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Remarkable activist Anne Gallagher shares her story as a force in movement against trafficking and child marriage
Anne Gallagher is a leading international lawyer, criminal justice practitioner and scholar with more than three decades of experience advocating for the rights of women and girls.
In August, she was featured by Zonta International in a Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories event, a leadership series hosted by Lynne Foley OAM, chairman of the Zonta International Leadership Development Committee.
Anne grew up in a large, Catholic family where social justice was front and center. Her parents taught Anne and her six siblings that if you have the privilege of a good education and a good family, your task in life is one of service. They were each expected to serve in some way, and she chose the path of being a lawyer not working in the commercial world.
"I think that ethos was very strong in the family, so maybe that's a good way of explaining how it started," Anne said of her career and life of service.
In her fourth year of law school, Anne took a class in international law, where she had a teacher who was a passionate believer in the international system and the idea that the international community is and should continue to be a rules-based order. Within a few weeks, she knew she wanted to work in the international arena and went on to study international law at a postgraduate level in Australia.
After law school, Anne began her international career at the United Nations (UN), where she served for 12 years, including as a special adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. For 21 years, she has been a major force in the global movement against modern slavery—participating in the development of international, regional and national laws and policies; working with criminal justice agencies in more than 30 countries; and supporting civil society organizations fighting human exploitation in all its forms.
It was not until working in Geneva for the UN that she became captivated by human rights. There, she worked on the death penalty, human rights in peacekeeping, economic and social rights, and the right to food.
"I got an opportunity to see firsthand how unfair the world is and how injustice, cruelty and greed are hidden and rewarded; they're not exposed and punished," Anne said.
She went on to say that human rights are all about power—taking away from those who have power and giving it to those who do not have enough.
"It's about taking power from the state and giving it to the people, it's about taking power from men and giving it to women, taking power from adults and giving it to children," Anne said. "For me, human rights are kind of our human story and there's nothing more essential and nothing more important than that."
As director-general of the Commonwealth Foundation, Anne is an ambassador for the 2.4 billion people in the Commonwealth, comprised of 54 sovereign states including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Anne said the Foundation is currently working on health, climate, human rights and freedom of expression.
Earlier this year, she was also named chair of Girls Not Brides, a global network of more than 1,500 civil society organizations committed to ending child marriage.
Zonta International, a member of Girls Not Brides since 2015, is partnering with UNICEF USA and UNFPA to support the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage. When asked about how Zonta members and clubs could participate in efforts to end this human rights violation, Anne said we must involve girls and those who are closest to them.
"This is about changing hearts and minds," she said. "Explaining is really important—that this is not just about child marriage. … For example, in so many countries and communities where parents really make a considered choice that the only way to keep their child their daughter safe from violence and from poverty is to marry them off. So explain about how complex this problem is and how there isn't just a fix like having a law against child marriage or prosecuting those who are involved in a child marriage."
Anne received the Order of Australia (AO), the second-highest civic honor the country awards, in 2012 and was named a Zonta International honorary member in 2015. She said she embraces her high profile with humility and understanding that she stands on the shoulders of others.
"I think that's really important because none of us get to where we get without the support, encouragement, love, wisdom and guidance of others," she said.
Anne went on to explain that she gets a lot of questions about how she has been able to combine an intense international career with having a family. She noted that it is important to be honest about her supportive partner and the career directions she took that might have not been preferred but were necessary for her family.
She is thankful for her 21-year-old twin daughters because it helps her understand how things have changed and what issues the next generation of women is facing.
"Perhaps this is going to be the generation that will decide to actually change what the expectations are," Anne said. "I don't always agree with them … but I feel like if I didn't have this constant stream of young people and young ideas in my life, I could get stuck. I'm still growing because of these young people, so I'm grateful for that."
Lynne and Anne went on to discuss impostor syndrome, which occurs when one doubts their skills and abilities despite their education, qualifications and accomplishments. Anne thinks women are more vulnerable to this feeling because of how they are socialized, but she does her best to push against it.
"I feel like it's a bit of a betrayal to the people who believe in me and the people who've made judgments about my qualities and what I can do," she said. "So even though I do feel it, I try and resist it."
When asked how she recovers from a hit to her confidence, she said confidence and resilience must come from within.
"If we're self-aware, then we develop confidence by trying our best, by figuring out how to do better, and then by going out and trying again," Anne explained. "We are so blessed if we have family, colleagues and friends around who can boost us; but if it's not there—if it's not in your heart and your head—then it's not going to last very long."
Though women have recently faced setbacks around the world, particularly concerning sexual and reproductive rights, Anne said there are more weapons at our disposal than ever before.
"We may have taken one step back, but I have a feeling two steps forward is just around the corner," she said.
Click here to watch Anne's Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories session.
8 NOVEMBER 2021