— Presented by the Victorian Women’s Trust for International Women’s Day, 2023 —

‘Covid 19 on top of bushfire recovery has exacerbated the isolation of many women in rural Victoria. There are vital services at risk of being denied to women if they are unable to connect to online services, from maternal care, mental health, telehealth and violence prevention to name but a few.’

Alana Johnson AM
Chair, Victorian Women’s Trust
Rural Women Online Project Director


Women in regional Victoria are immensely capable and deeply resilient. Women play significant roles in rural communities on a daily basis, but the impacts of crises such as floods, drought, and the pandemic bring this leadership capacity into stronger relief.

In terms of community recovery after disasters, women play a huge, often unheralded role. They are first and foremost communicators and networkers, bringing people together at a time of urgent need.

After the critical emergency response phase of a disaster, it is equally critical to attend to post-disaster rebuilding. This is likely to take several years; necessitates an informed approach to trauma and requires equipped people to assist communities through disaster recovery. This is an organic process and as reported after the 2020 ‘black summer’ fires requires ‘connector’s not coordinators. This is the work women do, they rebuild families, communities and local economies. Ensuring that women have IT skills and capacity is an important dimension to any rebuild.


Alana Johnson AM
VWT Chair and Project Director Rural Women Online

Alana is a farmer and rural consultant. She was the Victorian Rural Woman of the Year in 2010. A founding member of Australian Women in Agriculture, Alana has worked extensively on behalf of rural women, nationally and internationally. She has served on a number of government and NGO boards and is currently the President of Voices 4 Indi, which initiated a democracy project in the lead-up to the 2013 federal election. Alana was listed in the inaugural AFR/Westpac 100 Women of Influence in Australia and was inducted onto the Victorian Women’s Honour Roll in 2018.

Distinguished Professor Julian Thomas
RMIT University

Julian Thomas is the Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society, and a Distinguished Professor in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University. He has written widely about digital inclusion, automation and other topics relating to the social aspects of communications and computing technologies. His publications include the Sage Handbook to the Digital Media Economy (Sage 2022), Wi-Fi (Polity 2021), Measuring the Digital Divide: the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (Telstra, 2016-2021), Internet on the Outstation: The Digital Divide and Remote Aboriginal Communities (INC, 2016), and The Informal Media Economy (Polity, 2015).

Kathleen Lively
Consul General of the United States Government of America, Melbourne

Kathleen Lively is a career American diplomat currently serving as U.S. Consul General in Melbourne, Australia. Ms. Lively was the Minister Counselor for Management Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya from 2019 – 2021. Prior to that, she served three years as the Dean of the Foreign Service Institute’s School of Applied Information Technology. Ms. Lively has also represented the United States in Romania, The United Kingdom, Japan, Poland and Afghanistan.

In Washington, she worked for the Undersecretary for Management and in the Bureau of Information Resource Management. She started her thirty plus years of government service as a Presidential Management Intern at the National Institutes of Health and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Mary Crooks AO
VWT Executive Director and Project Director Rural Women Online (Moderator)

After an extensive public policy career, Mary became the Executive Director of the Victorian Women’s Trust in 1996. She has designed and led ground-breaking community engagement initiatives, such as the Purple Sage Project and Our Watermark Australia. In June 2012, Mary was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia, for her distinguished services to public policy and advocacy for the advancement of women. In 2016, Mary won the Public Policy category as part of the AFR/Westpac’s 100 Women of Influence for her years of work in shaping public policy in Australia.

This presentation has been made possible by

United States Consulate General Melbourne
Bendigo Bank Community Enterprise Foundation
Helen Macpherson Smith Trust

On behalf of the VWT we wish to thank all Speakers, our Rural Women Online partners and, Gabrielle Connellan and Cynthia Hoof at the US Consulate, Melbourne.

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By Kate