The WRAP#54-Achieving reproductive justice: a case of intersectional thinking, the costs of motherhood and 60 Seconds with Sasha Sarago

The month of May is inherently woman focused with the celebration of mothers everywhere on Mother’s Day and through raising awareness of women’s sexual and reproductive rights on International Day of Action for Women’s Health.

Using an intersectional approach, we unpack what exactly reproductive justice means, particularly in relation to immigrant and refugee women and women of colour. We also question what the true cost of being a mother is: it seems we all have a bit of gender equality work to do if we’ve yet to show how much we value and appreciate the unpaid work that mothers do.

Last but not least, we chat with Ascension magazine founder Sasha Sarago about celebrating your culture and being true to yourself.

Until next time,
The WRAP team.

Achieving reproductive justice: a case of intersectional thinking



The concept of choice, like the language of human rights, is essentially a good thing. Having choices (or rights) implies that you also have the freedom and ability to act on every option (or right) available to you. However, when it comes to women’s reproductive health the issue of rights, (just like choice), becomes decidedly tricky.

Today in many parts of the world it’s International Day of Action for Women’s Health (28th May). As with previous years, the call for action has focused on the need to uphold women’s sexual and reproductive rights. However, there has also been a marked shift towards using the term ‘sexual and reproductive justice’ in appeals to ensure women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health are upheld. Rights? Justice? Is there a difference? Over and above the dictionary definitions, the difference is unequivocally intersectional.

As with intersectionality, it is important to note that it was also black feminists who originally coined ‘reproductive justice’ as a way of highlighting the issue of ‘reproductive choice’ for women of colour. Women of colour who do not have the resources and who are not publicly supported to ‘choose’ their reproductive options.

Audre Lorde has highlighted that ‘there is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives’ and this is exactly the case with women’s health. Women are not just biological bearers of babies- they’re also siblings, students, workers, leaders, lovers and many other things unconnected from their uterus. This is the meaning of reproductive justice: it shifts the focus of improving women’s health from one based solely on ‘choice’ and ‘rights’ to one that recognises the political contexts of women’s lives.

For immigrant and refugee women this means ensuring that public policy and institutions, such as immigration and health systems, uphold women’s rights to access good quality medical care, free from ill-treatment such as discrimination and forced medical intervention. The violation of immigrant women’s rights during pregnancy, childbirth and the post-partum period has been described as obstetric violence, which is a form of violence against women that is often overlooked.

A reproductive justice framework can be a means for highlighting the intersections of different forms of institutional violence and violence against women. It’s a framework that includes a woman’s right to not have a child as well as her right to have children and parent them in dignity in safe and supportive environments. If we want to ensure these rights are upheld, the choice is clear: we should work towards achieving reproductive justice to fix the structural changes needed for addressing the wellbeing of all women.

The costs of motherhood

Image// www/


May is a special time of year for many mothers, when children and partners take the time to acknowledge how much we owe to the mums in our lives. Of course someone has taken the time to figure out how much Australians spend on Mother’s Day (just over $2 billion including $200 million on flowers). But the cost of motherhood – the emotional, physical and financial investment that women make as mothers – continues to be relatively unquantifiable.

The flowers may have faded, the breakfasts and lunches and chocolates well and truly digested, but this May, along with the federal budget, there have been a few more reasons to think about mothers and what it costs to be one.

Even if we don’t have a clear bottom line about the costs of motherhood, we can definitely look to research for some indications. A recent study found that in families with young children, mothers do a great deal more unpaid work than fathers, even when they are not the ‘stay-at-home parent’. Stay-at-home mums devote 74 hours per week to housework and child care, compared to 47 hours for stay-at-home dads, a difference of 1,404 hours per year. When paid work comes into the picture, paid-working mothers do an extra 104 hours of unpaid housework and childcare per year in addition to their paid work than their dad counterparts.

Physical labour is one thing, but the mental load of motherhood is another, as is beautifully illustrated in a recent visual think piece from Emma. For most mothers, the common expectation that they will be in charge of household management does not shift when women take on additional roles including paid work. And of course, we all know how this translates into financial costs: the gender pay gap, the fight for access to maternity leave and discrimination against mothers in the workplace, to name a few.

Mothers are expected to work for love, not money, but cost is often the bottom line, and motherhood is very much a user-pays system. In the forever shifting landscape of temporary visas for example, motherhood now has a new price-tag. As part of the proposed federal budget this year, the government outlined a new temporary visa – which allows migrant parents to stay in Australia for up to 10 years for $20,000 and the cost of private health insurance. Migrant mums and dads who can afford the visa will not be allowed to conduct paid work. However, there is an expectation that they will make up an unpaid workforce of ‘Granny Nannies’. As Assistant Minister for Immigration Mr. Hawke said, ‘Grandparents will be available and able to, under this visa, care for their grandchildren while the parents work.’

Mothering is priceless and no-one wants to live without it. But economics are deeply gendered and it’s clear that despite the huge contribution to the economy that mothers and grandmothers make, the cost is largely carried by individual women. Social policy that is based on a user-pays ideology only makes women pay even more to be mothers and entrenches women’s disadvantage.

Mothers need to see their work valued. If we could develop social policy that recognises the intrinsic value that mothering brings to society as a whole, we would see more productive, gender equitable and sustainable outcomes. Forget the flowers, all our days would be mother’s days.

60 seconds with Sasha Sarago

Sasha Sarago

Editor and co-founder of Ascension magazine and proud Aboriginal woman

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
Right now I am enjoying my research of Indigenous feminism and Australia’s colonial frameworks for a documentary I am producing.

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
If I had a magic wand, I would use it to help the masses realise and utilise their true potential.

What do you most value in your friends?
I value my friend’s generosity. I love my friend’s capacity to love with all their heart. I admire how they offer their knowledge freely and support my dreams. I marvel at their ability to challenge me to be the best version of myself. And I adore how they nurture my emotional and spiritual growth.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be?
The most important piece of advice I would impart to someone new to Australia is to protect, maintain and celebrate your culture and identity with every fibre of your being.

What’s your favourite word in any language? Why?
My favourite word is “Girgorou” which means beautiful in Jirrbal my grandmother’s language; we are the Rainforest people of Far North Queensland. I love this word because it describes my people and our language, country and culture.

If you could invite any woman, (dead or living) to dinner, who would it be and why?
It would be my grandmother. Firstly, I would love to meet her. Unfortunately, she died long before I was born. I would ask her about our Jirrbal culture and what it was like living as an Aboriginal woman in her time. I’d also ask her to share every piece of wisdom she could pass on to me for the next generation.

What are you reading right now?
Skin Deep: Settler impressions of Aboriginal women, by Dr Liz Conor.

If you could convince the world of one thing, what would it be?
We are all human beings. Nothing more, nothing less.

The complexity of culture



Migrants and refugees are all so different from each other that it can be quite difficult sometimes to find a common experience among us. However, one thing that we often say and hear from the women we work with is that, for each of us, our cultures ground us and support us.

As migrants, we often build a sense of belonging and historical continuity through our links to our cultures or our communities. We belong, not only by sharing culture in the narrow sense of the word, but by sharing everyday experiences, which can include sharing history, routines, political challenges, events, economic hardship and in some cases, life-threatening experiences and recovery.

Migrants’ sense of belonging to our communities and cultures is sometimes juxtaposed with belonging to a nationalised ‘Australian’ identity. We are told we have to choose one or the other, and dual citizenship is increasingly described as a risk to the nation. Yet, given the opportunity, we create and enjoy hybrid identities that bring together all our experiences, and that don’t require a separation of allegiances at all.

Without this opportunity, the cultures and communities we hold dear, and the complex identities we have forged, are too often reduced to stereotypes. Migrant cultures are framed as being more ‘traditional’, particularly when it comes to gender equality, women’s rights and violence against women. This framing goes along with the assumption that migrant men are more violent and patriarchal, and migrant women more compliant and accepting of violations of their rights. Stereotypes like these are sometimes used as cultural excuses for violence against women. They also fail to explain the violence perpetrated against migrant women by Anglo-Australian men.

Culture is not fixed or unchanging, traditional gendered practices are not essentially backward, and ‘modern’ gendered practices are not automatically liberating to women. Without pointing at the ‘cultural’ issues of migrants, there are many modern ‘Australian’ cultural practices, policy and legislation, that require dramatic change for women to achieve gender equality.

Men are changing beings too, including migrant and refugee men, who are well placed to stand alongside and support their migrant and refugee sisters to lead Australia towards greater gender equality. Women’s status is changing and evolving across the world. We need to work together, not by leaving culture behind, but by bringing it along. The more we understand culture as a complex, changing and powerful force in all of our lives, the further we will get.

What’s normal anyway?


Image: Adam Jones//Flickr

Amid all the recent talk about what it means to be Australian, you might have heard that the typical Australian is now a woman, according to the 2016 census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Australia’s “new normal” is a 38-year-old married mother of two who has completed Year 12, lives in a house with three bedrooms and two cars, does five to 14 hours of housework each week, and is the daughter of Australian-born parents with English heritage. The typical immigrant’s country of birth is different depending on where you live in Australia, but she is also a woman.

While those who know stats have assured us that the way they calculate what is typical is not a particularly meaningful way of describing the majority of Australians, it got us thinking about what counts as normal.

At our NETFA conference last month, the issue of what’s normal arose in the context of women’s body image, particularly in relation to women’s genitalia. As Dr Amy Webster explained, the desire to feel ‘normal’ or ‘attractive’ were two of the key reasons women reported they had visited the wonderful online labia library: an important resource which presents a range of photos of women’s unaltered labia and gentialia. Designed by Women’s Health Victoria, the purpose of the labia library is to show women the natural diversity of women’s genitalia, in response to the demands we often feel to conform to Australia’s cultural beliefs and expectations of beauty.

As Sasha Sarago, editor of Ascension lifestyle magazine, noted, clearly the media has a hand in shaping these attitudes. Increased demand for labioplasty and other forms of cosmetic surgery reflect the pressure on women to see unrealistic ideals about our bodies as the ‘norm’ instead of the exception (or fabrication). This cultural pressure is not the only reason a woman might choose to undertake surgery (and we definitely think it’s her right to do so). However, as Dr Odette Kelada pointed out, by internalising these ideals women and men can become desensitised to the influence that culture and media has on our choices.

For many women from cultural backgrounds that are not represented or celebrated in mainstream Australian culture, the ‘norm’ is not only unattainable, but hurtful and harmful. Skin lighteners and hair straighteners take on different meaning for women whose natural beauty is framed as being ‘not normal’. Because of our visible difference to the invisible ‘norm’, some women’s bodies or beauty practices are seen as exotic or oppressed. As a recent case at a Victorian secondary school showed, immigrant women’s ‘non-conformity’ to mainstream beauty ‘norms’ can even be taken as bad behaviour.

What is normal anyway when it comes to gender? In a recent article about intersex people, author Alice Dreger wrote that “People tend to assume that everyone is born simply male or female. But nature shows us otherwise.” As Dreger notes, while each baby is assigned one of two genders at birth, there is much more genital and other sex-development variation that occurs naturally. Male and female standard genitalia are but two points on a varied continuum. By taking natural beauty as the standard, perhaps we can start to move away from some of the rigid gender norms that stop us from appreciating women’s diversity.