Chanel Contos may have started the year as an everyday university student, but she is ending it as one of nine women crowned by Marie Claire Australia as “Women of the Year 2021.”
Held annually by globally recognised lifestyle magazine Marie Claire for the past 26 years, the ‘Women of the Year’ awards were created to “champion game-changers, trailblazers and joy-makers in all their glory.”
“This month, in a special December issue, we celebrate the women who have fought with passion, led with bravery and inspired with their triumphs in 2021,” says Marie Claire magazine.
“In a year that was defined by political hypocrisy and ongoing lockdowns, they have fought with passion, led with bravery and inspired with their triumphs.”
Greek Australian Chanel Contos is of Greek origin on both her parents’ sides as well as her four grandparents, who were from Thessaloniki, Igoumenitsa and Kastellorizo.
“In February, the former Sydney schoolgirl, 23, made global headlines when she went public with her story of teenage sexual assault and launched a petition calling on the government to overhaul sexual-consent education in Australia,” says Marie Claire.
In February 2021, Contos posted an Instagram story asking followers if they or someone close to them had been sexually assaulted by someone when they were at school. Within 24 hours, over 200 people replied ‘yes’.
Contos created an online campaign and a website called ‘teach us consent’ through which she has gathered thousands of testimonies of sexual abuse by students across Australia. To date, there have been more than 44,000 signatures and over 6,700 people have shared their stories of sexual assault on the website.
“We now have an amazing team of volunteers who help,” says Contos, explaining that initially the majority of the overwhelming responses were sent directly to her personal inbox.
The impact of Chanel Contos’ campaign led the Australian Ministry of Education to announce that it was making changes to the teaching of sex education immediately.
In this first victory for Contos and the thousands of girls who have endured the traumatic experience of sexual abuse or harassment, schools across Australia will be providing information on consent, respect and sexual abuse for pupils up to the age of 12.
Teach that no means no and that the yes should not be self-evident, but a conscious and enthusiastic YES.
In September, Contos hosted an online roundtable event with key ministers and stakeholders to discuss how to best embed respectful relationships, sex, and consent education into Australia’s national curriculum.
“The New York Times wanted to come and I had to tell them no,” laughs Contos about the global reception received by her initiative.
At the Consent forum, victim-survivors spoke about their concerns and lived experiences, resulting in some powerful conversations that reinforced the need for sex education reform across the country.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said she was “humbled and privileged” to attend the online event where young people “generously shared their heartbreaking experiences of sexual assault during their school years with courage and determination for change.”
CEO of Learning Consent Dr Joy Townsend says it was “powerful to hear young Australian survivors” speak, and these insights can help improve Australia’s approach to sex education.”
In Australia alone, 2.2 million women (23%) and 718,000 men (8.0%) aged 18 years and over have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, including childhood sexual abuse and/or sexual assault since the age of 15.
Whilst the nation applauds Chanel Contos for her ground-breaking achievements this year lobbying for and providing holistic consent and sexuality education, in her eyes, her proudest achievement is much more humble.
“Thousands of people trusted me with their stories. They are anonymous now, but they weren’t anonymous to me,” she says.