Winner of the Coffs Coast Woman of the Year, Emma Aspden. Photo: Jay Black / And the trees photography
Winner of the Coffs Coast Woman of the Year, Emma Aspden. Photo: Jay Black / And the trees photography

Emma shares her power with refugees

Emma Aspden has a passion for giving women a voice and hopes by being chosen as Coffs Coast Woman of the Year, she can shine a spotlight on issues affecting migrant and refugee women.

"At the moment we have a lot of women being very brave and speaking out and I want that for the people I work with," she said. "I want women to find their voices.

"I feel like (the award) will enable me to have a greater voice for the women I work with and am hoping we can educate the wider community about why these people live here and open up that dialogue a little bit more."  

The Anglicare program co-ordinator was the unanimous choice among the committee for the 2021 award, with her work helping  women transition to life in Australia highlighted as an "outstanding" example of  empowerment. 

Ms Aspden collected the award in front of a packed International Women's Day breakfast at Coffs Harbour C.ex club.

Emma Aspden addresses the crowd at the International Women’s Day breakfast. Photo: Jay Black / And the trees photography
Emma Aspden addresses the crowd at the International Women’s Day breakfast. Photo: Jay Black / And the trees photography

Joint runners-up were Bellingen's Angelika Aulerich who has been cooking for the homeless since the beginning of the pandemic and northern beaches community leader and mental health and suicide prevention advocate, Lisa Nicholls.

'My passion is to give women a voice'

Ms Aspden has spent much of her life working with people in vulnerable positions and her transition from the education system to working with refugees began after running a high school program encouraging children of refugees to tell their stories visually.

Now, as the 3Es to Freedom program co-ordinator at Anglicare North Coast, Ms Aspden is working to equip women with knowledge and community connections to "build social capacity" using, education, employment and empowerment.

Ms Aspden said while many refugee women arriving in Australia may be highly intelligent some lack the language skills and conventional education afforded people in Australia.

Winner of the Coffs Coast Woman of the Year, Emma Aspden with runners-up Angelika Aulerich and Lisa Nicholls. Photo: Jay Black / And the trees photography
Winner of the Coffs Coast Woman of the Year, Emma Aspden with runners-up Angelika Aulerich and Lisa Nicholls. Photo: Jay Black / And the trees photography

"The thing that limits this particular cohort is knowledge of community, where to go, they are not networked as well as you and I," she said.

"They are people that might not be able to communicate perfectly in English but also know exactly what they want to say."

"We want them to navigate safe and free lives in Australia which some women have not experienced before."

Underpinning her work is the hope that by equipping newly arrived women with local knowledge and community connections, they will be encouraged to share that with those who "might not even set foot in Anglicare" and reduce the instance of domestic violence.

"It has a bit of a domino effect in our community and we hope that, in a way, everyone will be a community leader," she said.

"We believe that if women are engaged in education, employment and empowered they are less likely to be victims of domestic violence or (more willing) to get support if they are in a challenging or unhealthy relationship."

'People trust me with their stories'

Having had the fortune of coming from a family with "a lot of unconditional love" Ms Aspden says she feels lucky to have come from such a loving family because "it's really easy to give to other people when you feel like you are supported".

When asked about a woman who has empowered her, Ms Aspden credits her mother, not just for emphasising the value of education or the importance of simply being kind to others, but influencing her professional life.

Congratulations to Emma Aspden, Anglicare, who was announced as the very worthy winner of the Coffs Coast 2021 IWD Woman of the Year Award.

Posted by Coffs Coast IWD Breakfast and Woman of the Year Award 2021 on Monday, March 8, 2021

"She has put me in good stead to be in this position of trust," Ms Aspden said.

"People trust me with their stories, people trust they can come and talk to me about what's going on in their life. I feel very privileged."

"She shone through"

International Women's Day committee member Lyndall Weatherby said while each woman nominee was "just excellent" and equally deserving of recognition, it was in interview process that Ms Aspden "shone through".

What they were looking for was how each nominee demonstrated the meaning of empowerment.

"It's a strong word and she shone through," Ms Weatherby said.

"She was just outstanding for what she has done and looking to do."

Ms Aspden was also effusive in her praise not just for the her fellow nominees, but all the women who made International Women's Day so empowering.

Thank you to the Woman of the Year committee for their difficult work on choosing our three finalists for 2021. The ...

Posted by Coffs Coast IWD Breakfast and Woman of the Year Award 2021 on Monday, March 8, 2021

Ms Aspden emphasised the importance of being able to learn about all the other women "doing amazing things" which often went unnoticed.

"I think it is a really remarkable day and really is a worthy tribute to many achievements, especially those women locally," she said.

"These women are warriors and so to come together and hear their stories is a way for women to connect."



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