What Australians think about poverty - and how it can change (part 2)

Maiy Azize explains the important lessons of Anglicare Australia ‘s recent study of attitudes towards welfare and poverty for how anti-poverty advocates can use language effectively. Boldly stating our support for all people in poverty, as well as focussing on their strength and resilience are two key recommendations.

Read More

From the United Nations to the classroom: where is Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Australia?

In this blog post Romy Listo reports on the United Nations 63rd Commission on the Status of Women held 11-23 March in New York. She draws attention to the commitment on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) which is supported by Australian delegates. Despite support for these commitments by the Federal Government, in practice the actual implementation of CSE by Australian states and territories does not meet the inclusive and expansive ideals being championed. Investment and strategies are needed to bring the right to CSE into Australian classrooms.

My head is throbbing from a combination of the low-lighting and artificial heating, and my back aches from sitting for six hours on the sunken couches outside the negotiating room for the United Nations 63rd Commission on the Status of Women. It’s 1:00 am, and we are exhausted. ‘We’ is a small gang of feminist activists from Australian civil society organisations who are on these couches to monitor and support the negotiations on gender equality. But we’re done for the night, and ready to push through the steady drizzle and the cold bite of New York air to get home.


It’s not for another four hours, at 5:00 am on the final day of the Commission, that the gavel goes down on the agreed paragraphs on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (or CSE as it’s known in high level circles). In the end, the Commission agreed to the same commitments as in 2018, to…


Develop policies and programmes… including… information on sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention, gender equality and women’s empowerment, human rights, physical, psychological and pubertal development and power in relationships between women and men, to enable them to build self-esteem and foster informed decision-making, communication and risk-reduction skills and to develop respectful relationships, in full partnership with young persons, parents, legal guardians, caregivers, educators and health-care providers, in order to enable them to protect themselves from HIV infection and other risks


The Commission on the Status of Women is an annual meeting in which countries negotiate a set of ‘agreed conclusions’ by consensus, in order to set the global agenda and standards for gender equality and women’s rights. CSE, as I’ve now learned, is controversial and always a point of contention in these forums. As feminist activists, we’re lucky to have kept some agreement on CSE at all, rather than see its removal or loss from the agreed conclusions. As Australian activists, it’s something that we can be proud of, because the Australian delegation pushes, leads and defends our rights as young people of any gender to CSE.


It’s been an interesting process to observe as a young feminist activist, because Australian states and territories have quite a way to go in achieving the implementation of the right to CSE even as the Federal Government supports it at an international level through the delegation at the Commission on the Status of Women. According to the UN Guidelines of Comprehensive Sexuality Education, sex education “is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about sexuality”, where sexuality is “a core dimension of being human which includes: the understand of, and relationship to, the human body; emotional attachment and love; sex; gender; gender identity; sexual orientation; sexual intimacy; pleasure and reproduction. Sexuality is complex and include biological, social, psychological, spiritual, religious, political, legal, historic, ethical and cultural dimensions that evolve over a lifespan.”


Yet the implementation of CSE in Australian states and territories does not tend to meet these inclusive and expansive ideals championed by our federal government. In 2015, The Young Women’s Advisory Group (YWAG) conducted the ‘Let’s Talk’ survey of young women’s experiences of sex education in Australia, and found that sex education is failing young Australian women and LGBTIQAP+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer, asexual, pansexual, and other diverse identities) young people. Over 1000 young people identifying as women were surveyed on the topics of, and their opinions on their sex education. 76% of young women reported they did not learn anything from their sex education class in school that helped them with dealing with sex and respectful relationships.


Almost two third (63%) of young women and girls did not learn about consent in their school sex education. Indeed, while education on the health or biological aspects of sexuality, including sex and reproduction, contraception, condoms, sexually transmitted infections was received by roughly four-fifths of young women, only 40% discussed relationships, and less than 10% received education on lesbian, gay, transgender, intersex, queer identities, sexualities, bodies and relationships, as well as homophobia and pleasure. Only 12.9% learned about gender stereotypes. As one young woman said:


“Sex education has mostly focused on the things that can go wrong rather than building a safe space in which prevention can be discussed. Many of the topics covered also did not relate to real life scenarios, for example consent was never a major focus of discussion but has been a complex issue that has reoccurred in my real-life relationships… It presented a very cis-gendered heteronormative account of sexual activities without acknowledging the role of pleasure in sex”


The reality of sexuality education in Australia is that it is not comprehensive, and rarely does it promote gender equality, account or prepare young people for the complexity and multiple dimensions of sexuality, or build their knowledge and ability to have healthy, happy and enriching sexual relationships. Investment and strategies, including capacity building for teachers and school communities, is needed to bring these rights to education and sexual and reproductive health, and to turn Australia’s gender equality priority at an international level into social change. 


Since 2015, there’s been some important to changes to the landscape of sexuality education in Australia, including the Safe Schools Coalition Australia program, the Marriage Equality Plebiscite and the implementation of Respectful Relationships education under the National Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, and increasing media coverage of image-based abuse. In June 2019, YWAG will open the second wave of ‘Let’s Talk’ to ask young women and non-binary young people how they have experienced, and what they think of, these changes and their sex education. They can also tell us whether Australia is moving closer to achieving Comprehensive Sexuality Education.

Romy Listo is a feminist researcher, sexuality and relationship educator and an advocate for young women and violence prevention. She is a member of the Young Women's Advisory Group (YWAG) for the Equality Rights Alliance (ERA). Romy is also a PhD student in the School of Social Science and the Energy & Poverty Research Group at the University of Queensland. Her research explores the ways that women are organising collectively around energy challenges in South Africa and the impact on women's empowerment.   

Policy talks while the elephants walk! Time for the academy to employ and promote more scholars with disability

Despite universities spruiking disability inclusion mantras the reality is that academic institutions are failing on recruitment of scholars with disability. Based on a recently published paper that draws on the experiences of researchers with disability, lead author Damian Mellifont discusses barriers to university employment of people with disability and ways universities can move forward to institute changes so they can finally start to practice what they preach with regards to disability inclusion.

Nothing about us without us. This is the disability inclusion mantra that is echoed in university policy. Ask any university Chancellor if they support these five words. I would be astonished if any of these highly distinguished persons would reply with anything but a resounding ‘yes’! So, how can it be that Australian universities are tending to fail scholars with disability who are seeking employment in the academy?


It is easy to spruik feel good words about disability inclusion. Clearly, it is quite another thing to put these words in action. The possible risk here is that on the surface, Australian universities might be saying all of the rights things. But do a little digging and you’ll find that they tend to be doing nothing or next to nothing to recruit more academics with disability. If Australian universities practiced what they preached about disability inclusion, scholars with disability would be in high demand in the academy. However, Equal Employment Opportunity data that is publicly available paints a very different picture. And we are left with an outrageous situation whereby research about disability continues to be dominated by non-disabled scholars.


Barriers to the greater employment of scholars with disability in the academy

Some employment barriers confronting academics with disability are physical. These include obstacles such as a lack of wheelchair access. Still, others are insidious in the sense that they are founded in prejudices and ignorance about disability. Under influences of ableism and sanism, the abilities of scholars with lived experience are readily dismissed. These ‘isms’ have potential to contaminate recruitment processes. They might also threaten job retention by refusing to provide reasonable accommodations where these might be needed. 


Ways forward

Research has been conducted that draws upon the personal testimonies of four researchers with disability from The University of Sydney. This study offers valuable insight into the many practical measures that endeavour to get more scholars with disability working and advancing in the academy. Our recently published research recommends that faculties and departments support the following actions:


·         Undertaking independent accessibility and accommodation audits.

·         Promoting the benefits of lived experience led and co-produced research.

·         Adjusting fellowship scheme assessment criteria so that lived experience is recognised and valued.

·         Advancing a culture that welcomes and respects academics with disability.

·         Ensuring that scholars with disability are not exploited.

·         Requiring staff attendance at anti-sanism and anti-ableism workshops.

·         Holding university leaders responsible for shortfalls in disability employment policy performance.

·         Encouraging lawful activism to advance a greater inclusion of employees with disability in the academy.

·         Using language that advances disability pride.


Crucially, our research also reveals another key action that university leaders are challenged to embrace. This is the measure of affirmative action. Properly implemented and monitored, quotas would ensure a greater representation of disability in academic and leadership roles. And while not all will need or desire access to quotas, for those who do, the option should be there. As for any university ‘leader’ who might refuse to consider introducing disability employment quotas, the question becomes – is ableism or sanism influencing their decision? Ethical universities must have zero tolerance for ableists or sanists regardless of the position that they hold or their academic stature.


Time for a more diverse and inclusive academy

The time for actively supporting the recruitment and career development of scholars with disability in Australian universities is now! It is the hypocrite of the worst kind who talks the talk about diversity and inclusion, but who allows the ableism and sanism elephants to walk their destructive walk throughout the academy. In contrast, it is the genuine leader who calls out and rounds up these elephants to allow space to be created for affirmative action and other disability employment support measures. Here is my message to any university leader who might think that they can continue to be dismissive of the recruitment and career development of scholars with disability. Academics with disability will not let you keep pushing them to the employment sidelines. Make no mistake, advocates will act lawfully to ensure that the days of dithering around disability employment in the academy are fast nearing their end. And when change arrives…and it will…history will not look kindly on you.

Damian Mellifont is an Honorary Postdoctoral Fellow at The Centre for Disability Research and Policy, The University of Sydney. This blog post is based on the recently published paper:

Mellifont, D., Smith-Merry, J., Dickinson, H., Llewellyn, G., Clifton, S., Ragen, J., Raffaele., M. & Williamson, P. (2019): The ableism elephant in the academy: a study examining academia as informed by Australian scholars with lived experience, Disability & Society, DOI: 10.1080/09687599.2019.1602510

A noisy, passionate show from an artist in a hurry, Quilty has just one emotional pitch

Does art have the power to persuade? You bet! In a slightly left-of-field blog entry for P2P, today’s post features a piece by Sasha Grishin, Adjunct Professor of Art History, Australian National University that originally appeared in the Conversation. In it, Sasha reviews an exhibition of work by prolific Australian artist Ben Quilty that invites important questions about the role of art in bringing compassion to the front of national debate.

Read More

You don’t have to be stick thin to have an eating disorder

Imagine getting turned away for not having a broken-enough leg. There would be complete outrage, but yet for people with eating disorders this is happening on a day to day basis. People are turned away for not being “sick” enough. We know a healthy BMI is 18.5 or above but yet some places in the UK are turning people away if their BMI is about 14! In this post, Hope Virgo (the Author of Stand Tall Little Girl and Mental Health Campaigner) shares her experience and talks about her #DumpTheScales campaign.

Read More

Financing climate action in the Pacific: Why we need to move past solutions based exclusively on views from the top

Effective climate change action needs a lot of money. However, in the Pacific it is not just about delivering dollars. Kirsty Anantharajah gives us three key problems with global climate financing approaches, and offers three possible pathways out.

Read More

Childcare dreaming: a vision for early childhood care

Childcare policy is always fraught, because so many people want it to be better, but everyone has their own ideas about what is needed. Yarrow Andrew, who worked for 15 years in long day childcare as an educator, before beginning a research career investigating early childhood education gives us some ideas about how to reform the sector.

Read More