Paving the way for the future

Despite being new to the AFL Outer East set-up, Broadford - and club president Bonnie Cavanagh - have already made a strong impression on the region. Pictures: SUPPLIED

“You can’t be what you can’t see”.

That’s the saying guiding Pakenham Netball Club president and revered community sporting figure Marg Jones in her role as part of AFL Outer East’s new women’s advisory group.

The newly-formed group is made up of a number of key figures from within clubland across the region, as well as region general manager Aaron Bailey and Nicole Kimpton and Josette O’Donnell from Eastern Health.

AFL Outer East’s finance officer Sheryn Harbert is also part of the group, along with a number of the most influential ladies from within clubland across the region – including Jones, Bec St Mart from Cranbourne, Anne-Marie Ebbels from the Healesville juniors, Mount Evelyn’s Sue Harty, and Broadford Football Netball Club president Bonnie Cavanagh.

More than half of all participants in the region’s competitions are female, and the advisory group aims to promote the involvement – and development – of women in leadership roles within clubs.

“Creating inclusive environments for females in our competitions and our region needs to extend past participation on game day,” Bailey explained.

“We are committed to ensuring we create opportunities for women to take senior leadership roles, both committee and coaching.

“With over 50 per cent of our participants being female, this is a responsibility we take really seriously.

“This is a wonderful initiative and we thank our current female leaders and Eastern Health for embracing and driving a program such as this that provides increased opportunity and ongoing support for the women of Outer East.”

Jones’ involvement over a long period of time at Pakenham is the stuff of legend, but she’d be the last to admit that.

Like so many others throughout the region, she’s far more interested in rolling the sleeves up and furthering her club and her community in the sporting space.

“This is a wonderful initiative by AFL Outer East, and I feel very honoured to be invited to participate and represent Pakenham, and (have) the opportunity, personally, to work with this inspiring group of women,” she said.

“With the growing profile of women’s sport, and the momentum only increasing, I personally think it is important for the young, talented girls and women coming through grassroots community sport on and off the field and court to see role models around them.

“I personally love the saying: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’.

“I have been on committees since I was 18 and over my 39 years have seen many changes.

“One of the aims of this advisory board is to raise the profile of women in the league and promote inclusion.

“I congratulate Aaron Bailey and his team at AFL Outer East on looking at gender equality across the league, in particular in roles of leadership. The potential and opportunity here is inspiring.”

Bonnie Cavanagh.

Cavanagh, a proud Aboriginal woman, already has an impressive reputation in Outer East circles – despite Broadford not yet having taken to the region’s courts or fields.

And it’s easy to see why.

“The league is very proactive in a number of areas and they’ve been wanting to raise the profile of women within the league, and promote female inclusion – finding a way that you can address matters that are affecting female footballers and netballers, and also the volunteers around the league,” she explained.

“I think the concept is a great show of leadership and it’s a genuine means of increasing female participation.

“We’ve come into the league as a new club (in 2020), and what I’ve found really impressive is that when they’re making decisions that directly impact on a particular group, they’re making sure that the right people are at the table when those decisions are made.

“If you’re trying to make it equal, don’t make it about one group over another.

“My passion is diversity and inclusion, and if you’re trying to have a good, broad understanding that’s reflective of your community, you really need to have a really good commitment to making sure you’ve got a diverse group that’s very inclusive.

“You never know what people’s backgrounds or talents may include. It’s about giving people a safe platform to get the confidence to show what they can bring to the table.”

Cavanagh said she’s proud to be involved in an initiative that empowers people – whoever they may be, regardless of background or gender – to take a more active role in how their clubs and competitions are run and led.

“It doesn’t matter if someone is young, or a woman, or from a different background – everyone should have an opportunity to have their say or some input so they can genuinely contribute to their clubs.

“With this group, we’ve got the opportunity to give advice that’s actually taken on board. This isn’t just a box ticking exercise for diversity – this is very genuine, and there’s a very real opportunity to bring in some great ideas and events.”

The women’s advisory group is set to support AFL Outer East in developing a gender equality policy, advising the commission on matters affecting women and girls, and priorities for the 2021 season.

AFL Outer East’s commitment to inclusion has also extended to the all abilities space, with the region inviting its clubs to become ‘All Abilities Centres’ moving forward.

This is set to include information sessions for families within the region, explaining what’s on offer.