PhD candidate wins prize for research into human rights of sexuality and gender

PhD candidate wins prize for research on international law and human rights of sexuality and gender
Valeria Coscini (front) presenting her award-winning paper at the third Postgraduate Conference in International Law and Human Rights at the University of Liverpool on 18 June 2019.

It has never made sense to me why some manifestations of sexualities or genders are embraced while others have to fight for their rights. It is unfair and I want to challenge that.

Valeria Coscini, a PhD candidate at The Australian National University (ANU) College of Law, recently won the Outstanding Presentation award at the third annual Postgraduate Conference in International Law and Human Rights at the University of Liverpool.

In her PhD research paper, Valeria combined her two passions: international law and human rights of sexuality and gender. In this Q&A, she shares what the award means to her and outlines her next steps.

Can you tell us about your research and academic background?

As a PhD candidate, I am looking at the development of sexuality and gender variance rights in international and regional jurisprudence. I am supervised by Associate Professor Wayne Morgan, Dr Anne Macduff, and Associate Professor Jeremy Farrall.

After completing a Bachelor of Arts/Laws (Hons) and a Master of Laws (International and Comparative Law), I spent a couple of years working in various roles and projects at the National Australia Bank, including one on privacy law. I then worked for a couple of years at Victoria Legal Aid on compliance, administering funding for major criminal trials and coordinating a list of preferred criminal barristers.

Can you provide a summary of your paper and what the award entailed?

I was fortunate enough to receive the award for Outstanding Presentation by the conference committee for presenting on my paper. The award included £150 worth of books from Hart Publishing.

My paper, entitled “Taking a Principled Approach to Complexity: Sexuality and Gender Variance in International and Regional Human Rights Jurisprudence”, sets out the methodology that I will be using to assess selected cases from regional and international rights jurisprudence on sexuality and gender variance rights. The methodology draws on insights from empirical and theoretical literature on sexuality and gender variance to develop three principles to assess the jurisprudence. These principles are that:

  • courts, committees and tribunals must recognise that sexuality and gender-identity concepts are complex, contextual, socially constructed and fluid;
  • courts, committees and tribunals interpret sexuality and gender-identity rights in a way that does not use constructs of stereotypes, assumptions, or dominant norms, and recognises the detrimental impact of these constructs on the applicant; and
  • self-determination should be the primary determinant for making sexuality and gender-identity concepts intelligible in each case.

What inspired you to research international jurisprudence related to sexuality and gender?

I have always been fascinated by the different ways that we experience our sexualities and genders. These concepts build a complex tapestry and highlight the beauty that exists within the human experience. It has never made sense to me why some manifestations of sexualities or genders are embraced while others have to fight for their rights. It is unfair and I want to challenge that.

International law, on the other hand, was my favourite subject while undertaking my law degree so I chose it as the focus for my Master degree. In a sense, I combined two passions into one learning project.

What is the focus of your dissertation?

Based on the three principles above, I aim to apply them to the regional and international jurisprudence on sexuality and gender variance rights. I will select cases that demonstrate any development that the jurisprudence has taken over time and compare them across regions or internationally.

My aim is to determine whether the principles exist in the jurisprudence. If they do, I will trace the change over time. If they don’t, I will consider whether applying the principles could have resulted in a different outcome. I will seek to draw conclusions on what the development of the jurisprudence tells us more broadly, although I am not at that stage yet.

Why is it an important time to be researching this field?

In recent years, sexuality and gender variance rights have gained traction at the regional and international levels, which is great to see. However, sexuality and gender variance rights still have a long way to develop in the jurisprudence. Human rights are evolving creatures that need to respond to new challenges. As institutions interpreting human rights, courts, committees and tribunals need to be critiqued, challenged and encouraged in their difficult tasks of interpreting evolving norms. I think it is always a good time to research the development of regional and international jurisprudence because human rights law is always developing.

What does the award mean to you and how did you feel upon learning you had won?

It was a humbling experience, and I am appreciative that the conference committee took an interest in my research. The award also represents the great support I have received from my supervisory panel and from ANU. My thanks go to Hart Publishing for sponsoring the award.

What do you hope to do after your PhD?

I am really enjoying working on my PhD, which has been an interesting learning project and a chance to thoroughly explore an important international law topic. I’m not sure what’s next, though I hope to continue working on international law and human rights in some way.

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team