Judith was a force of nature, a large woman in every sense, with the warmest, most infectious laugh, which she could direct at all the absurdities of life, especially when it was most threatening. Her reaction to the death sentence she was given in 2019 was to invite everyone to high tea in honor of her 70th birthday, and though I could not attend, I am sure it was a celebratory event, with lots of laughter and high spirits. In 2020, against all odds and with looming fears of a global pandemic, she undertook a trip to New York for the annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), and she continued to advocate for the things she believed in – Justice, Equality, Rights and Access (JERA) — to bring about positive change for women, men and communities. She made appointments with anyone who was still around before the lockdown forced the cancellation of the entire conference. She had no illusions about being cured of the cancer that would eventually kill her, but in the meantime, she was going to get things done, make use of every single minute that she could squeeze out of life, and live it fully. She never let anyone off the hook, least of all herself, with mealy-mouthed obfuscations, and she was direct, truthful and, when needed, even confrontational in her advocacy as in her many friendships. Her involvement with the United Nations reflected her very down-to-earth, practical approach. She truly believed in the large ideals of the UN, and she worked tirelessly for the development of the Global Compact and the dissemination of its Ten Principles, for the SDGs, and especially at the CSW for gender equality and women’s rights with all their implications. But she realized fully that ideals alone and even compacts and resolutions are not enough, and that action is required on the regional, national, local and grassroots levels to bring about the changes that affect individual lives and help one to live free and with dignity. She saw JERA, the organization she established, as “a conduit between community and decision-makers, providing opportunity, access, training, and expertise linkages,” all of these essential to the basic practice by individuals in their communities of ideals generated for the public good. She was a committed member of the United Nations Association of Australia, recognizing the international obligations enshrined in the country’s Federal, State and Territory laws, and she wanted a say in creating those laws at every level. She looked for inclusion and for variety in points of view, even while advocating for women’s rights within a feminist perspective. In 2015, for example, she put together a wonderful workshop at CSW on men and boys and brought together government officials from Australia, civil society representatives from the Marshall Islands and Tonga, and academics from the United States. If she was involved in a workshop or panel, one could be sure it would have solid substance and spark animated discussion. She knew what she wanted, and she generally got a respectful hearing from governments and members of civil society for her clear presentations and her passionate and persistent advocacy. At the CSW we will all miss her strong voice, her no-nonsense approach, her grasp of detail and organizational skill. Most of all, I will miss her laughter and her abiding friendship. She was a truly wonderful woman, and we were lucky to have had her inspirational presence with us for as long as we did.
Eva Richter, BPW International, National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs New York NFBPWC NY
Vale Judith van Unen
BPW Member from 1994 – 2022
It is with sad heart we wish farewell and celebrate the life of Judith van Unen, a long time BPW member, former Australian National President (2000 – 2004), former Oceania Sub-Regional Coordinator (2011 – 2014) and Chair of the BPW International Elections Committee (2014 – 2022). Judith was also the recipient of the BPW Jean Arnott Award – an honour afforded to her at the Australian National Conference in April, 2022.
Judith was a tireless supporter and advocate for BPW and a mentor and friend to many BPW members. In 1999, Judith led the BPW delegation from Australia to the International Congress in Vancouver, Canada, successfully securing Melbourne’s bid to host the following International Congress in 2002, thereby raising the profile of BPW within Australia and globally and building a platform to debate issues of concern to Australian women in the international arena. Judith attended the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) annually in New York and would work with BPW and the International Governments to highlight the issues of women’s economic empowerment. She served on the Australian National Delegation to CSW three times in her position as BPW President and member.
As well as all her BPW achievements, Judith was first and foremost a friend, mentor and colleague. She recognised what needed to be done and brought action where it was needed. This was evident following the Earthquake in Nepal when she organised for JERA International to partner with BPW Nepal to bring economic workshops to Kathmandu to support young women affected by the disaster.
Judith was an incredible networker and connector, someone who had the ability to bring together people in life long friendships. For Judith, no matter what the issue, she would always share her wisdom and knowledge and gently assist you along the way. Her light was bright, her energy strong and her legacy in BPW will continue through those she shared her light with. We will miss you Judith.
Carol Shaw, BPW Australia