Our Rotary Peace Centre Deputy Director, Dr Melissa Johnston, is a Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies in POLSIS.

     Melissa’s research examines how gender-based violence, gender inequality, and marriage markets may lead to violent conflict. She has won several awards, including best thesis in political studies (2019) and best article in political economy (2020). Melissa’s research on the links between misogyny and violent extremism has been cited by the UN Secretary General and other international organisations. She is currently working on her Australia Research Council DECRA project on ‘Brideprice, Conflict, and Violence Against Women in Asia’.

Her specific portfolio includes the Applied Field Experience (AFE), the International Day of Peace, and academic mentorship for Rotary Peace Fellows during their studies.

Researcher biography

Melissa Johnston is a Lecturer in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland where she works in the areas of political economy and security. Melissa was awarded a Discovery Early Career Research Award (2022-2025) for her project on Brideprice, Conflict and Violence Against Women in Southeast Asia.

Melissa has two main research areas. The first area examines the pivotal role of misogyny and violence against women in the political economy of violent extremism, populism and Islamist and right wing politics,looking at the empirical and analytical links between violence against women and violent extremism in Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Libya. Findings show that support for violence against women and misogyny is the best predictor of an individual's support for violent extremism - a finding cited several times by the UN Secretary General in 2019 and 2020.

The second area is the political economy of post-conflict rebuilding. Her doctoral dissertation, winner of the 2019 Australian Political Studies Association thesis prize, applies a feminist political economy approach to account for the uneven outcomes gender programming by international development agencies. It argues the outcomes of international interventions on gender responsive budgeting, laws against domestic violence and microfinance are shaped by power relations between men and women in a setting of elite dominance. In the Timor-Leste case specifically, the political economy of kinship—as manifested in brideprice or traditional dispute resolution—has been as crucial to class formation as it has in perpetuating gender injustices. A journal article from this work "Frontier Finance" was the winner of the 2021 Australian International Political Economy Network best journal article prize.

Previously, Melissa has worked for the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) on Asia-Pacific development, and for Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) on European Union programs to protect women from severe intimate partner violence.