Kara Cook is the CEO of Basic Rights Queensland and Working Women Queensland. She has been an advocate and voice for those who need it most throughout her career which has spanned across law, politics and community services. Her skill set is unique with expertise in community campaigning and advocacy, domestic violence, women’s issues, law reform, policy, fundraising, communication and media. She is a former (or reformed!) politician, founded Australia’s first expert Domestic Violence law firm, has worked as the Principal Lawyer at Women’s Legal Service Queensland, is a former Vice President of Queensland Law Society and Australian Young Lawyer of the Year.
As I reflect on my journey, it strikes me how my varied career in law, politics, and community services has led me to where I am today. I was always drawn to both law and business for different reasons. Law was around helping others and living up to my core values. I was also interested in how you make a business tick. I now find myself in a unique position that combines the best of both worlds – running a community legal centre with the opportunity to impact the law without practising it directly.
Growing up in a small regional town in Central Queensland, my early involvement in the local community sparked a deep-seated interest in helping others. Fundraising and supporting those in need became a personal mission, fueled by an understanding of the value of education and the privilege I held. Even when my law school experience didn’t match the excitement of TV dramas, I pressed on, knowing I had to navigate through subjects I didn’t particularly enjoy to reach my end goal.
My law degree provided a foundation for a unique way of thinking and problem-solving – skills that were particularly applicable to the world of politics.
For five years I served as the only female Labor Councillor on the Brisbane City Council. This was a unique role. The Council has an administration and an opposition and I was in the opposition. There were only five of us and we didn’t have a lot of power which was an interesting position to be in.
Through the process of learning about politics and learning about advocacy and community engagement I found my own voice and the voice of my community. Initiating motions for crucial strategies on domestic violence and homelessness, I found I could have an impact despite being in opposition.
Politics, however, revealed stark structural barriers for women. Affirmative action policies, like the 50% women representation in winnable seats, marked progress, but I remain a firm believer in quotas.
When I was pregnant, there was a big issue about my wanting to attend meetings virtually. I had a public fight that was not enjoyable or comfortable for me personally. But I felt strongly that it wasn’t just about me. It was about anyone else who was pregnant or may not be able bodied or people with caring responsibilities for elderly parents. Much work lies ahead, not only for women but for all minority groups. Diversity at the decision-making table is crucial, and we need to think differently about inclusivity.
One aspect I’m particularly proud of is my involvement in advocating for pets in crisis during my law firm days. This domestic violence charity aimed to provide shelter for pets of women escaping abusive relationships, acknowledging the barriers these individuals faced. I personally get a lot of reward from doing that sort of work. It makes me feel satisfied with how I live my life and that what I’m doing is consistent with my core values.
Challenges persist, as evidenced by a recent encounter with sexism on social media. Yet, I firmly believe in standing up for what’s right, even when it’s uncomfortable. The fight for respect and equality for women remains strong, and education from an early age is vital in reshaping societal norms.
To women navigating their own paths, I suggest finding mentors aligned with your values and maintaining a thirst for knowledge. It’s okay to face self-doubt, but the key is to keep pushing forward. Success rarely follows a straight path; it’s filled with twists and turns, weird and wonderful adventures.
Australia, to me, should be a country where everyone has a fair go. Recognising the difference between equality and equity is crucial; equity is about bringing others up to be on par. My dedication to this cause stems from a strong sense of justice and empathy for the most vulnerable.
In my own journey, I envision a future where everyone has that fair go – where diversity is embraced, inclusivity is championed, and equity becomes the norm. I believe we can create this through perseverance, advocacy, and the unwavering belief in creating a more just and equitable world for all.