and how deeply inequality is embedded within these.

Led and moderated by Honorary Associate Professor Sally Moyle, the panel discussed the importance of having legal frameworks behind gender equality, but how these are not enough in isolation.

The panel noted that while Australia's Sex Discrimination Act creates a promise of equality and sense of protection, without broad and well-structured remedies to address issues that arise, we continue to leave it up to individuals to raise incidents, putting victims of inequality at risk on many levels.

The Vice-Chancellor spoke after the discussion about the University's approach to tackling equality from both sides through policies such as 26 weeks of paid parental leave for both parents.  

Professor Schmidt also highlighted the importance of seeing equality as more than just a 'tick box' exercise and how we must seek guidance from experts on how to better imbed that as a system that works in a practical sense, not just something that exists in written form.

International Women's Day is held annually on 8 March to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

You can catch up on the 2021 International Women's Day panel discussion here.