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.
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.
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.
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.
Last WRAP we lamented that your average, news-loving Australian is unlikely to learn about the complex issues related to ending female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) because, too often, that kind of complexity is pushed out in favour of some good-old heart-pumping, paper-selling sensationalism.
Now, thanks to the symposium that MCWH held in Melbourne this month, in partnership with our friends Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights (AMWCHR), we can share seven top tips taken from the day, as noted by participants themselves.
1. Don’t assume that women who have experienced FGM/C feel that they are victims or experience it in the same way.
This handy tip, from the AMWCHR media guide, is clearly not only useful for journalists. True, the temptation to simplify women’s experiences of FGM/C is probably strongest in media reporting. However, it can be challenging for anyone who is outside or new to the issue to set aside their assumptions about what women who have experienced FGM/C must feel, think or want. And as reporter Rachel Baxendale reminded us during a thoughtful panel discussion on media representation, it’s not easy for journalists either! AMWCHR’s ‘Respectful Dialogue’ is a much needed reference for anyone reporting on the issue.
2. Women affected by FGM/C need space to speak for themselves – not be spoken for.
We should have known that we didn’t need to look further than the irrepressible Juliana Nkrumah to redefine senational. Her message was simple: now is the time to recognise the leadership and build the voices of women affected by FGM/C in order to overcome the cultural inequities and privileges that are built into our health programs and services. There is a way to work with affected women that values and holds their voice, and there is more we can do to ensure that our work is not only community focused, but community-led and owned.
3. Age appropriate responses are as important as culturally appropriate ones.
If we thought the idea that women used Google doctor was a bit of an exaggeration, Natalija Nesvadbah from Mercy Hospital for Women, who provided the findings from a recently conducted project on young women’s attitudes and behaviours in seeking information about FGM/C, advised us otherwise. And guess what: young women affected by FGM/C want to talk about their sexual and reproductive health with other women who are the same age and who had similar experiences. Well, of course they do, and hearing this made us all wonder why did we hadn’t realised before.
4. There is a gap in FGM/C education and understanding for health professionals, particularly in rural and regional areas.
We know that health in rural and regional Australia is often neglected, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that communities affected by FGM/C living in regional Victoria often lack access to culturally appropriate services and interpreters. But as we learned from a research study conducted by Cathy Vaughan and Narelle White at University of Melbourne, uncertainty about how to talk about FGM/C, and the wish to protect positive relationships with communities, can lead health professionals to avoid the issue altogether in some smaller regional areas. And as NSW panellist Prof Elizabeth Elliot confirmed, the knowledge gap among paediatricians nationally, is just as big a concern.
5. Using alternative rites of passage, communities can abandon FGM/C by embracing cultural tradition, not rejecting it.
Sitting around talking about sexual and reproductive health does not sound like a fun night out for girls of any age. Enter Dr Casta Tungaraza, from African Women’s Council of Australia, talking about ‘kitchen parties’: a highly successful initiative that shows us how sexual and reproductive health education can be woven into existing cultural traditions and celebrations of womanhood. The parties bring girls together to share the excitement of reaching adulthood, to enjoy the support of their female relatives in the process and to ask questions about any health concerns they have without judgement. We think kitchen parties should be a new tradition for every girl.
6. Involving men and boys in this issue is important.
You might think that a Symposium about FGM/C would be the last place you’d find a man, but our men’s panel showed that they have a lot to say about it. The fact that FGM/C is traditionally restricted to the domain of women can obscure the wider social pressures and attitudes that sustain and support the practice, as well as the impact of FGM/C on family relationships. Attitudes that connect the need for FGM/C to women’s marriageability, sexual purity and beauty are reinforced and validated by the whole community, including men and boys, and their involvement is crucial in changing attitudes. Speaker Usama Shahid eloquently explained his research into ways of starting a thoughtful conversation with young men that can lead to positive results for the whole community.
7. Government is a key stakeholder, in providing support for complementary and mutually reinforcing action and commitment at international, national and community levels.
The Symposium marked the culmination of our National Education Toolkit Project which, like the 14 other federally funded initiatives, had a shining, albeit brief, lifespan. There have been some wonderful resources developed through all of the national FGM/C projects which will contribute significantly to our national knowledge-base and build the quality of our practice. We now need to build on the momentum.
Perhaps the most important lesson MCWH has learned from our international research is that effective FGM/C prevention is a long-term process and that coordination is crucial. World-wide, programs have worked best when they are human rights based, community led, and coordinated across international, national and community levels. And the important element in this whole equation is that actions at each level should be complementary and mutually reinforcing.
The Symposium certainly showcased the wonderful work that has been done, and there were some significant signposts for future action. Symposium participants spoke with one voice in their encouragement of both State and Federal governments to continue their support for the ongoing FGM/C prevention work.
Last week MCWH co-hosted an important discussion focusing on immigrant and refugee women’s rights with Diaspora Action Australia and YWCA Australia. YWCA Australia led the consultation as part of the development of the 2014 United Nations Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Shadow Report.
The 2014 CEDAW Shadow Report aims to feature ‘spotlights’ on four groups of women who continue to face pervasive and severe barriers to claiming their human rights: women in prison, women with disabilities, single mothers and immigrant/refugee women.
The consultation included training in CEDAW processes by YWCA Executive Officer, Caroline Lambert and involved key advocates, community leaders and workers who support immigrant and refugee women in the community. Feedback from the day will inform the priority issues to be featured in the report, which is expected to be completed by August 2014.