In 2020, Jessica Brown took a risk – a risk made even bigger by the impending COVID-19 pandemic – when she quit her job and founded The Warrior Woman foundation.
Now, more than a year since Brown started, The Warrior Woman Foundation is looking to grow – and the service it does is essential.
The foundation runs three programs: the Young Warrior Woman program, the Penny Wise Warrior program, and the Young Warrior STEM Scholarship program.
Each one addresses a specific need for vulnerable Australian women, a cause which Brown, who was NSW’s 2013 Woman of the Year, has long been passionate about.
As Brown told B&T, “I’ve worked in the not-for-profit sector working with vulnerable young women for 18 years now. Before that I was a high school teacher for a decade – so I’ve always worked in community service and always been really passionate about education, the protection of children, and particularly the advancement of women.”
“At the beginning of 2020, I left my job after 17 years, and I really needed a change. Little did I know that COVID was about to hit! So, you know, it was at a particular time where I had a blank canvas, I was trying to work out what the next chapter of my life was.”
Brown describes COVID-19 as a “pivotal time”.
It was as though, she says, the universe had tapped her on the shoulder and said: “enough is enough with this chapter, there’s something else for you out there. And then to realize that there was something much bigger that I was about to embark on.”
Going back to her core value of advocating for vulnerable women, Brown first began with research.
“I didn’t want to replicate any services,” she explained. “I wanted to really identify gaps out there.”
She found them.
Incidentally, two of the areas that the Warrior Woman Foundation directly addresses were issues amplified COVID: the economic well-being, and safety, of Australian women.
One core area of concern, which Brown hopes to address through the all three programs, is supporting “the young, vulnerable women leaving the out of home care system at the age of 18.”
“They are left to fend for themselves, and 35 per cent of them ended up becoming homeless, and many of them become a first-time parent within that 12 months of leaving the out of home care system.”
From her teaching experience, Brown said, she knows that “young people who have been through abuse and neglect and trauma, which [happens] in most cases why young people are taken away from their families in the first place. By the age of 15, they’re two to three years behind in really important subjects like English and maths. And so when they turn 18, they’re not your average18 year old.”
Plus, she explained, increasing number of young Australians live at home well into their twenties. So why should young people in out-of-home care, or the foster system, be left to fend for themselves at the age of 18?
In the UK, the US and New Zealand, the age of leaving those systems has been raised to 21. Indeed, she said, that’s even the case in some Australian states – “but New South Wales is lagging.”
Brown also pointed to the fact that women over 55 are the fastest growing homeless population in Australia. Part of the program’s aim is preventing young women from joining the increasing number of older women who live close to the poverty line.
“I’m 50,” she said. “For single women who may have lost a partner or divorced…so many of them are left without enough retirement savings.”
This is partly an issue of the gender pay gap, and the domestic labour women are proportionally more likely to perform.
“Women earn 14 per cent less than men, but [also] compounding [the fact] that women take on caring responsibilities at home, which impacts their pay, their super, their career progress, and, on average, they retire with $250,000 less Super than their male counterparts.”
“COVID literally has compounded this even more, because so many young women are in what we call ‘pink jobs’; teachers and nurses and hospitality and retail industries and things like that, and obviously, retail and hospitality have been [made] really hard by COVID.”
Brown also highlighted the rise of domestic violence during COVID, pointing to statistics from the Redfern legal centre, which found that 95 per cent of abuse cases include financial abuse.
The coercive control of financial abuse, Brown explained, “is often compounded with the fact that many women believe or are led to believe that they’re not good at [or] not good with money.”
“That just makes my blood boil.”
That is the impetus behind the program’s second area of focus, the Penny Wise Warrior program, which aims to support vulnerable young women and give them the confidence to earn, save, and plan for a secure economic future.
Her goal is educating every young woman in Australia about their finances – a goal which feels particularly prescient given that 63 per cent of men are financially literate in Australia, and only 48 per cent of Australian women, according to HILDA, have basic financial literacy skills.
The Warrior Woman Foundation has big dreams. But for them to expand their programs, they need financial support.
“We’ve got the models in place, and they can be easily replicable,” Brown said.
“We’re looking for a current partner, a strong brand who we share values with to become a major partner. The second [thing] is that we’re looking for individual sponsors. [In the Young Warrior Program] we have 25, young warriors and 25 ‘wise warriors’ mentors.”
It costs $2000 to put both the mentor and the mentee to the program, so Brown is hoping to find 25 sponsors: whether they are individuals, families, or businesses.
The Penny Wise Program costs $350 for each young woman to go through the six week course.
“If individuals wanted to make a donation, it’s something tangible,” Brown explained.
Their fourth fundraising goal is finding brands to support third party fundraising or promotion for the Warrior Woman at events and launches.
“We’ve got massive goals. We want to be able to replicate our programs, we know that they work and we want to be able to reach as many vulnerable young women as possible. So we wanted to be recognized as an outstanding service for women in the not-for-profit sector in the Australian community,” said Brown.
“We want to maintain best-practice, evidence-based programs which are highly effective with long term outcomes. And, we want to create a National Women’s Movement to advocate in advance for vulnerable women, which is really exciting. We’ve got the closed Facebook group at the moment, but we are gathering momentum, we are getting women on board, and want to start a movement so that we’ve got this incredible network of women.”
This month, the foundation has received funding for the Penny Wise Warrior Program to take place in Melbourne.
Ultimately, the foundatiom wants to achieve a replicable, self-sustaining, accountable model.
This desire reflects Brown’s goal for the program, too: “for every young woman to achieve independence through financial well being, and to increase the financial literacy rates of young women in Australia, so they can take charge of their earnings and manage their own money, and hopefully close that gender gap of.
“Even as part of our money management program, it’s not just about budgeting, it’s about [what] you do when you’re going for a job interview, or how can you bring up the conversation of what you’re worth. How do you negotiate a pay rise?”
“[We want to] teach them how to break those molds.”
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