Alyssa Shaw is the inaugural Women’s Officer for the Post-graduate and Research Students Association, is a proud feminist, and is generally just a kickass lady. I caught up with Alyssa to find out what she has planned for her term as Women’s Officer, her Masters research, and how she relaxes after a long day of being immersed in feminism!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
If I had to summarise myself, I would say that I live happily in a feminist bubble! My postgraduate degree focuses on gender studies and feminist theory, and I work and volunteer in the women’s sector. In my downtime, I enjoy discussions (or debates!) regarding feminism and topical issues, and am lucky to have inspiring feminists as friends, who indulge me in these pastimes. Feminism is an important part of my identity, so I am fortunate that my passion for this is present in many aspects of my life.
Besides this I enjoy eating, tending to my small garden and doing arts and crafts – particularly drawing and generally anything hands on. At the moment I am teaching myself how to solder, which is so far proving interesting!
You were recently elected as the Post-graduate and Research Students Association (PARSA) Women’s Officer at ANU – what does that role entail?
At the moment the role is still very much being defined! This is because the Women’s Officer role is a newly created position within PARSA. Whilst ANU undergraduate students have had a Women’s Officer for some time, there has been no equivalent role for postgraduates. The need for appropriate representation led myself and a few other postgraduate women to campaign for the position.
Fundamentally this role is about representation, support and advocacy. The ANU postgraduate community is very diverse, as students study here from across the globe. It is essential to engage with postgraduate women and ensure their ideas, needs and initiatives are considered. In order to assist with this, I am establishing a steering committee, and currently asking postgraduate women to express their interest in becoming members. If anyone is keen to get involved there is more information on the ANU Postgraduate Women Facebook page! (Brazen self-promotion!)
What are your ambitions for this year as Women’s Officer? Any big things on the agenda?
Gosh, I have so many ideas and goals! I must say that creating greater awareness of the role, and establishing the portfolio, is the first big step and is currently consuming much of my time.
At the moment my advocacy focus is the privacy zone legislation, for which the exposure draft has been made available for public consultation. This proposed legislation is important as it will ensure that women can access health services, specifically termination of pregnancy, free from harassment and intimidation. The proposed privacy zone will protect the privacy of women accessing these services, with minimal impact on people wishing to exercise their right to protest.
I feel very fortunate to live in Canberra, where abortion services are legal and safe. In saying that, women’s bodies are readily regulated and this is one such example. I feel it is essential that women seeking to utilise these services can do so free from harassment and reproach, as I would expect for other health services. It can be hard to strike a balance between conflicting rights, however I believe the proposed legislation adequately considers both rights to privacy and free speech.
Recently the Women’s Centre for Health Matters, in partnership with Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT, launched the Right of Way website. I would encourage those who support this legislation to write to our local MLAs (particularly the Minister for Women, Yvette Berry) and sign the petition on the Right of Way website
What are three key issues for women you want to see addressed in Australia?
That’s a tough question, as I think that there is so much room for progress, and an appetite for change!
Number one would be gender equality – although I realise that’s quite idealistic! More specifically, I think there is real need for greater awareness around what gender inequality looks like in our society – such as a lack of women in leadership and decision making roles, gendered violence, and the gender pay gap. With greater societal awareness, we can start the journey towards addressing these issues through a variety of initiatives. Simple, right!
I think realising gender equality is important for women, but also for other genders identities who do not identify within the normative binary. Both women and non-binary genders are often left out of important conversations or ill considered.
Second would be further funding for family violence prevention. Great initiatives have come out of the National Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, such as Our Watch and ANROWS. Rosie Batty being named Australian of the Year is also an important step in highlighting this issue. However, I have concerns about the amount of funding allocated to the National Plan, and the need to adequately fund both primary prevention and front line services.
Being a student representative, I can’t help but put in a word for the need to further support students! So many students experience poverty, and although there may be different experiences based on gender, a systemic issue for many students is that of housing. Housing is a fundamental, but rarely discussed issue. It has only become apparent to me more recently, through my own experiences of housing stress and homelessness, how important an issue this is. A well-considered look at student poverty and housing issues is warranted by universities, and State and Federal government.
Tell us a bit about your Masters research!
It’s a work in progress! So far I have been undertaking a variety of courses as part of my interdisciplinary degree, approaching all topics with a gender studies and feminist theory lens. I really enjoy studying a variety of topics, and to date I have explored philosophy, human rights, anthropology, dress theory, and development. I have been especially taken with learning more about intersectionality as a part of feminist theory, and how it might be applied to program development.
At the moment I am hoping to start up some further research in two areas. One focus is on using art theory and the philosophy of aesthetics to investigate how women’s bodies are represented and regulated. The other is to continue my research investigating feminist philosophy, specifically an ethic of care (a feminist approach to ethics) as well as feminist epistemology. It’s all so fascinating!
What do you like to do to relax?
Mythbusters is certainly top of my list! I enjoy an episode almost daily without fail – science experiments make for great TV. I also feel that the show meets the feminist stamp of approval, as the focus is on acquiring knowledge through experience – a tenet of feminist epistemology.
I also enjoy going to trivia nights at my local pub, playing board games with friends, hanging with my partner, and spending time cuddling animals! I relax by listening to old-school music, and have a modest collection of vinyl. Given my propensity for eating, I can be regularly found hitting up Sweet Bones in Braddon for cinnabons and other vegan treats! Delicious!
Anything else to add?
I think I have said too much already! I really appreciate having the opportunity to share my two cents. I believe Feminartsy plays an essential role in connecting feminists, and sharing stories and passions!
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