“Women are extremely capable, ambitious, experienced, and ready to serve and lead”

It’s that time of year when we take a moment to celebrate women, all around the world, and commit to accelerating gender equality. To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March 2023, we sat down with Sally Hasler, Dame of the Order of St John and Chair of the St John International Women’s Network.

Hi Sally, what would you say has inspired you to get where you are today?
My interest in social justice, equality, and diversity has inspired me throughout my life. I believe it is important that everyone in our community is included, has equal opportunities, and can contribute to the decisions that affect them.

As a young person in St John, I had a real passion for youth participation and advocated for young people to be involved in decision-making. Our organisation benefits when we include diverse voices around the table. This interest in youth participation and diversity also fuelled my passion for greater gender equality in St John. We all benefit when we are more inclusive and welcoming of everyone.

I am proud that I am part of an international commitment to gender equality led by the Lord Prior and Grand Council.

Sally Hasler, DStJ

Can you briefly talk about your experience as chair of the International Women’s Network?
I have chaired the International Women’s Network group for about 18 months now, and it has been an incredible journey. My initial involvement in the group was to set it up. I now help facilitate each of the meetings, provide a platform for women to share their experiences, and identify opportunities for us all to work together and drive gender equality initiatives locally.

When the Women’s Network was created, we hoped the global network would kick-start activities all around the world. This is now happening, which is hugely exciting. We have seen some great initiatives pop up in all different St John establishments because of the conversations that we’ve had in the Women’s Network about women’s experiences in our organisation and Order. For example, we now have a number of local women’s networks and St John establishments looking at equity in their leadership structures and honour systems.

video meeting

What does International Women’s Day mean to you, and why do you feel that it is important to recognise this day?
International Women’s Day is a day to commit to gender equality and to making and leading meaningful change that makes a difference to the lives of women and girls. It is a day to recognise women’s contributions because they often go unrecognised. In recent years, the day has become a marketing exercise in some respects, and I think it’s important we remember that the day is about committing to action as much as it is about celebrating progress. We must also make sure that we bring all women along.

In the past 10 years, the women’s movement has been very focused on empowerment feminism or corporate feminism, which is not always inclusive of everyone. Women experience gender inequality differently; for example, women of colour, women with disabilities, older women, and women in the LGBTQI+ community face additional barriers. We need to make sure that we support inclusive feminism that addresses intersectionality—how different parts of a person’s identity overlap and interconnect, something compounding and creating different layers of discrimination.

What makes you proud to be a woman volunteering within the St John organisation?
I am proud that I am part of a global organisation and Order with humanitarian service at its very core, especially the provision of first aid and health care around the world. I’m also very proud that, as an international organisation we are having important discussions about gender equality and that there is an international commitment to gender equality, lead by the Lord Prior and the Grand Council.

Sally with The Lord Prior

How can we encourage future female leaders within the Order of St John?
To encourage future female leaders within the Order, we must look at our organisation rather than at women. It is one thing to welcome diversity; it is another to ensure our systems and structures welcome that diversity.

Women are extremely capable, ambitious, experienced, and ready to serve and lead, but we know not everyone has the same opportunities. Just like the societies we exist in, we have entrenched gender bias within our organisation and that means processes and opportunities are not always equal. To encourage future women leaders, we need to ensure that we are providing the same chances to everyone, making sure that recruitment processes are equal and fair, and removing direct and indirect discrimination. We also need to specifically target women for key leadership roles and ensure that we recognise and celebrate women’s achievements.

Why is gender diversity important for St John?
Gender diversity is important for many reasons, and there is a plethora of evidence to demonstrate the benefits of diversity. From an equity perspective and as a humanitarian health-focused organisation, we want to ensure that our organisation reflects the community that we serve.

From an organisational perspective, we know that more diverse and inclusive organisations make better decisions and are more innovative, and that decision-making is improved when diverse perspectives are included.

From a talent perspective, we want to utilise all the talent available to us for our current and future leaders, volunteers, members, and staff to make sure that we are involving everyone within our organisation and reaping the benefits of that.

Sally Hasler

Share with us a woman or quote that inspires you most.
I have so many, but here are three women that inspire me very much! The first is Dr Catherine Hamlin, who to me is an unsung hero, and the reason she inspires me is because she dedicated her entire life to serving others. As a pioneering Australian surgeon, she established a hospital and charity that has helped over 60,000 Ethiopian women with obstetric fistula. No other person has done as much to eradicate this preventable, debilitating condition and give women back their lives.

The second woman that inspires me is Kamala Harris. I think she is an incredible woman, both as Vice President of the United States and as a woman of colour rising to the highest levels of public administration. The obstacles and discrimination she must have overcome are truly inspiring. She is an incredible role model, demonstrating what is possible.

Lastly, Greta Thunberg is an unbelievable advocate for driving positive change, and she’s proven that anything is possible. As a high school student, she mobilised an entire movement dedicated to addressing climate change.

What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
I would tell her not to wait to do what she can do today. To back yourself and to do hard things. I used to be embarrassed by my height growing up and would try to crouch in photos, so I would tell her to stand tall! And I would tell her to always remember how important it is to respect others and treat people as you would wish to be treated.

Sally Hasler

What do you believe is the biggest strength of the Order of St John?
Our biggest strength is that everyone is welcome in St John, and we are accepting of everyone. We serve and support everyone in sickness and danger, regardless of race, religion, or background. Our commitment to inclusivity and service makes us the incredible organisation that we are today.