Reflecting on International Women’s Day 2017, I realise I am biased in the way I expect women to behave. I expect them to be bold, courageous and stand up for their rights. I am baffled by women who accept harsh treatment from partners and bosses. I owe this view to the remarkable women in my life.
I grew up in Brussels, Belgium, the youngest of three siblings by more than ten years, born eight weeks before my mother’s 40th. It was a typical Ashkenazi WWII survivors’ household, with a twist: my grandmother was living with us. During the war, my mother’s family was dispersed and my grandmother and mother did not know that they had both survived. My mother actually had a younger sister, who was murdered by the Nazis in 1943. When they were reunited, they pledged to remain together for the rest of their lives.
Being raised in an household with these two role models shaped an image of a strong and determined woman, bold and fearless. It became my benchmark, my frame of reference. No wonder I was attracted to my darling wife, Annette, and so impressed by her remarkable mother. Even at work, I enjoyed being guided by female leaders.
I want to thank and acknowledge the women who have informed my enlightened views. I pay tribute to the incredible women who have mattered in my life. My late grandmother, Klara Weitzberg-Gunsberg, a Birkenau and Death March survivor, twice widowed at the age of 29 with 3 daughters, who went to work in a cinema to support her young family – she taught me resilience; my mother, Irene Herz-Weitzberg, a Ravensbrück survivor and Na’amat leader, who became an actress at 83 – she teaches me about building relationships and always look at the bright side; my wife Annette Charak, who boldly decided to change career and join the bar at 48 in addition to her engagement with the Jewish community – she tries to teach me to be daring; my mother-in-law Danielle Charak OAM, a teacher, community leader and public speaker – she gives me self-confidence;my two daughters Klara and Rebecca who are afraid of nothing and teach me to be a better father; the numerous women I worked for and the many others I worked with or had as clients, who taught me about leadership, strategy, customer care, management, and many other skills; the remarkable women I meet in our Jewish community, inspiring leaders who demonstrate their commitment year after year.
These remarkable strong role models in my life make any form of gender injustice, oppression or inequality unbearable to me. I wish this could be the case for all men, and hope these examples can inspire men to be as supportive as they can and bring the necessary changes in Australia and elsewhere.
Happy International Women’s Day!