Penelope Twemlow white ribbon day

White Ribbon Day, Penelope Twemlow’s Story

You may have read our Feature Leader profile of Penelope Twemlow earlier this month. There is a second part to Penelope’s leadership journey. Yes she is a CEO and Board Chair of two boards. She is also a survivor of domestic violence. She has become a passionate advocate for initiatives to stop domestic violence and a mental health ambassador.

I have always been an avid supporter of initiatives to stop domestic violence and abuse. It wasn’t until I was the victim of domestic violence that I truly understood why it was so important.

To this day, I am thankful that I have only ever had to survive one case of domestic violence, but this will not stop me from advocating for all others who have, or still endure, domestic violence.

It was during my time in the Australian Defence Forces that I fell victim to domestic violence. Looking back at the situation now, I still cannot believe that it happened. That the person I had given my love and respect to would resort to physical and mental abuse to get his way. I was also incredibly embarrassed. I was a trained and qualified Naval Police Officer. I had undergone months of basic police training and successfully completed defensive tactics and how to disarm intruders. But none of this helped.

When the situation became personal, I became defenceless. I was unable to help myself. No longer was I the strong, defensive Military Officer who could fight her way out of a tough situation if required. Instead, I ran, I screamed, and I ran some more, hoping that anybody, anywhere would help.

My domestic violence situation occurred three days prior to Christmas.

A time when you are celebrating and being happy surrounded by family. Instead, directly after I was able to get away to safety, I contacted my twin sister, crying, and informed her of what had happened. I did not go home that Christmas and I did not enjoy time with my family. Instead, I chose to be ‘invisible’, hiding away from everyone and everything I knew for two weeks. I needed time to process what had happened and to figure out what to do next.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone, at any time, male or female, young or old. For some, domestic violence defines them and the rest of their life. For others, there is an ability to get through the pain and heartache and continue to live. I am thankful that I have had an amazing support network of family and friends to help me through my bad days, but not one day goes by when I don’t think about what happened.

Domestic violence is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights in the world, one of the least prosecuted crimes, and one of the greatest threats to lasting peace and development.

We all know that we have to do much more to respond to the cries for justice of people who have suffered violence. We have to do much more to end these horrible abuses and the impunity that allows these human rights violations to continue. Through my fundraising and advocacy work with domestic violence advocates like Queensland Women’s Legal Service, I will continue to fight for human rights, democracy and common values of humanity.

Throughout my career, I have being involved in a number of difficult situations that have left their mark on me forever. I do not regret anything I have done in my life, and I firmly believe that I have grown stronger from the experiences I have had.

I struggle with mental illness on a daily basis.

My mental health scars are not visible to the naked eye. You cannot touch them and you cannot easily diagnose them or cure them. I do not sleep and, when I manage to get a few hours, they are broken and filled with memories that I wish I could forget. Sights, sounds, tastes and smells trigger memories that take me back to certain situations that I do not want to relive.

At least 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives.

That pretty much means that behind every door in Australia, you’ll find a family that includes or knows someone dealing with a mental health condition. Educating people on mental health and battling the stigma of mental illness is a massive mission and one that I am willing to take on. We need to learn to think progressively so we can build a world where everyone takes mental health seriously and does not discriminate against those with mental illness. Through my work with mental health agencies, I will fight to bring mental health out of the shadows and to assist people to talk about mental health. This will ensure that everyone, whatever their background and circumstances, can live a healthier, happier and more successful life.

As outlined by Elizabeth Broderick in her previous role as Sex Discrimination Commissioner, ‘the battle against the scourge of domestic violence must be fought in the boardrooms and classrooms of the country. It cannot simply be left to our courtrooms.’

The societal attitudes which allow a woman’s partner to justify his abhorrent violent actions to himself are the same attitudes that continually see women under-represented in key leadership roles and paid less than men for the same work.

International evidence about the key drivers of violence against women shows that preventing violence against women is connected to gender equality. According to evidence collected by the World Health Organisation, ‘gender inequality increases the risk of violence by men against women, and gender inequalities also inhibit the ability of vulnerable people to seek protection’.

We also know that the rates of violence against women are lower in countries where women achieve greater equality with men.

Eradicating gender-based violence involves challenging the deeply ingrained attitudes, beliefs and distorted values that give rise to violence against women, and engaging the institutions that reinforce, allow or do not challenge these attitudes.

Preventing and eliminating violence against women and children requires a change in our culture and habits. To tackle violence, we need to tackle inequalities and men must be our allies not our opponents in this fight.

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Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Director

Jade Collins has 20 years’ global experience in corporate executive Human Resources and management consulting roles in the Mining, Energy and Aerospace industries, leading large scale, complex multi-million-dollar change management programs. Jade finds the combination of her HR, Psychology and MBA qualifications and her leadership experience is invaluable for increasing gender equality in leadership across industries. Jade was a member of the Queensland Government's Strategic Advisory Group for the Toward Gender Parity: Women on Boards Initiative and the 2019 CQU Alumni of the Year for Social Impact for her work with Femeconomy.