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.

Saying ‘Yes’ to equal rights and health

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If you’ve been following the national news lately you’ll be aware that next week there will be a High Court decision which will advise Australians about whether we will be heading to the (postal) polls to register our views about marriage equality.

If the postal survey goes ahead the question before all of us will be about whether we agree that all Australians should have the equal right to marry.

From an immigrant and refugee women’s health perspective, MCWH wholeheartedly supports equal rights on all matters for all women. That means of course, that we also support marriage equality in Australia. Besides the compelling question of equal rights in and of themselves, the links are manifestly clear between discrimination and poor mental health, and that holds for all forms of discrimination, whether on the basis of sex, race or sexuality.

Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, and the combination of all three, prevents immigrant and refugee women from accessing the health services they need freely and without fear of negative repercussions. Immigrant and refugee women from LGBTIQ communities should not have to worry about the homophobia they might encounter when they visit a health practitioner; they should access health care confident that their intimate partner will be recognised by the system.

As Audre Lorde has stated, no woman lives a single issue life. As a result, our politics must be multi-faceted.

We support our LGBTIQ sisters and we care about their equal rights. We want all immigrant and refugee women in Australia to enjoy the greatest possible health and wellbeing throughout their lives and to share those lives with whoever they choose.

Gender and elder abuse: what’s the connection?

The Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health and the University of Melbourne made a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry on Elder Abuse. The submission draws on recent research that shows that elder abuse is gendered and that immigrant and refugee older women are at particularly risk of physical and sexual abuse due to language barriers, social isolation and dependence on others to access social services. Solutions include providing multilingual education and information for immigrant and refugee women, delivered by female bilingual educators, using a variety of formats and media.

Submission to the Victorian Gender Equality Strategy

MCWH is proud to share our submission to the Victorian Gender Equality Strategy, which was endorsed by eleven regional and state-wide women’s organisations including: Women’s Health In the North; Women’s Health in the Southeast; Women’s Health East; Women’s Health West; Women’s Health and Wellbeing Barwon South West; Women’s Health Grampians; Women’s Health Goulburn North East; Gippsland Women’s Health; Women’s Health Victoria; Women with Disabilities Victoria; and Positive Women Victoria.

We are also very pleased to endorse submissions made to the Strategy by these organisations.
Because MCWH is a national, community based organisation committed to the achievement of health and wellbeing for and by immigrant and refugee women, our submission focuses on the needs of immigrant and refugee women.

Click here to read the full submission, including our recommendations.

Supporting women’s right to choose

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MCWH is one of forty organisations that has signed on to an open letter to the Premier regarding abortion laws. Immigrant and refugee already face significant barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services and MCWH welcomes the government’s commitment to reject any changes to the Abortion Law Reform Act that would reduce women’s access

to appropriate, safe and legal abortion. MCWH also supports the government’s commitment to create safe access zones for women, as it will further ensure that immigrant and refugee receive timely and safe health care.

Read the letter here

Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Experiences of Violence: Pathways to Change

Violence against women occurs in all Victorian communities and across all cultures. There are clear differences in the way that violence is enacted across cultures and social contexts, but no one immigrant/refugee community or culture is any more violent than another.

However, due to structural inequalities, immigrant and refugee women are more vulnerable to violence, and have a lower level of access to family violence services. They face a range of barriers when they act on family violence, and as a result are under-represented in early intervention programs and over-represented as crisis service users.

The MCWH Submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence scopes the range of issues impacting on immigrant and refugee women, addressing policy, prevention and early intervention programs, and access to appropriate family violence response services. The submission charts the pathways to change to improve immigrant and refugee women’s safety and wellbeing, and decrease their vulnerability to family violence.

MCWH would like to see stronger links between policy, resource allocation and program implementation taking a comprehensive intersectional approach so that ‘diversity statements’ in policy follow through to action. We advocate for a broader definition of violence, and a greater focus and investment in primary prevention and early intervention programs so that women are enabled to link with appropriate services at an earlier point in their experience of family violence.

MCWH would like to see a greater valuing of bilingual and bilingual workers in the family violence system through workforce diversification strategies across all types of programs, fostering in particular, the leadership of immigrant and refugee women. Importantly, the family violence response sector needs a significant boost, to ensure that women who do access the system are assisted in the most effective and meaningful ways. Cultural and structural change is required, as are fundamental improvements to on-the-ground practice.