In this alumni spotlight: “Five years on - where are they now?”, we have the pleasure of speaking with 2019 Young Women to Watch in International Affairs Finalist and Gender Equality Activist and Rhodes Scholar Yasmin Poole about her passion for intersectional public policy.
Yasmin's vision is for Australia to become a global leader in intersectional policymaking, with a Parliament that reflects the diversity of its communities.
Yasmin is National Ambassador for Plan International, advocating for young women to be heard in Australian politics. She regularly provides commentary on Australian TV and radio, such as Q+A, The Drum, and ABC News. She is the Non-Executive Board Director of OzHarvest, Australia's leading food waste charity, and previously worked on gender equality campaigns for The World Bank in the Pacific region.
Yasmin was previously named The Martin Luther King Jr Center's Youth Influencer of the Year and 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian Australians. She is studying a Master of Public Policy and holds a Master in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies from the University of Oxford, alongside a Bachelor of Law/International Relations from the Australian National University. She is particularly interested in intersectional public policy frameworks which was the topic of her master's thesis. Yasmin is a Rhodes Scholar.
You are currently studying a Master of Public Policy at the University of Oxford on the Rhodes Scholarship. How has been your experience as a Rhodes scholar so far?
It has been a really amazing experience so far. My classmates are from over 60 countries and I have learned so much about the world from them. What we see on the news plays out in the classroom in real time. In Australia it can feel like we are very far away, so I really treasure the ability to learn with students from every corner of the world. I love my Rhodes cohort too. One of the best things about them is that they take action when they see things that are wrong. They don’t just say they care and do nothing. They act on it. Many scholars, myself included, have been organising protests and advocacy efforts around Gaza for example. They give me a lot of energy, courage and hope.
Looking back at your recognition as one of the Young Women to Watch in International Affairs in 2019, how has it influenced your professional journey and personal growth over the past five years?
It’s hard to believe that the prize was five years ago. It was a really amazing opportunity to build a platform and show that international affairs is not just about trade or defence, but can also be feminist and intersectional. I was nominated anonymously (and still do not know who it was) so thank you if you are reading this right now! I’m very grateful to be alongside such amazing women doing such diverse work.
What inspired you to apply for the Young Women to Watch in International Affairs list? What advice would you offer to women who are interested in applying?
I was nominated anonymously for the award so I did not apply myself. In that vein, I would encourage anyone who knows an amazing young woman in this space to nominate them. So often, young women can overlook ourselves and it goes a long way to have someone believe in you and support you.
But if you’re reading this and thinking about applying, I would highly recommend doing it! My advice is don’t discount your experiences just because it does not fit into a conventional image of international affairs. It is a broad umbrella and can include advocacy too. Give it a shot and see what happens.
Policy making remains a male-dominated field. What strategies have you employed to navigate it, and what advice would you offer to young women aspiring to pursue careers in this field?
Policy affects all of us but is rarely designed in a way that works for all of us. At Oxford, I am researching how we can make public policy more equitable. I am particularly passionate about the idea of intersectional public policy frameworks. The Australian Government has committed to using a gender lens (fantastic!) but not the full picture. An intersectional lens would require the government to consistently think about marginalised identities such as race, gender, class and disability throughout the policymaking process. I want it to be perfectly normal for institutions to think about diversity all the time, across everything. It shouldn’t be a burden on diverse staff to push for these perspectives to be included, but often is.
My advice to young women is to remember that your perspective can change conversations. I have witnessed many times how raising a point about diversity has completely changed the conversation, and if I hadn't raised it it would never be considered. Do not underestimate yourself, and stand strong in your thought and opinions.
What experiences or moments helped you identify your passion in intersectional policy making?
One core memory for me was seeing my mum’s experience of re-entering the workforce at an older age. I saw how difficult it was for her to study full time, make enough money to keep the lights on and shoulder the burden of care at home. It was an almost impossible juggling act, both physically and mentally punishing. I know there are many other older women in Australia going through the same. I remember asking myself, why does it have to be so hard? Where is the policy to catch them?
Later, I understood how her experience was an interplay of gender, class and race: a single mum struggling to afford the costs of education and also, as a first generation migrant, lacking the connections to find employment compared to those who have always lived here. And that is why intersectionality is important. It catches and makes visible those who are not seen. It is a lens that would have seen people like my mum.
Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations? What impact do you hope to make in the coming years?
I’m looking forward to returning to Australia and continuing my advocacy, including pushing for an intersectional lens to be used across public policy. I think Australia can become a world leader in this. I also want to create more spaces for women of colour in Australia to build solidarity for one another, and for us to work together to make Australian politics more representative. What I love about my career is that every day looks different, and I get to speak up about things that matter to me. I don’t take that for granted, and I’m excited to see wherever my path leads me.