This month, Harpreet Dhillon will be the youngest Australian delegate to attend a global meeting of organisations working towards the economic empowerment of all women. The 17 year old is already breaking new ground closer to home, where she will soon become the first woman in her family to finish high school.
SSI has sponsored Ms Dhillon’s attendance at the 61st session of the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61) at UN headquarters in New York, from March 13 to 24, where she will participate in events, develop her leadership skills, and represent both young women of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds and the youth of Australia.
Ms Dhillon will join two other young women who are a part of the New Year for Women roundtable and also representing the NSW Council of Social Services (NCOSS) and the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) at the UN event, which brings together an international network of women’s organisations to focus on women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.
Ms Dhillon, who has been volunteering since age 12, said her interest in social justice developed after witnessing poverty during a family trip to India at age 10.
"Ever since then I became passionate about the world around me," she said. "While other girls were playing sports, I’d watch documentaries on racial discrimination, human trafficking and child marriages, as well as volunteering wherever I could.
"It was at the age of 16 when I could truly make a difference by becoming a Girl Guides NSW and ACT representative, which led to my involvement with NCOSS, where I joined its panel of women who come from all over the state representing different kinds of organisations.
"It’s still surreal that CSW61 is happening for me, but I’m looking forward to learning about female empowerment and hearing from the other participants. Although we come from a variety of different places and experiences, we share a similar passion for both gender and intergenerational equity."
In addition to her work with NCOSS, Ms Dhillon is an ambassador for Girl Guides Australia and is currently completing her HSC. Next year, she plans to attend university to extend her knowledge so she can continue with her work in areas including domestic abuse, sexual assault and the economic empowerment of women and girls, particularly those from developing countries or male-dominated cultures.
SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said supporting young women like Ms Dhillon to participate in events like CSW61 was in keeping with the vision of SSI’s Youth Collective initiative, which aims to empower multicultural youth to take on leadership roles and become a voice for other young people.
"Today’s young women are tomorrow’s leaders, which is why it’s critical for organisations like NCOSS and SSI to give them opportunities to foster their abilities and make contacts that will assist them in their future careers," she said.
"The participation of young women also ensures that their perspectives shape the outcomes of events like CSW61. Through their participation, Ms Dhillon and her fellow NCOSS representatives are giving other young women a voice."
SSI works with a number of CALD communities, including newly arrived migrants and refugees, and has a particular focus on supporting youth and women. It does this through initiatives including Youth Collective, Youth@Work and its Women at Risk Committee, which supports the wellbeing of refugee women in particularly vulnerable situations.