Every day we see the power of both the individual and the collective in addressing issues such as equality and culture and giving voice to movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, 8 March, is ‘Choose to Challenge’, where choice is one of our greatest tools.
In this Q&A Professor Susan Harris Rimmer, Director of the Griffith University Policy Innovation Hub, talks about her passion for gender equality, the establishment of Griffith’s Gender Equality Research Network, the importance of self-care, and how we can all champion equality every day.
‘…it was just that general feeling any bright young girl feels: ‘I’m as smart as him’. ‘
Why are you so passionate about gender equality?
Growing up on a sheep farm in Coonabarabran I was aware of a lot of domestic violence in our town and I reacted very strongly to the kind of destruction it brought. It is such a key area where women suffer and so many societal and structural problems are expressed through domestic violence. So, it has always been particularly pressing in my journey and then it was just that general feeling any bright young girl feels: ‘I’m as smart as him’.
I find gender equality intellectually challenging as it is such a foundational problem in our society. It underpins so many other things in our world and it is constantly devalued as knowledge. This area of academic enquiry is very challenging, difficult and yet very interesting. I have an endless interest in the lives of other women, their stories and their narratives.
What led you and Professor Sara Davies to convene the Gender Equality Research Network at Griffith?
Across various disciplines at Griffith there were a lot of people bringing a gender lens to their research but there was no means to find them. The Gender Equality Research Network (GERN) unites these interdisciplinary researchers and provides some curation around the gender framework they apply to their research.
The initial focus for GERN was Early Career Researchers and mentoring. We also realised that not only were we interested in gender research, and doing better gender research, but we were interested in academia and its gender biases. We started a mentoring program talking about research engagement at a high level—those big promotion pieces, monograph writing, quality journal writing, research and grant winning. We felt a lot of women miss the kind of active mentoring that seems to happen more naturally for some, but not all, of our male colleagues. We have a lot of men in our network conducting gender research of a very high calibre and not just around masculinities but around feminism and queer theory.
Research is lonely and isolating and difficult; researchers need to feel seen, they need lots of encouragement and they need to engage with someone on their research journey. GERN is a joint enterprise across the University and we provide bespoke experiences to spread that feeling of solidarity and encouragement.
‘Research is full immersion in lived experiences—yours, and others’…’
What is the Athena SWAN charter and why is it so important?
The Athena SWAN UK charter and framework were established to address the under–representation of women, trans and gender diverse individuals in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) Griffith was the first Australian institution to receive an Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional Award. The award recognizes our commitment to increasing our talent pool, recruiting—and keeping—more women and working toward changing the structural problems that are forcing women out of those areas. It is a very rigorous framework and the institutional imperative to encourage diversity and inclusion across the University, on every equity criterion not just gender focus, is what really interests me.
Has Sustainable Development Goal 5, Gender equality, had an impact on gender research?
The UN gender equality goal has been a very useful research tool in the sense that it generates data around various indicators that are tracked by governments around the world. This is very useful because so much that happens in women’s lives is not recorded, measured, visible or findable. When I first started working on rape as a war crime as an Honours student, and even as a late year law student, you could not find any data for love nor money. It was all anecdotal, bits and pieces that you had to kind of put together.
Getting reliable data that you can track over time and having the ability to interrogate the way governments are collecting that data, has increased the quality of gender research and enhanced our ability to find out the real story. The Sustainable Development Goals are a vision of something that is attainable; making progress on these goals leads to better nations and better regions.
What is one piece of advice you would give to researchers?
I would tell them about the importance of self-care. Research is full immersion in lived experiences—yours, and others’—and in problems and problem-solving. Research is hard and research topics can be very emotionally difficult. In the morning, I can be thinking about Brittany Higgins and in the afternoon, I can be looking at gender war crimes and assessing what is going to happen to women when the Taliban take over in Afghanistan. And this emotional immersion isn’t unique to gender studies. Other types of researchers face the same issues, just in different ways: for instance, a cancer researcher or a researcher working with autistic kids. I think a lot of researchers need to exercise more self-care; within a university you must have a stronger ethic of care.
Looking at this year’s theme, ‘Choose to Challenge’, how can individuals practice gender equality?
In my opinion, people should choose to challenge Parliament as a workplace—it should be an exemplary and safe workplace for men and women. That’s our place, that’s our Parliament, that’s our money and they are the people we elect. I’m hoping people choose to challenge it and realise that they can do something about it.
I think people should call out bad behaviours. Particularly if they see anything related to gender identity and a young person, they should be protecting them, calling it out because we know we lose so many young people to suicide and homelessness. Stick your neck out and visibly be an ally.
And if you struggle calling out bad behaviour, then you can do the opposite. You can celebrate people. If you are seeing people treating First Nations Peoples, colleagues or students in a good way, go in and tell them how great they are.
In my mind, there are absolutely no limits on the type of human rights work you can do wherever you are.
What does the next five years look like for you?
It is genuinely inspiring to be working with the members of the Climate Action Beacon and to be thinking about climate justice, through a gender lens, for the next five years. I’m really interested in examining how we are going to navigate a world where climate impacts are continually escalating and change the way we think about these issues so that we manage the transition with more of a human rights lens instead of just an economic growth lens. It is quite new for me.
Gender equality research
Read Professor Susan Harris Rimmer’s research and learn more about gender equality and inclusiveness:
Women, Peace and Transforming Security: Visions of the Future of Women, Peace and Security for NATO, 2020
Introduction to the Research Handbook on Feminist Engagement with International Law, 2019
Celebrating and Interrogating Women and National Security, 2018
The future of women’s economic empowerment in the Indian Ocean region: governance challenges and opportunities, 2017
Gender, Governance and the Defence of the Realm: Globalising reforms in the Australian Defence Force, 2016
Gender and Transitional Justice: The Women of East Timor, 2010
Access Griffith Research Online (GRO) for more research on gender equality.