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Eileen Capocchi

Our campaigns for gender equality were certainly hard fought, but they were exciting times; I would not have missed them for quids.

Change Agent

In short Eileen Capocchi wants women to "be confident". Born in Turkish Palestine, Eileen arrived in Melbourne at age four and was raised as a ward of the state in St Kilda. At 14 she left school and started working as a machinist on 75% of the pay of her male colleagues.

For nearly 70 years Eileen has been a passionate pioneer and advocate for migrant and working women's rights and her strong community activism stretches across a wide range of issues including advocacy for legislative reform. Issues Eileen has championed include equal pay for women in the clothing and meat industries in the 1950s and 1960s; the Victorian abortion law reform in the 1970s to legislative success in 2008; the reproductive rights of young women in the 1970s and the health care rights of older women. Other issues include the elimination of violence against women; affordable public housing and health care and more recently basic rights for asylum seekers.

As a founding member of the Victorian branch of the Union of Australian Women (UWA) she has held the roles of secretary and was president of the Darebin group till last year.

Eileen was joint coordinator of the Footscray women's learning centre pilot program, and worked as coordinator until her retirement in 1968. She was a member of Women in Industry, Contraception and Health (forerunner of the Multicultural Centre for Women's Health); board member of the Northcote Community Health Centre; foundation member of the Aspendale Women's Liberation Group; and founding member of the University of the Third Age in Darebin.

In 1996, the Jika Jika Community Centre in Northcote awarded Eileen a PhD in Life Skills for "passing on her life skills to the community". Eileen's outstanding achievements have been captured in two books, Left-wing Ladies: The Union of Australian women in Victoria 1950-1998 (Morag Loh and Suzanne Fabian) and Women's Web: Women's Stories - Women's Actions (compiled by Geraldine Robertson). Eileen proudly attributes much of her success to her mother, who fled the Nazis in the war, and whom she describes as "a tough cookie".