Tackling gender inequality on a global scale

19 August 2022

Supporting women to drive change in their communities

Jane Sloane (MPACS '02) has spent 20 years working to advance women's and girls' rights around the world. Now, she's supporting the next generation of young men and women to address gender norms to end gender-based violence.

Jane Sloane’s career has taken her all around the world – from helping women in Bangladesh prevent child marriage, to spending time with Syrian women who have fled ISIS, as well as supporting women climate leaders to help families to relocate from the Carteret Islands, due to rising sea levels.

It has also involved dealing with death threats in Fiji, bombs near the refugee camps she was visiting in Lebanon, and violence in Nepal and Indonesia. None of this has dimmed her determination and commitment to advancing women’s rights and gender equality.

Winner of the University of Sydney’s 2022 Alumni Award for Service to Humanity, Sloane works for the international non-profit organisation, The Asia Foundation. As Senior Director of its Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality Program, she and her colleagues  support women to help broker peace agreements, to counter violent extremism and gain economic security and opportunities. She also supports Asian and Pacific women’s leadership on food, water, land, and energy security, by connecting women leaders to key forums where they can advocate for gender-inclusive approaches to climate governance and financing. 

Sloane also engages with governments in the Asia-Pacific region to demonstrate the economic potential of gender-inclusive approaches to climate change policies and to the green economy. As a Senior Atlantic Fellow at London School of Economics, she has led a project to spotlight the work of feminist filmmakers in addressing inequalities in front of and behind the camera including changing attitudes, beliefs and behaviour through film.

I think I was always wired for social justice, from when I was young.

Her work has been recognised by a swag of other awards and fellowships, including an Asia Pacific Business Women’s Council Woman of Distinction Award; a Vietnam Women’s Union Humanitarian Medal; an Endeavour Fellowship focused on increasing Pacific women’s political participation; and a Vincent Fairfax Ethics in Leadership Fellowship. 

“I think I was always wired for social justice, from when I was young, growing up in Adelaide,” Sloane says. “I always wanted to be part of a bigger world, to be engaged in big conversations.”

She completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in History at the University of Adelaide, working in various government and consulting roles before landing the enviable, yet demanding role as General Manager of the Sydney Olympic Media Centre, in the leadup to and during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. She managed over 140 high-level events with thousands of journalists using the centre as their base. 

It was Nelson Mandela, who really indirectly encouraged me to go to the University of Sydney.

However, it was a day spent with then former South African President, Nelson Mandela, while working for the Games that transformed her life. 

“It was Nelson Mandela, who really indirectly encouraged me to go to the University of Sydney,” Sloane says. “He wouldn't have seen it that way, however when he came to speak at an event in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics he said to me, "Jane, if you really want to make a difference in the world, you should focus on conflict resolution and citizen-led change.’”

So, in 2001, Sloane undertook a Master of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney – now known as the Master of Social Justice (Peace and Conflict Studies) which she says provided her with unique opportunities and connected her with a network that she still engages with today.

“Just knowing that I was part of that community was incredibly special, as were the opportunities given to me during that time, including meeting the recipients of the Sydney Peace Prize. I mean to have a conversation with people like Arundhati Roy, to actually have a small group conversation with someone like her, who has inspired so many people, was extraordinary. I honestly think it was one of the most stimulating times of my life.”

At the same time, Sloane was working with the co-founder of Comic Relief, Jane Tewson, to establish a program for Australian politicians and business leaders to visit local community projects related to homelessness, drug abuse and family violence. She was also mentored by  the late Dr Stella Cornelius, founder of the Conflict Resolution Network in Australia, learning practical skills in conflict resolution.

After graduation, it was while working for World Vision as state manager that the 2004 Asian Tsunami hit, and Sloane became part of the emergency response team. That experience resulted in her undertaking a Churchill Fellowship to improve humanitarian response mechanisms for Australia and the region. This time led her to ask more questions about how programs were engaging women, including in disaster response.

Focus on gender equality

“The questions I kept asking were, ‘What about the women? How are women involved, how are we actually supporting women's rights and empowerment?’” Sloane says. 

“I needed to go deeper in understanding how different issues were affecting women directly. I also wanted to know what it meant to be advocating for gender equality, and to understand what really contributes to transformative change, in terms of realising women's rights and gender equality and social inclusion.”

This prompted Sloane to work directly with women's rights’ organisations and movements across the Asia-Pacific for several years, including time spent living in Fiji. 

“After years of working for women’s rights globally I realised that you have to couple that focus on investing in women's organisations with a focus on working with governments and institutions, to be able to lead policy and legal change. You need to be working at both grassroots and institutional levels to achieve the level of transformative change required, and that's very much the work that I'm doing now with The Asia Foundation.”

Sloane now oversees a team in Washington and San Francisco, and works with the foundation’s 19 country offices to influence governments and institutions in policy and legal change, as well as supporting local partners to advocate for and lead those changes on the ground. 

We have to treat gender-based violence as a global emergency - and we have to start with young people.

Sloane’s recent work includes supporting an organisation in India, called the Gender Lab. This organisation has a project called The Gender Lab Boys Program, which is aimed at redefining masculinity, changing attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, and supporting boys to stand up to gender-based violence. It also has a program for young women to know their rights and to use their voice, networks, and leadership to achieve change.

“Really addressing those gender norms and social norms, is some of the most important work that we can do at this time, in order to change the trajectory of power and the level of patriarchy and gender injustice,” Sloane says.

“We have to treat gender-based violence as a global emergency - and we have to start with young people, to address gender norms and to have conversations about power, privilege and potential. We have to do this so that we can create a different world,” she says.

Although Sloane travels for her work and is able to spend time working from Australia, home is a small wooden boat in Sausalito, across the San Francisco Bay. Sloane says she enjoys being close to nature and living in a community of artists and activists, while being part of a global movement to advance women’s rights and gender equality.

“It's been fantastic for me to realise that dream as a girl, of being able to be part of a big world, and those big conversations,” Sloane says “and to be tackling big issues on a local, national or international level.” 

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