Being told she could not play Aussie Rules kick-to-kick in primary school became Wing Commander Kelley Stewart’s first fight against inequality. 

Horrified at a rule saying girls were not allowed on the oval, Wing Commander Stewart’s mum urged her 10-year-old daughter to exercise the right to protest.  

“I thought it was incredibly unfair. I went home and complained to my mother and she said, ‘well you need to write a petition’,” Wing Commander Stewart said. 

“I was like, what is a petition?” 

On a Monday morning before assembly, Wing Commander Stewart left the signed petition on the deputy principal’s desk.

Wing Commander Stewart went on to be a civilian midwife, local councillor and a RAAF environmental health officer.

“Protection of human rights and prevention of gender-based violence have always been important to me,” she said

“However, what resonates most with me is women’s full and meaningful participation in decisions which affect them.

“I have been spruiking this stuff forever.”

Wing Commander Stewart is a gender adviser in Joint Operations Command and moves to a similar role in Air Command next year. 

We need to ensure we consider the different needs of men, women, boys and girls, and to recognise how gendered patterns of life can impact air operations.

“I have learnt a lot about planning for joint operations and exercises in my current job and can see how it will translate into my new role,” she said

“We need to ensure we consider the different needs of men, women, boys and girls, and to recognise how gendered patterns of life can impact air operations.”

She was talking after the launch of a new Defence Gender, Peace and Security mandate on October 28.

The launch, by Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell, marked the 20th anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325.

With a background in diversity policy development and creator of the Air Force’s guide to supporting breastfeeding mothers, Wing Commander Stewart said her role aligned well with the new mandate. 

This meant identifying that women often exerted power in different ways from men and the importance of engaging with those female leaders along with how their leadership influences communities. 

“We might run an amphibious landing exercise on a beach. We want to think about who uses the beach as part of consultation and community engagement,” Wing Commander Stewart said. 

“Instead of just speaking to the local council or the 4x4 club, we need to consider applying a gender perspective to the users and identifying who and how they will be impacted by our activities.  

“We need to also consider how and when women and children also use the beach, and how we best consult with them.

“For example, engaging with a local school to reach the mums and carers who take their kids to the beach.”

While the petition in primary school ended up getting Wing Commander Stewart in trouble, her new role means she continues her fight for equality in participation.