Thursday, March 14, 2024


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Count Her In

By Amanda Wright

Last weekend, the Zonta Club of Mackay Inc. hosted its annual International Women’s Day luncheon to celebrate and recognise girls and women worldwide.

Club President Fiona Koutlis said the lunch celebrates the strides that have already been made towards equality and a life where women can live free from discrimination and violence.

“Where women can live life to its fullest,” she added.

The UN Women International Women’s Day theme for 2024 is ‘Count her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress’. Count her In will examine the pathways to greater economic inclusion for women and girls everywhere.

“Our work towards equality will continue until every girl and woman knows how it feels to be equal,” Fiona added.

The luncheon’s MC was Miki-Ponting-Boyd who delivered a thoughtfully balanced speech on women’s rights here in Australia and across the world, injecting intelligent humour while keeping the audience enthralled with poignant information about equality.

Guest speaker, Judy Porter brought pivotal understanding of why the gender gap exists, examining a range of traits, both learned and biological, examining why men are more likely to strive for promotions while women tend to step aside. Her business experience coupled with her passion for ‘what drives behaviour’ enabled her to deliver a thought-provoking presentation to empower women to strive for better.

In addition to silent auctions, a raffle and entertaining trivia, the Zonta International Young Women in Public Affairs Award was announced, which encourages young women from 16-19 to participate in public affairs. The award recognises those who take exceptional strides in the community to volunteer, lead and empower women through service and advocacy.

Evelyn O’Brien from St Patrick’s College was announced the 2024 winner. In accepting her prize, Evelyn told the audience the prize money will go towards her educational endeavour this year of studying law in the UK. Runner up was Bridget Wright from Sarina State High School.

Meet The Zonta International Young Women in Public Affairs Award Finalists

Eleena Joe

Holy Spirit College

Eleena Joe is a grade 12 student with a passion and dedication for women’s advancement in the field of public service.

“My personal aspirations include staying committed to successfully achieve my goal of becoming a student at James Cook University Townsville.

“I am also dedicated to continuing my active involvement in volunteer work at aged care homes and rehabilitation hospitals.

“My overarching goal is to align my passion for healthcare, women empowerment and community well-being with meaningful and hands-on contributions.”

Kira Hurrell

Mirani State High School

Kira is a year 11 student who has been an active member of the school Z Club for several years and has held the executive position of Treasurer in 2023 and 2024.

She enjoys the idea of activism and politics.

“An ideal career in the future would include something that involves helping people, whether through scientific discoveries or creating my own organisation towards human rights,” she said.

She also has a passion for dance and drama and participates in a wide range of cultural activities within the school.

Bridget Wright

Sarina State High School

Bridget is a year 12 student and this year was elected by her peers to represent her school as School Captain. She has been an active member of the school’s student council since year 7 and has been a member of the Sarina Zonta Club throughout her schooling.

Alongside her school captaincy, Bridget was also voted as the Mayor of the Mackay Youth Council, the first democratically elected youth council of its kind. She was elected by the eleven fellow councillors and as such works closely with the Mackay Regional Council to ensure the youth of Mackay are supported.

She is passionate about increasing women’s representation in leadership roles in the business sector and politics, through access to programs and initiatives to create strong and driven women.

Bridget’s goals include completing a Business degree where she aims to work in the economics field, working internationally to strengthen Australia’s international relationships.

Chloe Nielsen

Sarina State High School

Chloe is a year 12 student and in 2024 was elected by her peers to represent her school as part of the Student Executive. She is actively striving to initiate a mentorship and mental health program where junior students can reach out for assistance from senior students.

She is also an active member of the woder community. She volunteers time to the Sarina Library, assisting staff and has been asked to contribute to community outreach programs and increasing youth involvement in the library. She also volunteers at the Sarina Hospital where she offers companionship and support to senior citizens during their stays alongside assisting staff.

Her goal is to complete a Bachelor of Biomedical Science/Sciences as a dual degree at the University of Queensland with honours and then complete a PhD majoring in Microbiology and minoring in Neuroscience.

Evelyn O’Brien

St Patrick’s College

Evelyn is a school captain, a member of the Mackay Youth Council, an Ambassador for the Puch-up Challenge and an Ambassador for UN Youth Qld.

“I have competed in the Senior Mackay debating competition and am a current member of Reef Guardians,” she said.

She is an active member in the community, participating in a multitude of sports and performing arts endeavours whilst achieving high marks across all academic subjects.

She intends to study a dual degree in Law and Humanities at the University of Queensland to lead to a career in law.

“As an international postgrad study, I hope to become a Rhode Scholar at the University of Oxford and study a master’s degree in Diplomacy. This level of education will support my transition from law into politics.”

Lilly Uhr

St Patrick’s College

Lilly is a year 12 student and this year is a YMCA Youth Parliament Ambassador following being the Youth Parliament Member for Mackay last year. She is President of St Patrick’s Zonta Club and is a DSARM Charity member and volunteer.

As well as volunteer and academic roles, Lilly is a player, umpire and coach for North’s Netball and a player in the Mackay Machines, a local wheelchair basketball team. She’s also a regional member of the Make It 16 program.

She aspires to study medicine or occupational therapy while continuing to advocate for disability equality. She hopes to work rurally to bridge the gap in rural health services. She also hopes to coach disability sports in a rural community while advocating for women’s rights and helping to fight homelessness. She also intends to run for local government.


Student finalists: The six student finalists L-R: Chloe Nielsen, Lilly Uhr, Eleena Joe, Bridget Wright, Evelyn O’Brien, Kira Hurrell. Photo credit: Cherrie Hughes Social Media & Photography

Winner Evelyn O’Brien being congratulated by Zonta Club of Mackay Inc. members, with runner-up Bridget Wright (right)

MC Miki Ponting-Boyd entertained the tables of attendees at the luncheon

In other news