What girls should know about respectful relationships

Minister for Small Business, Women and Assistant Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer.
Minister for Small Business, Women and Assistant Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

As part of the national Stop it at the Start campaign to help prevent violence against women and their children, the Minister for Women, Kelly O'Dwyer, was invited to write a letter to her 15-year-old self with advice about respectful relationships.

Dear Kelly,

You are lucky enough to have been born into a family that loves you and supports you having a go at anything you set your mind to.

You don’t know it yet, but the people in your life will shape the person that you become.

Firstly, listen and learn from the resilient, compassionate and strong-minded women and men in your life, starting with your parents. Your parents are the first in their families to go to university and will teach you the importance of education and instil values of initiative, personal responsibility and a strong belief in equality. Your grandparents will pass on to you a strong work ethic, aspiration for a better future and appreciation of family.

Sadly many people don’t have the benefit of such positive role models, so appreciate your family and the sacrifices that they make for you so that your world can be one that is filled with possibilities.

Pack all of their good advice into your toolkit.

Your mother will tell you there is no limit to what girls can achieve with hard work, determination and resilience.

She will tell you from an early age that you must always be financially independent because, when you are, you have greater choices in your life.


She will tell you, your sisters and your brother to respect the dignity of every person that you meet, no matter their background.

Be an active part of your community, and build it up; when one of us succeeds, we all succeed. Bring political women from all walks of life together to support and encourage each other in reaching their goals. Create this same network around you now; hold onto your strong friendships with both boys and girls – they will benefit you now and into the future.

Know that it is ok to have different opinions because they’re the basis for healthy debate on issues that you and others feel strongly about. Most importantly: never forget the value of respect. You can respectfully agree to disagree!

Respect goes for relationships too. Disrespectful behaviour is not ok – not ever. Don’t put up with it. Ask for help if you need it, and trust yourself – don’t let the behaviour of others define your own. Call out disrespectful behaviours in others. Be the best version of yourself with your friends, your classmates and your family.

You will have the privilege of representing your local community in the nation’s parliament and your time in parliament will prove that doing something "like a girl" is something to be fiercely proud of. One day you will be the first woman to give birth whilst serving as a cabinet minister. You hope that it will encourage others to pursue a life of public service.

You will marry a kind-hearted and supportive man, and together you will delight in raising two excitable and boisterous toddlers. Following in the footsteps of your family before you, each of you will do your best to be strong role models for both your daughter and your son.

You will teach them that respect is at the heart of all human interactions, as your mother taught you, and you will wish for them a bright and happy future filled with possibilities.

- Your older self

Kelly O'Dwyer MP is the federal Minister for Women. Stop it at the Start can be found here.