This week, in the lead-up to International Women’s Day (March 8) we’re sitting down and having a chat with three female leaders to speak about their passions, their motivation and their ongoing work to support women facing the crises that lead to abortion vulnerability. Here, Teen Challenge Tasmania Executive Director Tanya Cavanagh shares some of her journey.
I’ve been in the corporate world—the automotive industry—most of my life. When Pete and I moved to Tasmania in 2010, I was still working in the corporate world but also assisting with mock interviews in schools. I was learning about their lives and what they’d achieved. With my middle class blinkers on, I wasn’t prepared for their answers; young people who had really battled—abuse, disability, hardship. They were wanting desperately for there to be some hope.
An example was a young girl sharing with me that the safest place for her to be at night was in the dog kennel with the dog because of the predator her mother had around at night. These young people were very open with what they were facing.
My social justice kicked in and my heart broke for these people—people I’d never had anything to do with before. The light went on and I just felt something had to be done for them.
We started the mentor program which has grown to within primary schools and high schools. It was there that we recognised the importance of education around drug use and the causation that leads people to that area.
It was all about building resilience and helping them make good life choices. When life throws us a situation, we actually do have some power between the stimuli and how we react. That reaction can dramatically affect our life.
Mentoring, Teen Challenge & Home of Hope
The mentoring program started officially in 2013, and in 2014 we decided to start Teen Challenge here. It was through meeting young people and their families, seeing the issue of addiction and generational cycles, and also constantly having people ask for help for a mum or a pregnant woman who needed to be helped or watched through her pregnancy because of drug use.
This is where we see a massive gap—there’s nothing in Tassie for women’s rehabilitation. And so we started the process of locating a property, Home of Hope, for a women and children’s centre.
We have two main areas where we help.
One: we’re the fence at the top of the cliff trying to build resilience, turning people away from addiction and showing them a better way forward.
Two: we’re the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff helping deal with the consequences; mental health consequences, financial consequences, relationship consequences, criminal consequences. For women, this is often when their children are taken away from them. We step in and offer rehabilitation—intensive support for individuals and families, which means a lot of phone calls at irregular times of day or night, helping people who are invariably in crisis.
What can be done to mitigate the factors that lead to abortion vulnerability?
For a lot of the women I work with, there’s a fear of stigma around doing it alone, of not having a family within the traditional context of marriage or relationship. If we could really reach out to women and establish meaningful relationships, that would go a long way to building their support network. When you ask, “How are you going?” be prepared to hear how they’re really doing, and take it further to have a cup of tea or whatever she needs.
Be a mentor!
Also, I’d just encourage you to uphold the value of a mother. We are in a society with a real push against motherhood, almost to say that being a mother is bad and if you don’t achieve a career, you’re almost a second class citizen. I think that there is nothing more valuable than a mum being a mum. We deal with young people from communities who don’t feel connected. Whether it’s in a low socio economic home or well-to-do home, there is the prevalence of young people feeling disconnected, unheard, unvalued. We need to empower mums to be mums, so that they are there for their children when they need it most.
Tanya’s response to the IWD statement for 2020 “An equal world is an enabled world”
This was a challenging topic to settle on context. You see as a girl brought up in the late 70’s to 80’s it was all about women’s equality “Girls can do anything”. I bought that whole concept so much so I stood up at the kitchen table at 13 and announced proudly to my whole family I was never going to have children (to me in what I was being soaked in was being a mother was the lowest of the low, having a career and making a name for yourself was paramount), I may or may not be married, but by 25 I was going to own my own business and I would have made a name for myself, I would be famous if you like, in whatever area I chose a career in.
So this became my driver and a self-fulfilled prophecy too. I ticked all the boxes, I was passionate about equality for women and in turn thought it was all about my success, my feelings, my assets, me, me, me. Until the day I discovered I was pregnant and then I bulldozed that flicker of excitement of “motherhood” and chose an abortion. I felt I would be ostracized, my career would be over, people would think less of me as a parent and what really was I going to offer a child, it was all too inconvenient. Why did women have to face this and not men?
Life is a great educator, our choices truly have consequences and not all of them are happy ones. As I read this statement “An equal world is an enabled world” initially I didn’t agree and then after reflection, I believe a “truly” equal world is an enabled one. I thought I was fighting for equality my whole life, I wasn’t I was pushing inequality, all about me, I didn’t value the importance of life. A world that truly values equality for all life, male, female, unborn and born would be an enabled world. At present I feel there is imbalance, we see it everyday in the media, one faction trying to outpower another at whatever the cost. We have to truly respect and honour life and in doing so we will enable “love” the key ingredient to equality. No matter our circumstances, our histories, our age, our experience, our bank balance we all deserve life and to be loved.