Sexism in the silences at Australian Universities: Parental leave in name, but not in practice

Sarah Duffy, Western Sydney University
Michelle O’Shea, Western Sydney University
Dorothea Bowyer, Western Sydney University
Patrick van Esch, Kennesaw State University


Unequal distribution of child rearing and domestic responsibilities between parents contributes to gender inequity, a wicked problem in Australia. Inequitable parental leave policies at Australian public Universities place the burden of care squarely on the mother, diminishing or absenting the father. We examine how the gendered nature of the existing policies are constructed in ways that create inequities and discourage their uptake. A post-structural feminist lens provides us with a theoretical vantage point from which this wicked problem can be problematized. We present three recommendations for enabling more equitable outcomes for parents. The first is to eradicate the punitive approach and support flexibility; second, the policies must be parental leave in name, provision and practice; and finally we recommend a minimum parental leave standard for Australian universities nationally. These findings have policy-level significance for redressing parental leave inequity within the Australian university context. The paper concludes with theoretical contributions, practical implications, and suggestions for future research.