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International Women’s Day 2021 in the Western Pacific: Women Leaders in Eye Health – Jaki Adams

Published: 05.03.2021
Jaki Adams Director Social Justice & Regional Engagement
The Fred Hollows Foundation Australia
IWD Women Jaki Adams

Hi, my name is Jaki Adams (formerly Adams-Barton) and I am an Australian, of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent. Identity is very important to me and is evident in everything I do. I have had a very interesting leadership journey to date and only recently felt comfortable with the term ‘leader’ being applied to me. I am ok with this in terms of supporting and uplifting others and in being acknowledged for my experience and areas of expertise, but I do not know everything (nor do I need to) and I can only speak from my own experiences.

I challenge the concept that a Manager (position ‘title’) is automatically a leader, as I see that we can all lead and demonstrate leadership regardless of position, experience, and level of expertise. As a daughter, a sister, a mother, an aunty, a friend, a colleague, and a representative of Peoples/mob and organisations, I am continually required to adjust my leadership approach, so that I am hopefully encouraging and supporting others to learn, to be informed, elevate their line of sight, commit to change and be who they need to be at that point in time. This is exciting!

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChoosetoChallenge. As a self-proclaimed master of being the devil’s advocate, hoping to provoke deeper thought and consideration of the bigger picture, this theme is my life. I feel like I’ve always been choosing to challenge as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female, often working in a western male dominated space (majority of decision makers). Although at times it doesn’t feel like much of a choice – challenging the status quo comes with the territory. This can be very frustrating on occasions, especially when faced with uninformed views and barriers. However, when there are wins, even the small ones, where I see people becoming more informed and recognising and celebrating difference, it is a very uplifting and rewarding experience.

To be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leader in Australia, you have to be brave and resilient – giving up is never an option. You must lead others to be brave as well. You have to be aware of the bigger picture, too. I started with The Fred Hollows Foundation (The Foundation) as the Manager of the Indigenous Australia Program, leading a program of work focused on improving equity in eye health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in Australia, who are three times more likely to experience blindness or vision loss than other Australians. But this inequity sits within a broader context of inequitable health, social and economic outcomes. For us to have true equity in eye health, and health outcomes, we need to start talking about broader social justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in Australia.

This is my passion as a leader in The Foundation, and this is the work that I am leading right now – The Foundation’s newly formed Social Justice and Regional Engagement team. We are working to ensure that social justice reform is accelerated and pursued according to the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, as determined by them. We are a non-Indigenous organisation, and we want to be a good ally, just as Professor Fred Hollows was back in his day, and to continue to fulfill this legacy. That means speaking up more, being courageous and taking a stand on the harder issues, holding our leaders (and ourselves) to account, and choosing to challenge the status quo. Whilst this approach is not new for The Foundation, or my work here since 2012, we are moving to a new phase of escalation and accountability.

In an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context, the title of ‘Leader’ is specifically attributed to representing our mob/a community/Peoples and being supported (by the mob) to do so. This status needs to be acknowledged by others and generally earned based on exhibiting respectful behaviors and approaches that benefit the collective. For me, whilst I am an experienced and respected leader for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health and health within The Foundation and to some extent externally across the sector, I do not consider myself to be a recognised leader more broadly of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, either by my peers, elders, or community. This is totally ok! My general approach to all that I do is to lead from behind, vehemently working in the background, and for others to take the spotlight and accolades. This is what I am comfortable with and what contributes to my success as a ‘leader’.

Dr Chimgee Chuluunkhuu
Dr Chimgee Chuluunkhuu

Mongolia Country Director, Orbis

IWD Women Audrey
Dr Audrey Aumua

Chief Executive, The Fred Hollows Foundation NZ

IWD Women Lucilla
Dr Lucilla Ah Ching-Sefo

Ophthalmologist, Samoa

IWD Women Vandana
Dr Vandana Ramachandaran

Director for Research & Academic Affairs, Singapore Eye Research Institute