As we pause to celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday (March 8) and its theme ‘Invest in women: Accelerate progress’, it’s with heavy hearts that we must face an uncomfortable truth – that with five years left to meet that goal, we’re not on track. Not by a long shot...

With COVID-19’s devastating effects and consequences, a range of crises including the climate emergency, rising economic and political insecurity, the quest for gender equality, if anything it seems, is trending backwards.

Well established freedoms and protections regarding women’s rights are under threat, with a growing global backlash gathering steam.

The time to act and invest in women is now – and that starts with young girls.

A new children’s colouring book, launched to coincide with International Women’s Day, is aimed at inspiring young girls to set their sights on ambitious careers – and in the process help to address gender equality.

Written by Queensland author Hayley Camille, I Can Be Anything: A Colouring Book for Ambitious Girls features 50 captivating illustrations of diverse women in empowered professions that celebrate courage, intelligence, and limitless possibilities.

Now a mum of three, Camille spent eight years studying science and social science at university, specialising in molecular archeology (in case you're wondering, that's the study of ancient blood residues on stone tools), and later moved into writing, producing books on prehistoric adventure, sci-fi and fantasy literature, before branching into adult adventure and crime fiction.

It was during the Christmas period last year while spending a precious time with her five-year-old daughter that the idea for the book took shape.

“She was doing crafts and lots of colouring, she’s got some gorgeous colouring-in books with fairies, and cute animals and so on, but it was a lot of the same sort of thing.

“And I just thought, given she spent so much time enjoying this creative play, I might try and come up with something for her to do, that’s a little bit educational as well."

Camille says she wanted to offer alternatives to the cute fairies and cartoon characters young girls usually colour-in, and instead, include inspiring images of strong women working in traditionally male-dominated and high-powered professions. 

Camille says her daughter, typical of most girls her age, is always changing what she wants to be when she grows up.

“… she wants to be a doctor, and then she wants to be a dancer, and then she wants to be a veterinarian,” Camille laughs.

“I thought, ‘why don’t I make some colouring pages for her with all of these careers that she’s coming up with?’

Heavily influenced by her own science background, Camille was also keen to focus on some more ‘unusual’ professions, “the more male-dominated industries that little girls don’t see as frequently represented by adult women”.

Having produced five or six, and to the delight of her daughter, new ideas kept coming thick and fast.

“I thought, ‘I know lots of other little girls, her classmates and friends, that would love to colour these in, too’. So I thought, ‘I’ll put them together and create a book out of it’.”

The result is a marvellous collection of illustrations covering a range of women in empowered professions that celebrate courage, intelligence, and limitless possibilities, and there’s a real focus on STEAM careers, not surprising given Camille’s science background.

“I wanted to look at some of these careers that girls aren’t typically encouraged towards,” she says.

“Often by the time they get to university, they’ve got an outline of what they want to do, and sometimes it’s a bit too late for them to start changing their trajectory.

“They may not have done science, or they may not have considered doing engineering while they were little girls, whereas when you’re six or seven years old, anything is a possibility – and if you have a go at these things, and develop your interest in your abilities in these areas, it can really lead you along paths that you may not have intuitively thought would be available."

Along with entrepreneurship and business, professional sports and more, diversity is a significant priority in the book, with a range of cultural backgrounds, ages and abilities included.

“I wanted any little girl to look at this picture book and say, ‘this could be me’.

“So I’ve included women of different backgrounds, there’s women of different sizes, different ages, and also different abilities, so there are professional women doing their jobs in wheelchairs, for example.

The book has been launched to coincide with International Women’s Day

The pictures are accompanied by fun, age-appropriate descriptors of each job and what each woman does in the role.

“A child isn’t going to intuitively know what the difference is between, for example, a doctor, and a surgeon, so I thought if I include a little description, they can see what the difference is,” Camille explains.

“There are five different types of engineers listed in the book and they’re all quite different, they all do quite different things.

“So, to say to a little girl, ‘you can be an engineer’ is lovely, but she could be an environmental engineer, or a robotic engineer, or a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer.

“So I’ve included each of those because they’re all quite different jobs, and different girls are interested in different things – so some might appeal and some might not.”

While Camille would love to see the books incorporated into a classroom setting, as yet she hasn’t looked into how they might be a powerful resource for teachers – but that is something she’d love to pursue.

She sees International Women’s Day as a nice opportunity to reflect on all of the contributions that women have made in all sorts of different professions.

“We are half the population, obviously, and contribute a lot, and so this is a moment of reflection on the thought that there’s a bit of a way to go, and while we’ve made a massive, positive contribution to all of these industries that I’m highlighting, if we can get some more girls in these industries, or encourage them, at least make them aware that this is possibility for them, then that would be just brilliant. Yeah.”

To find out more about I Can Be Anything: A Colouring Book for Ambitious Girls or to order your own copies, click here.