What is Barnaby Joyce’s ‘women’ problem? And why does it matter?


Narelle Miragliotta, Monash UniversityThere has been a mixed reaction to Barnaby Joyce’s return to leader of the federal National Party and deputy prime minister. Even some within his own party have expressed concern at his return to centre stage.

There are multiple reasons why Joyce’s restoration has failed to garner greater enthusiasm.

One concern relates to the optics of a leadership change. These events are rarely well received by the public and often lead to in-fighting and instability. They also tend to further strain public trust in the political class, particularly when the politicians involved have issued full-throated denials that a spill is imminent.

A second reason is linked to Joyce’s populist leadership style and more strident policy rhetoric on coal and climate change. Here the concern is that Joyce’s presence will exacerbate tensions within the party room, and also scramble relations with its coalition partner, the Liberals.

The third reason is the circumstances that occasioned Joyce’s resignation from the National’s leadership in 2018.

Joyce stood down voluntarily owing to a credible, but unresolved, sexual harassment allegation (which Joyce denies), and over serious concerns about the propriety of his conduct with his now partner but then staffer, Vikki Campion.




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The male culture of politics

Joyce’s (re)ascension signals that the Nationals are somewhat inured to growing public concerns over the unhealthy gender dynamics in parliament, even when the voices raising these uncomfortable truths are from within the party.

One of the most strikingly apparent and longstanding gender inequities in politics is the under-representation of women in Australian parliaments. Despite Australia’s strong democratic credentials, it remains one of the great laggards on achieving gender parity in parliament.

In recent decades, the problem has been especially pronounced among parties of the mainstream political right. They have consistently rejected the implementation of pre-selection quotas in favour of training programs targeted at aspiring women candidates. Although these programs can be of some help, research shows they are a less effective way of redressing under-representation.

The effects of the reliance on so-called merit-based pre-selection is especially striking in relation to the Nationals. Its record on electing women to Australian parliaments is particularly poor, a situation that academic Marian Sawer – three decades ago – attributed to the greater persistence of “sex-role conservatism” in rural Australia. Sawer proposed that the National Country Party (as the Nationals was known then) reflected this conservatism.

Data compiled by Anna Hough from the Australian Parliamentary Library shows the extent to which the party’s conservatism continues to reveal itself with the under-representation of women in Australian lower houses.

Federally, only 13% of Nationals in the House of Representatives are women. This compares to 22% for the Liberals and 43% for ALP.

A similar pattern is apparent in the states where the Nationals have a legislative presence.

In the NSW lower house, only 16.7% of the party’s contingent are women, which is much lower than for the Liberals (32%) and Labor (45.5%).

In Western Australia, while the Nationals are led by a woman (Mia Davies), she is the sole National woman in the Western Australian parliament.

In Victoria, 33% of the party’s number in the Legislative Assembly are women, and it also selected a female deputy leader (Steph Ryan).

The situation in Queensland (LNP) and the Northern Territory (CLP) is complicated because these parties are affiliated to the National and Liberal parties and not strictly divisions of the Nationals. Nevertheless, both the LNP and CLP are kindred National parties.

In the case of the LNP, only 18% of its members in the Legislative Assembly are women, compared to 40% in Labor.

The situation for the CLP is healthier but is still not a record to be admired. While the CLP’s parliamentary party is led by a woman (Lia Finocchiaro), only 38% of its MPs are female.

As Jennifer Curtin and Katrine Beauregard note, women have been “active as ordinary and executive members of the party”. Notwithstanding this achievement, low levels of women in party rooms, and in lower houses particularly – which are practically and symbolically important as the chamber of government – does seriously limit the diversity of perspectives that are represented in policy and law making.




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Barnaby Joyce’s return, and John Anderson’s loss, is symbolic of a political culture gone awry


Why Joyce’s return makes this situation worse

Joyce has not done much to instil confidence that he has learned anything in his years returned to the backbench.

While acknowledging his faults and remarking that he “hopes” he has “come back a better person”, it is not clear what new insights Joyce gained about the events that caused him to resign, especially given he has no appetite to “dwell on the personal”.

His lack of introspection is perhaps not surprising given how he managed the situation in 2018.

At the time, Joyce was quick to declare that none of the “litany of allegations” levelled against him had been “sustained”. He emphasised that he was stepping aside for the “person in the weatherboard and iron”, and not because it was warranted by his conduct.

The Nationals have calculated they will not pay much of an electoral price for their decision to return him as leader. As the federal president of the National Party, Kay Hull, reasoned:

“[s]ome women may be disappointed but […] the only women that will be voting or not voting for Barnaby Joyce will be the women of New England.

Hull may be right, but there are potentially other costs associated with the party’s actions.

As the smaller party in the coalition, the Nationals have not had to defend their record on gender in the same way as their Liberal counterpart. Joyce’s return will make it increasingly difficult for the Nationals to fly under the radar on this issue. At least, let’s hope that it does.The Conversation

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Research now backs routinely offering pregnant women the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine


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Michelle Wise, University of AucklandNew Zealand and Australia will now routinely offer the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to women at any stage of pregnancy, following an update of vaccination advice.

This comes as research suggests the risk of severe outcomes from infection is significantly higher for pregnant women compared to the general population. At the same time, data from pregnant women who have already been vaccinated around the world have shown no safety concerns associated with COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccination during pregnancy may also protect the baby. Research has identified antibodies in cord blood and breast milk, suggesting temporary protection (passive immunity) for babies before and after birth.

This is similar to influenza and whooping cough vaccines given during pregnancy to protect pēpi. There are no safety concerns for breastfeeding women receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, and women trying to become pregnant do not need to delay vaccination or avoid becoming pregnant after vaccination.

Prioritising pregnant women

When the New Zealand government announced its vaccine rollout plan in March, pregnant women were designated as a priority in the third group, which includes 1.7 million people who are at higher risk if they catch COVID-19.

This decision reflected the available information at the time from international research showing pregnant women with COVID-19 were more likely to be hospitalised and admitted to intensive care, compared to the rest of the population.

Breastfeeding baby
Vaccinating women during pregnancy is likely to provide temporary protection for babies as well.
Shutterstock/Natalia Deriabina



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The higher risk of hospitalisation is similar to other priority populations, including people aged 65 and over, and those with underlying health conditions or disabilities. People in these groups are also more likely to get very sick if they get COVID-19.

New Zealand’s decision was part of a principled strategy that aims to provide fair and equitable care based on scientific evidence, acknowledging research that places pregnant women in a high-risk group if they were to be infected.

Changing advice to pregnant women

Initial advice from the Immunisation Advisory Centre was that women could receive the vaccine at any time during pregnancy, but for those at low risk of exposure, they recommended delaying vaccination until after birth.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) published similar early advice, stating that women could choose to have the vaccine at any stage of pregnancy, particularly if they were in a high-risk population. But they did not recommend routine universal vaccination if levels of community transmission were low.

So what has changed since March? It became urgent to review the early advice as local vaccination centres have started vaccinating people in the third group of the rollout. Also, travel bubbles with Australia and the Cook Islands meant people were possibly more exposed to transmission.

The early advice in New Zealand and Australia was also diverging from other countries, such as Canada. And more research is coming out about the risks of COVID-19 infection in pregnancy, while international experience with mRNA-based vaccines (such as Pfizer-BioNTech) in pregnant women is growing.




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Pregnant women were not included in the original clinical trials to test COVID-19 vaccines for safety. But there is no evidence of any harm associated with the vaccine during pregnancy.

Vaccine trials in the US are now actively recruiting pregnant women. We can expect research results by the end of this year. In the meantime, we can be reassured by registries, which are studies that track women who have had the vaccine during pregnancy and have given consent to have information collected about them and their babies.

Researchers in the US found women who received the vaccine during pregnancy had outcomes similar to background rates for the mother (regarding rates of miscarriage, diabetes, high blood pressure) and the baby.

Side effects from receiving the vaccine were also the same in pregnant and non-pregnant women, and it is safe to take paracetamol as needed to manage these.

Other countries, including the UK, have published decision aids to help with this important decision. I encourage professional groups to create one for New Zealand women planning or going through pregnancy.

Research supports routinely offering the vaccine to pregnant women, and it is up to individuals to decide whether to receive it or not, as part of a shared decision-making process with their midwife or doctor.The Conversation

Michelle Wise, Senior Lecturer, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Auckland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What is drink spiking? How can you know if it’s happened to you, and how can it be prevented?


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Nicole Lee, Curtin University and Jarryd Bartle, RMIT UniversityRecent media reports suggest drink spiking at pubs and clubs may be on the rise.

“Drink spiking” is when someone puts alcohol or other drugs into another person’s drink without their knowledge.

It can include:

  • putting alcohol into a non-alcoholic drink
  • adding extra alcohol to an alcoholic drink
  • slipping prescription or illegal drugs into an alcoholic or non-alcholic drink.

Alcohol is actually the drug most commonly used in drink spiking.

The use of other drugs, such as benzodiazepines (like Rohypnol), GHB or ketamine is relatively rare.

These drugs are colourless and odourless so they are less easily detected. They cause drowsiness, and can cause “blackouts” and memory loss at high doses.

Perpetrators may spike victims’ drinks to commit sexual assault. But according to the data, the most common type of drink spiking is to “prank” someone or some other non-criminal motive.

So how can you know if your drink has been spiked, and as a society, how can we prevent it?




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How often does it happen?

We don’t have very good data on how often drink spiking occurs. It’s often not reported to police because victims can’t remember what has happened.

If a perpetrator sexually assaults someone after spiking their drink, there are many complex reasons why victims may not want to report to police.




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One study, published in 2004, estimated there were about 3,000 to 4,000 suspected drink spiking incidents a year in Australia. It estimated less than 15% of incidents were reported to police.

It found four out of five victims were women. About half were under 24 years old and around one-third aged 25-34. Two-thirds of the suspected incidents occurred in licensed venues like pubs and clubs.

According to an Australian study from 2006, around 3% of adult sexual assault cases occurred after perpetrators intentionally drugged victims outside of their knowledge.

It’s crucial to note that sexual assault is a moral and legal violation, whether or not the victim was intoxicated and whether or not the victim became intoxicated voluntarily.

How can you know if it’s happened to you?

Some of the warning signs your drink might have been spiked include:

  • feeling lightheaded, or like you might faint
  • feeling quite sick or very tired
  • feeling drunk despite only having a very small amount of alcohol
  • passing out
  • feeling uncomfortable and confused when you wake up, with blanks in your memory about what happened the previous night.

If you think your drink has been spiked, you should ask someone you trust to get you to a safe place, or talk to venue staff or security if you’re at a licensed venue. If you feel very unwell you should seek medical attention.

If you believe your drink has been spiked or you have been sexually assaulted, seeking prompt medical attention can assist in subsequent criminal prosecution. Medical staff can perform a blood test for traces of drugs in your system.

How can drink spiking be prevented?

Most drink spiking occurs at licensed venues like pubs and clubs. Licensees and people who serve alcohol have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for patrons, and have an important role to play in preventing drink spiking.

This includes having clear procedures in place to ensure staff understand the signs of drink spiking, including with alcohol.

Preventing drink spiking is a collective responsibility, not something to be shouldered by potential victims.

Licensees can take responsible steps including:

  • removing unattended glasses
  • reporting suspicious behaviour
  • declining customer requests to add extra alcohol to a person’s drink
  • supplying water taps instead of large water jugs
  • promoting responsible consumption of alcohol, including discouraging rapid drinking
  • being aware of “red flag” drink requests, such as repeated shots, or double or triple shots, or adding vodka to beer or wine.
Bartender pouring drinks
Bartenders should be wary of ‘red flag’ drinks requests like people asking for double or triple shots.
Shutterstock

A few simple precautions everyone can take to reduce the risk of drink spiking include:

  • have your drink close to you, keep an eye on it and don’t leave it unattended
  • avoid sharing beverages with other people
  • purchase or pour your drinks yourself
  • if you’re offered a drink by someone you don’t know well, go to the bar with them and watch the bartender pour your drink
  • if you think your drink tastes weird, pour it out
  • keep an eye on your friends and their beverages too.

What are the consequences for drink spiking in Australia?

It’s a criminal offence to spike someone’s drink with alcohol or other drugs without their consent in all states and territories.

In some jurisdictions, there are specific drink and food spiking laws. For example, in Victoria, the punishment is up to two years imprisonment.

In other jurisdictions, such as Tasmania, drink spiking comes under broader offences such as “administering any poison or other noxious thing with intent to injure or annoy”.

Spiking someone’s drink with an intent to commit a serious criminal offence, such as sexual assault, usually comes with very severe penalties. For example, this carries a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment in Queensland.

There are some ambiguities in the criminal law. For example, some laws aren’t clear about whether drink spiking with alcohol is an offence.

However, in all states and territories, if someone is substantially intoxicated with alcohol or other drugs it’s good evidence they aren’t able to give consent to sex. Sex with a substantially intoxicated person who’s unable to consent may constitute rape or another sexual assault offence.


Getting help

In an emergency, call triple zero (000) or the nearest police station.

For information about sexual assault, or for counselling or referral, call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

If you’ve been a victim of drink spiking and want to talk to someone, the following confidential services can help:

– Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

– Kids Helpline (5-25 year olds): 1800 55 1800

– National Alcohol and other Drug Hotline: 1800 250 015.The Conversation

Nicole Lee, Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne), Curtin University and Jarryd Bartle, Sessional Lecturer, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Budget splashes cash, with $17.7 billion for aged care and a pitch to women


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Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe Morrison government has brought down a big-spending, expansionary budget that forecasts Australia’s unemployment rate will fall to 4.75% in two years time.

But Australia’s international borders won’t be properly open for at least a year, according to the budget’s assumptions.

“Australia is coming back,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told parliament on Tuesday night.

“Employment is at a record high, with 75,000 more Australians in jobs than before the pandemic.

“This budget will help to create more than 250,000 jobs by the end of 2022-23,” Frydenberg said.

“This budget secures the recovery and sets Australia up for the future.”




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The deficit for next financial year is expected to be A$106.6 billion, with cumulative deficits of $342.4 billion over the forward estimates.

As the government continues to spend to underpin the recovery, net debt will increase to 30% of GDP at the end of June, before peaking at 40.9% at June 30, 2025.

Aged care centrepiece

The centrepiece of Frydenberg’s third budget – which had been largely pre-announced by the government – is a $17.7 billion aged care package, spent over five years and including 80,000 extra home care packages.

Frydenberg said this would make a total of 275,000 packages available. The present waiting list is 100,000.

The aged care package is designed as long term structural reform after the royal commission found the system in a parlous state and needing a comprehensive overhaul.

“We will increase the time nurses and carers are required to spend with their patients,” Frydenberg said.

“We will make an additional payment of $10 per resident per day to enhance the viability and sustainability of the residential aged care sector.

“We will support over 33,000 new training places for personal carers, and a new Indigenous workforce.

“We will increase access for respite services for carers.

“We will strengthen the regulatory regime to monitor to monitor and enforce standards of care.”

In other major initiatives, there is $2.3 billion for mental health, while the earlier-announced adjustment to the JobSeeker rate will cost nearly $9.5 billion over the budget period.

Tax cuts and a focus on women

Some 10.2 million low and middle income earners will benefit from the extension of the tax offset for another year, at a cost of $7.8 billion.

As Morrison seeks to repair his image with women, there is a range of measures on women’s safety, economic security, health and wellbeing totalling $3.4 billion.

This includes $1.7 billion for changes to child care, $351.6 million for women’s health, and $1.1 billion for women’s safety.

There will be another $1.9 billion for the rollout of COVID vaccines.

Quizzed at his news conference on the future of Australia’s closed border, Frydenberg hedged his bets. “When it comes to international borders, it’s an imprecise business.”

The budget papers assume a gradual return of temporary and permanent migrants from mid-2022, and small arrivals of international students, starting late this year and increasing from next year.

“The rate of international arrivals will continue to be constrained by state and territory quarantine caps over 2021 and the first half of 2022, with the exception of passengers from Safe Travel Zones.

“Inbound and outbound international travel is expected to remain low through to mid-2022, after which a gradual recovery in international tourism is assumed to occur,” the papers say.




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The budget is heavy on continued help for business, with more than $20 billion extra in support.

With the country facing a skill shortage and skilled workers not able to enter, Frydenberg said the government would create more than 170,000 new apprenticeships at a cost of $2.7 billion.

“We will help more women break into non-traditional trades, with training support for 5,000 places,” he said

There will be 2,700 places in Indigenous girls academies to help them finish school and enter the workforce.

More STEM scholarships will be provided for women.

Another 5,000 places are being made available in higher education short courses.

Housing and support for retirees

The budget’s housing package includes another 10,000 places under the New Home Guarantee for first home buyers who build or buy a newly-built home. It will also increase the amount that can be released under the First Home Super Saver Scheme.

From July 1, 10,000 guarantees will be provided over four years to single parents with dependants to build or buy a home with a deposit as low as 2%.

Retirees will benefit from a measure to encourage them to downsize.

Older people will no longer have to meet a work test before they can make voluntary contributions to superannuation. People aged over 60 will be able to contribute up to $300,000 into their superannuation if they downsize.

Given the housing shortage, this is aimed at freeing up more housing for younger people.

The government will also enhance the Pension Loan Scheme by providing immediate access to lump sums of $12,000 for single people and $18,000 for couples.

Although modest, one measure that will help women, who retire on average with much less superannuation than men, is that the government will remove the $450-a-month minimum income threshold for the superannuation guarantee.

Frydenberg said the government was committing another $15 billion over a decade to infrastructure, including roads, airports and light rail.

There is also $1.2 billion for multiple measures to promote the digital economy.

Labor says it’s ‘just more of the same’

The opposition was dismissive. Anthony Albanese said, “Australians have endured eight long years of flat wages, insecure work and skyrocketing cost of living under the Liberals and Nationals – and this budget does nothing to change that.

“It’s just more of the same from a tired old government.”

The Business Council of Australia welcomed the budget, saying it “strikes a prudent balance between growth and fiscal discipline by making sensible investments in the levers of growth”.

But the ACTU said while the Coalition’s rejection of austerity was welcome, “the government has failed to use the spending in this budget to tackle the underlying problems of low wages and insecure jobs”.

Instead, it was “handing billions of dollars to business including in the critical areas of aged care, mental health and vocational training, with little accountability or strings attached”.

The Australian Aged Care Collaboration, which represents more than 1,000 providers, congratulated the government on agreeing to implement most of the royal commission’s 148 recommendations.

AACC representative Patricia Sparrow said “after 20 government reviews in 20 years, this budget, and the government’s response to the royal commission’s recommendations, finally addressed many of the challenges facing aged care”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Could the COVID vaccines affect your period? We don’t know yet — but there’s no cause for concern


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Michelle Wise, University of AucklandOver recent weeks, news reports have indicated some women are experiencing irregularities in their menstrual cycles after receiving a COVID vaccine.

This has included periods arriving early and being heavier than usual, or being absent or late, among other changes.

At this stage, there’s no research evidence to support these anecdotal reports. But it is plausible there might be a link, and it’s worth researching further.




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Clinical trials didn’t measure this

In the original trials of the COVID vaccines, the researchers looked for whether the vaccine was effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, comparing it to a placebo injection.

They also looked for any serious complications, such as allergic reactions, and side effects sometimes associated with vaccination, like fever.

But the original studies didn’t report on any changes to menstrual cycles, such as if periods would come early or late, if they would be heavier or lighter, or if they would be more or less painful. This is not particularly surprising — clinical trials don’t commonly measure this outcome.

Unfortunately, without any data, we can’t provide public health information on this potential side effect. So women of reproductive age don’t know what to expect. And if they do notice their next period is different from usual, they can understandably become worried.

A female health-care worker applies a bandaid to a woman's arm.
Reports from around the world have suggested some women are experiencing changes to their periods after the COVID vaccine.
CDC/Unsplash

It is possible

In theory, a vaccine could affect a woman’s period. A vaccine is meant to induce an immune response in the body, and this immune response could have an impact on the menstrual cycle.

The menstrual cycle is primarily under the control of a complex interplay of hormones released by the brain and acting on the ovaries and in turn, on the uterus.

In the first half of the cycle, which is dependent on the female sex hormone oestrogen, the endometrial lining is starting to build up in the uterus and the follicles (eggs and their surrounding tissue) are maturing in the ovary.

In the middle of the cycle, a surge in a hormone called luteinising hormone acts on the ovary to release an oocyte (egg) from the most mature of the follicles, or ovulation.




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In the second half of the cycle, which is dependent on another sex hormone called progesterone, the endometrial lining thickens significantly in preparation for a fertilised egg to implant. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, then progesterone falls quickly, leading to a shedding of the lining of the uterus, or menstruation.

The cycle is also mediated in part by the immune system. For example, certain immune cells, such as macrophages, mast cells and neutrophils, are found in the endometrial lining, and involved in the shedding of the lining of the uterus during the menstrual cycle, and rebuilding it for the next cycle.

So it’s possible receiving a vaccine and having the expected immune response could affect the complex interplay between immune cells and signals in the uterus, and lead to the next period being heavier, more painful or longer.

We need studies to explore this

A researcher in Illinois is asking volunteers to participate in an online survey about their experiences with menstruation after receiving a COVID vaccine.

This may help figure out how many women are observing menstrual irregularities after the vaccine. But one problem is there’s no comparison group — namely women who didn’t receive the vaccine.

Further, the data being collected are retrospective, which are limited by recall bias. If you believe menstrual issues are related to the vaccine, you may be more inclined to remember that after the vaccine you had several months ago, you did have a heavier period.

A better way to study this would be to enrol women of reproductive age into a study in advance, get them to track three months of cycles, then give them the vaccine or a placebo injection, and get them to track the following three months.

A young woman hunched over, apparently having stomach pains.
There’s no data to support a link between the COVID vaccines and irregular periods — but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.
Shutterstock

There are many reasons your period might be irregular

Anything that impacts hormones or your immune system, such as stress, diet, exercise, sleep or illness, could impact your cycle.

In this regard, the vaccine could possibly affect your cycle indirectly too. Some women may be stressed about getting the vaccine, while others will feel relieved at being vaccinated.

The good news is that if you experience disruptions to only one cycle — whatever the reason — there’s likely no need to be concerned. If irregular, painful or heavy periods persist for more than three months, then speak to your doctor.




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We’re gathering data on COVID vaccine side effects in real time. Here’s what you can expect


This is no reason not to get the vaccine

The focus on this issue in the media is a good way to start a public discussion about menstruation. And emerging research is an important means to get more information about what women of reproductive age can expect after the vaccine.

But anecdotal reports of some menstrual irregularities is not a reason to avoid getting the vaccine. Getting infected with COVID-19 is much more likely to interfere with your health, including your menstrual health.

There’s certainly no scientific basis to reports some women have experienced changes to their periods from simply being around people who have been vaccinated.

If you’re eligible to receive a vaccine, then do so. And if you do have a heavier period next month, think of it like a temporary side effect, and try not to worry.The Conversation

Michelle Wise, Senior Lecturer, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Auckland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

COVID vaccine may lead to a harmless lump in your armpit, so women advised to delay mammograms for 6 weeks


from www.shutterstock.com

Rik Thompson, Queensland University of Technology and Thomas Lloyd, Queensland University of TechnologyAustralian women are being asked to think about the timing of breast cancer screening as they prepare to receive their COVID vaccine.

This is in light of US evidence that a normal consequence of COVID vaccination, temporary swelling of the lymph nodes in the armpit, may interfere with how doctors interpret mammograms.

So women have been advised to either have a mammogram first, or delay it until six weeks after vaccination, to avoid any confusion.

This advice is particularly relevant now we are preparing to vaccinate the over-50s, the key target age for routine breast cancer screening under Australia’s BreastScreen program.

What’s all this about lumps?

When people have vaccines in their upper arm, it’s normal for the lymph nodes in the armpit on that side of the body to be activated and swell. It’s your body preparing a protective immune response.

After their COVID shot, some people develop more severe swelling in the armpit than others. While estimates vary, only about one in ten people vaccinated can feel a lump there, and it’s not always painful.

It’s important to stress these lumps are not breast cancer, and are not harmful. They also disappear within one or two weeks of vaccination.




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Explainer: how does the immune system work?


However, a swollen lymph node can affect imaging such as breast cancer screening by mammography or ultrasound. This is because it looks like breast cancer that has spread (metastasised) from the breast to the lymph node. This can have important consequences.

An enlarged lymph node may cause a woman to have further testing to confirm or rule out breast cancer. This can lead to further imaging, invasive procedures such as biopsies, and patient anxiety.

So it’s important to note this potential impact of COVID vaccination on mammography, ahead of Australia ramping up its vaccine rollout, especially in the over-50s.

So what’s behind the new advice?

Reports of COVID vaccine-related swollen lymph nodes emerged from the United States, where almost 90 million people have been vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

This led to swollen lymph nodes showing up on breast imaging, including mammography and ultrasound.

According to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, this type of swelling has not been reported with the AstraZeneca vaccine. This is the vaccine earmarked for the over-50s in Australia from May.

However, as activating the immune system is how all vaccines work, we’ve seen similar swelling after vaccines other than COVID. So it’s likely we’ll also see it with other COVID vaccines. However, we have yet to see published data from the United Kingdom and other countries that have more experience administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to confirm this.

Nevertheless, the college has recommended women have their mammogram before their COVID vaccine, or six weeks after vaccination, without specifying any particular COVID vaccine.

Others have proposed a more pragmatic approach of monitoring any suspected case of a swollen lymph node in the armpit on the side of the injection, and only investigating further if the swelling doesn’t go down after six weeks.




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Women should be told about their breast density when they have a mammogram


Why is this so important?

It’s essential for both COVID vaccination and mammography screening of women without symptoms to continue.

While it is important screening identifies women with breast cancer, it is also important not to over-investigate otherwise healthy women. So it makes sense to delay the screening of otherwise healthy non-symptomatic women for a short time, and to not over-investigate women who do not have cancer.

It’s also important for women with breast cancer symptoms to seek medical advice immediately, and for the appropriate diagnostic imaging to take place.

However, in light of the recent advice, women should mention their COVID vaccination status to their health-care team — GP, radiographer and specialist doctor — so they can take this into account when interpreting imaging. That’s whether or not their mammograms are part of the breast cancer screening program.




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What causes breast cancer in women? What we know, don’t know and suspect


The Conversation


Rik Thompson, Professor of Breast Cancer Research, Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation and School of Biomedical Sciences,, Queensland University of Technology and Thomas Lloyd, Adjunct Professor, Radiology, Faculty of Health, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Depression, burnout, insomnia, headaches: how a toxic and sexist workplace culture can affect your health


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Xi Wen (Carys) Chan, Griffith University and Paula Brough, Griffith UniversityAs allegations of rape and sexual assault engulf Australian federal politics, several current and former female staffers and politicians have come forward to share their stories of a culture of toxic masculinity within Australia’s political bubble.

It’s unfortunate that while gender roles are evolving at home, gender inequality and overt sexism remain prevalent in Australian political culture and in many workplaces across the country.

While the effects of a culture of toxic masculinity are most detrimental for the victims, other employees in workplaces and the wider community can also be negatively impacted.

This opens up a broader question: how does a toxic and sexist workplace culture affect the health and well-being of employees and organisations?

What does a toxic and sexist workplace look like?

A culture of toxic masculinity is a hostile work environment that undermines women. It’s also known as “masculinity contest culture”, which is characterised by hyper-competition, heavy workloads, long hours, assertiveness and extreme risk-taking. It’s worth noting this type of culture isn’t good for men, either.

Such workplaces often feature “win or die” organisational cultures that focus on personal gain and advancement at the expense of other employees. Many employees embedded in such a culture adopt a “mine’s bigger than yours” contest for workloads, work hours and work resources.

These masculinity contest cultures are prevalent in a wide range of industries, such as medicine, finance, engineering, law, politics, sports, police, fire, corrections, military services, tech organisations and increasingly within our universities.

Microaggressions are common behaviours in workplaces steeped with a masculinity contest culture. These include getting interrupted by men in meetings or being told to dress “appropriately” in a certain way. There are also overtly dominating behaviours such as sexual harassment and violence.

These behaviours tend to keep men on top and reinforce a toxic leadership style involving abusive behaviours such as bullying or controlling others.

Boss upset with employee
A hyper-masculine work environment might look like huge workloads, long hours, hostility, assertiveness, dominance and an extremely competitive culture.
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At a very basic level, workplaces should afford women safety and justice. But women’s issues are left unaddressed in many workplaces, and many fail to provide women employees with psychological safety or the ability to speak up without being punished or humiliated.

This might be because leaders in the organisation are ill-equipped to deal with these issues, feel uncomfortable bringing them up or, in some cases, are sadly not interested at all.




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How does a toxic culture affect our health?

Evidence suggests a toxic workplace culture can negatively affect employees’ psychological, emotional and physical health.

Emotional effects include a higher likelihood of negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, disgust, fear, frustration and humiliation.

As these negative emotions build, they can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, cynicism, a lack of motivation and feelings of self-doubt.

Research also points to increased chances of physical symptoms, such as hair loss, insomnia, weight loss or gain, headaches and migraines.

Employees in toxic workplaces tend to have poorer overall well-being, and are more likely to be withdrawn and isolated at work and in their personal lives. Over time, this leads to absenteeism, and if problems aren’t addressed, victims may eventually leave the organisation.

For some victims who may not have advanced coping skills, a toxic culture can lead to a downward mental and physical health spiral and contribute to severe long-term mental illness. They may also engage in displaced aggression, in which they bring home their negative emotions and experiences and take out their frustrations on family members.

Woman stressed and isolated at work
Employees in toxic work environments are more likely to be withdrawn and isolated, both in the office and outside of work.
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How can workplaces change?

Workplaces aiming to make a real change should start by promoting an open culture where issues can be discussed via multiple formal and informal feedback channels.

One option is formal survey mechanisms that are anonymous, so employees can be open about their concerns and feel less intimidated by the process.

A good first step is having leaders trained to address these issues.

Traditionally, workplace interventions have focused on victims themselves, putting the onus on them to do the work and come forward. However, a healthy workplace culture should see leaders actively seeking feedback to make sure any forms of toxic masculinity are stamped out.

It’s a shared responsibility, and the onus shouldn’t be solely on employees, but leaders, too.




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The Conversation


Xi Wen (Carys) Chan, Lecturer in Organisational Psychology, Griffith University and Paula Brough, Professor of Organisational Psychology, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘Cultural misogyny’ and why men’s aggression to women is so often expressed through sex


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Xanthe Mallett, University of NewcastleAs the country watches Scott Morrison grapple with the sex scandals rocking our federal parliament, it is worth wondering what has really changed since former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s now-famous 2012 “misogyny” speech.

The power of that speech is undeniable, and it resonates loudly today.

Gillard spoke to the imbalance of power between men and women and the under-representation of women in positions of authority. Her speech raised serious concerns about how some politicians saw women’s roles in contemporary Australia.

Fast forward to yesterday, and Scott Morrison attempted to address the most recent shocking allegations of lewd behaviour by some coalition staff – the allegation being a group of government staffers had shared images and videos of themselves undertaking lewd acts in Parliament House, including in the office of a female federal MP.

These stories raise the question as to why some men participate in sexually denigrating women – both those in authority as well as those in positions of submission in hierarchical organisations. And why is male aggression towards women so often expressed through sex rather than through other means?

As a criminologist, I interpret men’s sexually aggressive behaviour – whether it is desecrating a women’s desk by videoing himself masturbating on it, or a sexual assault – as an activity born of a need for power and control.

When some men feel challenged, or want to dominate someone to fulfil an innate internal inadequacy, they can feel the need to do so sexually. Often, the subjects of their rage about feelings of inadequacy are women.

From lewd comments, to being groped, through to sexual assault, the attacks on women in the workplace continue.

Research suggests heterosexual men who are more socially dominant are also more likely to sexually objectify women. When these men are placed in positions of submission to women at work and their dominance is challenged, the levels of sexual objectification of women go up. This supports the assertion that some men increase their dominance by sexually objectifying women, and this objectification can become physical.

This conversation around how we address this has been building for some time.




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In 2017, the #MeToo movement went viral, as women started to share their negative sexual experiences via social media. The discussion initially focused on women being sexually harassed by their bosses in the media and entertainment industry, but it soon became obvious the problem was much wider than that. It permeates every industry in every country.

Sexual harassment and assault are more common than many people might believe, or want to believe. A 2018 study surveyed 2,000 people in the US. It found 81% of women and 43% of men had suffered some form of sexual harassment or assault. Further, 38% of the women surveyed said they have suffered from sexual harassment in the workplace.

The picture is mirrored in Australia. A 2018 Australian Human Rights Commission report found 23% of women said they had been sexually harassed at work in the previous 12 months.

In 2021, we are still having the same debate.

One big question is where these bad male behaviours originate from?

Social Learning Theory might help us to understand what is going on in relation to some men’s need for sexual domination of women. It is based in the premise that individuals develop notions of gender and the associated behaviours by watching others and mimicking them. This learning is then reinforced vicariously through the experiences of others.

Combine this learnt behaviour with cognitive development theory, which suggests gender-related behaviour is an adoption of a gender identity through an intellectual process, and we can see how misogynistic behaviours can be identified, remembered, and mimicked by subsequent generations of males.

This could be termed “cultural misogyny”.

How do we change the dynamic?

The only way to shift the framing around appropriate behaviour in the workplace, and society more generally, is to continue to break down gender stereotypes. Women need to be elevated to positions of power to reduce male domination in all aspects of life. We must challenge the undermining of women’s and girl’s autonomy and value when boys exhibit it, to break the chain of passing on these negative attitudes.




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We are only now beginning to the hear the breadth of stories from women speaking out about their own negative experiences.

As a woman in academia – a very hierarchical structure – I have been sexually harassed, and I just accepted it as part of my working world. My experience was with a very senior member of a previous university, and I would never have considered challenging him or reporting it, as I was very well aware of the power he had over me and my career. I even considered changing organisations to avoid the unwanted behaviours.

The brave women who are now speaking up have changed the way I view my own experience. The more we raise our voices, support each other and encourage change in the attitudes around us, the more we will all benefit.The Conversation

Xanthe Mallett, Forensic Criminologist, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Memo Liberal women: if you really want to confront misogyny in your party, you need to fix the policies


Michelle Arrow, Macquarie UniversityOne group of women was strikingly absent from the March4Justice rallies last week: Coalition MPs. Admittedly, there are not many of them (only 23% of Liberal lower house MPs, and 12% of National lower house MPs, are female), but the refusal of the minister for women to attend the demonstration was a remarkable abrogation of responsibility.

One female Liberal MP, Tasmanian Bridget Archer, attended the demonstration, assuming – wrongly – it would receive bipartisan support. Like many who marched, she was motivated to attend by what she described as “a deep-seated rage”.

Women across Australia have expressed similar feelings: March4Justice events held across the country attested to a resurgent feminist anger. This rage has been sparked by overwhelming evidence of a misogynist culture that ignores and downplays sexual assault and enables perpetrators to escape justice.

Very few of the LNP’s female ministers spoke out against their party’s culture of toxic masculinity in the wake of the news about Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape. Like most players in this awful story, most seemed focused on establishing their lack of knowledge of the incident after it allegedly took place.

How extraordinary, then, were the events of Monday evening. Reports broke that male Liberal staffers had exchanged videos featuring themselves engaging in sex acts in Parliament House. In particular, the revelation that one male staffer had filmed himself masturbating on a female MP’s desk seems to have finally prompted some reticent female MPs to comment. Liberal MP Katie Allen declared on Twitter:

Nationals MP Michelle Landry told reporters she was “absolutely horrified” by the story, but added: “The young fellow concerned was a really good worker and he loved the place. I feel bad for him about this.”

That these reports of lewd behaviour in Parliament House are now drawing the comment of otherwise silent female Liberal and Nationals MPs is telling. If these MPs were serious about confronting a misogynist culture in their party, they would have to deal with the impact of the Coalition’s policies on women.

A Liberal male staffer masturbating on a female MP’s desk is merely a symptom of something very wrong in the party’s attitudes to women, not the sum total of it.

Let’s start with JobSeeker. Women form the majority of 2 million JobSeeker recipients affected by the federal government’s decision to replace the $75-a-week Coronavirus Supplement with a $25-a-week permanent increase in JobSeeker. The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) warned that rolling back the supplement would have a “devastating” impact on women. The government did it anyway.




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The government consistently failed to recognise the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women. During the COVID lockdowns, women lost their jobs at a faster rate than men and were offered fewer supports. They also shouldered far more of the unpaid care work associated with childcare and home schooling.

Yet government ministers failed to consult the Office for Women on the big policy responses to the pandemic, including JobKeeper and JobSeeker. Free childcare was the first policy to be wound back in the pandemic “snapback” last year.

Childcare was the first support to be rolled back during the COVID pandemic.
Dean Lewins/AAP

The mismanagement and neglect in aged care is a feminist issue. Two out of three residents in aged care are women. Almost 90% of the aged care workforce is female.

The recent Royal Commission into Aged Care called for much stricter regulation and improvements to workforce conditions. Yet, given the government has consistently rejected calls for greater regulation of the sector, the future looks bleak for those who live and work in residential aged care.

Women also bore the brunt of the massive fee hikes to university courses that formed the centrepiece of the government’s Job-Ready Graduates Package in 2020. The steepest fee increases (up to 113% in some cases) were for humanities and social sciences courses: in 2018, women comprised two-thirds of enrolments in these subjects.




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On domestic and family violence, the government has reduced supports for survivors, who are overwhelmingly women. The telephone counselling service 1800 RESPECT, previously managed by Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, was outsourced to a private health insurer in 2017. There was a corresponding decline in the quality of service offered to those in need.

The government’s recent merger of the Family and Federal Courts reduces the resources available to women and their children for settling complex family law matters. The government was even considering allowing domestic violence survivors to access their superannuation early – effectively funding their own meagre safety nets – to escape violent relationships, an idea it has since abandoned.

Of course, the ALP is not immune from making policies that harm women. On the day Julia Gillard delivered her famous misogyny speech in parliament in 2012, the Labor government also legislated to move thousands of women from a parenting payment to the lower Newstart payment.

But the far wider breadth and depth of successive LNP governments’ attacks on women through policy are, frankly, breathtaking.

Feminism, LNP-style: Julie Bishop’s red shoes.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

LNP women’s attitude to feminism might be best summed up by Julie Bishop’s sparkly red shoes. She wore them on the day she resigned as foreign minister, her leadership aspirations defeated by men in her own party, whom she only now identifies as the “big swinging dicks”. The shoes today sit on display in Old Parliament House.

Bishop’s brand of glamorous, individualistic one-woman celebration took her all the way to cabinet. Until, that is, it couldn’t take her any further. A “feminism” premised on a single white woman’s empowerment, rather than a movement that works to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all women, is not up to the demands of the present moment.

All the quotas in the world won’t change the culture of the government if none of the women who are elected are prepared to stand up for women’s rights.


Correction: this article originally said “only 23% of the government’s MPs are female”. It has been changed to “only 23% of Liberal lower house MPs, and 12% of National lower house MPs, are female”.The Conversation

Michelle Arrow, Professor of History, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.