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Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

Innovative scholarship for researchers helps alleviate unpaid caring

Oct 10, 2023 | Family, Mothering, Rural and regional, Childcare, caring, Gender, Alcohol and drugs, Parenting, Domestic Load, Work, STEM, Career, Feature

Written by Ginger Gorman

Grassroots social enterprise, Franklin Women has awarded six health researchers funding to alleviate barriers associated with unpaid caring responsibilities so they can take advantage of career opportunities. BroadAgenda editor Ginger Gorman was so taken with this innovative gender equality initiative, that she had a chat with one of the recipients – Dr Claire Wilkinson who is based at UNSW.

Congratulations on being awarded a Franklin women innovation carer’s scholarship. Let’s start with your research. If you were sitting next to someone at a dinner party, how would you explain who you are and what your work and research is about (in a nutshell)?

Thank you! I’d say: What should governments do about alcohol and drugs? They are leading causes of death, ill-health and social problems globally. A key policy challenge for governments in this area is balancing regulatory restrictions, social benefits, and civil liberties. My research is about improving government approaches to alcohol and drugs. I do this, through a program of research that examining what works, in what ways, for whom and where?

What are you currently working on that’s making you excited or that has legs?

A current strand of research I am working on is better understanding a non-for-profit model of alcohol or cannabis retail. Over the last five years or so I’ve been collecting news reports of communities in rural and regional Australian towns who are purchasing and then running their local pub. These pubs are run as a non-for-profit entity with any surplus funds directed back into supporting the local community.

The communities are primarily buying their pub to reinvigorate their communities and keep an important community social space, the pub, open. However, its interesting to know whether the community ownership may have an impact on the drinking culture or ways alcohol is used. Historically, community ownership of pubs were established in parts of Australia in the temperance era as a middle path between alcohol prohibition on the one hand and private sale on the other.

And, uniquely to Australia, since the 1970s indigenous communities have been permitted to set up social enterprises buying into licensed premises as a means to foster moderate drinking and reduce harms. In the drug field, political parties in a number of European countries are proposing Cannabis be legalised and made available through a non-for-profit business model.

Across both alcohol and cannabis, a non-for-profit model is put forward as a promising alternative to a commercial/capitalist enterprise which may focus on commercial gains at the expense of community health and wellbeing. Yet, a non-for-profit model of alcohol or cannabis retail is not well conceptualised and evidence regarding how they work is very limited.

I’m going to look more closely and how non-for-profit hotels in regional and rural Australia work and what potential they have for informing debates around regulation of cannabis.

Picture at top: Dr Claire Wilkinson, one of the winners of the Franklin Women 2023 Scholarship. Picture: Sydney Local Health District. 

Dr Claire Wilkinson, one of the six winners of the Franklin Women 2023 Scholarship. Picture: Sydney Local Health District.

Let’s wind back the clock a bit. Why did you go into this field?  What was compelling about it? 

2007, 16 years ago. It (alcohol policy) was my first full-time serious job after university. I didn’t know of ‘the alcohol policy field’, I didn’t know people researched how alcohol was regulation and made available in society. I had done a double-degree including a major in psychology. From that I had been aware of individual medical problems from alcohol use – we had done some work on Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (associated with chronic alcohol use) for example.

I was looking for work in health research as I enjoyed research – the opportunity to delve deeply into one topic – and wanted to work in health. A professor had moved from Sweden to Melbourne the year before and established an alcohol policy centre as there was a lot of public concern at the time about alcohol-related violence. The centre was advertising for a research assistant and I went for the job and was lucky enough to get it. I remember with my job application I submitted a final year assignment I had done on housing policy in China – although nothing to do with health or alcohol it was a demonstration of my writing and research, and I think the panel got to learn something new in preparing for my interview!

What impact do you hope your work has? 

I hope my works makes for better government policy – one that improves lives. Alcohol and drug use are really prevalent. Small changes in policy can have big impacts.

I’d like to think that my work shapes policies and practice in ways that mean there is less harm associated with the use of drugs and alcohol. I’d also like to think that in regulating these substances, my work avoid stigmatising their use.

Do you view yourself as feminist researcher? Why? Why not? What does the word mean to you in the context of your own values and also your work?

Yes, because I’m aware of the gendering processes that have historically shaped society including research and higher education establishments.  It means I believe in equality between the sexes and the value of work that seeks to make explicit and address gendering processes.

This is quite an unusual scholarship because it recognises – and seeks to overcome – the huge caring burden placed on women and the impact that has on their ability to achieve at work. Why did you apply? How will the scholarship positively impact you?  Ginger’s side note to Claire (left in this text deliberately for context): I’m currently a single mum with four jobs trying to write a book…so I’m very much feeling this issue RIGHT NOW.

Another single mum here! 😊

Isn’t it a great scholarship?! I had never heard of one like this – where the practical challenges of caring are explicitly a direction scholarship funds can be used towards!

Things like meal services and childcare or mentorship and coaching. I applied to get some extra relief. Specifically I applied to support extra days at childcare so that I could develop a grant proposal for future research.

Childcare is a big part of my child support village. I am a solo parent with parents living interstate. I love my son’s childcare. The funds are giving me the equivalent of three weeks full time care which I’m using to do all the work associated with sharpening up my grant application (on non-for profit alcohol and other drug regulation) for submission in November.

What have you discovered in your work that has most surprised or enchanted you? 

Just all the ways alcohol is enmeshed in society and the differences and similarities across countries continues to enchant me.  Its also good to have assumptions challenged – I remember trying to purchase what I thought was a large bottle of water in a town on the outskirts of Sochi, Russia nearly ten years ago. The store owner in this little town would not sell it to me, explaining through my little Russian and her little English that it was actually Vodka and could not be purchased before 10 am.

I was bemused all day that responsible service of alcohol was being enforced in that setting and then curious as to my own assumptions that it would not have been!

Is there anything else you want to say? 

Alcohol and drug policy is a fascinating field of research with lots of lovely and non-egotistical researchers with a lot of opportunity for cross-cultural collaborations and learnings!

  • Picture at top: Dr Claire Wilkinson, one of the winners of the Franklin Women 2023 Scholarship. Picture: Sydney Local Health District.

 

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Ginger Gorman is a fearless and multi award-winning social justice journalist and feminist. Ginger’s bestselling book, Troll Hunting, came out in 2019. Since then, she’s been in demand both nationally and globally as an expert on cyberhate and the real-life harm predator trolling can do. She's also the editor of BroadAgenda and gender editor at HerCanberra. Ginger hosts the popular "Seriously Social" podcast for the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. Follow her on Twitter.

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