Angela Sidoti

Role: Course Authority at UNSW Centre for Social Impact
Active in Country: Australia
DTP Alumna: 2007 Indigenous Peoples Program - Australia

I work in Sydney at the Centre for Social Impact as Course Authority for the face-to-face course Creating Social Change. This involves lecturing, designing teaching materials, day-to-day course admin, and of course, time in the classroom teaching students with an interest and passion for change from a range of disciplines. I feel lucky teaching this course and a big sense of responsibility in helping to make it as engaging as possible for students.

 

Complex social issues involve many rights issues - we look at a variety of these within the course and our students have shared a diverse range of interests in projects looking at FGM, workplace safety and exploitation, slavery, gender equality, depression and mental health, refugee settlement, remote access to education, the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in incarceration, youth suicide, affordable housing, access issues for people with disabilities, recidivism... I could go on!

 

The Sustainable Development Goals are a big focus and something which makes me feel personally hopeful. They really highlight the fact that the rights that these goals reflect need to be supported in all countries and that action needs to be taken for progress within both developing and developed economies.

 

In an Australian context in my personal view, a more transparent public discussion on what can be 'afforded' in relation to work to uphold human rights is needed. And more education on what those rights are too. Human Rights frameworks help give legitimacy and lend a global lens to issues many of us may not realise are in fact issues of human rights. So many issues relating to Indigenous, refugees, gender, health, education etc, are issues of human rights - I wonder how many Australians realise this.

 

Sometimes I think issues are framed as being in competition with one another or with other interests, when they needn't be. When any government says, for example, 'we can or can't afford X' we need to unpack that rigorously. In simple terms, budgeting is a process of prioritising needs and allocating resources. Better transparency of this process would allow citizens and leaders to engage in richer and more genuine debates framed not by what is 'impossible' for society, but rather, what is possible and what we might choose to prioritise.

 

In addition, we need an open discussion (and education) about a bill of rights - something which shockingly, we still do not have in Australia. I think that was one thing I remember being really surprised at during the DTP course. I mean, why don't we? And whose rights could be better protected if we had one?

 

On an individual level, I also think that ignorance is a major barrier. I do think or hope that given the chance most of us would choose to lift others up, to share, but I think we are sometimes ignorant about the lives of others or our power to help improve them. To deliberately resist insularity is important. The practice of genuine empathy allows us to understand and become naturally more invested in ALL human rights, not just those which impact us personally. The more we get out of our little worlds the more understanding we have, the more connection we recognise. If we have power, we have a responsibility to not only use it thoughtfully, but to share it with others.

 

I don't really know how I first became interested in human rights - I was quite aware of social injustice as a kid. I would get a physical reaction to it. We learned a lot about social justice at school, which I'm grateful for - things like apartheid in South Africa and the Northern Ireland conflict (I wish we had learned more about Indigenous Australia). Those stories had a profound impact. There were a lot of things which didn't make sense to me as a child. I think those points of confusion transformed themselves in my understanding, as issues of rights.

 

I was very involved at university in trying to address bastardisation or hazing in residential colleges. I observed what could only be called an exclusionary, racist and sexist culture. I ended up becoming the Women's Officer and worked to promote sexual safety. I was also involved in promoting mental health services for men at the colleges. It was a very unsafe place for women. In the end I wrote an honours thesis on the culture there - I suppose I was exorcising the demons! There was very strong resistance to change at that time. I have always had a passion for women's rights and have since been involved with a domestic violence service. This issue is just horrendous.

 

I attended a DTP course on Indigenous Peoples Human Rights and Advocacy in Darwin. The participants and educators were absolutely incredible. I attended as a member of an Indigenous-led cultural heritage group in western NSW where I was living at the time. The group's leaders had a wonderful vision for an inclusive space which would engage young people in cultural heritage activities on a site with community significance.

 

What I remember most from the course apart from the amazing people I met was a session in which Indigenous people's self-determination was explored. For me it didn't just expose the ways in which Indigenous people's causes and culture can be hijacked by other interest groups, it gave great strategy insight - demonstrating how campaigns led by Indigenous people needed to work to keep Indigenous people at the centre and engage allies carefully and strategically. That was what stuck with me.

 

I think it is easy sometimes for people in places like Australia to look 'over there' at other places and identify injustice and human rights abuses but to be truly engaged in social justice and human rights I think it's important that we are able to identify it where for us it might be most normalised - in our own communities and institutions, our own culture and community. That's a good foundation for any career in social justice / human rights. Let's hope that a locally and globally focussed sense of social justice and human rights will become 'business as usual' in more and more places and institutions!

 

 

Profile written in April 2021.