Gains on equality can be lost, warns leading gender expert

3 September 2014

Professor Raewyn Connell
Professor Connell has been reflecting on over four decades of academic life.

Women are still almost wholly excluded from the top levels of corporate management, religion, technoscience and the military on a world scale, says gender relations expert Professor Raewyn Connell.

With the United Nations preparing to mark the 20th anniversary of its World Conference on Women next year - a landmark moment for women's rights and empowerment - Professor Connell has warned that not all change is one way and progress can be lost.

The University of Sydney academic, who delivers her retirement lecture at a Sydney Ideas event on Friday, has been reflecting on how gender issues have changed during her four decades as an academic.

"We have learnt how public policies can change gender inequalities, for example equal opportunity laws. We have understood that men are gendered beings, just as much as women are, though in different patterns; we have come to recognize the great diversity within the categories of men and women," said Professor Connell.

"We have seen the effectiveness of social movements. And, unfortunately, we have seen that change is not all one-way; gender hierarchies can be re-established, even worsened, under reactionary regimes," she said.

A transsexual woman and leading international sociologist, Professor Connell can count many achievements in her academic career. She is a founder of research on how masculinity is constructed and has written the most cited book in this field, Masculinities.

Over four decades her diverse research output has taken in education, sexuality and AIDS prevention, ways to reduce violence against women, and class dynamics. This contribution will be recognized and explored at a conference to be held by the Faculty of Education and Social Work on Saturday.

"I'm passionate about challenging social inequality - and that's a core issue in all areas of my research. My latest book is called Confronting Equality, first because it describes struggles for equality in several fields - education, gender relations, global knowledge systems - and second because equality is a confronting issue. Equal rights, resources and power are not easy to achieve," she said.

"Equality is about a way of living, it's in the gut - it's not just about having the right to vote for Tweedledum or Tweedledee once every few years."

Event details

What: Sydney Ideas: Professor Raewyn Connell's retirement lecture
Where: The Great Hall, The Quadrangle, University of Sydney
When: Friday, September 5, 5.00pm - 6.00pm
Cost: Free (online registration required)

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