Celebrating women advocates

Because 8 March is International Women’s Day we thought that the March issue of Outasite Lite should celebrate some of the amazing women who live in residential parks in NSW.

We talked with six women who are active within their own communities and in residential parks more broadly.

None of the women moved into a residential park with the intention of becoming a resident representative or advocate but a particular event or situation triggered something in each of them that led to them becoming leaders in their communities.

Christina helped out a friend, and has never looked back. She is now a regular at the Tribunal and is not unfamiliar with the inside of Parliament House!

Faye could see that there was a need in her park for someone to stand up and represent the needs of the residents.

An excessive site-fee increase was the reason Janice became active.

Pam met with a resident advocate who inspired her to get more involved in resident issues.

Once they became active, most of the women found that they were not only participating as members of a residents committee, or working on individual issues that came up in their communities; they also got involved in broader campaigns and advocacy around residential parks.

Many of these women now dedicate many hours a week to assisting other residents and they are all volunteers. As Christina explained: “I find my advocacy work keeps me very busy!”

And being a woman advocate is not easy. All but one of the women we spoke with believes that she has been treated differently to her male counterparts. They reported having been ignored or not taken seriously by some operators and male Tribunal Members.

A number of the women felt that in parks there is sometimes an attitude that “the men will look after us”, and that some men can act as though they are “members of a boys club”. They all felt that more women should step up and get involved in park issues because women are just as capable and often flourish when they become active.

When asked about their achievements these women were typically modest, responding that they were just pleased to have been able to help people. Further prodding, however, unearthed some of the fantastic results they have achieved despite the challenges they face.

Christina has successfully prevented a number of tenancies being terminated. She also took a very complex appeal from the Tribunal to the Appeal Panel and successfully argued that the Tribunal made the wrong decision. The result was a fantastic outcome for the 80 plus residents she was representing.

Janice was involved in getting funding for and delivering community education across the state to fellow residents as a member of a resident organisation.

Jill secured funding from the Department of Fair Trading and Gosford City Council and undertook a feasibility study on establishing a cooperative model of resident-funded, resident-owned residential parks as a way to provide affordable housing and security of tenure for people on low incomes.

Marie has had many successes negotiating with operators to reach a resolution everyone is happy with, avoiding the need to go to the Tribunal.

Pam, like many of the women advocates interviewed, has successfully challenged excessive site-fee increases on behalf of fellow residents too many times to mention.

Five of the six are also actively involved in systemic advocacy around the laws and regulations for residential parks, taking every available opportunity to push for a better deal for residents.

What keeps them going? All of the women we spoke to are retired, but their involvement and advocacy around residential park issues keeps them busy and that’s the way they like it. Marie told us: “I did come to the coast to retire but I am enjoying being able to use my knowledge to help people”.

There is no doubt that these women are dedicated. What they do is hard work but the thanks they receive from residents keeps them going. As Christina explains, “I don’t think anyone does advocacy for rewards, but you just keep getting rewarded when someone says ‘thank you’ or you see the relieved look on someone’s face when you tell them they don’t have to face the problem alone.”

We thank and acknowledge: Jill Edmonds; Janice Edstein; Marie; Pam Meathringham; Christina Steel and Faye Wilson for sharing their stories for this article.