Celebrating strength: 10 faith leaders share International Women's Day messages

Today, on International Women’s Day (8 March), we celebrate the contribution of Christian women leaders and share what this day means to them.

1. Clare Steele, Compassion Australia CEO

Clare Steele

Clare is the CEO of Compassion Australia. Clare is an experienced executive leader with a strong record across a range of industries in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.

“Women and girls make up a larger proportion of those impacted by extreme poverty. International Women’s Day is a chance for us to be able to share [the message] that each woman and girl around the world is created in God’s image and the love that he has for each of them. It provides an opportunity for us to speak on behalf of those who do not have the opportunity to speak for themselves. It is a chance to ask others to join us to fight for women and girls around the world (Proverbs 31:8-9).”

2. Melissa Lipsett, Baptist World Aid Australia CEO

Melissa Lipsett

Melissa is CEO of Baptist World Aid Australia, leading a team of Christians in pursuit of a better world. She’s passionate about God’s mission and thankful to play her part in it.

“Working in International Development, I’m grateful to know some truly world-changing women who many people might never hear about. These women have faced discrimination, abuse and poverty, and far too many have lost their childhood to an early marriage. But every day, they get up, provide for their families and lead their communities in tackling challenges and fighting for themselves and their daughters to be understood as equal in value – in keeping with God’s intent and the biblical mandate – to men and boys.

“International Women’s Day means recognising the impact and contribution of these incredible women and girls and seeing them the way Jesus does. It’s a great privilege to lead a faith-based and faith-filled organisation that seeks to champion these women and elevate their stories daily – especially on a day like today.”

3. Laura Bennett, Hope 103.2 radio host

Laura Bennett

Laura has worked in the entertainment and media industries for over 15 years as a radio host, podcaster and film reviewer. Laura has a particular interest in stories that contribute to a sense of meaning in life and in interviewing guests who help us live our lives with purpose. 

“International Women’s Day is a reminder to me of the untapped potential held within the women of the world. In many countries, women are still fighting for basic human rights and liberty, and women in the faith space have a God-given mandate to support their quest for justice and enable the purpose within them to find expression. For women with greater freedoms, it’s a call to be grateful, and it brings a sense of urgency in not allowing that freedom to go to waste.”

4. Sharon Callister, Mission Australia CEO

Sharon Callister

Sharon was appointed Mission Australia’s CEO in 2022. Adopting a servant-leadership style and with a strong strategic focus, Sharon is committed to Mission Australia’s vision of an Australia where everyone has a safe home and can thrive.

“As a Christian woman with a courageous voice, I’m committed to fulfilling Mission Australia’s founding purpose – ‘Inspired by Jesus Christ, Mission Australia exists to meet human need and to spread the knowledge of the love of God’ – not just on International Women’s Day, but every day.

“This is a day to reaffirm my intent to be a courageous Christian female voice advocating for gender equality.” – Sharon Callister

“To me, this is a day to reaffirm my intent to be a courageous Christian female voice advocating for gender equality and government policies that invest in and support women, alongside all people in need. I want to live in an Australia where every woman has the opportunity to succeed and where everyone has a safe, secure home and equal opportunity to thrive – so it’s my business to make it everyone’s business.

“International Women’s Day also allows me to reflect on the unique ways God created us in his image. In my role as CEO at Mission Australia, I work alongside women with a range of life experiences – from female board members and leaders to frontline staff and women we serve who are vulnerable or experiencing homelessness. As a Christian charity leader, this means embracing and advocating passionately and compassionately for the unique and varied needs of the women we work with.”

 5. Joce Goto, entrepreneur and co-founder of Facemail and Charitabl.

Joce Goto

Joce is the co-founder of FaceMail and Charitabl. – two very different businesses that share the same heart of kindness, generosity and making the world a better place. Joce has spent the majority of her career in the not-for-profit space and has travelled throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, meeting people, listening to their stories and finding the common thread of humanity that is always present – if you look for it. As a woman who overcame an eating disorder and as a mother who journeyed through having a critically sick child, Joce is wildly empathetic towards and passionate about women and providing a safe place where people feel seen, valued and loved, no matter their stories.

“Now, more than ever before, the world is beginning to realise that women have a voice, and more than that – their voice matters. Their ideas, intellect and perspectives provide an important and different way of looking at the world. For me, being a female leader in our current climate means holding the qualities of strength and gentleness in tension with each other. We have a unique opportunity to shape future generations of women by paving the way for them and showing that, as a female leader, you can be both strong and gentle, in contrast to years gone by when we would default to one or the other. You can now lead with both – in fact, I believe it is critical to do so.

“We can raise up the next generation of girls to know that they matter and, more than that, God has a purpose and a plan for their lives.” – Joce Goto

“That’s why International Women’s Day is important to me – for ourselves and for our daughters. We can raise up the next generation of girls to know that they matter and, more than that, God has a purpose and a plan for their lives. We can show them how to walk with strength and gentleness and teach them how to use their God-given voice to change the world.”

6. Danni Synot, podcast host and the founder/CEO of the charity Brave Enough

Danni Synot

Danni hosts Brave Conversations podcast on AccessMore, USA (EMF/KLOVE) and is the founder/CEO of the charity Brave Enough. She is also an international Christian speaker, author, counsellor and mentor-coach.

“International Women’s Day reminds me of the importance of the true meaning of sisterhood, especially within the body of Christ. I’ve seen amazing things happen in women’s lives when someone steps up to believe in them and love them properly. They grow in confidence and heal broken places; and they go on to do great things!

“A quote by Wes Angelozzi expresses it this way: ‘Go and love someone exactly as they are. And then watch how quickly they transform into the greatest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered.’

“That kind of love propels people forward. It propelled me forward, too.

“International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate, strengthen and support each other in our unique giftings, challenges and calling for Jesus. It’s a space to be filled with truth in love, sharing wisdom, quashing tall poppy syndrome and lifting each other up.

“‘Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as you are doing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:11).”

7. Dr Sureka Goringe, national director of UnitingWorld

Sureka became national director of UnitingWorld in July 2017, after two years as associate director. She previously spent 15 years in the technology sector. Sureka’s work at UnitingWorld answers a lifelong calling, weaving her global childhood, her faith, and her passion for justice with the skills gained through professional life.

“Everywhere I look, I see women, including women of colour stepping up to take their rightful place in leadership. And I see a new generation of men who fully understand the value of diversity in their teams; who recognise how culture, wellbeing and performance are improved when women are given their fair share of power, influence and recognition.

“And yet we still live in a world where men beat up and kill women every week, where men think it’s ok to pay women less, to harass them and exploit them. The world is an unjust place, and it is the role of the church to be a light in the darkness. It is our role to bear witness to what it means for God’s will to be done here on earth.

“We Christians are called to play a prophetic role in addressing the injustice faced by women.” – Dr Sureka Goringe

“I am proud to belong to the Uniting Church, which has recognised the full equality of women in all ministries from the beginning. We’ve had women as presidents and moderators, and our new president in July will be a woman of colour, a first for an Australian head of church. And I’m proud, as UnitingWorld, to support the work of our church partners overseas, whose leaders teach biblical gender equality theology to shift attitudes and behaviours that disempower women.

“We Christians are called to play a prophetic role in addressing the injustice faced by women. And yet so many parts of the church seem stuck – where theology is weaponised to prop up the patriarchy.

“Jesus upset the patriarchy of his time by treating women as equals, with great respect. And yet today, some of us still act as if God didn’t mean it when God created both male and female in God’s own image or didn’t pour out God’s Spirit on all people, sons and daughters! This International Women’s Day, it’s my fervent prayer that all Christians will champion a vision of gender justice that is as ambitious and liberating as Jesus, bringing abundant life for all.”

8. Laurel McCulloch, Rhema FM Newcastle radio host

Laurel McCulloch

Laurel was born with an insatiable desire to entertain, create and communicate. Her journey with professional theatre began at the age of 12. In a career spanning three countries, she thrives in the world of make-up, rehearsals, lights, action, singing, laughing and bringing a truth that changes lives forever – and the prize is hearing how her endeavours have touched someone.

“I take great delight in cheering on women everywhere, who shine a light on lives built on sheer tenacity, rugged creativity and relentless faith. We are all very human, but with Jesus, we are more, and with each other, we become even more.”

9. Lauren Foster, co-founder and co-director of Big Kids’ Table

Lauren Foster

Lauren co-founded Big Kids’ Table, which seeks to provide faith-inspired sex and healthy relationships education in schools and churches. Before this, she was the well-being coordinator and secondary teacher at a Melbourne Christian college, where she created the school-wide well-being program. 

“My faith, resilience, creativity and mindset have been greatly shaped by the faithful female leaders who have chosen to mentor and disciple me. They are the ones who have stood in solidarity with me in the process of my growth and learning. The women who chose to sit with me in the mess and urged me to trust Jesus with it. The women who have taught me to believe that my voice is worthy to be heard and my creativity is a gift. In a predominantly male space, it is significant to see faithful women model what it is to dream big and to break new ground. These are the women who modelled bold, gritty faith and encouraged me to do the same, and who I honour this International Women’s Day.”

10. Georgia Nicholas, co-founder and co-director of Big Kids’ Table

Georgia Nicholas, co-founder and co-director of Big Kids' Table

Georgia is also a co-founder of Big Kids’ Table. Before this, she worked as a youth pastor in various church contexts and in communications and design for Mustard Schools, a student-led schools ministry. 

“When I think of strong, faithful female leaders, I can’t go past the influence of my mum. She’s worked in corporate business in South Africa and Australia for years. I’m constantly in awe, not only because of her high capacity and resilience but also because of her ability to uphold integrity, compassion, and strong faith values in a competitive and sometimes plain nasty corporate environment. She’s shown me you can be strong, kind, high-achieving, and gracious without compromising your values.

“International Women’s Day reminds me that women’s voices were meant to be heard.” – Georgia Nicholas

“Additionally, as a passionate, gregarious young female leader, I’ve often felt too much for the rooms I’ve existed within. International Women’s Day reminds me that women’s voices were meant to be heard just like mine and my mum’s. If you feel too much for a room, you simply need a bigger one – it’s not you! I’m convinced Jesus was one of the first feminists. I’m also inspired by the possibility of a young woman seeing me up the front one day and thinking maybe she could do the same – that her voice matters too. I know that was, and still is, the case for me each time I see a woman of God doing what she was made to do.”

Rachel Reva De Giorgio is an account manager for Jersey Road PR. She is also a podcast host, author, board member and founder of Life On Her Terms Media. You can follow her on @lifeonhertermsmedia.