Empowered Women Empower Women.
Melissa Barrass is a dear friend of mine and one of the key collaborators on the Unbreakable Fragility collection. She is also a woman that I look up to as she constantly inspires me to be a better person. Melissa is a vocal social activist, especially when it comes to women’s issues.
Continue reading below to find out more about the Sydney Designer and what motivates her to campaign for change.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m Mel, and I am a graphic and textile designer based in Sydney. I enjoy creating things, keeping active, cats and Feminism.
You took part in the “Get Hairy February”. How did you become so motivated to actively promote women’s rights and gender issues?
A number of factors drove me towards feminism and female empowerment starting when the 2013 Federal Election was looming and Tony Abbott, despite all the outrageously sexist and belittling comments during his campaign, was well on his way to become the Prime Minister of Australia. This was a very frustrating period of my life as a young woman, and I had just flown over to Sweden to partake in an exchange through University. Sweden is a country that has some of the most progressive policies into gender equality in the world, and it stirred a great sense of admiration and deep love from within me. From early school, children are taught about gender equality and respect. Sweden also has an Equality Obudsman and a Minister for Gender Equality.
After leaving my exchange, I visited India to complete an elective through university, learn traditional textile methods and prepare for my major project coming up. I soon became aware of the lack of respect women in society face there after I was groped on two separate occasions. I left India on a quest to learn more and came across a documentary that followed a British Indian woman whom travelled back to Delhi to get a better understanding of the gendercide that has been taking place. Her journey took her back to the story of Joyti Singh who was raped and killed on a bus in Delhi in 2012. The way in which Joyti was attacked and passed was so horrific it shocked the nation – but nothing really changed. Politicians in India bickered, but no successful inquest into the way society viewed and treated women in India came about. Foeticide, infanticide, child abandonment, sexual assault, dowry murders, abduction and the sex trade have all led to over 63 million women missing across India alone. I remember crying multiple times through the documentary and telling myself that I would always remember her name and story, and that I would become a fighter for women’s rights.
So starting from this point, I focused my entire major project in university on sexual freedom and empowerment from a woman’s perspective. My project also aimed to raise awareness of the suffering of women world-wide and how we must support one another.
Since my major project, I have been involved in a Reclaim The Night march, and this is my second Get Hairy February fundraiser. All I gotta do is grow my body hair for the month of February and gather sponsorship support. Neat huh?
Are there any particular women that you look up to and are inspired by?
Yes! My Grandmother was a hard worker and worked til her early 70s. She only stopped because she was caught lying about her age. I think it’s important to look up to hard-working women who want to challenge the system. I also think Clementine Ford’s handling of online trolling and abuse is excellent in the way she hold’s them accountable for their actions.
What would you say to those who want to help but don’t know how?
It’s cliché to say that it’s “never too late”, but come on – If not now, then when?! Your sisters need you. Empower one another!
Join a march like Reclaim The Night, join your local Feminist society or book club, donate to charities such as The Full Stop Foundation or simply, #pressforprogress – aka spread positive behaviours such as: maintaining a gender parity mindset, challenge stereotypes and bias, forge positive visibility of women, influence others’ beliefs / actions or celebrate women’s achievements.