Agenda 2021

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Background checks

Bluestocking Week 2021

Closed Facebook groups

COVID job losses an avoidable catastrophe

Why men need to work ‘like a woman’

Decriminalising abortion in SA


Women front & centre in bargaining strategy

ISSN 1839-6194

Volume 29, October 2021

NTEU acknowledges the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as traditional owners of Naarm (Melbourne), the land on which the NTEU National Office is situated, and pays respect to their Elders, past & present.

Women’s Action Committee (WAC) The role of the Women’s Action Committee is to: • Act as a representative of women members, at the national level. • To identify, develop and respond to matters affecting women. • To advise on recruitment policy and resources directed at women. • To advise on strategies and structures to encourage, support and facilitate the active participation of women members at all levels of the NTEU. • To recommend action, and advise on issues affecting women. • To provide editorial advice on Agenda and the women’s website. • To inform members on industrial issues and policies that impact on women.

WAC 2021 Aca Academic staff representative G/P General/Professional staff representative

National Officers

• To make recommendations and provide advice to the National Executive, National Council, and Division Executive and Council on industrial, social and political issues affecting women. • Monitor and review the effectiveness of issues, policies and structures affecting women. WAC is chaired by the National President and is composed of one academic and one general/professional staff representative from each Division plus one nominee of the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Policy Committee.

Alison Barnes National President (Chair) Gabe Gooding National Assistant Secretary

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Representative Anna Strzelecki UniSA

ACT Aca Blair Williams UC G/P Jo Washington-King ANU

NSW Aca Karen Lamb ACU G/P vacant

NT Aca vacant G/P Sylvia Klonaris CDU

QLD Aca Anne Ferguson CQU G/P Kati Ohmeyer CQU

SA Aca Katie Barclay Adelaide G/P Cécile Dutreix UniSA



Aca Nataliya Nikolova UTAS G/P Jenny Smith UTAS


Agenda ISSN 1839-6194 (online)

Aca Virginia Mansel Lees La Trobe G/P vacant

Editor: Alison Barnes Production: Paul Clifton


All text and images © NTEU 2021 unless otherwise noted.

Aca vacant G/P vacant

PO Box 1323, South Melbourne VIC 3205 Australia

Editorial Assistance: Anastasia Kotaidis Published by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). ABN 38 579 396 344 Email:

Phone: 03 9254 1910


Cover: Bluestocking Week 2021 (Design: Maryann Long)


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Editorial Take action for equity

Closed Facebook groups offer respite for stressed-out women: But running them involves yet more unseen labour 12


Alison Barnes, National President

While women get friendship and advice from closed Facebook groups, it’s at a cost. – Catherine Johnson, Amy Archer & Leah Williams Veazey

News Women front & centre in NTEU’s bargaining strategy


Universities Australia launches 2021 Student Survey on Sexual Violence 4

Why men need to ‘work like a woman’


It’s time to reimagine gender equality and help men ‘work like a woman.’ – Lyndall Strazdins

Women’s Rights

Delegate Profile Antonia Aitken, UTAS


Bluestocking Week Take Action for Equity!

Flinders academics played a central role in the decriminalisation of abortion in SA. – Barbara Baird


The 2021 theme for Bluestocking Week – Take Action for Equity – draws upon its feminist roots, while acknowledging that feminism is intersectional.

Problems posed by background checks in universities


The lack of pandemic support for public universities has been a slap in the face for higher education workers, particularly women, who accounted for 61% of academic job losses over the past year. – Eliza Littleton

Government’s Bill fails to show Respect at Work


Background check policies have particularly problematic implications in the higher education sector. – Maeve Powell & Celeste Liddle

Woman & Work An avoidable catastrophe

Flinders academics lead campaign to decriminalise abortion in SA 16


In early September, the Federal Government’s Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 was passed by Parliament. – Terri MacDonald

International Pandemic slows women’s progress towards equality 20 To survive in the male-dominated world of science, women need support at various levels. They need to be mentored along the way and, when they get to the top, they need to pull others up. – Ameera Haq-Williams

Afghanistan’s public universities are closed & struggling to segregate genders 22 The Taliban is struggling to re-open public sector universities under a hardline gender segregation policy. – Shadi Khan Saif


Take action for equity

Alison Barnes

NTEU National President

Almost two years on, it’s clear that the COVID-19 crisis has had a greater impact on women in higher education than men, and often in different ways. Not only do women shoulder more home schooling and carer obligations than their male partners but, in higher education, it has been those departments where women predominate – particularly the professional and general staff areas – that university managements have targeted for redundancies. The Centre for Future Work’s recent report, An Avoidable Catastrophe: Pandemic Job Losses in Higher Education and their Consequences, found that of the 40,000 jobs lost in the sector over the last 12 months, 61 per cent were performed by women. Moreover, a disproportionately larger number of women in casual and fixed-term positions lost their jobs in the first wave of cuts. Eliza Littleton examines the report on page 8. In addition to job losses and issues around balancing work and carer obligations during COVID, 2021 has also exposed broader issues affecting women. The most immediate of these include sexual harassment, sexist and gender-based discrimination, brought to the forefront by parliamentary staffer Brittany Higgins when she went public with her account of being sexually assaulted in Parliament House. In doing so, Ms Higgins exposed the underlying misogyny and sexism in a system that was more concerned with reputational damage than with confronting sexual assault in a workplace. The subsequent cover-up and lack of action by the Morrison Government exposed the toxic culture of sexism and discrimination against women in what should be a ‘model’ workplace for the rest of the country. Sadly, Ms Higgins’s account was treated as an isolated incident, when in fact her experience was the experience of many, many other women in our workplaces. It was, therefore, not surprising that tens of thousands of people around the country joined the Women’s March 4 Justice rallies in early March to protest against sexism and gendered violence. One of the core demands of the rallies was for the Morrison Government to finally implement the recommendations of Respect@Work, a report on sexual harassment in the workplace that the Government had commissioned in 2018


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from Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins. Bowing to pressure, in 2021 the Government announced – with great fanfare – that it was planning to fully implement the recommendations of the report. But, when the dust settled and the provisions of the legislation were examined closely, it was obvious that the Government had fallen well short of its stated intention. Terri MacDonald’s account on page 10 outlines the Government’s failure to include many of Respect@Work’s recommendations and our appearance before the Senate inquiry into the legislation in August. The Government ignored many recommendations including those relating specifically to the higher education sector (see page 11), which the Respect@Work report had found to be subject to more complaints about sexual harassment than many other sectors. The higher levels of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination were reflected in a 2018 NTEU survey that found that nearly one in five respondents had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, and that, despite universities having reams of policies and procedures in place to deal with allegations of sexual harassment, 60 per cent of respondents were dissatisfied with HR complaints procedures. The evidence indicates that the regulatory and legislative frameworks are failing – the Respect@Work recommendations would have gone some way towards fixing them. This is such an issue for staff in higher education that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, will be giving a special online presentation as part of the NTEU’s Bluestocking Week (the theme of which is ‘Take Action for Equity’), which will also be our NTEU Annual Lecture.

The way forward is through bargaining COVID-19 and the Federal Government’s abandonment of higher education during this crisis (as well as its inaction in addressing sexual harassment in the

workplace) has made the current round of bargaining especially critical to tackling the pressing issues of secure jobs, safe workloads, and workplaces free of harassment and discrimination. The only effective mechanism to overturn the agenda of corporate university managements and hostile neo-conservative governments is for university staff to join together in the NTEU to push for a different vision of what our universities can and should be, for staff, students, and our communities. But the extent to which we as NTEU members can address these issues depends, not on our will, but on our influence and power. As the Bluestocking Week theme for this year says, we need to ‘Take Action for Equity’. What this means in practice is that we need to work on increasing our collective strength across our workplaces. We need to build our network of NTEU workplace Delegates so that there is one in every department, school and work unit. We need to grow our membership by inviting every staff member to join us. Our Branches are taking a fresh look at strategies to engage with more members and university staff to build the Union’s strength in the lead-up to bargaining so we can all support our colleagues and better the outcomes for staff at the negotiating table. We can do this with effective member-led campaigns. Bargaining is an opportunity to achieve our vision for the sector: workplaces not built on crippling workloads, where our jobs are secure, and where the value of our work is recognised. At the same time, our collective strength will add to the momentum we are seeing in the broader movement for equity, one that seeks to drive the legislative and cultural changes needed to counteract the ways in which our society continues to discriminate against women. Alison Barnes is NTEU National President and editor of Agenda.


Women front & centre in NTEU’s bargaining strategy NTEU has always prioritised the concerns of women workers in our bargaining strategy, winning some ground-breaking conditions in Enterprise Agreements across the country. This round of bargaining in Australian universities is no different: the concerns of women members are central to the claims the Union is taking to the bargaining table.

Job security The growth of insecure employment – both casual and fixed term – has exacerbated the career path disadvantage faced by women workers. The recent rounds of job cuts have further impacted on the gender distribution of the tertiary education workforce, with 61% of job losses incurred by women (see report, p. 8). NTEU is campaigning to reduce our industry’s addiction to insecure work and to provide real pathways for those stuck in casual and fixed term jobs to move to secure employment.

Working from home When our workplaces were forcibly relocated to home, many parents discovered the joys of juggling work, home schooling, childcare and trying to keep our heads above water. Employer policies on working from home were written for a completely different era, but even so, we learned that employer fears that people would slack off were entirely misplaced. For many staff, particularly women with parental responsibilities, working part or all of our weeks from home might be a sensible long term option. NTEU is pursuing better Agreement provisions to facilitate this.

Transition leave More than ever before, people are challenging the gender stereotype straightjackets that our society tries to pigeonhole us in. One expression of this is a growing number of staff who are declaring a gender identity different to that they have been known by. For some, this involves a need for employer support and leave provisions to deal with medical procedures, etc, associated with transition. NTEU is pursuing a claim to address this gap in our existing leave provisions.

Enforcing workload limits In this round of bargaining, NTEU will ensure improved TOIL and overtime provisions for professional staff, in line with new Award standards, as well as seeking to prevent further job cuts. The days of squeezing more work out of a shrinking workforce must stop! While excessive workloads take a toll on everyone, it is clear that those with family responsibilities face much greater obstacles in maintaining the levels of overwork expected to flourish in our industry.

Putting women at the table NTEU ensures that women’s voices take leading roles at the bargaining table, with gender composition a key factor in determining all of our negotiation teams. Linda Gale, Senior Industrial Officer, NTEU Victorian Division

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UA launches 2021 Student Survey on Sexual Violence Universities Australia (UA) has launched the second National Student Safety Survey nationally, which is aimed at tracking prevalence of sexual harassment and violence experienced by university students and the levels of support given to those who have experienced it in their communities. Conducted on behalf of UA by the Social Research Centre (SRC) in partnership with leading violence prevention expert Dr Anastasia Powell of RMIT University, the national survey will collect data on the scale and nature of university student experiences of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The survey which will run until 3 October and follows on from the first UA survey conducted in 2016 by the Human Rights Commission, which was part of UA’s Respect. Now. Always. initiative. It will be conducted online and will randomly sample students from universities across the sector. Up to 10,000 students will be asked to participate from each university, depending on its size. All current and recent university students enrolled in the past five years will also be able to share their experiences anonymously online. The NTEU supported UA’s first survey on this serious issue and welcomes this follow up. However, as with the first survey, we remain concerned that by focusing only on students, universities are once again missing the fact that university staff are also impacted negatively by sexual harassment, gender based discrimination and sexual violence in their workplaces. A 2018 survey by the NTEU of university staff experiences found that one in five respondents had personally experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, with almost twice as many women (23.97%) as men (12.01%) reporting personal incidents. That survey also found that just under 40% (37.25%) of all respondents (men and women) indicated that they were aware of others who had been sexually harassed in their workplaces. While many incidents occurred off campus (such as conferences, field trips, social events), online structures, such as student evaluation surveys, student message boards and apps, could also be sources of sexual harassment and sexism. The NTEU’s survey found that, as with student reports, most victims were reluctant to complain – this is despite over 90% being aware that the Universities had policies that are aimed at preventing sexual harassment and/or to deal with reports of sexual harassment. While the perceived level of seriousness of harassment was a factor in the lack of reporting, many of respondents to the NTEU survey who said they had experienced sexual harassment but had not reported it did not trust the complaints process (38%) or were fearful that it may impact negatively on their careers (36%). Alarmingly, just over 18% said they thought they might lose their jobs if they did complain. Therefore, while the NTEU welcomes the UA survey, we again highlight the fact that university staff are also impacted by sexual harassment – both as a workplace risk as well as through supporting others impacted by these issues, including students. The NTEU has therefore made clear the need for support for University staff who, while not participants, may be impacted by the survey, either through their own experiences or through contact with students seeking support and advice. UA has stated that free and confidential support services are available for people needing assistance (listed through UA), but staff should also contact their own institutions for advice on what support structures are in place. UA’s second national report will be released in early 2022. UA has noted that staff and students may also contact: 1800RESPECT: National Sexual Assault, Domestic & Family Violence counselling: 1800 737 732 Lifeline: 13 11 14

MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78

QLife, referral service for LGBTQ people: 1800 184 527 Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636


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Antonia Aitken University of Tasmania Where do you work and what do you do? I am a practicing artist and sessional lecturer in Art at the School of Creative Arts and Media at the University of Tasmania. I have taught art and theory in the university sector since 2009 and have been at UTAS since 2014 when I moved from Canberra to undertake a PhD. I have always had a passion for teaching. I enjoy generating and instilling curiosity, critical thinking and a life-long love of learning. The creative arts enable people to explore and express ideas through material engagement; deepening understanding of oneself and the world through the process.

Why did you become an NTEU Delegate? In 2018, I became more and more aware of the gaping inequities faced by casual employees in the university sector. Struggling to see a pathway out of insecure

employment, I decided to meet with fellow casuals within my discipline to discuss some of my concerns. This discussion helped recognise that my experience was far from unique. I then sought to better understand the systemic issues we face. I want to be a voice for those facing insecure employment and the daily battle to stay empowered within the current system. I also wanted to be part of the bargaining process to better protect and improve casual rights, especially as the recent industrial relations reforms have the potential to further disenfranchise.

What campaigns are you involved with at the moment in your Branch? I have landed in the position of Casual Representative for the Tasmanian Division Council in the lead up to our next Staff Agreement bargaining round and the nation-wide ‘Secure Jobs, Safe Workloads’ campaign.

These are campaigns I feel deeply connected to. How do we shift a system that continues to exploit the university labour force though precarious work arrangements and unmanageable workloads, which are not only impacting the wellbeing of staff but are poorly impacting educational and research outcomes?

What do you enjoy most about being an NTEU Delegate/ activist? In my few weeks of being part of the Tasmanian Division Council I have been sharing my experience and doing a lot of listening. I have taken part in a Secure Jobs forum in Northern Tasmania and I have also been part of a meeting with casuals on Branch Committees to discuss future campaigning strategies that better engage those of us in insecure work. These are providing important networking opportunities, as we look towards building greater membership and a stronger collective voice.

What would you say to others looking at possibly nominating as a Delegate/ activist and becoming active in their Branch? Many casuals don’t feel they have valued place in the university system and this can translate to the Union. Being on the fringe inhibits opportunity but also representation. COVID-19 has further exposed the extent of casualisation in our workforce. I call on casuals to get more involved in their union and have a voice at the table. As we enter into the next round of bargaining this is even more essential. Building collective action requires the commitment of many.

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Take Action for Equity! Bluestocking Week, 8-12 November The 2021 theme for Bluestocking Week – Take Action for Equity – draws upon the feminist roots of Bluestocking Week, and while we celebrate the achievements of women in education, we are also acknowledging that feminism is intersectional. Thus, equity with an intersectional lens is not only about gender alone, but it is also about how gender intersects with race, culture, identity, socio-economic background (and social/economic privilege) and able-ness, to name a few. This is a call to the university community to ‘take action for equity’ to organise around equity, whether that be in building delegate networks, highlighting a particular issue through events and organising activities, or through support for local bargaining claims through an equity lens. Below are details of the three special online events on the theme of equity for Bluestocking Week this year.

Women and Superannuation

It takes a pandemic … for the work of an epidemiologist to be recognised and understood

NTEU Annual Lecture and Keynote Speech – Respect at Work

Theresa Parkinson, Employer Partnership Manager with UniSuper

Wed 10 November 2021

2:00-3:00pm (AEDT) via Zoom

2:00-3:00pm (AEDT) via Zoom

The equity theme is to look at financial security for women in retirement and gender pay gap in higher education, and what women need to be looking to do to ensure they are financially prepared.

Professor Mary Louise McLaws, Epidemiologist at UNSW and adviser to NSW Government

Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner and a member of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Monday 8 November 2021 2:00-3:00pm (AEDT) via Zoom

Theresa will provide a brief overview of the financial challenges for women; steps to help gain control of your finances; & strategies to consider to increase your super balance

find out more at

The equity theme is to look at women in STEM, with Mary Louise talking about what attracted her to the profession of epidemiology, what it is like to be suddenly thrust into the national spotlight during a pandemic, and how she is dealing with media focus/govt pressures while maintaining her professional independence and standing.

Friday 12 November 2021

The equity theme is to discuss sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination. Kate will reflect on the findings of the Respect@Work: National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces Report (2020) around sexual harassment in the australian workplace, and more specifically as experienced by students and staff in universities. Bluestocking Week ‘Take Action For Equity’ is an initiative of the Women’s Action Committee, and supported by the NTEU Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Policy Committee (A&TSIPC) and the NTEU Queer Unionists in Tertiary Education (QUTE)


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Artwork by Maryann Long

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Women & Work

An avoidable catastrophe

Eliza Littleton Australia Institute

61% of academic job losses over the past year were women The lack of pandemic support for public universities has been a slap in the face for higher education workers, particularly women. In the year of the ‘women’s budget,’ it’s a bad look for the government to stand by and watch the foreseeable loss of tens of thousands of jobs in this vital sector. The Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work recently released a report, An Avoidable Catastrophe: Pandemic Job Losses in Higher Education and their Consequences, detailing pandemic related job losses in Australia’s tertiary education sector. When universities saw a third of


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their revenue disappear with the closure of our international border, little government help was offered. Now the sector is in crisis – with one in five jobs lost in the 12 months to May 2021, representing 40,000 teachers, admin and other support staff whose work has disappeared.

Women & Work

Fig 1: Tertiary education job losses by gender, May 2020 to May 2021





In a stratified industry like tertiary education, the job losses were, of course, not evenly shared among all workers. Casuals bore the brunt of initial redundancies, losing several thousand jobs in first months of lockdown. Once universities realised borders would not open in the 2021 academic year, they began cutting permanent jobs – and deeply. Permanent staff made up 90% of the 40,000 jobs lost in the last year. As in many other industries, women employed in tertiary education are overrepresented in casual and part-time work. They also suffered a larger share of the job casualties – 61% of the job losses over the past year were borne by women. The deep job cuts in tertiary education is a blow to the economic security of women in Australia, as higher education is one of the few feminised industries that offer highquality, well-paying jobs to women. Female employment in this sector helps to offset gender inequality in the broader economy. So we will likely see worsening gender pay and superannuation gaps, a drop in full-time work for women, and less female representation in prestigious positions. The severing of ties between these women and their former universities hinders longterm career opportunities, including taking talented women right off the tenure track. This is a problem the JobKeeper wage subsidy was designed to avoid. But the Commonwealth government, inexplicably, effectively excluded public universities from the program, abandoning theses powerhouses of research and education when they should have offered a helping hand. As a result, tens of thousands of university staff were thrown out of their jobs. Granted we couldn’t predict the pandemic, and the subsequent policy decisions made by political leaders were important to save lives – in particular, the decision to close the national border. However, leaving universities and their workers high and dry

was a choice. The not-so-invisible hand of government generously extended a lifeline to many other COVID-exposed industries, including $1.2 billion to airlines, hotel, restaurants, travel agents and tourism operators. Total Commonwealth spending related to the pandemic was a staggering $311 billion. Amidst all that support, there is no excuse for the government to have neglected universities as they did. The outcome – higher education has lost more jobs than any other non-agricultural sector in Australia’s economy. For context the 40,000 jobs lost in tertiary education is roughly the same number of people employed in coal mining in Australia. It may be a coincidence that this happens to be a relatively feminised sector, but the optics are bad. Against the backdrop of a widening gender pay gap, outsized female pandemic job losses and stimulus programs that disproportionately benefit men, the decision to shaft universities joins a long list of government blunders on issues concerning women’s economic security. This is not just a footnote in Australia’s COVID-19 history. These university job losses are likely to get worse without government support, with far-reaching implication for the future of research, innovation, and workforce skills. We estimate that a $3.75 billion investment in public higher education could restore the jobs lost and retain the irreplaceable human capital of this sector – so vital to the quality of both education and research performed by our universities. Not only this, but the government has an opportunity to put its money where its mouth is and protect women’s job during this crisis . Eliza Littleton is research economist at independent think-tank, the Australia Institute This article first published in Broad Agenda, 23 Sept 2021.

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Women & Work

Government’s Bill fails to show Respect at Work

Terri MacDonald NTEU

In early September, the Federal Government’s Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 was passed by Parliament. The Bill was the legislative response to the Government’s Roadmap for Respect: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces released in April this year, which was the Government’s white paper in response to the findings of the Sexual Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkin’s review of sexual harassment in the workplace in 2018. The findings of the review were detailed by the Commissioner in her landmark Respect@Work report, which correctly identified the many obstacles and misalignments of legislation, regulation and policy that has prevented sexual harassment and discrimination being effectively addressed in our workplaces. It found the gaps in processes, where there were ineffective or non-existent remedies or penalties, and how the entire system is fundamentally flawed. The report set out the pathway for regulatory reform, and the NTEU joined many others in the trade union movement in the hope that a report commissioned by Government would be enacted by that Government. We are therefore greatly disappointed that the proposed changes in the Bill fell far short of this.


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found that, of the 55 Respect@Work recommendations, the Government agreed to 40, 5 were agreed ‘in principle’; 1 was agreed to ‘in part’; and 9 were simply ‘noted’. Importantly, a number of key recommendations were in fact rejected, or likely to be rejected. Given that the Respect@Work report had been commissioned by the Government, which then quietly ignored the report for 18 months, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Government’s response was due more to political pressure (culminating with the allegations by Brittany Higgins of sexual assault in parliament house) than out of any real desire to see sexual harassment dealt with in a meaningful way.

The Government claims that in its ‘Roadmap for Respect’ document it agreed either entirely, in principle or in part, to 46 recommendations made by the Sexual Discrimination Commissioner in the Respect@Work report, and work was underway to implement them. The remaining nine recommendations of the Report the Government claims were ‘… noted for further consideration’.

In August, the NTEU appeared alongside the ACTU and SDA at the Senate Committee hearing into the Bill where we highlighted the inadequacies of the legislation and the Government’s failure to implement the Respect@Work report’s recommendations in full. The ACTU, NTEU and SDA spoke in favour of changing the Bill to address its most problematic shortcomings, the most important of which was the need for a clear prohibition on sexual harassment and for this to be supported by a proper complaints mechanism.

However, the Government’s response was certainly not as comprehensive or complete as it inferred in the numerous public statements and media sound bites on the report. In fact, closer analysis

We also wanted amendments that would place a positive duty on employers to take proactive steps to eliminate sexual harassment, rather than the current approach of just waiting until things go

Women & Work

wrong. We also backed the ACTU’s push for ten days paid family and domestic violence leave to be incorporated into the legislation. In addition, the NTEU asked the Government to implement the two recommendations in the Respect@Work report that expressly referred to higher education. These recommendations in no small part reflect the NTEU’s lobbying around the prevalence of sexual harassment in our sector, with evidence showing that, despite there being no shortage of policies, guidelines and procedures relating to sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination and sexism in our universities and TAFEs, incidents are still occurring far too often. In fact, according to the research into sexual harassment in the workplace undertaken by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner in 2019, tertiary education had higher levels of such complaints in comparison to many other sectors. In our evidence to the Senate Committee, we highlighted the findings of our 2018 survey of university staff, where we found that: • Just under one in five respondents had personally experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. • Almost twice as many women (23.97%) as men (12.01%) reported personal incidents. • Just under 40% of all respondents (men and women) indicated that they were aware of others who had been sexually harassed in their workplaces. What was most telling was that over 90% of respondents were aware that their university had in place policies and procedures around sexual harassment and discrimination, but very few reported it – and of those: • Around 38% said they did not trust the complaints process. • 36% stated that they thought a complaint may impact negatively on their careers. • 18% said they thought they might lose their jobs if they did complain. The evidence supported our argument that the current regulatory and legislative frameworks – which centred the complainant as an individual victim and did not deal with sexual harassment as a workplace risk – was failing. Furthermore, the disincentives to making a complaint – which could impact on career advancement, professional relationships and employment security – often outweighed the benefits of reporting, particularly for academics who rely on collaborative

relationships. In our 2018 survey, one respondent stated that: Academia involves a lot of out of hours work, including networking and conferences etc etc. It is often at events like ‘leadership retreats’ or conference dinners etc. that, in my experience, sexual harassment – particularly of younger and more junior female colleagues occurs (not that it does not occur elsewhere, but these seem to be a particular issue). I have certainly experienced this myself and feel as though it would not be worth reporting as, when these senior colleagues are in your particular field of expertise, you are risking your career prospects. They are likely to, at some point, be a reviewer for your journal article, book manuscript, grant application etc etc. Or, more subtlety, they might simply decide to never cite your work. Women in the academy do warn each other about predatory behaviour from known harassers, but it is generally felt that, short of a sexual assault, there is little point in pursuing a formal claim. The sense is that nothing will come of it, and you will have just really pissed off an important person in your field. In our evidence to the Senate Committee, the NTEU provided many examples of staff who had reported harrowing and distressing examples of harassment, discrimination and assault in their workplaces. We detailed experiences that occurred at conferences, at work related social events, in dealing with research supervisors or managers, colleagues and even students. We spoke about how sexual harassment in universities had even reached the highest levels, with a former VC forced to step down due to sexual harassment. The Union also showed the clear link between insecure employment and sexual harassment, whereby incidents of sexual harassment or discrimination are chronically under-reported by insecurely employed staff who not only are at a disadvantage in the power dynamics in their workplaces

(and may not have access to support mechanisms), but may also be reluctant to ‘rock the boat’ and jeopardise future employment opportunities. Indeed, for an employer resolving an allegation of sexual harassment can boil down to a simple cost/ benefit analysis, and letting the complainant go if they are insecurely employed is even easier. For all these reasons, the NTEU, ACTU and other unions had lobbied hard for our amendments to the Government’s proposed legislation. However, while the union movement successfully convinced Labor, the Greens and many of the independents to support the proposed amendment fixes, One Nation sided with the Government and the changes were rejected. In the end, the Government’s legislation passed, largely unchanged. While this was deeply disappointing, it is not the end of the matter by any means. Indeed, the union movement knows that anything worth fighting for is rarely achieved without considerable effort and hard campaigning. For now, we know that the Government’s own Respect@ Work report’s recommendations are there, and still in play politically. The blueprint for reform the Report sets out is clear, and while this Government may only be interested in paying lip service, the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace will not go away. The NTEU, ACTU and other unions are determined to maintain the political pressure. We know that, inevitably, social and political pressures will drive necessary change, both legislatively and governmentally. Workers around the country – particularly working women – are demanding that change occur now. At the very least, we are not going to let this issue rest with a Government who’s best attempts fall far short of what is required. Dr Terri MacDonald is NTEU Director (Policy)

NTEU’s Recommendations (in addition to supporting ACTU amendments) called on the Government to: As per the recommendation in the Respect@Work Report, the Australian Government ensures all tertiary and higher education providers deliver evidence-based information and training on sexual harassment for staff and students which addresses the drivers of gender-based violence and includes content on workplace rights, and provides targeted funding to assist with this. Recognising that some smaller tertiary and higher education providers lack the necessary resources and expertise to deliver the information and training as recommended, the Australian Government should support those providers to do so, for example through the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Authority and the Australian Skills Quality Authority.

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Women & Work

Closed Facebook groups offer respite for stressed-out women: But running them involves yet more unseen labour Catherine Archer Murdoch University

Mental health issues, chronic illness, domestic violence, children’s illnesses and issues, divorce, death, infidelity: these are just some of the issues discussed in these groups, along with the more mundane minutiae of life.

Amy Johnson

While women get friendship and advice from the groups, it’s at a cost. Group administrators spend countless unpaid hours screening new members, managing group conflict, and ensuring accuracy of information.


Leah Williams Veazey University of Sydney


Would you share your most intimate thoughts with strangers? For many women, during the pandemic and associated lockdowns, closed Facebook groups have been a place to do just that. These groups offer a chance to escape the house virtually and spend time with like-minded souls, sometimes chatting, often venting, and seeking solidarity in virtual sisterhood.

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What’s more, the recent Australian High Court ruling that media companies are responsible for defamatory comments on their Facebook pages puts the spotlight on some of the risks faced by ‘accidental community managers’ in these groups, unpaid and unprotected by large media organisations (or indeed any organisation at all).

The labour of creating and maintaining peer communities online is often invisible, undervalued, and fraught with risk. The recent Australian census asked questions about household labour, but few people stop to consider the significant labour involved in creating and maintaining online communities. Closed, women-centred Facebook groups have become a sought-after place for millions of women who want to connect with others outside of the public eye. Their inner workings remain an underresearched area and there are risks and rewards, including the possibility of legal risks, media outing and shaming. The practice of ‘screen-shotting’ content from supposedly private spaces is an everpresent risk. Members of a closed group of more than 3,000 lawyers who are also mothers

Women & Work

were reportedly threatened with defamation action after details of their criticisms of antimask activism became known outside the group.

Why women open up to closed groups Our recent research on closed, femalefocused Facebook groups explored some of the risks and rewards for women, particularly mothers, and their motivations for joining these groups. We interviewed women who are members of closed Facebook groups. We studied four specific categories of Facebook users: partners of those in the military, migrant women, ‘mum bloggers’ and ‘everyday’ mothers. Participants told us they joined private or secret Facebook groups because they wanted a safe, trusted, gender-specific space for discussion. But these groups require significant labour to create and maintain. Women undertake this ‘hidden’ labour not only for themselves, but on behalf of their families, institutions and organisations. Groups are used to get information, advocate for their needs and often create a peer assistance community to cover gaps in other support services. Some mum bloggers told us they joined the groups to seek ‘refuge’ from their public blogging, while still often maintaining a more curated public presence, so as to escape surveillance, including from brands (as current or potential sponsors or partners), the mainstream media, and trolls. Meanwhile, women whose partners were in the military sought spaces away from the intense expectation of the ‘ideal military spouse’. Migrant mothers noted that a shared cultural background, and common experiences such as loneliness or racism, increased their level of trust in the fellow group members and the information they provided. And for everyday mums, the groups offer a chance to let the ‘mask of motherhood’ slip and to take time out to seek advice and focus on their own issues.

The cost of caring These responses suggest many women are seeking solace from their intensive caring roles as mothers and partners. But ironically, it takes a lot of work to create, maintain and participate in these groups. Members and administrators of these groups work hard to make them safe, trustworthy and inclusive. But with COVID lockdowns affecting much of Australia’s population, tensions have pushed some groups to breaking point. Fiery exchanges around specific issues such as vaccines, panic-buying or compliance with public health orders, or generally heightened emotions amid the pandemic, have prompted some moderators to close or temporarily suspend pages. Earlier this year, Facebook admitted it needs to do more to reduce the risks involved in moderation and membership of closed groups, pledging to ‘continue to build and invest to make sure people can rely on these places for connection and support’.

While closed Facebook groups meet people’s need for connection away from the glare of the societal gaze, the paradox of creating ‘private’ spaces within a commercial platform that monetises personal information also sits uncomfortably for many users. The invisible work women undertake in these groups bring many benefits to their families, their employers, and to themselves. Recognising this unpaid labour is vital and more needs to be done to train, resource and support the volunteers who make and maintain these vital community resources. Catherine Archer is a Senior Lecturer in Strategic Communication and social media researcher at Murdoch University, WA Amy Johnson is a Lecturer in the School of Education & The Arts at CQUniversity, Rockhampton, Queensland Leah Williams Veazey is a Postdoctoral Research Officer at the University of Sydney This article original published in The Conversation, 27 September 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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Women & Work

Why men need to ‘work like a woman’

Lyndall Strazdins


It’s time to reimagine gender equality and help men ‘work like a woman’, argues Professor Lyndall Strazdins from the Australian National University. For too long we’ve been thinking about gender equality in the workplace as women ‘catching up’ with men; women smashing through the glass ceiling to achieve high-powered parity. But this fundamentally misses the point. What’s really needed is a reimagining of equality; to help men spend more time fulfilling their roles as fathers, carers, partners and active community members. In other words, men must do more to work like a woman. The yardsticks we use to measure gender equality in the workplace – women working the high-flying jobs traditionally held by men and equal pay for equal work – are sizing-up a broken system. These standards


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assume the way men work is the best way, and something to aspire to. They are based on outdated assumptions that men are the breadwinners, while women look after them, their families and communities. It’s outrageous that these assumptions are overriding the facts. The facts tell us that while modern men have similar workforce participation rates to those in the 1960s, twice as many women are in the workforce today. So, who looks after women? And who takes charge of all the other work? Our modern gender policy around employment is a muddling paradox that aims to increase the number of women

Women & Work

working full-time hours, just like men do, but we know many women can’t. So, it provides family-friendly and part-time options. This forever dooms women to be working differently from men, and this will never allow women high-powered, wellpaid, and influential jobs; because these roles require time.

It’s a matter of time: the hour-glass ceiling Gender gaps in pay and seniority are almost always linked to long work hours. We know that women are as skilled as men; 38 per cent of women compared to 31 per cent of men have a Bachelor degree or above. Yet they are less likely to be employed; 62 per cent of women compared to 71 per cent of men. And when they do work, they earn less: approximately $25,000 per year less for full-time employment. But time is an area in which women often can’t match up to men. We have allowed holding a good job to become a tournament of endurance – eating ‘al desko’ and sending midnight emails are proof of performance. A system that fails to set upper limits on work hours is a system that pits unpaid care and family and community responsibilities against climbing the career ladder. In 2018, full-time employed Australian men worked 43 weekly hours compared with 39 hours for women on average. This adds up to 190 hours per year, assuming one month of leave. Quite a time advantage. Of course, women can, and do, work like men, but it usually comes at a cost – to their physical and mental health and their unpaid albeit invaluable contributions to family and community wellbeing. Surely we can have a better system than that. The mother of all questions: how do we help men move back into the home? Just as we want to support women to move out of

the home, we need to help men move back into it. That’s what real workplace reform needs to achieve. We know more Australian men than women are saying they don’t know how to have a job and be a parent. It’s a national tragedy. And we don’t have a voice that articulates that, or a strategy to change it. We need to shift the bar from time on the job to merit, quality and innovation. We need reasonable full-time hours that are limited, paired with the withdrawal of financial and career advancement rewards for overworking – across all levels of seniority in organisations. It’s imperative we revise work hours for everyone in all jobs so that working, caring and even volunteering are possible and rewarded. We need policies that reward fathers who take leave to care for their babies and young children, and a cultural change in workplaces that expects them to do so. Like Iceland.

Experience in other countries shows these policy innovations are possible and effective. For example, the shorter hour working week spearheaded by France or the dual worker-carer model embedded in Finnish policy since World War II. We’ve encouraged women to step into a system that is built on their backs, asking them to work and care. Then set up an expectation that they can become ‘equal’. But what we are really asking is for women to do more, and trade-off their health in the meantime. Until we interrogate what ‘working like a man’ actually is, or whether we want it anymore, we will not achieve workplace equality. Professor Lyndall Strazdins is the Director of the ANU Research School of Population Health and a leader in the field of work, family and wellbeing. This article originally published in ANU Reporter (Winter 2021). Reprinted with permission. Above: Secure Jobs selfie submitted by Conor Clohesy during the NTEU’s National Week of Action, September 2021.

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Women’s Rights Barbara Baird

Flinders academics lead campaign to decriminalise abortion in South Australia

Flinders University

Flinders University academics played a central role in the decriminalisation of abortion in South Australia, achieved finally in March 2021. They were part of the SA Abortion Action Coalition (saaac) which had formed in early 2016 with the goal of improving access to abortion services in SA and, to that end, working to decriminalise abortion. Access to abortion services in SA was governed by a 1969 law reform that posed significant obstructions to improving access, especially for people needing abortions living outside metropolitan Adelaide, those needing abortion care after 20 weeks pregnancy, and those who had not been resident in SA for more than two months (including many international students, visitors and new residents).

We were joined by many women’s organisations and allies among state and national health, medical, legal and human rights groups. The Working Women’s Centre and SA Unions, as well as a number of individual unions, came on board early. The YWCA in Adelaide, and the national women’s online campaign group Fair Agenda were key allies as was the Human Rights Law Centre.

For at least the last 25 years nearly all abortions in SA have been provided by public hospitals, free to the patient or at minimal cost. This public sector provision is unique in Australia (except for the NT) and something we are rightly proud of, so initiating any campaign for change risked opening up the possibility of destabilising what we have.

Greens MLC Tammy Franks introduced a bill to completely decriminalise abortion into the Legislative Council in November 2018. It was never voted on but signified the entry of saaac’s campaign into the Parliament.

But the system was not serving the groups mentioned above, the law was an impediment to improving access, and saaac members concluded the risk did not outweigh the necessity to campaign for improved access. saaac’s early years focused on educating ourselves, developing fact sheets to educate others, reaching out to likely organisations to build a supporter base, and engaging with and educating politicians.


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In early 2019, Attorney-General (AG) and Deputy Premier Vickie Chapman announced that she had asked the SA Law Reform Institute (SALRI) to investigate abortion law reform. The submissions by saaac members were quoted widely in SALRI’s excellent report which was released by the AG in October 2019. She sent a message to saaac’s rally held in early November announcing her plan to introduce a bill to reform abortion law in the new year. The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted parliamentary processes and the abortion matter did not return to the Parliament until

Women’s Rights

September 2020 when ALP MP Nat Cook introduced a bill into the House of Assembly to create safe access zones around abortion-providing facilities, and Tammy Franks guided it through the upper house.

The reform was, however, made possible by saaac, who led a well-educated and well-supported grass roots community campaign, fending off a well-resourced conservative Christian opposition.

saaac mobilised community support and worked with the politicians. The bill passed in November ending decades of protests directly outside the Pregnancy Advisory Centre, the only free standing public abortion clinic in the country where the majority of abortions in SA take place.

Flinders historians Dr Prudence Flowers and Associate Professor Catherine Kevin, with strong research backgrounds in the US antiabortion movement and Australian histories of pregnancy, respectively, played leading roles. Adjunct Professor Judith Dwyer, a public health academic and feminist abortion campaigner of over 35 years standing, joined with retired sociologist Dr Margie Ripper, also a seasoned campaigner, and psychologist Dr Monica Cations to conduct public opinion research about abortion. The results showing 80 per cent support for decriminalisation were published in 2020, just in time for the final leg of the law reform campaign.1

The next step was the introduction of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill into the Legislative Council by Minister for Human Services Michelle Lensink, where it passed comfortably in December 2020 with the strong backing of Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade. The debate in the House of Assembly in February this year was a harder fought battle but the bill passed, with significant amendments, 29 votes to 15. The AG sponsored the bill in the lower house, defending it late into the night over three consecutive days. Its passing through the Legislative Council in March was a formality. The AG’s bill began as a qualified version of the full repeal of all reference to abortion in law, and ended with a bundle of amendments that complicate and partly obfuscate its purpose. Nonetheless, it makes a significant improvement in the legal status of abortion in SA. Decriminalisation is a significant law reform achievement, enacted in the Parliament by progressive Liberal Party ministers with the implicit support of Premier Stephen Marshall. It couldn’t have been done without the support of the ALP left, Greens and independent MPs.

Legal academic Mark Rankin, who researches abortion law, and medical sociologist Dr Jessie Shipman, who researches reproductive justice, also made significant contributions. saaac was led by co-convenors Associate Professor Barbara Baird, from Women’s & Gender Studies at Flinders, who has been researching the history and politics of abortion since 1990, and Brigid Combe, a sexual and reproductive health nurse and manager who turned to teaching nursing at Flinders in 2016 and has researched nurses who provide abortion care. saaac is somewhat uniquely characterised by this significant involvement of academics of many disciplinary hues, who have been researching abortion and related issues for many years. The group also includes unionists, lawyers, sexual and reproductive

health care workers, students (including many from Flinders) and an array of others committed to women’s rights and reproductive justice. Its engagement with public sector providers of abortion, which enables close attention to the politics and resourcing issues of public provision, the heart of abortion care in SA, is also a distinct feature when compared to other States. saaac’s initial goal was to improve access to abortion services in SA. The decriminalisation of abortion is an important part of achieving this (or will be, once the legislation is commenced, hopefully by the end of 2021). However, the provision of early medication abortion by GPs, especially in rural areas, and the availability of best practice abortion care to those with pregnancies over 20 weeks, will take ongoing advocacy and careful engagement with relevant stakeholders. Ensuring the ongoing quality and adequate resourcing of public sector provision will also require vigilance in the context of a constantly stretched public health sector. The role played by academics who are committed to putting their research and intellectual capital to work in the interests of progressive social change will continue to be central. Barbara Baird is an Associate Professor, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Flinders University, South Australia Above & previous page: saaac activists on the steps of the South Australian Parliament 1. Cations, M., Ripper, M. & Dwyer, J. (2020). ‘Majority support for access to abortion care including later abortion in South Australia.’ Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 44.5: 349-352.

Volume 29, October 2021


Women’s Rights

Problems posed by background checks in universities In 2021, universities in the Australian Capital Territory implemented background checking policies during recruitment, contract extension and promotion processes. These policies have been justified using the discourse of campus safety, but have particularly problematic implications in the case of the higher education sector. These policies are representative of a shift in higher education recruitment toward a practice more common in industries like primary and secondary education, healthcare and public service. Such policies can include registration for working with vulnerable people, broader criminal record checks, medical checks and social media checks. Such policies should be implemented in relation to the requirements of the specific role. But what are the the deleterious impacts of indiscriminate and far-reaching background checking policies, and what can be done to mitigate these potential problems?

Activist academics

Maeve Powell

Australian National University

Celeste Liddle NTEU


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There are a number of reasons why people join academia. In the case of many social science disciplines, environmental sciences and so forth, people are drawn to these disciplines in order to share their expertise in a particular field. As such, criminal background checks run the risk of being used to exclude some incredible knowledges and perspectives out of higher education. An example of this would be the number of political activists who pursue an academic career. Political science departments were, at one stage, filled with people who had been arrested for taking part in actions such as the Moratoriums, Reclaim the Night, the Springboks protests, the Green and Black Bans, the Black Panthers, the ‘78ers and so forth. Education should always be a pursuit that seeks to challenge and broaden perspectives; without these perspectives being present in the learning space, the student experience would have been

significantly poorer. Criminal background checks, whilst appearing inert on the surface, run the risk of cutting future activist perspectives out of the academy. In addition to this, though, departments such as criminology are somewhat reliant on understanding criminal and legal perspectives in order to be a discipline in the first place. Academics, students and guest speakers with a criminal record and experience of the criminal justice system are of particular value to the emerging field of Convict Criminology in Australia. This area of study recognises the value of experiential knowledge of the criminal justice system, aiming to centre the voices of those who have been ignored in traditional criminology research, policy, and practice. Criminal background checking policies in universities will not only limit the diversity of voice but will place a limit on knowledge production and fields of inquiry within the academy. What impacts will this have in the future? As the global environmental crisis continues, will institutions be locking out those who have chained themselves to tractors or super-glued themselves to infrastructure in order to attract political attention to the cause? Will sovereignty activists be removed from education as we continue nationwide pushes for Treaties to happen? Will institutions be cutting out asylum seeker perspectives because these people have criminal records for breaking arbitrary governmental laws which themselves violate the UN Declaration of Rights to seek asylum? It’s not as simple as criminal=bad – broader impacts need ot be considered when it comes to higher education.

Women’s Rights

have negative effects on refugees who have been convicted of political crimes. The very persecution that caused people to flee should not be repeated by university hiring practices. At a time when universities are aiming to decolonise and diversify the academy, how can universities justify implementing background checking policies which cannot fail to be discriminatory in their impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other communities of colour?

What is at stake?

Discrimination A clear criminal record check as a requirement of employment in universities will have discriminatory impacts on diversity, equity and inclusion by excluding and disincentivising applicants from more criminalised groups. The criminalisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and African Australians has led to over-representation in the criminal justice system through racial profiling, targeting and policing. In Victoria, South Sudanese youth, particularly boys and men, have also been targeted and are over-represented in imprisonment rates. Across Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are grossly overrepresented in prison populations. Failure of successive governments to act on the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody has led to our imprisonment rates climbing, rather than shrinking, with Aboriginal women’s incarceration rates being some of the fastest growing in the world. Statistics show that most incarcerated Indigenous women have been victims of family and domestic violence and indeed, some have been incarcerated whilst seeking police support during an FVDV incident – Ms Dhu being a notable case. In 2018, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth were found to make up more than half of the Suspect Target Management Program in NSW which identified youth to be stopped, detained and visited at home. The out-of-home care to prison pipeline is a well documented, long-standing systemic process by which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are criminalised, having origins with the Stolen Generations.

This was highlighted in the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the 1997 Bringing Them Home Report, and has been further illustrated in the powerful 2021 documentary Incarceration Nation. In some cases, children who were removed from their families were simultaneously given a criminal record; being charged with neglect. These ‘status offences’, where children were charged based on their circumstances rather than any wrongdoing, would be the start of an ongoing process of criminalisation. Later, these charges were used as evidence of prior offence and criminal history which was considered in justifying adult prison sentences. Legislation allowing for these status offences by Aboriginal children were in existence across various States and Territories until the 1990s – this is not ancient history. This historic link continues today: a 2018 Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples found that the link between child protection, juvenile justice, and adult incarceration is ‘so strong that child removal into out-of-home care and juvenile detention could be considered as key drivers of adult incarceration.’ Studies have shown that many incarcerated children are also victims of poverty, and are significantly more likely to have a disability, particularly with regards to hearing and learning. These systems are also barriers to entry into university as a student. Race, disability and childhood experience should not be used as a barrier to education and employment. Criminal record checks are not limited to Australian jurisdictions, workers have been required to obtain records from every country in which they have lived. This may

Universities, whilst having an obligation to protect staff and students and provide safe learning environments, need to also weigh up the harm policies like criminal background checks potentially create. Poor organisational justice can be a work hazard, having a damaging effect on work-related stress. To ensure organisational justice, staff recruitment processes should be fair and just, taking into account the full picture of those they are employing and not simply excluding people based on their criminal histories. In addition, policies should be justified and implemented with transparency. In many cases, background checking is undertaken by external private corporations which leads to questions around who has access to applicants’ data and whether applicants themselves have access to all data used against them. The onus should be on the university to pay for these checks, not the individual who is being considered by the institution and who may be arbitrarily excluded by such a process anyway. Universities must ensure that they are putting in place processes that ensure consistency, minimise harm and comply with the Australian Human Rights Commission guidelines for the prevention of discrimination in employment on the basis of criminal record. Most importantly, any background checking in recruitment should be targeted to the inherent requirements for each role. More than anything, though, universities need to ascertain what they stand to lose through such policies. Are the perspectives of activists, highly criminalised populations and those the legal system discriminates against no longer welcome in the neoliberal white academy, or do they still have a crucial role to play in the development of critical thinking and analysis? Maeve Powell is a Research Associate and PhD Scholar in the College of Asia & the Pacific, ANU Celeste Liddle is the NTEU Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander National Organiser

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Pandemic slows women’s progress towards equality To survive in the male-dominated world of science, women need support at various levels: at home and at work; as well as financial and mental health support. They need to be mentored along the way and, when they get to the top, they need to pull others up. These were some of the themes that were highlighted by speakers at the University of Pretoria’s (UP’s) 2021 Third Annual Women in Science Symposium on 19 August, which was aligned with the United Nations’ theme: ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’. Dr Rakeshnie Ramoutar-Prieschl, the head of research and development at UP, said: ‘The theme is so pertinent given the difficult times we face. The pandemic has highlighted a number of structural biases and has hindered our progress towards an equal future over the past year, which can be described as slow, fragile, incremental and, in some instances, a reversal of global efforts. ‘In every region of the world, girls and women have been subjected, more than their male counterparts, to challenges such as unemployment largely linked to the digital divide, poverty, illiteracy, hunger, sickness and domestic abuse.’ Below: Dr Chanelle Case Borden pipetting DNA samples into a tube for polymerase chain reaction (National Cancer Institute)

While, globally, there have been efforts to increase the number of women in science, UNESCO reveals that 54% of students who achieve a bachelor degree in science are female. However, women account for 49% of doctoral students and 39% of researchers. ‘This statistic becomes a stark reality, especially in the upper echelons. In South Africa, female South African professors make up less than 17% of the total academic workforce,’ said RamoutarPrieschl.


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The ‘leaky pipeline’ in action Referring to South Africa’s 26 universities, she said: ‘Only five institutions have a female principal and vice-chancellor, which amounts to a mere 19%. ‘This clearly demonstrates the ‘leaky pipeline’ in action – where the proportion of women decreases at each career stage, from undergraduate through postgraduate, postdoc, lecturer, senior lecturer, professor and leadership levels.’ She explained that the research system reproduces structural gender inequality patterns. ‘For example, men tend to have longer publication and successful grant histories, established international networks and collaborators, and often obtain promotions at a younger age – which emphasises career biases, largely hinged on the productivity and employment interruptions that women still shoulder.’ Professor Namrita Lall, the National Research Foundation and Department of Science and Technology (NRF-DST) South African research chair in plant health products from Indigenous Knowledge Systems and a professor in the department of plant and soil science at UP, said females face stereotypes entering the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields at three stages in their lives. ‘In childhood and adolescence, there are masculine stereotypes about STEM, parents’ expectations of daughters, peer norms,


and lack of fit with personal goals and this makes girls move away from STEM fields,’ she said. The leaky pipeline starts early. In emerging adulthood, females feel like misfits in STEM classes and are outnumbered by male peers, while they experience a lack of female role models. This results in their avoiding careers in STEM or leaving prematurely. ‘Female students who perform worse in STEM tests compared with male peers report less confidence and aspiration. Even when girls and women perform as well as their male peers, many lose interest and do not pursue advanced courses, degrees and careers in STEM. Girls drop out because of a confidence gap, not an ability gap,’ said Lall. They then face barriers in the hiring stage. ‘In early to mid-adulthood, subtle gender bias in hiring and promotion, biased evaluation of work, non-inclusive climates, juggling work-family responsibilities and difficulty in returning after a family-related pause undermine the retention of women in STEM.’ Once hired, women may not be encouraged to pursue higher-level jobs by their employers and time constraints also can become pervasive as women enter childbearing years. She asserts that there is a ‘need to redefine what a scientist looks like’. ‘Young women gravitate towards healthcare, medicine, education, arts and humanities. Young men gravitate towards computer science, maths and physics. Young women need access to information about all types of STEM possibilities and to women who have succeeded in them.’

Blind hiring and promotional processes Lall indicated that parents and teachers need the tools to encourage young women and girls to consider STEM careers in order to break gender norms. Gender stereotypes in this area develop from an early age, within families and at school. ‘Even girls who excel in mathematics and science are not more likely than their peers to pursue a degree in computer science or engineering.’ She said it is critical to encourage female learners in school by acknowledging them in class and taking their questions seriously. She added: ‘Working with industry for meaningful internships and placements will also help create awareness of the possible careers and impact thereof in the long term,

which may create more interest in women to pursue careers in STEM as they can better visualise the value of these careers for society.’ In the workplace, discriminatory practices or policies should be removed to give women equal, unbiased opportunities. ‘This may be achieved by blind review of applications or other work products in hiring or promotions so that no assumptions are made about how long a female will remain with the company or about the types of tasks she can perform.’

Parity without penalty Easing the transition back into the workplace following long periods of leave is also important. Flexi-time and childcare facilities make it possible for women to juggle a career and family responsibilities and this will encourage them to pursue careers and show them that it is possible. Professor Wanda Markotter, the director of the Centre for Viral Zoonoses and DST-NRF research chair at UP focuses on research on bats. She said that her students have asked for financial support, support from the institution and, specifically, mental health support. ‘Apart from mentoring, they want to be able to sit down with successful scientists who are in leadership positions and ask them how [they] handled this challenge.’ In her field of research, where scientists go out into rough terrain in search of bats, there are no women’s voices in the communities they work with. Women scientists tend to be excluded in field trips, as men believe they are not strong enough to carry equipment and won’t manage in the field for days, which means being without bathroom facilities. She said women are stronger than they think they are.

While women face several challenges in the field of science, some hold leadership positions. Professor Sehliselo Ndlovu, DST-NRF research chair in hydrometallurgy and sustainable development at the University of the Witwatersrand said that, as women in science are making it to the top, ‘they should not be afraid to employ people who are smarter than themselves’. ‘Surround yourself with people who make you a better version of yourself and you must do the same for them. Such women are selfless,’ she advised. She urged such women to push for policies that empower other women. ‘Women want parity without penalty. They don’t want to work twice or thrice as hard as men to prove they are capable.’ Women leaders also need to include men in the transformation process, she said. She added: ‘Become a champion for others. Create a powerful team and help break the ceiling for women in science. You need mentors at different stages of your career,’ and they can come from other fields. She said: ‘Leaders are those who wear a red shirt among those who wear white ones. They are not wallflowers and are not afraid to challenge existing norms. ‘They do ordinary things in extraordinary ways. Get a mentor or champion who helps you become more self-confident, improves your strengths and irons out your weaknesses, one who helps you take better control of your career.’ Ndlovu urged women leaders to be futurists. ‘Don’t just react to things. Proactively shape the future and lead the change.’ Ameera Haq-Williams This article originally published in University World News, 31 August 2021 Above: (Sylwia Bartyzel/Unsplash)

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Afghanistan’s public universities are closed & struggling to segregate genders More than a month since capturing power in the Afghan capital Kabul, cementing their hold over the country, the Taliban is struggling to re-open public sector universities under a hardline gender segregation policy. The thorny path chosen by the Islamists is proving difficult to implement for large public universities, experts said. Driven by mounting student demand for education, some private universities resumed classes on 6 September 2021, accepting Taliban demands such as raising barriers inside classrooms to segregate male and female students. Many students stayed away.

Huge challenge

Public institutions have not yet been able to resume.

‘It is a huge, complicated, and to large extent an unrealistic, task of segregating male and female students in all public universities, hostels and other higher education institutions,’ Ruh Ullah, a Kabul University lecturer, told University World News.

The Taliban’s acting minister of higher education, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, announced at a news conference in Kabul on Sunday 12 September that efforts were underway to resume studies at public universities. He was looking into how this could be done, as public university courses were scheduled to begin in a week. Below: Veiled students attend a Taliban rally at the Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul, 11 September 2021 (BBC)

‘Meetings are underway to start public universities, and when financial problems and other issues are resolved, the time for the start of universities will be announced,’ said Haqqani, adding that preparations for the opening of universities would not take more than a week. Haqqani reiterated previous Taliban statements that a new education plan had been launched and that girls and boys will now study in separate classes. The mixed education system for girls and boys ‘contradicts Islamic and national values’, he added.


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However, university administrators implementing these policies said this was a huge challenge for public institutions, which have large numbers of students.

He said that immediate problems the Taliban government faced in realising the policy were lack of funds, female teachers and other resources. Ullah pointed to Kabul University’s hostels, which house thousands of students – male and female – from different provinces. ‘The daily expenses of running operations here alone run into millions of afghanis [US$1 = 90 afghani]. Then there are the issues of a lack of female teachers and other academic staff, laboratories and other resources. ‘This is a gigantic task conceived in a very fragile situation.’


In Herat, where some institutions – including the public Herat University – had opened in late August, universities have closed again or have not opened, as a result of the Taliban’s new policy directives. An official decree No 146 issued by the Taliban’s higher education ministry this week stated that all public universities and private higher education institutions should consider separate classes for male and female students. It also stated that female students should be taught by female professors in future. If universities do not have female professors, they should engage ‘senior professors with a good reputation’ for this purpose. All female students, teachers and staff must wear an Islamic abaya robe and a hijab that covers the hair, according to another document issued by the Taliban education ministry on 5 September. The garments must be black.

Segregation is unpopular Many observers say that the Taliban government’s decision to segregate classes, when the academic year has already been disrupted by the war and COVID-19 pandemic, is unpopular. Protests have been held by women in several cities, including Kabul and Herat,

over their loss of rights and liberties in all areas of society, including higher education. Some were beaten by the Taliban.

our efforts towards seeking international recognition before the Taliban [took over] are hampered,’ he said.

Students, male and female, are concerned. ‘After seeing the armed Taliban on streets everywhere, and seeing videos of females protesting and being beaten, none of our classmates dared to return to the campus,’ said Hajira Samadi, a student at a private university.

A professor at another Kabul-based university said the ‘hidden’ damage sustained by both public and private sector institutions remains ‘beyond imagination’.

Noor Ali Rahmani, director of the private Gharjistan University in Kabul, noted that the campus was almost empty this week, after the strict dress code for women students was announced. ‘Our students don’t accept this, and we will have to close the university,’ he was quoted by AFP as saying. But public universities will not be able to reject the education ministry’s decisions. An administrator at one of Afghanistan’s leading private universities told University World News on condition of anonymity that the sector ‘is facing a dead end’, with Taliban pressure for gender segregation on the one hand, and students’ and their parents’ anxieties on the other.

‘The entire ecosystem of higher education being imposed now is not acceptable. Its [higher education’s] growth or sustainability is not feasible. It is simply outdated, backtracking on all that was achieved in the past 20 years.’ The United Nations agency UNESCO warned on 10 September: ‘If a ban on co-education is implemented, and on males teaching females, this will deal a huge blow to women’s participation in higher education and to girls’ education more broadly, negatively impacting on their lives, work and citizenship.’ Shadi Khan Saif is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan This article originally published in University World News, 16 September 2021 Above: Women’s photojournalism course in Farah City, Afghanistan in 2013 (ResoluteSupportMedia)

‘Actually, we have lost everything. Most of our female colleagues and students have left; most of our remaining female students are trying to flee the country. All

Volume 29, October 2021


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