Physical challenges are nothing new to pro athletes Melissa Hickey and Katie Brennan. Representing the Melbourne Demons and the Western Bulldogs respectively, they’re two of the biggest stars in the Women’s Australian Football League. They also happen to be awesome female role models and outspoken advocates for gender equality and women in sport. But this month, they’re taking on a different sort of challenge.
On 9 October, in conjunction with ActionAid, Intrepid will be leading over 30 African women farmers and a small group of travellers on a game-changing trek up Mt Kilimanjaro to raise awareness around land rights and gender inequality. And in a show of solidarity, Melissa and Katie will be among them. We sat down with the athletes to find out what the climb means to them.
Have you been to Africa before?
Melissa: No, but I am so excited to visit there!
Katie: I haven’t been to Africa before but it is a place I have always dreamed to visit. I am very excited about this opportunity.
Why do you want to do this climb? What does it mean to you?
Melissa: I think this is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to not only visit a beautiful country and complete a challenging climb, but to be able to do it with a group of inspiring and remarkable women. I think that is what I am most excited about. I feel so fortunate and privileged to be able to meet these women and be a part of their journey.
Katie: This climb is a great opportunity to raise awareness for gender equality and help to empower African women. It is a campaign that aligns with my beliefs and something I feel very strongly about.
Are you looking forward to trekking alongside the African women on the climb and hearing their stories?
Melissa: I sure am, I know that they will all have their own unique stories and challenges and will all be so inspiring. I think this will be a life-changing trip, being able to meet and speak to these incredible women.
Katie: This is what I am looking forward to most about the trip. I would love to learn about their culture and way of life, and hear about the adversity they have overcome to get to where they are today. I’m also looking forward to hearing about their dreams for the future.
Do you think symbols like this can make a difference for women?
Melissa: I think these symbols can certainly make a difference for women and are so, so important to raise awareness and empower women. I think most importantly these symbols provide an opportunity for these women to come together as a group and share their stories, challenges and triumphs and take strength from each other. The power of the experience and what these women will then take back to their homes and villages will hopefully be life-changing.
Katie: They absolutely can. They can empower women and challenge current beliefs about traditional views.
Are you doing any special training for the climb?
Melissa: We have just finished our football season so I am hoping (maybe foolishly) that that will be enough to get us through the climb. I am concerned I haven’t had a lot of time to wear in my hiking shoes so I will be packing a lot of band aids!
Katie: We have just resumed our pre-season strength training and have been walking daily.
How are you handling being a role model for young women in Australia?
Melissa: I am really enjoying it so far and take great responsibility in being a role model. I think strong, empowering female role models are so important for young women and I hope that I can be a good example for them.
Katie: It’s a role that I feel very proud about, however it’s one that I don’t take lightly. It’s so important to have strong independent women to look up to, not only for young girls and boys but for women of all ages. I believe that by being a pioneer, people can look up to you and believe that they too can achieve their goals and dreams. It’s been an amazing experience so far and I look forward to making more of an impact in the future.
What excites you most about the future for women in Australian sport?
Melissa: I think it’s just so incredibly exciting that we are being provided with so many more opportunities and we are being given a platform to display our athleticism and skill to the wider public. We have seen by giving people a platform to watch women’s sports they really do embrace it and tune in, you only have to see the ratings from the Women’s All Stars AFL exhibition match to see that. It’s a great time to be an athlete.
Katie: It’s been a big year for women’s sport with the Rugby 7s, WBBL, the Matilda’s, the Netball pay rise and new competition, and the AFL Women’s all star game/new league and that’s to only mention a few. I think the most exciting thing is that we have only just begun. As each sport gains more momentum it brings all the others along with it provides opportunities for both current and future female athletes, coaches, health professionals and administrators. We are edging toward a level playing field and although we still have a long way to go we are coming in leaps in bounds.
Inspired? Learn more about the Women Move Mountains solidarity trek here.