Freedom of thought, religion, opinion, expression. Access to education, water and sanitation. It’s difficult to imagine our lives without such fundamental human rights. Yet billions of people around the world go without basics we take for granted each day.
Since 1999, the UTS Human Rights Awards have showcased and honoured the contributions being made by UTS staff and students towards creating a more equitable university and society.
Research Director for the Institute of Sustainable Futures (ISF) Juliet Willetts won the Vice-Chancellor’s Social Justice/Human Rights Award in 2012 for her contribution to meeting the water and sanitation needs of developing countries.
Willetts co-founded the Australian Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Reference Group whose work convinced the Australian Government to allocate $300 million to water sanitation and developing countries in 2008 to 2011. Following sustained efforts in advocacy and improving aid policy in this area, the Gillard government committed an additional $433 million in 2011, taking the budget to $1 billion for the following four years.
Since then, Willett’s efforts have taken her everywhere from eastern Indonesia, where she evaluated Australian aid program support of large-scale water and sanitation programs, to Bangladesh, where she has been involved in understanding the best methods to motivate community members to build toilets to improve public health.
Willetts says receiving an award made her realise how valuable recognition is, both as a personal motivator and in garnering support for her work.
“I was surprised to be nominated, but it was great for my confidence, and for my standing externally,” she says.
“When people hear you’ve won an award they think you must have something valuable to offer. ISF have to continually bring in income and new projects and clients, so the way we are perceived by others is important.”
There are seven categories in the awards covering equity, social inclusion, sexual and gender diversity, outcomes for women, Indigenous reconciliation, student community contribution and a creative media award for a project exploring social justice and human rights themes. Student awardees receive a prize of $500 in addition to the award.
Race Discrimination Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission Dr Tim Soutphommasane will be attending this year’s awards ceremony as a special guest speaker. He will also announce UTS's signed support for the ‘Racism. It Stops With Me’ campaign, which aims to encourage all Australians to reflect on how they can counter racism.
Through her leadership role in WASH, Willetts continues to engage with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade around the new aid policy and how water and sanitation sit within it. She believes that celebrating the UTS community’s commitment and dedication to human rights and social justice through the biennial awards is inspiring and encourages collaboration.
“I’ve been looking at ways to recognise other staff I work with, through awards or other means, because I realise how motivational it can be,” says Willetts.
“Advocating for human rights often means working against the status quo and challenging power relations. It takes a lot of commitment and isn’t necessarily a job you leave behind once you leave the office, because you care.”
The Human Rights Awards will be held Thursday 4 September, 4.30pm to 6.30pm, in the Great Hall. All welcome.