Over the last 15 years, Sonia has worked across academic, development and parliamentary institutions, principally with the interest of understanding and improving women’s political leadership and participation. Sonia has driven the international research agenda on gender sensitive parliaments, having written practitioner-focussed reports (for the Inter-Parliamentary Union) and academic publications (Oxford Research Encyclopaedia) on the subject.
She has contributed to international policy development on women’s political participation in UN Women Headquarters (New York), and as a development practitioner, engaged with current and aspiring women in politics in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and - most prominently - the Pacific.
She has successfully secured funding for research projects as well as Australian government donor funds for programming to support women in politics in the Pacific.
Sonia’s doctorate was conferred by the School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland in 2003. The thesis, entitled The Impact of Gender or the Gender of Impact: A Study of Interactions in Australian Parliamentary Committees, was an early critique of the ‘critical mass theory’, now accepted among feminist political scientists as a theory requiring significant qualification.
Through analysis of two parliamentary committee hearings, she concluded that Australian women parliamentarians’ ability to bring a substantive gender equality focus to mainstream parliamentary debate requires more than a quantifiable numerical presence (usually conceptualised as at least 30 per cent of the legislature): namely, a focus on the highly masculine governance processes and structures of the Australian parliament.