In 1962, Mrs Halliday and the mother of a boy with asthma, Leila Schmidt, opened the doors to the Asthma Foundation of New South Wales. Under the 1962 newspaper headline, “Asthma Sufferers Take Notice”, people were invited to attend the Bond Street, Sydney headquarters of the new Asthma Foundation.
Can we just take a moment to pause, to appreciate the courage and prowess of Mrs Halliday and Leila Schmidt? In a male-dominated medical world with intimidation to boot, they made a stand to make progress for children and people with asthma. And they were totally ambitious.
Their objective was to raise 250,000 pounds – equivalent to more than $7 million in today’s money. It was the biggest fundraiser in Australia.
That year six Sydney hospitals each made a bed available for research into why people developed asthma, factors precipitating attacks, and “the possibility of an inheritance factor”.
The Asthma Foundation worked with eminent asthma scientist Professor John Read to channel funding to asthma research. Within four years, there were six state-based organisations and a federal council. It later opened the Paton Asthma Centre for children aged between five and 12 to rehabilitate in home-like surroundings.
And across the country in Western Australia, the Asthma Foundation of WA, led by Judith Barton opened its doors in 1964.
We also wish to acknowledge another incredible woman, Liesle Scholem, the first person in the world to get a court judgement for health damaged caused by passive smoking in the workplace. Ms Scholem had asthma and worked as a psychologist for the NSW Department of Health. She sued the NSW Health Department for passive smoking-related lung damage. She won in the early 1990’s, but only after years of court and battering by aggressive defence lawyers, seeing laws rolled out until the 2010’s. At the time of her victory (which was also a victory for all) she was aged in her late 70’s.
It’s this incredible legacy of female success behind asthma that we honour today, on International Women’s Day, so many years later in 2020.
This year’s theme is an ‘equal world is an enabled world’. It highlights that it’s been a very unequal world and continues to be so. For the women behind the movement for making change for asthma, they have fought hard to lessen the gap.
Today, Asthma Australia is really proud to progress the work of these women. We are now the peak health consumer body representing people with asthma in Australia. We are still appealing to the medical system and we are still funding research, and because of our relentless efforts, we’ve all come such a long way in 60 years.
Leading the charge today is our CEO, Michele Goldman, who is an inspiring woman and also a mother of four. We can see that nothing has changed in 20 years for people with asthma in terms of deaths, hospitalisations and burden of disease. We have a new fight on our hands, and we are still totally ambitious.
Like in the past, we are a majority female workplace, with women represented and celebrated in all roles, from senior leaders to our volunteers. And importantly, the men we work with are our allies, colleagues and our friends – we have no barriers.
This international women’s day, we remember, and we think ahead to what the world will look like when all workplaces are equal and enabled. We like to think too, that alongside equality, we’ll see even more progress for people with asthma, as history has shown us.