Varvara Athanasiou-Ioannou, one of the most dynamic women of the Greek community, has left her imprint indelibly marked in many sectors. For the last 20 years, she has devoted her life to the promotion of women’s issues. As an extension of this, she has created an oral history book, “Her Voice, Greek Women and Their Friends”, about the personal and professional lives of 40 women living in Australia.
The ground-breaking stories will be the main focus during the book launch at 3pm on 12 December at the Andrianakos Centre, Alphington Grammar School.
“This collection of stories features relatable role models, whose strength and resilience will inspire many generations of future Greek women and their friends to come,” Ms Athanasiou-Ioannou told Neos Kosmos.
“Life for many of these women has not been easy; starting over in a new country, or born here to migrant parents, with heightened expectations, experiencing bullying, racism and disengaged partners just to name a few. At points, some lost their way – and their voice. I was inspired to help them find it.”
The women featured in her book, from all walks of life, are academics, educators, entrepreneurs, writers, municipal counsellors, journalists, lawyers, scientists, politicians and more. Selected with a diversity lens in mind, the women featured present an intersectionality of age, class, marital status, sexuality, faith, disability and race, representing different professional and business backgrounds.
She understands the importance for women to find their “voice”, remembering the times when she lost her own voice.
READ MORE: “Her Voice: Greek women and their friends”, a personal appreciation
“I came to Australia when I was 19, without knowing the language, without having friends, which – as a result – made me feel isolated. In Greece, I learnt things differently. I was popular, I had views which I shared, I had identity. But everything changed here,” she said. I had the need ‘to belong’ and I tried very hard to learn English,” she said.
She found her efforts vindicated and found her “voice” again, making her career in education with many distinctions.
I worked in a male-dominated organisation where every day I experienced covert, systemic racism,” she recalled regarding her own decision to change careers at the age of 40.
“My position had very good earnings and privileges, but the environment was so toxic to me that I felt I could not take it anymore.”
She understands how important it is for a woman to find her “voice”, remembering the times
In 2000, while holidaying at the Gold Coast to “clear” her mind, she had an “epiphany” moment.
“I thought about how to eject the toxicity which I drew in my work environment, casting all my energy on something positive, such as, for instance, creating a women’s network,” she said.
In May 2001, the Food for Thought Network was created to cast the spotlight on issues of concern to women.
“My goal was to create a friendly, accepting environment for all cultures, where women of Greek origin and beyond could gain knowledge which would help them enrich their lives and careers,” she said. “The network is open to men as well, bearing in mind that I believe that they, especially those in positions of power, can be important allies in our effort to help women succeed.”
READ MORE: Food for Thought: Greek Australian women and education
The network helped Ms Ioannou “spread her wings”, and in turn, she has helped other women find their voice.
The idea for her book was in Ms Ioannou’s mind for five years but began to take flesh and bones in 2018 following the publication of Georgia Skopouli’s book, “Αυτές που γίναν ένα με τη γη” (They who became one with the earth). The work, a collection of 68 autobiographies of women from Epirus, born from 1909 through to 1951.
“They were women like my mother and others whom I had met as I grew up in Epirus. Heroic women, pioneers, I’d say, who fought to keep their animals united, oftentimes sacrificing their health and prosperity,” she said. “And so I decided to gather the stories of women who are linked in some way with the Food for Thought Network, recording the ways in which each one of them acquired her own wings. Who and what helped them find their voice?”
The underlying goal of the author is to showcase the main issues concerning contemporary women in a way that other readers could relate. “By joining our voices, we can be heard loudly, paving the way for younger generations to continue the battle which we began in a world where justice and equality prevails. I hope Australian organisations can value and better utilise the ambitions and potential of culturally diverse women,” she said.
The publication of her book is documentation of this struggle. It began as a book about Greek women in Australia but the writer slowly “gave voice” to women of non-Greek backgrounds. The result is a book featuring the lives of women in multicultural Australia. The same applies to the Food for Thought Network which began as a group for Greek Australian women, but included women from other backgrounds in the years that followed so as to extend the group’s reach and community impact.
READ MORE: Greek women of the Revolution forged gender equality, says Vamvakinou in parliament tribute
Reception has been positive.
Joy Damousi, FASSA, Professor and Director of the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at Australian Catholic University, said, “I’m incredibly proud to be a part of Her Voice and to write the foreword. The stories of professional Greek women and their friends are an undocumented narrative. The inspiring storytellers have illustrated to future generations of Greek women and their friends how to overcome the struggles they faced both in and out of the home. We hope to inspire women facing barriers of their own.”
Bill Papastergiadis, President of The Greek Community and Victorian Multicultural Commissioner said: “This monumental book, is a gift not only to Greek women but to multicultural Australia, a historical reference point for future generations … it should be read by all men and women. I congratulate trailblazer Varvara for her unwavering lifetime commitment to women, diversity and inclusion. “
The book is available in both print and as an ebook from https://www.trybooking.com/events/landing?eid=798954&fbclid=IwAR1meD-F4I0pYDOMX4lDhcUFkBtInkKmZycnZRVn6JLVtc7UdHI73xzyV3E