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The Greek Herald celebrates unsung heroines at Greek Festival of Sydney’s IWD event

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As the sun set over the panoramic ocean view at the Prince Henry Centre in Little Bay, Sydney, Greek women of influence and their families, including a handful of supportive males, packed out an International Women’s Day (IWD) event on Friday, March 8 hosted by the Greek Festival of Sydney in collaboration with The Greek Herald.

Following some canapes, mingling, and flicking through The Greek Herald‘s special print edition for IWD – which was on display at the event – more than 140 attendees took their seats to enjoy a dynamic panel discussion highlighting the diverse contributions of multigenerational Greek women to multicultural communities.

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All photos copyright Effy Alexakis.
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International womens day the greek herald 7187

At least six of the 15 finalists for ‘The Greek Herald Woman of the Year’ Award were also in attendance with their support networks, and waited with bated breath to find out who would be named the inaugural winner of the prestigious award.

Kicking off official proceedings on the night was emcee and CEO of Settlement Services International, Violet Roumeliotis. Ms Roumeliotis conducted a traditional Welcome to Country and introduced official guests in attendance.

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Violet Roumeliotis was emcee of the IWD event.

Guests included the Shadow Minister for Women, for Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, and for Aboriginal Affairs, Leslie Gladys Williams MP; the Chair of the Greek Festival of Sydney, Nia Karteris; the First Secretary for Public Diplomacy at the Consulate of Greece in Sydney, Anastasia Christofilopoulou; Deputy Mayor at Randwick City Council, Alexandra Luxford; CEO of the Hellenic Initiative Australia, Stergitsa Zamagias – Hill; and Publisher of The Greek Herald, Dimitra Skalkos; among many other presidents and vice presidents of local Greek community organisations.

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Before the panel, some of these official guests gave endearing speeches on the importance of IWD and the relevance of its theme ‘inspire inclusion’ for women in Australia’s Greek and Cypriot communities.

Ms Karteris stressed that for her, IWD is not only about honouring the women that are in the forefront, but also to honour, remember and respect the women that do not get recognised.

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Nia Karteris.

“The women that are workers, the women that are in factories, the women that are in the textile industry, the women that go unseen…” Ms Karteris explained.

“We need to all continue to fight every day for the rights of women. It doesn’t matter if you’re just a housewife or a CEO, we’re all equal, we’re all here for the same purpose and we need to continue fighting.”

Ms Christofilopoulou spoke next and drew laughter from the crowd as she acknowledged the handful of males in attendance, congratulating them on being “feminists at heart.” She also congratulated The Greek Herald for its Award initiative.

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Anastasia Christofilopoulou.
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Ms Christofilopoulou congratulated the men in the crowd.

The Shadow Minister for Women, Ms Williams spoke sincerely about women’s economic empowerment and said that although the world has come a long way in gender equality, there’s still more to be done.

“It is my view that it is the responsibility of each and every one of us as women to show by our own example. Get out there and have a go and these panellists are going to tell us about how they’ve done that,” Ms Williams said.

“Every single woman in this room has a role to play in showing the next generation that you can actually do whatever you want to do and you can be whatever you want to be.”

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Leslie Gladys Williams.

Councillor Luxford was the last speaker to address the crowd and spoke about a need for more women in leadership, before praising the Greek women in Randwick City.

“The women in this community are among the strongest I know,” Cr Luxford said.

“I come from a Greek family with a strong Greek heritage and courageous and strong women who came out here in the 1920s. They fled their homelands hoping for a better place to live. They came here with nothing. They didn’t speak the language… So they were pretty isolated but they managed, on both sides of the family, to survive and thrive to the wonderful families that we have today. So thank you to all the wonderful women in our lives. You are truly incredible, inspiring, and you do so much for your families and your communities.”

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Councillor Alexandra Luxford.

Leadership across various spheres of life:

The end of these official proceedings marked the start of the inspiring panel segment which involved women from all spheres of life.

As Digital Editor at The Greek Herald, I moderated the event and sat proudly beside four empowering female panellists: Jenny Zagas, Principal at Lucas Gardens School & Disability Advocate; Anais Menounos, Sydney Lawyer & Co-founder of the St Nicholas Mission Academy in Ghana, Africa; Marika Kontellis, Director at Zakumi Consulting, CEO at Inner Sydney Voice, CEO at Council on the Ageing NSW; and Yiana Roumeliotis, Community Engagement Officer at the Addison Road Community Organisation.

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All the panellists.
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Some of the inspirational panel.

The panel conversation centered around the importance of recognising and celebrating women’s contributions and leadership across education, aged care, social work and advocacy for people with a disability.

The panellists shared personal experiences and insights on the significance of education in empowering women and children, and emphasised the importance of mentorship and personal connection in taking on leadership roles. They also highlighted the diverse range of women’s experiences, including those who are busy working hard and juggling family responsibilities, as well as those who are actively engaged in the community and making a positive impact.

With Ms Zagas, she spoke passionately about her role as Principal at Lucas Gardens School and how she provides educational programs for students with high and moderate support needs, including intellectual and physical disabilities, sensory impairments and complex medical conditions.

Ms Zagas said she always aims to put the person before the disability, and gave a tear-inducing anecdote of how she first came to advocate for people with a disability.

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The panel drew emotions from the crowd.

“I was a classroom teacher for ten years and a moment came where I was teaching a student named James, he was five years old with a severe intellectual disability. He came into my classroom severely disabled, he was screaming, biting, scratching, and his mother came to me and said ‘please help my child’,” Ms Zagas explained.

“So we worked with his mother, we worked with his carers and he moved from an IQ of below 50 to an IQ of 55, then he moved to 60, then he moved to 70, and then he moved into mainstream classrooms. That was because we didn’t shy away from him, we gave him all the opportunities and it made a difference. From then I thought ‘I need to make a bigger difference and I need to go to a system school.’ And that’s when I went to Lucas Gardens School.”

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As co-founder of St Nicholas Mission Academy in Ghana, Ms Menounos shared insights into the impact of education on empowering women in different cultural contexts.

“I’m sure we all know the African proverb, ‘when you educate a woman, you educate a nation,’ and the impact of education is huge,” Ms Menounos said.

“In Ghana, for example, women face so many more barriers… there’s a patriarchy, they’re often in poorer and remote communities, they’re often forced into child marriage, or have teenage pregnancies, or are forced into domestic servitude or child labour.

“And so, education has been a saviour for a lot of them. So by opening up our school, we hope to educate them at an early age and we educate their parents too because their parents never went to school. So we’ve now witnessed our children are more literate than their parents and that’s a change in just a short five years [since the school opened in 2018].”

Yiana spoke about her role as a Community Engagement Officer at the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville and shed light on the importance of community involvement and working directly with people at a grassroots level.

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“There are really important things at every level of community work, but the thing that I love most about the grassroots level is that you are critical players, you are amongst it,” Yiana said.

“When you’re working at that grassroots level working directly with communities and individuals they can tell you, ‘this is what we need, this is what will help us come out of our situation.’ It’s not prescriptive.

“When it comes to the service delivery level, things take a lot of time. There’s a lot of forms to fill out but at that grassroots level, we just say ‘okay that’s happening? we can fix it’ and draw from all these different pools of resources. So when you’re able to act immediately, and act on a personal level, that’s pretty important.”

Having roles at Zakumi Consulting, Inner Sydney Voice, and Council on the Ageing NSW, Ms Kontellis spoke about the challenges and opportunities that arise as a woman advocating for different demographics, especially the elderly.

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Marika Kontellis.

Ms Kontellis also shared a story of her first “client” Vicky – a Greek woman who spoke no English and had a young family, but was in an abusive relationship and needed support.

“She really set the way for me to think that Vicky was in her situation through no fault of her own, those children were in that situation through no fault of their own. Something has to change and it’s not Vicky. It has to be the system. It has to be our own values in the Greek community to say ‘it is not okay for a husband to hit his wife. It is not okay for a husband to abuse his children.’ That’s why I began to advocate and that fire in my belly just grew and grew. And today, I work with older women where I also say it is not okay for older women to be excluded because they’re old,” Ms Kontellis stressed, drawing applause from the audience.

With these thought-provoking answers lingering in the air, the audience were then encouraged to take part in an engaging Question and Answer session before the formal announcement of the winner of ‘The Greek Herald Woman of the Year’ Award.

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The Q&A session was engaging.

Young trailblazer wins ‘The Greek Herald Woman of the Year’:

With the panel complete, the final segment of the IWD event commenced.

Ms Skalkos was asked to the stage as Publisher of The Greek Herald to explain ‘The Greek Herald Woman of the Year’ Award initiative. She stressed that the prestigious recognition was aimed at shining a spotlight on the remarkable achievements and inspiring stories of Greek and Cypriot ‘unsung heroines’ (women) in Australia.

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Dimitra Skalkos, Publisher at The Greek Herald.

Ms Skalkos then read out the names of the 15 inspirational finalists and a formal plaque was presented to each by Ms Karteris and the Shadow Minister for Women.

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Plaques were presented the the award finalists.
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Finalist Maria Anthony.
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Finalist Ourania Rekas.
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The finalists present on the night.

The winner of ‘The Greek Herald Woman of the Year’ Award was then announced as 29-year-old Anais Menounos – co-founder of the St Nicholas Mission Academy in Ghana and of course, a panellist on the night. The surprising moment led to loud cheers and applause from the crowd, with everyone congratulating the young trailblazer on her recognition.

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Anais Menounos was surprised to be announced winner of ‘The Greek Herald Woman of the Year’ Award.
Nia Karteris and the Shadow Minister for Women presented Anais with her award.
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Anais (left) with the Publisher of The Greek Herald, Dimitra Skalkos.

The winner herself was extremely surprised and became emotional as she gave a small speech, thanking her family and the Greek community for their continuous support.

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Anais gives a speech.
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Anais with her brother.

“I didn’t start St Nic’s to have all these accolades. I started it just out of a pure need to provide education to children who really needed it, but I am so honoured and humbled to be recognised by my Greek community,” Ms Menounos said.

“It is this Greek community and its values that shaped me as a person and instilled in me the value of philotimo, which I carry with me in my work with St Nic’s. So it’s been really, really special.”

Flowers were then presented to panellists.

The event came to a happy conclusion with these inspirational words, as well as a presentation of flowers to the panellists by Mr Roses. Everyone left the room feeling rejuvenated and determined to continue advocating for women’s rights and for those unsung heroines who don’t always get the recognition they deserve.

*All photos copyright Effy Alexakis.

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