Eileen Pittaway

on Tuesday, 22 May 2012. Posted in Leadership Interviews, Interviews about the Glass Ceiling

Eileen Pittaway

Eileen Pittway is the Director of the Center for Refugee Research, University of New South Wales, where she is employed as a lecturer in the area of International Social Development. She has been actively involved in refugee issues and the women’s movement for over twenty years. Her major focus has been on the recognition of Rape in conflict situations as a war crime.  She is a member of Asian Women’s Human Rights Council, and co-chair of Asia Pacific Women’s Watch (APWW), the network of women’s Non Government Organsiations in the Asia Pacific Region. The major work of APWW is to monitor the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Beijing plus Five Outcomes document  in the Asia Pacific Region. She has a particular interest in  the relationship between the United Nations and civil society, in particular in Human Rights and their use by community groups at a local level.  She recently worked on the Asia Pacific refugee input into the  World Conference Against Racism and was co-opted to work on gender and caste documentation for the Asia Pacific region. 

She has worked in both direct service provision and social administration  in a range of community based organisations in Australia and overseas. She is an academic editor of The Australian Journal of Human Rights. She holds a Diploma in Social Welfare Work,  a Graduate Diploma in Education, a Graduate Diploma in Social Administration and Masters Degree in Business Administration. She has recently submitted her PhD in the area of Refugee Women’s Human Rights.

Interview with Eileen Pittaway

Do you think that there is an invisible barrier preventing women from reaching the highest level in your profession regardless of their accomplishments and merits?

I always find it hard to define my profession!!  As an academic, the answer is Yes, it is still very difficult for women to reach the highest positions in the University System.   

As a social policy analyst, there is still a bias against women in the field, and women who gain prominence tend to do so in "soft" policy areas.

International Lobbying is still very much  "boys game".  Over 80% of UN staff are men and very few of the women achieve senior status. If yes, why do you think this exists in your profession?

Same old reasons - those who have traditionally held power do not like to share it with new contenders - women.  So called "womens" research is often considered to be of less value and less academically rigorous than the positive models more often employed by male academics, and which dominate many of the faculties. "Feminist Research" and feminist policy analysis are looked down upon and often dismissed as "not real science".  It is much more difficult to get this type of work published than work using more traditional research methods. This is so pervasive that many women in the University system are afraid to use these methods in case their work is dismissed because of the methodology employed. This is despite long term failure of other methods to provide consistently verifiable data and effective solutions to problems addressed. 

Is this barrier in your profession penetrable? How can the barrier be dismantled in your profession?

Yes - I think that slowly but surely we are breaking down the barriers.  It just takes a lot of stamina, and we need a lot of younger women who are prepared to fight for their rights.  The cleverly manipulated "post-feminist" movement did erode some of the gains we had made, but fortunately there are still a lot of thinking young women out there, and sadly, many of those who dismissed feminism as redundant are now experiencing discrimination and are beginning to fight back.  It is a pity they had to learn the hard way.

Do you consider yourself to have broken through the Glass ceiling in your profession? If yes, how have you done this?

Yes and No.  In International lobbying, yes, but if I am honest this could be because I am working in the women's arena, where many men fear to tread.  At the University, I am the Director of a Research Centre and am holding my own in a competitive environment, so I guess that is a yes. People have finally stopped patting me on the head and telling me I will grow out of my idealism, (too much grey hair) and some actually listen to my ideas now, which is a real turn-around and makes me quite amused sometimes!! 

How did this happen?  Suffragette grandmother, strong mother, unionist grandparents, the opportunities available to a pommie migrant in Australia, pure bloody mindedness, hard work, 4 degrees, and a very strong commitment to what I do.  Great family behind me too, gin and tonic and a sense of humour. 

In general, what do you see as the underlying cause that must be addressed to shatter the glass ceiling in corporate and public Australia?

The old prescription - education, formal and informal and consciousness raising with young people both male and female.  Slow but sure change - the economy can not do without us and as the demographics of the world change it will matter less in the developed world whether one is male or female as long as one can add value to the economic system.  More equality will be one of the unintended consequences of the demands of a capitalist society and globalisation. Basically, the underlying cause that must be addressed is that dirty old fashioned word - patriarchy.  Women across the world have to be regarded as equal to, but not the same as, men and we have a long way to go to achieve that. We cannot claim equality in the developed world while our sisters in the developing world are subsidising our affluence with their inequality.