Safe Spaces for Women and Gender Diverse Individuals – MLS and Beyond

Photo courtesy of WAGDI, 2023

What are ‘safe spaces’ and why are they needed? 

What springs to mind when you read the words ‘safe spaces’? Where do you feel safest, and most able to express your authentic self?

Your background and life experience will likely determine where you feel safe, and how many safe spaces are available to you as you navigate life and move through the world. Women and gender diverse individuals are more likely than men to feel unsafe in public spaces, commonly feeling as though spaces are not designed with them in mind due to “gender biases in the distribution of power, resources and entitlements,” and engrained norms and values about gender roles in society. 

Creating physical, safe spaces for women and gender diverse individuals facilitates access to tailored services and information, and works to invite marginalised groups into areas they were once unable to access. That’s why in education, industry and social settings, creating safe spaces for women and gender diverse individuals in a society that has historically failed to do so is more important than ever. 

Safe spaces: The WAGDI Room at MLS

The WAGDI Team were so happy to announce in 2023 that the Law Students Society (LSS) ‘Women’s Portfolio’ has been re-named to the ‘Women and Gender Diverse Individuals (WAGDI) Portfolio.’ Whilst the ‘Women’s Portfolio’ was always dedicated to advocating for women and gender diverse individuals, our name didn’t reflect this intention.

To kick off our 2023 initiatives, we proudly opened the brand new ‘WAGDI Room’ on Level 5 of the Melbourne Law School (MLS). The WAGDI Room is a project that has been months in the making, and was made possible thanks to WAGDI Director Eliza’s consistent advocacy and the amazing support we’ve received from the LSS and MLS Faculty in response.

The WAGDI Room is the first ever dedicated safe space for women and gender diverse individuals at MLS. Feel free to visit the WAGDI Room whenever you need a safe space to laugh, cry, breathe or just relax.

Photo courtesy of WAGDI, 2023

WAGDI International Women’s Day Panel

A highlight of the year so far was our annual International Women’s Day (IWD) Panel, which celebrated women from diverse cultural backgrounds working across many fields in the legal world. 

This year’s theme was ‘Safe Spaces for Women and Gender Diverse Individuals’ and our panellists provided incredible insights into how we can create safe spaces and cultivate inclusive cultures, based on their personal and professional experiences.

Professional spaces have not always been open to women. Women still disproportionately take on the burden of domestic and emotional labour not only at home, but also at work. This exemplifies how workplaces are oftentimes not designed with women’s professional development in mind. The IWD Panel allowed us to hear from a range of female voices about their research areas and professional experiences. Platforming diverse voices is key to building safe and open workplaces for women and gender minorities.

Akuch Kuol Anyieth (Graduate Researcher in crime, justice and legal studies) and Lan Anh Hoang (Associate Professor in Development Studies) shared their insightful perspectives about diasporic communities’ interactions with western legal systems and societies.

Alyssa Duncan (Gender and Disaster Australia) discussed the complex positionalities of women and gender diverse individuals in communities responding to natural disasters, and Abbey Dalton (Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office) focused on how to increase the inclusion of disabled individuals in the legal profession.

Nancy Abdalla (Justitia Lawyers & Consultants) gave us an insight into how she found her niche as a woman in law. Stephanie Vejar (Women’s Legal Service Victoria) discussed her experience working in migration law, and how important it is to be sensitive and proactive when working with clients.

Mandatory sexual misconduct training at MLS

Different genders experience public spaces differently, especially when it comes to the safety afforded to them in public places. The lack of safety for women and gender-diverse individuals in public spaces leads to negative impacts on health and wellbeing, reducing their freedom of movement and “ability to participate in school, work and public life.”

One in three Australian women have experienced physical violence, and one in five women have experienced sexual violence, since fifteen years of age. Members of the LGBTIQ+ community are more likely to experience structural violence perpetrated against them.  

That’s why, in creating safe spaces for women and gender diverse individuals at MLS, the WAGDI Team are proud to have assisted with the rollout of mandatory Sexual Misconduct and Bystander Training for all LSS members in 2023. This will be an ongoing program, the aim of which is to proactively tackle the issue of sexual misconduct and ensure that MLS students have the necessary tools to respond to incidents of sexual harm or harassment. This is an important step in cultivating a safe and inclusive environment for all, and making it clear that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated.

These initiatives respond to tough realities, but we hope that the work of the WAGDI Portfolio incites optimism for all. Everyone deserves to feel as though they have space to freely express themselves and pursue their passion in the world. Upcoming WAGDI events include our Career Skills Workshop on the 20th of April, and our Women’s Networking Night on the 5th of May. Keep your eyes peeled for more info!!

You can find us on Instagram @lsswagdi and on Facebook via our discussion group called MULSS WAGDI Portfolio (Women and Gender Diverse Individuals).

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