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Their medals are rightly on the left

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Five women showing their medals.

Pictured at the Australian War Memorial are By the Left campaign supporters Ledy Rowe, Lucy Wong, Allison Gillam, Kellie Dadds and Jan-Maree Ball.

Next time you see a woman wearing her medals on the left, please thank her for her service.

That’s the message members of the Women Veterans Network Australia (WVNA) seek to promote through their By the Left campaign in the lead-up to Anzac Day (the title is a play on words as ‘by the left’ is also a phrase of command used when marching).

The campaign will encourage women veterans to march together en masse in major centres all over the country on Anzac Day to raise awareness of their contribution to the Australian Defence Force.

Campaign organiser Kellie Dadds, a veteran who has been deployed eight times, says women veterans regularly find themselves wrongly challenged in person or via social media about wearing their husband’s/father’s/grandfather’s medals on the wrong side, an offensive slur that has upset some women veterans so much they’ve stopped attending commemorative events altogether.

Given some 15 per cent of the total permanent serving ADF are women, there is potential for thousands of women to be hurt by such comments.

‘Many female veterans no longer march on significant occasions such as Anzac Day, and many have also distanced themselves from the veteran community citing a sense of not belonging due to not feeling recognised as a veteran,’ Ms Dadds said at DVA’s second Female Veterans Policy Forum (FVPF) in October.

She believes that with the support of the WVNA and other ex-service organisations, the By the Left campaign will increase recognition of female veterans. 

‘Female veterans do not want to be different, we want to be viewed the same – as veterans,’ she says.

‘But to achieve this, we must first be seen.’

Greater recognition for women veterans was one of the key issues Ms Dadds wanted to raise at the FVPF, an event that allows women veterans to provide their input on future directions for DVA and learn about the Department’s Veteran Centric Reform program. Other topics discussed included recognition of female-specific conditions, the health needs of women veterans generally, the involvement of families in transition from the ADF to civilian life, the definition of a veteran and providing support for victims of domestic violence.

Ms Dadds hopes to remove the barriers that separate veteran groups during the Anzac Day march.

‘We would like to encourage as many females as possible to march as one group on Anzac Day regardless of their affiliation,’ she says.

‘We believe that a large group of women marching together will send a very powerful image, as opposed to very small numbers of females marching amongst 70 to 80 different groups.’

Several DVA Female Veterans Policy Forum attendees had been challenged about wearing their medals on the left, including Lucy Wong, a former RAAF peacekeeper whose service was questioned on social media in September during a week of commemorations marking 70 years of Australian peacekeeping.

A photo on Facebook of Ms Wong at a function attended by the Governor-General attracted an online comment from a serving ADF member along the lines of: ‘Who’s that woman in the background? Is she wearing her husband’s medals on the wrong side?’

Ms Wong, who is the NSW & ACT Vice President and Welfare Advocate Sydney Metro of the Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans Association, was devastated.

‘After 20-odd years of service, I’ve earnt the right to wear my medals on the left,’ she says.

Ms Wong noted that it’s not just women who face scenarios such as these. Younger men and those from culturally diverse backgrounds have also been on the receiving end, facing assumptions that because they don’t fit a certain stereotype, they could not have earned the medals they are wearing.

‘It’s important to respect rather than question a veteran’s service,’ Ms Wong says.

‘The face of veterans is evolving … the changing face of veterans these days is multicultural.’

Ms Dadds said she appreciated why the question was raised.

‘It’s a very significant thing, being a veteran and having the privilege of representing your country and wearing medals, so they think they’re doing the right thing by protecting that tradition and that right.
‘But people need to acknowledge that the way we look as a veteran is quite diverse.’

So how should you respond as a veteran if you are questioned about the position of your medals?

The By the Left campaigners reckon the best possible response is to smile and say, ‘Thank you, but these are mine, and I earnt them.’

Find out more about By the Left on the campaign’s Facebook page.

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