Self-care during the silly season

angel-cemetery-sculpture-rock-carving-160765It’s that time of year when we wish many of our friends, family and colleagues a safe and happy summer break. Often the safety risks we have in mind are about taking care travelling or not running around the swimming pool. But the silly season can also throw other sorts of health risks our way.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, it can be difficult to escape the social pressures to give more time, more money and more cheer at this time of year. For some of us, the financial expectations of the season can be a source of stress. For others, the lack of social networks or family relationships can be equally challenging. According to mental health experts, the festive and holiday season can be a high-risk time for some individuals and communities, especially those who are socially and economically disadvantaged.

Regardless of cultural and religious background, women usually bear the brunt of the shopping, the cooking, the preparing, the wrapping and the overall labour of the festive season. For women from immigrant and refugee backgrounds, these tasks are made even more difficult if family members are overseas and there is a lack of other social and economic support. The irony is not lost on us – at a time when we are told to “take care” and “enjoy our break”, we are negotiating incredible social pressures to contact family members, give unconditionally to others, and make the holidays special and magical for our children.

How then can we take care of ourselves through the chaos? In today’s world, women are often told that the answer is self-care. Yet unfortunately, this idea is also highly gendered. For example, relaxing on the couch in front of the television after a long day of work is often framed as self-care or time-out for women. While for men, often the same behaviour is just called ‘watching TV’.

The problem here is that the expectation on women to be responsible for taking care of ourselves becomes yet another item on our ever-expanding ‘to do’ list taking care of others. Rather than addressing the inequality of work, self-care becomes ‘spoiling yourself’, whether that be an expensive manicure, a block of chocolate or even five minutes alone. At its heart, this idea of self-care for women as ‘indulgence’ is too individualistic to give us any real relief. It doesn’t do many favours for men either, who aren’t given a language to address their own need to take time-out for their emotional and mental well-being.

Let’s challenge and change the gendered expectations we have about caring and being cared for in our homes and communities. At this time of year, we are told about the joys of giving and caring for others. However, women shouldn’t bear the sole burden of caring for ourselves or anyone else. Instead, let’s think about caring as something we share. Let’s work towards making sure that everyone – especially those made vulnerable and discriminated by our systems and structures – has the opportunity to take care of ourselves and give ourselves a well-deserved break!

60 seconds with Hope Mathumbu

FB_Hope1New motorist, twitter enthusiast and MCWH Project Officer

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I am enjoying a series of free exercise classes being offered by the Maribyrnong City Council’s Spring into Summer series. I decided to challenge myself this year and signed up for high intensity classes. It’s been a great experience. It’s really nice to live in a council that makes the health and well-being of all its residents a priority, especially given that it can be expensive to do some of these activities on a regular basis.

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you have?
I would use my power to let people walk in other people’s shoes for a few hours (maybe days, depending on the person!). The dominant socio-political and economic landscapes really don’t give us the time and space to think about how we affect others or how other people are going. Maybe a bit of empathy would help…I hope so.

What talent would you most like to possess?
I wish I could tap dance or do some other kind of professional dancing, like swing dancing. I think that dancing can be a beautiful physical release.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be?
It’s a difficult question to answer because it would depend on many factors related to how they arrived and the resources they had when they arrived. I migrated to Australia from South Africa when I was 15 years old in 2003, with my mother and younger sister. Life then was so different, even pathways to social security, permanent residence and citizenship were so different. The only advice I could give to someone now would be practical advice about where to go for services relevant to their needs. I would also advise them to look for online communities where they can find people with similar experiences. Online communities really provide a wealth of information and comfort.

What’s your favourite word and why?
My favourite word is ‘Ubuntu.’ It is a Zulu word or Nguni/Bantu concept which loosely means ‘humanity.’ It is core to black South African humanist philosophy that celebrates common humanity. Ubuntu part of a Zulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, which means that a person is a person through other people. Ubuntu is, at the same time, a deeply personal philosophy that calls on us to mirror our humanity for each other. This philosophy is central to who I am as a person and guides how I go about holding myself on a day to day basis.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant refugee/ background?
The best part about being a woman from an immigrant or refugee background is that I have multiple frames of reference for anything I experience and I feel that makes my life richer. I can’t put it into words, but there is such a great value in understanding concepts or points of view from different cultures and languages.

If you could invite any woman, alive or deceased, to dinner, who would it be and why?
I am unable to choose at the moment, but a shortlist would be: Nina Simone, Rihanna, Tina Turner, Tracy Chapman and the late Sharon Jones. Their music and styles have really influenced me in ways I can’t describe. Love them all!

Name a book or a film that changed your life
A book that changed my life is Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘The Poisonwood Bible.’ I read it when I was a teenager. Even though I couldn’t articulate it at the time, it taught me a lot about the lasting effects of colonisation, it also taught me a lot about feminism. I also really like Khalil Gibran’s book ‘The Prophet.’ I like to go back to it from time to time as a way of meditating on various aspects of life.

What are you reading right now? (Blogs, books, magazines, or anything else!)
I read Twitter every minute! If you are following the right people/pages, there is always a lot to learn or think about. I am waiting for holiday season to start reading Roxane Gay’s book ‘Hunger.’ She is a brilliant writer and I wanted to give myself space to read the book with little distraction. I recently finished reading her other book ‘Difficult Women.’ It’s a series of short stories about women and I was really affected when I read that. She has a beautiful way of expressing things I find hard to articulate about my experiences as a woman.

Do you have a song/ music that inspires and motivates you?
It depends on the kind of motivation I need! I really love listening to Tracy Chapman to reenergise myself. I really love her song ‘Telling Stories’ because I feel like it talks about cognitive dissonance, and I feel like unfortunately there is a lot of that in life.

What is your favourite possession?
My car, though I have major guilt at how bad it is for the environment! I got my driver’s licence in Feb 2017. It just opened up my world – and emptied my pockets, but never mind about that! I really love how much more I can do now because of it.

What could you never be without?

If you could convince the world of one thing, what would it be?
That white privilege and supremacy are real and need to be dismantled, along with capitalism.

Intersectionality Matters: A new resource for preventing violence against women

MCWH is thrilled to launch the Intersectionality Matters: Guide to engaging immigrant and refugee communities to prevent violence against women.

An earlier version of this resource was developed for Women’s Health Services in Victoria.

Based on positive feedback, the guide has been broadened to address a wider audience. The Intersectionality Matters Guide aims to help people and organisations develop violence prevention approaches, strategies and activities in a way that meaningfully engages immigrant and refugee communities.

The Guide is divided into three parts: how to approach prevention, essential ingredients for meaningful violence prevention, and prevention in practice. The guide can be downloaded here or contact MCWH if you would like to order a copy.

The WRAP #60: Getting a head start on prevention, Beyond the baby blues and 60 seconds with Rani Pramesti

The global and important 16 Days of Activism campaign has come around again –  a time to raise our voices against violence against women and girls in all its forms. It’s Day 3 already and we are going orange with the rest of Victoria, up until International Human Rights Day on 10 December. In particular, we are excited about our 16 Days special event in partnership with ECCV on 8 December.

This year’s theme campaign theme is “Leave No One Behind: End Violence against Women and Girls” It is a call to everyone “to make a commitment to a world free from violence for all women and girls around the world, while reaching the most underserved and marginalized, including refugees, migrants, minorities, indigenous peoples, and populations affected by conflict and natural disasters, amongst others, first.” We couldn’t agree more.

There are many reasons for us to demand the we leave no one behind at the moment. Many of us are calling loudly for humane and non-violent outcomes for asylum seekers on Manus Island and for the passing of new laws to include same-sex couples in the Marriage Act.

This WRAP we are reflecting on the feminist roots of prevention, as well as some of the most challenging examples of when women fall through the cracks. Best of all we have 60 seconds with the luminous Rani Pramesti to inspire us.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team

Getting a head start on prevention

Fight gender and race discrimination

Image from the MCWH 2016 Campaign for 16 Days

Preventing violence against women is a long-term endeavour. It requires deep cultural change in the way that we, as a community, practice our gendered interpersonal, family, workplace and social relationships. Alongside that cultural change, it means building women’s equality into our systems and structures, laws and policies.

We’ve already come a long way. Today, we know that gendered inequality is a key driver of violence against women. However we also know, but not quite as well, that focusing on gender alone will not change the story for all women.

The good news is that we are not starting this huge undertaking from a blank slate, thanks to feminism. According to our documented history, feminists around the world started eliminating violence against women hundreds of years ago. In Australia, for example, women’s rights activists like Rose Scott and Louisa Lawson campaigned to stop violence against women since the late 1880s, advocating for women’s suffrage as a route to autonomy and equality.

But as we are well aware, the suffrage movement had its exclusions, based as it was on winning the vote for white women only. When it comes to eliminating violence against Aboriginal women and migrant women in Australia, we don’t have the same head start, which is not to say that we haven’t been fighting and winning our own battles for women for centuries.

At least since the 1970s, drawing on intersectional thinking from the United States, migrant and Aboriginal feminists have been raising awareness about the ways that racism intersects with gendered inequality to contribute to violence against women. Strategies to prevent violence against women must oppose racism as much as they oppose sexism, in order to be meaningful, not just for Aboriginal and migrant women, but for all women. Without addressing all forms of violence, without addressing all women, we only band-aid the problem. An intersectional approach to prevention is needed in order to truly leave no one behind.

This of course is our next major challenge and here at MCWH we’re on it. Keep your eyes out for our latest resource, ‘Intersectionality Matters’, on our website in early December and get a head start on taking an intersectional feminist approach to prevention.

Beyond the baby blues

VAW factOn the one hand, motherhood may seem like one of the most natural things in the world. On the other, it all seems like hard work when the popular benchmarks for motherhood success are ‘yummy mummies’, backyard blitz homes and bouncy, shiny children. While the lived reality of mothering might lie somewhere in between, we rarely hear about what it’s like from women who experience motherhood within the messy middle. In particular, women with antenatal and/or postnatal depression can be doubly silenced by their emotional distress or by fears that their experiences will be written off as ‘lack of maternal instinct’ or failure. If you’re a woman from a migrant or refugee background, an additional form of silencing can come in the form of social and cultural isolation.

Tragically, the three recent cases of Akon Goude, Sofina Nikat and Umal Abdurahaman, mothers who have caused the death of their children, demonstrate that mothering can’t be separated from the complex circumstances of women’s lives. All three women were also immigrants who had experienced hardships beyond those typically associated with the ‘baby blues’: lack of a partner and social support, domestic violence, mental illness, adverse life events, unplanned pregnancies and past pregnancy complications. It should not be surprising that in a recent systematic review, all these socio-cultural factors were found to be most readily associated with antenatal depression and anxiety.

Highlighting the challenges and difficulties these women experienced should and does not excuse their actions. We feel a collective horror in the face of stories like these, not only because the victims are children, but because it challenges our beliefs about what a mother should do and be. However, when it comes to identifying women at risk of both maternal depression and domestic violence, the examples of Akon, Sofina and Umal highlight the importance of considering a women’s maternal context – not just individual pathology – in preventing adverse and fatal outcomes for both women and their children. If we are to improve the experiences of women who mother, then we need to ensure that we look beyond merely biological and clinical explanations, and recognise women’s experiences of mothering intersect with many other factors and contexts in her life experience.

MCWH presented at the Victorian Family and Community Development Committee Public Inquiry into Perinatal Services today. You can read MCWH’s Submission here.