Human Rights, Gender and Sexuality

Our research advances social justice and inclusion: we explore, theorise, recognise and defend human, sexual, gender and embodied experiences. Our research emphasises and explores the intersections between theory, lived experience and policy.


Fertility services’ engagement with LGBT family formation

Lead investigator: Dr Fiona Kelly (La Trobe Law School)

Co-investigators: Dr Deborah Dempsey (Swinburne University), Dr Jennifer Power (ARCSHS) and Prof Jayne Lucke (ARCSHS)

Parenting within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities is not a new phenomenon. Planned queer parenthood emerged in the context of the women’s health movement of the 1960s and 70s and historically existed in opposition to mainstream medicine, which was perceived as male dominated and deeply heterosexist. However, the recent removal of legal barriers to lesbian couples and single women accessing fertility clinic services, the increased availability of overseas commercial surrogacy for gay men, and the lucrative market the LGBT communities represent to fertility clinics, have had a significant impact on fertility practices amongst LGBT Australians. This project examines how the combined forces of law and medicine have transformed planned parenting within Australia’s LGBT communities. In particular, it considers the extent to which advances in law and medicine have converged to produce a notion of queer parenthood that is increasingly medicalised, geneticised, and nuclear in its assumptions about family relationships.

Ethical issues for alternative dispute resolution practitioners

Lead investigator: Doctor Lola Akin Ojelabi (La Trobe Law School)

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) forms an integral part of the civil justice system in most nations of the world. Increasing access to justice and resolving disputes more effectively and quickly has been a significant driver of this international development. However the impact of institutionalisation of ADR on improved access to justice and substantive justice remains unclear.

This research project focuses on ADR practitioners and explores their role within this justice landscape and the ethical issues that arise for them both around substantive and procedural justice. Two aspects of this research project are the subject of this application:

  1. Identification of ethical issues that arise in different ADR processes and contexts
  2. A comparative analyses of responses from US and Australian mediators to scenarios raising ethical and practical issues.

Breaking the boundaries: women's leadership and cultural exchange 1930-1970

Lead investigator: Professor Diane Kirkby

Co-investigator: Professor Tania Fitzgerald

This project examines the way the Carnegie and Fulbright programs in the middle decades of the twentieth century were important in facilitating travel, education, career advancement, international networking and transnational connections among women.

Award schemes enabled women to pursue their individual goals for liberation, and to construct their political subjectivity and professional identity. The Fulbright program specifically set out to identify and foster academic and intellectual leaders from around the world, and thus widened the pool of talent from which future leaders would be drawn.

The Carnegie program drew on existing leaders to build new opportunities. Both created a new cohort of women – trailblazers in their fields – for whom intellectual and cultural leadership became a reality.  Through a focus on women's accessing of these awards this interdisciplinary project traces a trajectory of trans-Pacific exchange and the process by which discourses and ideas of equality and economic independence were circulated and communicated.

The project will uncover the ways in which participation in these exchange programs in key decades offered women an opportunity to foster their own professional networks, experience a level of professional renewal, and influence their peers in higher education, the professions and the arts.

Intersections of disadvantage? Gender and sexuality within Asia-Pacific community organisations

Lead investigator: Professor Gary Dowsett

Co-investigators: Doctor Gillian Fletcher and Doctor Nicola Henry

This project explores the intersection of gender, sexuality and disadvantage in a developing country context. It aims to generate new knowledge on the intersection of gender, sexuality, other structural and social forces, and disadvantage, with major implications for work that seeks to address injustice and inequality.

The pilot project employs a three-part qualitative methodology to explore how gender and sexuality are intimately entwined with social inequality and injustice, and how these two concepts underpin intervention development and programming in the Asia-Pacific region.

Partnering with the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, who are recognised within the international development field for its Sexuality and Development Program, the La Trobe team brings together expertise in the areas of international development, gender, sexuality, and prevention of violence against women.

Uncertain parentage? Mapping legal parentage across Australian Family Law

Lead investigator: Doctor Fiona Kelly

Co-investigators: Doctor Jennifer Power and Ms Hannah Robert

The aim of this project is to undertake a socio-legal study of the evolving concept of legal parentage in Australian family law. Through a case law, legislative, and pilot case file analysis of five parenting contexts in which questions around legal parentage are repeatedly raised, the researchers will map Australian parentage law trends. As Australian families diversify and the paths to parenthood grow, in large part due to rapid developments in the field of reproductive technology, the question of 'who is a parent?' has become more difficult to answer.

Yet an answer is urgently needed if legal stability is to be provided for a generation of children born into families with which the law has yet to fully engage. While Australian scholars have explored discrete dimensions of this debate, no-one has mapped legal parentage trends across the totality of axes. This project will make a valuable contribution to this cutting edge debate at a time when both federal and state governments have expressed interest in reform.

Indonesia's proposed anti-witchcraft legislation: sorcery, law, and state

Lead investigator: Doctor Nicholas Herriman

Indonesian legislators have proposed new laws making witchcraft and sorcery illegal. This project, based on fieldwork interviews, aims to provide the first detailed study of these proposed laws, the underlying reasons and beliefs, and the shorter term effects of the laws' implementation.

The significance lies in 'witches' and 'sorcerers' being regularly killed in Indonesia, though their killers are rarely prosecuted. The laws imply that 'witches' and 'sorcerers' themselves are to blame and should be jailed. The expected outcome of this unique study is new theoretical insights into local understandings of modernity. An additional outcome is that the project will also indicate a more effective use of Australian government aid.

Women in non-traditional employment:  Australia and Britain c.1840s-1980s

Lead investigator: Doctor Emma Robertson

Co-investigator: Professor Diane Kirkby

In the 1990s, sociologists argued that the majority of women worked in 'women's only' occupations, with Australia having the most sex-segregated workforce in the OECD. By studying women in non-traditional employment in both Australia and Britain, this project questions the nature of gendered divisions in the workplace and brings historical and sociological insight to contemporary issues of gender inequality.

The focus is on those women who worked on ships, construction sites, and in the military and police forces, challenging the orthodoxy that such labour is men's work. Studying women's engagement in, and experiences of, paid employment brings awareness of women's importance in driving change and pursuing social justice. The aim is to explain when, why and how changes to 'non-traditional labour' did or did not occur, in Australia and in Britain, and to examine what differences this made for women, for men, for work itself.

An investigation of violence against young women in the Bendigo area

Lead investigator: Professor Paula Baron (La Trobe Law School)


  • Paulina Billett (Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Arts Social Sciences and Commerce)
  • Jacqui Theobald (La Trobe Rural Health School, College of Science, Health and Engineering)
  • Robert Southgate (Law School, College of Arts Social Sciences and Commerce)
  • Karen Anderson (La Trobe Rural Health School, College of Science, Health and Engineering)
  • Leesa Hooker (La Trobe Rural Health School, College of Science, Health and Engineering)

This project aims to investigate young women's attitudes and experiences of violence in the Bendigo area. Currently, diverse studies show that young people are the most likely group to experience violence;  young women's experience of violence may be different to older women;  they may hold violence-supportive attitudes; and those living in regional areas may face a lack of advocacy, support and health services. Despite these particular and substantial challenges, there is a lack of specific investigation into young women's experiences of and attitudes to, violence, in regional areas. This project seeks to fill this gap. The research will be informed by a feminist framework and use focus groups and interviews with year 11 and 12 girls at Bendigo Senior Secondary College. This project seeks to investigate their experience of violence, their responses to it; whether they understand the dynamics behind violence against women; and to what extent they hold violence-supportive attitudes.

Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice: Legal Responses to 'Gay Conversion' Therapy

CI: Dr Timothy Jones (History; ASSC)

Additional CI Name(s): William Leonard (Public Health)

Ex-gay therapy is a counselling practise aimed at making lesbian and gay people straight, or at least repress expression of their homosexuality. It is usually offered by religious organisations, to religious clients, but is often run by private counsellors or trained mental health professionals. Emerging evidence suggests that ex-gay therapy causes considerable harm to lesbian and gay people, yet very little is known about its nature, prevalence, and potential harms in Australia. Recently, international jurisdictions have legislated against ex-gay therapies. But ex-gay counselling remains largely unregulated in Australia. In partnership with the Human Rights Law Centre this project will conduct pilot research into the history, prevalence and nature of ex-gay therapy in Australia, the effectiveness of international legislative and regulatory measures, and assess options for Australian legal reform. Findings will be published in a report with recommendations to inform Australian law reform and form the basis of further research collaboration.

Mapping the impact of sexual abuse and exploitation by interveners in peace operations

CI: Dr Jasmine-Kim Westendorf (ASSC)

Additional CI Name(s):

Beth Eggleston, Director, Humanitarian Advisory Group.

Louise Searle, Director, Humanitarian Advisory Group

In the past 15 years, despite the adoption of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, and the Secretary-General's Bulletin on Zero Tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by peacekeepers, abuse by interveners remains prevalent in peace operations. This project will be the first global study to investigate the impact of SEA by peacekeepers, aid workers, private contractors and other civilians associated with peacebuilding operations on the capacity of the international community to fulfil its goals related to promoting security, stability and peacebuilding in post-conflict contexts. It will also research SEA by interveners during emergency response operations, which has not yet been studied. The project will conduct pilot case studies in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Timor-Leste, and will generate new knowledge that has the potential to inform policy and legal reform processes and training programs both in Australia and globally. The project adopts a mixed method approach including focus groups, interviews, archival research and round-table discussions, and will produce both academic and policy-oriented outputs.

Recruiting and tracing participants via social media: feasibility and ethics

Lead Chief Investigator (CI): Dr Naomi Hackworth

School/College, affiliation: Judith Lumley Centre, School of Nursing & Midwifery, College of Science, Health & Engineering

Additional CI Name(s): Dr Sharinne Crawford

School/College, affiliation: Judith Lumley Centre, School of Nursing & Midwifery, College of Science, Health & Engineering

Additional CI Name(s): Professor Jan Nicholson

School/College, affiliation: Judith Lumley Centre, School of Nursing & Midwifery, College of Science, Health & Engineering

Additional CI Name(s): Professor Jayne Lucke

School/College, affiliation: Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, School of Psychology & Public Health,

This research sits within the Human Rights, Gender and Sexuality research cluster of the Transforming Human Societies Research Focus Area. One of the biggest threats to parenting and family intervention research is the difficulty of recruiting and retaining a sample that is representative and inclusive of families from a diverse range of contexts and backgrounds. Paradoxically, those families who are most in need of intervention are typically the ones least likely to be recruited into research or intervention studies (e.g., young, single, socio-economically disadvantaged families or those from non-English speaking backgrounds). Gender imbalance is also a major issue with fathers significantly under-represented. This research aims to explore the utility, feasibility and ethical appropriateness of using social media and other online tools as a means to ensure that research is inclusive of all families/parents.

The Age of Inquiry: A genealogy of inquiries into historical abuse

Lead Chief Investigator (CI):

Dr Katie Wright

School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Additional CIs Name(s):

Professor Shurlee Swain
Historicising Social Policy Research Program
Australian Catholic University

Associate Professor Johanna Sköld
Department of Thematic Studies - Child studies

Linköping University, Sweden

Dr Kathleen McPhillips

Humanities and Social Sciences
Newcastle University

Dr Fiona Davis
Historicising Social Policy Research Program
Australian Catholic University

Since the 1990s, across many countries, inquiries and truth commissions into various forms of historical abuse have proliferated. This has given rise to a new interdisciplinary field of scholarship, which seeks to elucidate complex questions in relation to the form, function and scope of inquiries and their potential to redress historical injustices and foster social transformation. However, despite a growing body of research, to date there exists no corpus of historical abuse inquiries globally and there remains limited delineation of the ways in which different types of inquiries may be classified. This project will make critical contributions to the fields of inquiry research and e-scholarship by (a) developing a typology and mapping the rise of historical abuse inquiries internationally; (b) producing a database and laying the foundation for a significant new online public knowledge resource; and (c) advancing theorisation of historical abuse inquiries in relation to local developments, transnational flows and international trends.