Monday, March 7, 2011

To have an obstretic fistula is like living a nightmare in many cases. Hiow wonderful that there are people out there looking to eradicate this difficult situation.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day we asked readers to nominate the Australian woman who inspires them the most.

When Catherine Hamlin saw Ethiopian women living as outcasts because of a medical condition largely eradicated in the developed world, she knew she had to act.

The Sydney-born obstetrician and her husband, Reginald, opened the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in 1974. Since then, it has treated more than 35,000 women for obstetric fistula, a shocking childbirth injury caused by a long, obstructed labour that can leave a woman incontinent and shunned by her husband, family and community.

Dr Hamlin's dedication to restoring the women's dignity and health has inspired many around the world - including our readers. She is one of more than 100 achievers you nominated as Australia's most inspiring women in a tribute we launched last week to mark the centenary of International Women's Day, which is being celebrated today.
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Dr Catherine Hamlin with an Ethiopian woman at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.

Dr Catherine Hamlin with an Ethiopian woman at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Achievements great and small were acknowledged by the nominations, from Edith Cowan, the first woman elected to an Australian parliament (Western Australia in 1921), to Hazel Hawke, the wife of a former prime minister, to Aboriginal elder Aunty Lorraine Peeters. And, of course, many readers paid tribute to their mothers for their very hands-on role in shaping lives.

Dr Hamlin, 87, says she is thankful to have influenced others as it means her work will carry on.

"Medicine has made such strides, but still mothers in childbirth are being neglected in huge areas of the world, with tragic results," she says.

"We hope those inspired to address and banish this affront to humanity will succeed in their lifetime, ensuring that every mother is assured of a safe delivery and live baby."

A reader paid this tribute to Dr Hamlin in her nomination: "She has shown me that an individual can make a real difference to people's lives."

Inspiring women to aim for the top

While no single woman received an overwhelming majority of reader nominations, those whose names appeared with some frequency included Governor-General Quentin Bryce, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and feminist and author of The Female Eunuch Germaine Greer.

Bryce became Australia's first female head of state in 2008 after a distinguished career as a lawyer, academic and human rights advocate. She is no stranger to the demands and challenges of being a working mother, having raised five children with her husband Michael Bryce.

Of the Governor-General, one reader wrote: "I once her heard speak about the difficulties coping with five small children, and working as a lawyer; then I looked at my two small children and my job as a lawyer, and what she has gone on to achieve, and thought 'If she can so it, so can I.' Thanks Quentin, you are an inspiration and my Australian hero."

Gold medal winning Olympian Cathy Freeman, Dr Hamlin, gay and lesbian rights campaigner Shelley Argent, Nobel prize winning scientist Elizabeth Blackburn and burns specialist Dr Fiona Wood also received a number of nominations.

Shelley Argent has been campaigning for gay and lesbian rights since 1998, after her son told her he was gay. Determined he should have the same rights as her other son, she has worked with bodies such as the Queensland AIDS Council and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) to promote acceptance and understanding.

When told she was seen as an inspiration for others, she was stunned.

"What drives me is the love of my son," she says.

Minister for the Status of Women Kate Ellis says it is wonderful to see the diversity of women shaping Australia, as reflected in these nominations.

"It is because of strong and courageous women like them that young women across [the country] can aspire to hold the highest of offices and achieve the greatest of feats," she says.

International Women's Day events are being held throughout Australia this week. For details, see:

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