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Saturday 24 June 2017


Advocacy and Activism: Zoe Brownlie

Posted in: People
By - 5th January 2017

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What does advocacy and/or activism mean to you?


For me, activism means doing something to try and bring about positive change so that all have a voice, especially people who are often discriminated against.

How did you first become involved in advocacy and/or activism and what kind of work do you do?

As a teenager I got into punk music, and a lot of the messages were about inequality, anarchy, and not having to conform. I also saw a lot of sexism around me as I grew up, and was into animal rights, so questioned a lot about how society operated. Going to uni also opened my eyes a lot as I studied Gender Studies (called Women’s Studies then!) and got involved in women’s rights groups which I didn’t know existed before.

Since then I have worked and volunteered for organisations working towards anti-bullying for young people, improved sexual health education, gender equality, rainbow rights, and animal rights. I have also just been elected onto the Auckland District Health Board, so will do all I can to improve health services for all Aucklanders.

What issues are you most passionate about?

Anything that falls under equality for all people really, including gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, and ability. I believe that with improved education systems for all ages, everyone will have the opportunity to live happier and healthier lives.
How do you see these issues being addressed - what needs to change?
Equality is obviously a huge issue, and a lot needs to change, but small things are being done, and it seems that a lot of the younger generation are growing up with more open and accepting views.

But the government needs to lead on this. There needs to be an equal and reflective representation of our community within government. There need to be laws so that all genders get paid the same for the same work. Schools need to be proactive in supporting trans and gender diverse young people. Health professionals need to be trained so that patients are treated equally and with cultural appropriateness, just to name a few.

I also believe that our education system needs a bit of an overhaul, and there needs to be more focus on social skills, empathy, and how to be happy and healthy. Once those are covered, you can then expect more young people to excel academically.
There also needs to be more education in workplaces around equality and empathy, so that any sort of discrimination is completely unaccepted.

How do you think activism has changed over the years and what does it look like today?

The development of the online world has meant that people can connect with other like-minded people much more easily, and work together to advocate online. It’s also meant that it’s easier for people to spread their message, as by pressing a button they can reach millions of people. In NZ you now see much less marching on streets, and much more online rallying.

What is one thing that you have learned from your activism or advocacy work?
That change takes time. I used to get so angry that things wouldn’t change straight away, but I’ve slowly realised that it’s all about little steps. And that there are some people who won’t change their views, so spend your energy influencing those who may listen.

Who inspires you to keep going?

There are a lot of people who inspire me to keep going. Too often we hear of people suffering because they are not treated equally, from having low self-esteem to taking their own lives. Speaking to these people or reading about them in the media makes me upset, but then that turns into motivation to try and do something about it.
There are also loads of people out there working hard to try and make the world a better place, so when I chat, meet, or read about them I feel inspired to keep doing whatever I can.

In my role at Auckland Sexual Health I meet a lot of young people who are actively trying to improve the world, or suffering from the inequalities that it throws at them, or both. This also inspires me to try and make a difference.

Lastly, I have a young son and I’d like him to grow up in a community where he can be whoever he wants to be without being discriminated against.

What would you say to anyone who is wanting to make a difference in their community but doesn’t know where to start?

Start by having conversations with your friends, whanau, and neighbours. Getting others interested, or just thinking about a topic alone can create difference.
Social media is also a great way to get in touch and start talking to like-minded people. Look up organisations in your area and see if there’s already something established, otherwise just chat to people no matter where they are to get ideas about what you can do.

If online isn’t your thing, then I’d suggest finding groups in your area and joining forces. Or create a few flyers, put them up in local stores, and see if anyone is interested in joining you on your mission. Start small and who knows what will happen.



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- 5th January 2017