Each year, The Australian of the Year Awards recognise people doing great things and celebrate their contributions to society. The 2021 awards were no exception and have stood out as being dominated by the achievements of women, including Grace Tame’s fight for legal reform in sexual violence legislation and Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann’s role in promoting reconciliation.
Among the 2021 recipients are also many young Australians, including three women who continue to create positive change in local communities and across the world.
Young Australian of the Year
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While still in high school, Isobel Marshall attended a Bond University leadership conference with her friend Eloise Hall. There, they learnt about alternative business models including using profits to create social impact by funding community projects — better known as social enterprises.
Inspired to create their own, the two friends launched their own business, TABOO, a social enterprise dedicated to reducing period poverty and removing menstrual stigma worldwide by selling organic pads and tampons. After graduating from high school, Isobel and Eloise travelled for a year, vising some of the most disadvantaged communities and refining their plans for TABOO.
Today, 100 per cent of TABOO’s profits come from the sale of menstrual products or merchandise and go towards programs designed to reduce stigma and provide free pads, tampons and education to young women in need. “If you take it literally, period poverty means someone who can’t afford the products or the menstrual support to look after themselves on their period. I personally consider the term a bit more broadly to include anyone who’s disadvantaged because of their period,” says Isobel.
Period poverty means girls in Sierra Leone in West Africa miss approximately 50 days of school each year and 65 per cent of women in Kenya can’t afford sanitary products. Without access to safe sanitary products, many women across the world put themselves at risk by using unsanitary items — socks, plastic bags, old rags — while on their period or skip school altogether. “Thirty per cent of girls in developing countries drop out of school as soon as they get their period,” says Isobel. Without access to school and the financial independence an education can provide, these young girls are more likely to marry and have children of their own, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. “We became quite passionate about the cause and that passion led us to take a gap year to see if we could create a sustainable model that would help to reduce those statistics.”
Period poverty also exists in developed countries, with one in 10 girls in the UK reportedly unable to afford proper sanitary care. New evidence is emerging in Australia to show which communities are vulnerable here as well. As Isobel explains, wherever there is poverty, there is period poverty. In a move to increase help for women locally, TABOO has now launched a new program through partnerships with Australian organisations so anyone can subscribe online to donate products to Australian women unable to afford them.
After receiving the 2021 Young Australian of the Year award, Isobel says TABOO has entered into a new period of growth. Currently in her fourth year of university,
where she is studying to become a doctor, Isobel has decided to put her studies on hold in 2021 to make the most of the platform provided by the awards. “We have just had so many incredible opportunities pop up to grow TABOO and to collaborate with amazing, inspiring people who are doing incredible things in this area,” she says.
Young Australian of the Year, ACT
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Tara McClelland is dedicated to improving the lives of young Australians. As a Salvation Army youth worker, she is on the front line helping vulnerable young people as they face some of Australia’s biggest social problems. She calls this “walking beside them”, a testament to her belief in empowering the young men and women she works with.
Tara largely works in crisis accommodation and sees a lot of young people in the ACT dealing with homelessness, an issue intensified by the pandemic for many of Australia’s youth. “Often when people think of homelessness, they think of people sleeping rough on the streets. But for a lot of young people, that’s not really the case. Many will be couch surfing, bouncing from place to place. They may be living in unsafe environments with illegitimate landlords,” she explains. “Housing is the key to everything, because if you haven’t got a safe place to call home, it’s really hard to work on other areas of your life that may be impacted, like your mental health, education or employment.”
Tara is becoming known as a strong advocate for the rights of young people, particularly in the ACT, where she volunteers for the Youth Reference Group at Headspace in Canberra and is a passionate member of the Youth Artists Advisory Panel at the Canberra Youth Theatre. She has also assisted the Children and Young People Commissioner’s Office with their work on family violence. But she wants to do more. “I want to use my skills from all those areas to go one step further,” she says. “There are so many incredible young people and youth voices out there. I want to make sure we all listen to them.”
Aware that we don’t see enough young people represented in places of power at a Federal level, Tara is now lobbying for a national youth advisory council to be established. She believes this will work effectively with the Federal government on issues affecting young people to ensure their voices are not only heard, but also listened to. “Sometimes there will be a youth committee on a certain topic that’s affecting young people, but I think that any policy, any decision-making that’s affecting young people should be discussed in consultation with young people. I really want to see a Federal grant to support that,” she says. “Young people need a seat at the table.”
Tara plans to use her platform as ACT’s Young Australian of the Year in 2021 to reach more people across the country. Above all, her message is one of action. “Young people have opinions and they have really valid ideas, but they are often discounted and dismissed because they’re young. Society needs to change that mindset,” she says.
Young Australian of the Year, Vic
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Tayla Harris has become a household name for many AFL fans across Australia since she played for Brisbane in the inaugural AFL Women’s season, going on to become Carlton Football Club’s leading goal-kicker in 2019 and receiving the JLT Mark of the Year Award for two years running. She is also a professional boxer and currently holds the Australian super welterweight title and is undefeated in eight professional fights. Tayla has proven herself on the AFL field and in the boxing ring many times over, fuelled by hard work, discipline and determination. But it’s also her sense of responsibility and desire to help others by sharing her experiences that have endeared her to many fans. “I feel it’s a duty for me considering I’m in such a position to have influence. I would feel amiss, I think, if I didn’t take advantage of the time that I’ve got now,” Tayla explains.
It’s not a responsibility anyone charged her with. It comes from her belief that even bad experiences can offer a moment of growth. In Tayla’s case, that moment came after a photo of her kicking a goal was shared online and became the target of extreme online harassment and sexualised threats. The experience led her to support and engage with others in similar circumstances and she has since become a positive role model for young people experiencing online bullying. “It opened my eyes to how relentless it really is,” she says. “I was always told to ignore it, and I would, but I didn’t quite grasp the impact that it had. Then once I addressed that impact, I realised I’m in a position to do something about it.”
Since experiencing harassment, Tayla has become an advocate for respectful relationships as an ambassador for Our Watch, an organisation working to prevent violence against women. She also speaks at schools and workplaces as part of the Carlton Respects program that seeks to educate others about gender equality and family violence.
Tayla’s resilience shines through when you speak to her about her new book, More than a Kick. “If you take a moment to step back and work out if there are any positives in the situation, then more than likely there are. And that’s what I did in that scenario and that’s what I do in every scenario,” Tayla says. “I had enough support around me to be okay in those situations. But there are people who don’t, particularly in school.” She hopes her book will offer support and advice to young people on navigating social media and online bullying.
Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the south coast of NSW.