Change Agent Lily Isobella- tackling challenges big and small

Lily Isobella describes herself as an activist, change agent, public speaker and general loud mouth about all things sex, love and self-esteem.  (Picture credit Julie Clyde Creative).  Her work in the space of sex positive parenting, gendered violence prevention and advocacy for children’s protection and rights saw Lily deservedly awarded the 2020 International Womens Day Coffs Coast Woman of the Year for 2020.

“Whilst the publicity for the work that I do is an incredible gift, as it allows me to start a much bigger conversation with a more diverse audience, I don’t like the thought of being labelled as someone extra-ordinary. I think we all have something to contribute to this space and we all need to do so. Violence against women, particularly sexual violence, is not the kind of problem that is going to be solved by ‘leaders’. This is a problem that is only going to be rectified by community shift, which means engaging every member of our community to challenge the status quo that has brought us to this point. That’s a massive job. But it’s one that I believe can happen through a collaborative and creative approach,” says Lily.

Lily has certainly drawn on this collaboration and creativity to bring together nineteen local women with nineteen local teenage girls to take on the ‘Obstacle Hell Challenge’ at Raleigh Raceway.  Unfortunately the event has been postponed until June, another casualty of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.  However, this local team, fittingly called the Rebellos, just see the postponement as an opportunity for more training and more importantly, more bonding.

The Rebellos- ready to take on the Obstacle Hell Challenge


Despite her frantic schedule Lily took some time to talk with us about the desperately important work she is doing in the community.

Lily what drew you to work in the space of sexual health and the protection and empowerment of children?

I don’t think I was drawn, as so much, thrown into it. When I graduated as a Herbalist, I had grand plans of working with women to improve their hormonal health. The women who came to me though, time and again, were women who had a story of trauma. You cannot continue to see the same story played out in thousands of women over years, without starting to ask questions. My question went from “how do I help these women?” To “how do I stop this from happening in the first place?” From there, it became very easy to see what needed to happen next – education and empowerment.

Can you describe the ‘One a Day Project’?

The One A Day Project is home for the programs that I facilitate. The organisation is an invitation to everyone to be part of the solution in preventing sexual violence – in any way they can. I believe that helping parents cultivate confidence in the ways they communicate with their young people about sexuality and relationships is a cornerstone in that solution. That is why ‘Courageous Conversations Parent Forum’ evolved and is so vital. We encourage parents to be the most approachable source of information for their kids, and to tackle tricky conversations early and often.

‘Get Up Girl’ is our other main program, and it engages with young women from age 6. At the moment it is run in a number of places, as weekly classes here in Bellingen, and in Coffs, as well as an in-school program for year 8 girls in Bellingen High. I also take the program to other communities and run shorter sessions. The heart of the program is self defence, self esteem and self respect. It aims to create confident, loud, proud & strong women by helping young women use their voice, know their rights, and have an experience of feeling strong in their physical capacity.

Can you describe your greatest achievement?

Having enough faith in myself and confidence to start was the hardest part.  I think that’s true for anyone trying to do things a little differently. But I think that is exactly what our young women need to see: women trying new things, women taking chances and women being unafraid of being big and being seen.

In your work- do you see modern youth as better equipped to face the challenges of life?

I think our young people are amazing. I have the honour of being part of a lot of conversations with teenagers.  The wisdom and maturity they demonstrate in regards to gender issues, respectful relationships and healthy sexuality is astounding. I don’t think we give them enough credit for how much they do already know.  This is one of the things I stress in the forum – sex positive parenting is about conversations – not about a parent preaching to a child. I do think that while they have the knowledge and understanding, our young people are still really craving tangible examples of all of those things in practice.  If we choose we can be the role models they need to see and this is how we will effect powerful change.  We can model respect, equality, acceptance, curiosity, non violence, strong bystander behaviour and so much more, so they can see these theoretical concepts in action.

Have you witnessed change for the women and girls participating in Get Up Girl?

The biggest shift I see in every single woman, regardless of age, happens when she is given permission to raise her voice. Literally. It is also the most difficult thing for nearly every woman to do. As women we have been taught for so long to fit neatly into a box: don’t be too loud, don’t be too opinionated, don’t be too ambitious, don’t be too strong, don’t stand up for yourself, don’t be too much. When there is a safe space to practice being all of those things, it then allows women to carry that voice back to their daily life. What happens then can sometimes be quite amazing!

Despite the postponement, the Rebellos appear as fired up as ever about the Obstacle Hell Challenge .  There certainly appears to be a very special bond between you all.

This group is probably the most eclectic and awe inspiring group of individuals I have ever had the pleasure of creating something with. The 19 local women (including Coffs & Valla) self-selected to be a part of this challenge in response to an open call I put out on social media last year.

They are women who in their daily lives are CEO’s, lawyers, teachers, mothers, architects, artists and just amazing humans. They each committed to forming a team with a group of 19 teenage girls, to show up and train with them twice a week and to fundraise for them. Together they have raised enough money to cover the cost of their participation, as well as purchase sports gear and shoes for all of the girls. But most importantly these busy women have consistently taken time-out of their lives every week to be with the young women in our community. The friendships and the support we have all found within this group have become an essential part of all our lives. I know for me, the experience has been transformative.

Rebellos training. And isn’t that our Deputy General Manager Bellingen Shire Council Michelle McFadyen?

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