When I started playing football at the age of 12, even though it wasn’t that long ago, it was still rare for a female to play alongside the boys.
For the two years I lined-up next and against them, boys were often taken aback by seeing a female running, kicking and tackling on the same field.
I suspect their initial reaction came from a fear of hurting me but I am sure they often left the field or training track with a completely different view.
When I hear that one in four young people aged between 12 to 24 hold attitudes that put them at risk of perpetrating, excusing or tolerating violence against women, it’s personally upsetting.
If you think about it in a football context, that’s five or six of the starting 22 players who exhibit these attitudes.
It’s no surprise that one of the key drivers of violence against women is inequality.
In business, sport or anywhere else, it’s almost expected that women will face inequality at some point in their life. Unfortunately, it’s almost become a way of life.
There’s a mindset that as long as you’re not the one acting violently towards a woman then it’s all okay. But the truth is if you’re a bystander, it’s almost as bad.
If we accept or choose not to stand-up against those committing violence against women, then what hope do we have of changing the culture? It’s not good enough to just go about your business.
It starts with setting a good example to the younger generation and the newly created AFLW league is already providing an opportunity for strong women to do so.
I’m fortunate that I can use my voice as a Brisbane Lions marquee player and The Line ambassador to help stop violence against women and children before it starts.
I’ve had a few friends who have been involved in those unfortunate circumstances and this has only strengthened my determination to generate change, regardless of how big or small the impact I can make.
I’ve always aspired to be a role model because I’ve had so many strong women and men in my life who have shaped the person I have become.
If I can stand up for this cause then hopefully those who follow me and my journey will stand with me.
On those who have inspired me, I immediately think of two women for different reasons.
One would have to be my mum. She is one of the most independent women I’ve come across in my life. She has easily had the most influence in shaping me to the person I am today and I don’t think she ever needs help with anything. I’d like to think I’ve secured some of those strong traits from her.
The other role model would be Serena Williams. The way she conducts herself, she’s powerful, she’s elite and she’s challenged so many different things and people across her sporting life.
Whether she talks about inequality in the sporting world or racism, I deeply connect with those issues and Serena has been an active voice in those areas for a long time.
On one hand, my mum is a leader because of her strength and independent actions. On the other, Serena, while providing plenty of actions on the court for a ridiculous period of time, provides a voice associated with social change.
With the first bounce of the AFLW league happening tonight, there are more than 200 women to look up to and more than 200 new voices ready to inflict change and behaviours like never before.
We’re already seeing such great support for the women’s league and it hasn’t even started yet. I’m hoping the league will only generate greater interest and more important conversations.
We know what we’re capable of achieving on the field but imagine what we can achieve off of it.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY App in the App Store or Google Play.
Article published in www.aflpa.com on 2 February 2017