Isabella Mifsud always knew she wanted to travel, but taking a gap year just wasn’t right for her. Instead, she enrolled in journalism and international studies at UTS.
Last year, as part of her degree, Mifsud spent a year abroad in Chile where she adventured, challenged herself and discovered a passion for cooking.
“I was lucky enough to go down to Patagonia which is this beautiful landscape that borders Argentina and Chile,” recalls Mifsud. “I was able to do a five-day hike and I think accomplishing that was one of the most amazing feelings. I cried after that.
“I’d never done something so physically or mentally exerting in my life and so it gave me a lot of perspective.”
While Mifsud says travel and exploration were major highlights, her international studies research project was the defining experience.
While abroad, all UTS International Studies students complete a major research project about their exchange country. Mifsud, a “passionate feminist”, decided to focus her research on abortion in Chile and the factors that influence university students’ stances on this.
“It forced me to talk to people I would never have spoken to, to engage with groups and organisations that I would have never had to deal with in daily life and I think it gave me a unique perspective on the different issues.”
After countless hours of background research, surveys with students and interviews with relevant organisations, Mifsud made some really interesting discoveries. She says, “There was a ‘societal acceptance of promiscuity’ among both men and women. This despite Chile being deemed a very Catholic country.”
She also found male university students weren’t able to discuss contraception in an open manner, which stood in contrast to female students. “It means there’s a heavy reliance on females being vigilant when it came to contraception.
“If a girl in Chile was to become pregnant it essentially becomes her burden or her and her family’s responsibility. I think fathers need to be equally accountable, but society kind of lets them off,” she adds.
Mifsud also discovered that despite abortion in Chile being illegal, the country has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. While the Chilean government has proposed new laws to allow abortion for therapeutic reasons and in cases of sexual assault, Mifsud’s research shows Chilean university students believe abortion should be available by choice. Currently, safe abortions, in clinics, are only available to those who can afford it.
“This really angers me because it becomes an example of economic discrimination. Women who suffer financially are the ones at risk of unsafe abortions and the complications that come with them. It must be terrifying.”
Mifsud, having now returned home from her year abroad, says she is inspired to pursue research further and hopes to continue her work with women’s reproductive rights.
“I kind of had the forethought that research was very dry and didn't allow me to use the skills that I had learned in journalism.
“I want to dedicate my time to making feminist issues from around the world visible – whether that’s through journalism or research, I’m not sure yet.”