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Activist and writer Kate Walton has worked across a range of international aid and development projects in Indonesia since graduating more than a decade ago.
She's implemented programs to reduce child marriage, developed women's leadership trainings in West Papua, assisted research and aid projects focused on improving maternal health, and supported the World Food Programme's emergency response after the 2018 Sulawesi tsunami and earthquake.
But Kate says she wouldn’t be able to do what she does if not for her studies at The Australian National University (ANU), where she completed a Bachelor of Asian Studies (Honours) and majored in Indonesian, Japanese, and Asian politics and international relations.
“Simply put, there is no way I would have been able to work for development projects in Indonesia without Indonesian language skills and an initial understanding of Indonesian cultures, society, and politics,” Kate says.
“My studies provided me with the groundwork to learn more and understand Indonesia and the broader Southeast Asian region in more depth, ultimately enabling me to develop a career there.
“Students worry about studying languages, cultures, and societies at times because they do not give you a clear career pathway.
“In fact, this is actually an incredible way of studying because it opens such a huge array of opportunities - your career path is up to you and you can explore whatever it is you find most fascinating.”
Before enrolling at ANU, Kate took part in a program to experience life as an Asian Studies student for a day. Having studied Indonesian since primary school, she was set on pursuing Asian Studies. “The teachers at the College of Asia and the Pacific were such wonderful and fascinating people, and I wanted to be a part of that,” Kate says.
After graduating with Honours, Kate began working on a series of Australian aid projects across Indonesia and has since worked on a variety of projects for Asian Development Bank, USAID and German development agency GIZ, and as a consultant for United Nations agencies such as the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. After nearly eight years in Indonesia, Kate returned to Canberra in 2019 and continues to work as an international development consultant.
“The projects I work on primarily focus on health, gender, and governance,” she says.
“My roles involve communications, knowledge management, research, program design, and facilitating trainings and workshops on topics such as gender equality and maternal health.
“I'm also the co-founder and communications manager of Jakarta Feminist, a small feminist association that focuses on network building, awareness raising, and advocacy on women’s rights in Indonesia.”
In addition to her work in aid and development, Kate writes about gender, human rights, social movements, and the environment and has been published in titles including Al Jazeera, VICE, South China Morning Post and The Lowy Interpreter. She also publishes a weekly newsletter on gender, women's rights and feminism in Asia and the Pacific.
“I enjoy the variety of work and the huge range of people I get to meet,” she says.
“Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming managing so many different projects at once, but it certainly means I rarely get bored. Every week brings new challenges and requires me to look at different issues from different angles, which really satisfies my curious nature.”
In 2016, Kate started an independent project called Menghitung Pembunuhan Perempuan (Counting Dead Women), which collates figures on women murdered in Indonesia.
She describes the project as “an attempt to highlight the high level of violence against women in Indonesia, and to encourage the government to improve services for survivors and develop prevention programs”. Kate’s hard work on this project was featured on the ABC.
“The analysis skills I learnt at ANU help me to be critical in what I read, and the research skills help me identify cases that fit into the project,” she says.