60 seconds with Resika KC

Resika_1

Mental health worker and global citizen

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I am enjoying working in community mental health and being able to support people in their recovery. One of the good things about my work is being able to work with people from diverse cultures and different spheres of life. I get to learn many new things everyday about my work and myself which is what I value the most in the sector.

What do you most value in your friends?
I value honesty, support, care and fun in my friendships. I like being there for friends in good and bad times and I value friends who do the same for me.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be? 
To be open and learn about life and culture in Australia, to be confident and willing to share your culture and experiences, and to seek support from friends, family or an external organisation if you feel stuck or alone.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?
I think “welcome” is my favourite word in English as it builds a bridges between two people and provides an opportunity to get to know each other and build a connection.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman from an immigrant or refugee background?
I think the biggest challenge for me was to overcome my own assumptions, and what others in my community fed me, about having limited opportunities in Australia- just because you are an immigrant from a different country and culture. However, as I have opened myself to knowing the culture and people better, I have felt that people have accepted me as I am and have valued the knowledge and skills I bring from my background and culture.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant background?
I have challenged a lot of stereotypes in my life whether it be of gender, race or class. This has made me more confident to keep going and I don’t take any opportunities or support for granted due to this experience. I believe that who I am today is because of all the experiences I’ve had being a woman from the CALD community.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
Multiculturalism is where different cultures, different faces, different perspectives and experiences meet at one place and flourish by learning about each other, valuing the importance of the diversity and respecting each other.

If you could convince the world of one thing, what would it be?
Though people in different parts of world have different values and perspectives, we all are equal and deserve equal opportunities and respect from each other.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would love to remove all the geographical boundaries so that people could travel everywhere freely and not be restricted by belonging to one country or another.

Five things we learnt about preventing FGM/C

From left-right: Maria Osman, Juliana Nikrumah AM, Amina Mohamud Warsame, Wudad Salim, Sasha Sarago

From left-right: Maria Osman, Juliana Nikrumah AM, Amina Mohamud Warsame, Wudad Salim, Sasha Sarago

The third NETFA Forum, Foundations for Change in Melbourne gathered together a group of amazing women to discuss women’s rights, health and prevention of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). For those of you who couldn’t make it, we’ve put together a list of five key messages that we took away from the event:

1. It’s about gender equality
FGM/C is a challenging issue to talk about because it varies across cultures, countries and migration contexts. The reasons for practising it are diverse. Despite this, we can see some common underlying factors, in particular gender discrimination and gender stereotypes. Any response or attempt to address FGM/C must focus on these underlying issues. Panellists spoke about how FGM/C is often ‘siloed’ as an ‘African women’s issue’, preventing us from seeing it as an issue of gender inequality. Speakers advocated for working within a human rights framework when doing prevention work – this can highlight the lived, everyday injustices experienced by women affected by FGM/C, including forms of gendered health inequality. When addressing FGM/C, all agreed that having an intersectional understanding of gender equality was critical and acknowledging that racism informs the debate.

2. It’s about strengthening our health systems
Immigrant women and girls affected by FGM/C are often referred to as ‘at risk’ or ‘vulnerable’, when it is often more accurate to say that they are made vulnerable or have been placed at risk by policies, systems and institutions. Many strategies often point to the need to build the capacity of health professionals with less attention paid to the need to strengthen the health system itself. The forum devoted a lot of time to discussing the structural and social factors that impact on immigrant women’s and girls’ unequal access to sexual and  reproductive health services and how services can better respond to these inequities. A key factor to achieving equity is the work being carried out by bilingual workers. Forum participants highlighted the need to value the skilled and complex work of the bilingual educators in the Family and Reproductive Rights Education Program (FARREP) in Victoria. Ultimately, strengthening our health systems will help women and girls exercise more control in, as well as be more informed about, the type of care they receive.

3. It’s not simply a ‘cultural’ issue.
There is now widespread agreement that FGM/C cannot be justified by cultural or religious reasons. However, when FGM/C is compared to female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS) such as labiaplasty it is often labelled a ‘cultural’ issue whereas the latter is considered to be a medical one. As a result, FCGS is not nearly as scrutinised. Panellists spoke about the similarities and differences between both procedures, arguing that both involve socialisation and shame relating to women’s bodies. Both become accepted as ‘normal’ in different contexts. To be able to view both practices as such gave us a more nuanced understanding of ‘culture’.  At the same time, it was noted that there are some important differences, with much discussion on how FGCS and comparisons with FGM/C can depoliticise advocacy work being conducted to prevent FGM/C. For children who are subjected to FGM/C there is little to no choice and therefore cannot be viewed in the same way as women choosing to have either procedure later in life. The idea of ‘choice’ here is a complex one. Despite this, there is merit in understanding both practices as not simply or only cultural, but as gendered practices that impact on women’s mental health and wellbeing.

4. It’s important that women and girls from FGM/C affected communities have an equal voice
‘Nothing about us without us’ was the idea carried on from our last forum with the idea following on that  all work relating to FGM/C prevention should be carried out with the full and direct participation of women and girls from FGM/C affected communities. An effective multisectoral response needs to ensure that affected communities are at the forefront of efforts. The speakers discussed the many ways that law enforcers, educators and advocates can work together with communities to prevent FGM/C. This included creating a space where knowledge can be shared, again strengthening our existing networks.

5. It’s a human rights issue
FGM/C is internationally recognised as a violation of human rights of women and girls. Human rights are a precondition for social justice and as a party to both the CEDAW and Beijing Platform for Action, Australia has committed itself to being a society that supports equal rights for all women and men. However, in a migration country such as Australia, human rights particularly in relation to FGM/C can be poorly understood. There was much discussion on how we, as workers, can better engage with international human rights standards for more effective advocacy. While acknowledging ‘humanity as the common denominator’, international keynote speaker Amina Mohamed Warsame invited us to understand human rights as ‘a question of opportunities’ and that immigrant women need to be given both the rights and resources to achieve transformational change.

The path towards excellent sexual and reproductive health

Image via medium.com

Image via medium.com

It’s sometimes said that the best laid plans can often go wrong but more optimistically, a plan is often a map that marks out where we have come from and where it is we need to go. How we travel along the various paths is, more often than not, key to reaching the destination.

The recent release of Victoria’s first ever sexual and reproductive health strategy and priority action plan is an excellent example of just how far we’ve travelled in relation to women’s health. The narrow thinking that it is simply or only about what affects breasts, wombs and vaginas has gradually given way to an understanding that access to sexual and reproductive health services is a fundamental right for all women.

In Australia, ‘all women’ now includes more than 75% of Australians who identified with an ancestry other than Australian. The needs of women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can no longer be seen as marginal. In this context, Victoria’s action plan has recognised that improving access to reproductive choice also includes addressing systemic barriers. In the case of immigrant women, such as international students and other temporary migrants, systemic barriers like visa status can be a critical risk factor when it comes to women’s health.

The issue of international students’ access to pregnancy-related to care is something we’ve been advocating for several years now and the Victorian strategy now has an explicit plan of action: ‘to advocate to the Commonwealth to ensure that international students have access to reproductive health services immediately upon their arrival in Australia through private health insurance.’

This is one good sign of just how far we’ve come. The action plan also provides an outline for supporting women through increased prevention strategies and the implementation of peer support models such as bilingual educators. And as far as best laid plans go, the devil will be in the detail: we now need to ensure that the map provided for us in Victoria will allow us to further travel along the path to excellent sexual and reproductive health for all immigrant and refugee women, in ways that are appropriate, meaningful and respectful.

60 seconds with Shegofa Hazara

Shegofa Hazara

Multilinguist and education advocate

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
If I had a magic wand, I would use it to eliminate poverty, corruption and discrimination so no one is forced to leave their country to seek asylum.

What is your best quality or attribute? 
The ability to speak six different languages has made it very easy for me to communicate with people from different backgrounds. By being able to speak those languages, especially in my role as refugee health nurse, I have been able to break down barriers and open up difficult conversations with people.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be? 
That Australia is a beautiful country with vast opportunities available if we choose to take it. Make the most of the opportunities that are given to you. Especially for women from refugee and immigrant backgrounds who may never have had the opportunity to equal rights and education in their country of birth.

I love one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s quotes – ‘Give me an educated mother, I shall promise you the birth of a civilised, educated nation.’ I could not agree more. An educated mother and her attitudes in an uneducated society can change a whole generation.

This quote has always been my inspiration as it encourages me to be a better parent and person. It also encourages me to provide quality education and positive attitude to  future generations.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant refugee/ background? 
Being a role model to other women in the community and breaking the stereotypes.
My past experiences as a woman have taught me to be resilient and strong despite the difficulties you face. Those experiences motivated me to do better and grab the opportunities that are available to me, which were never available before.

Being the first female to finish university from my family with not much guidance is the best thing that has happened to me. 

If you could invite any woman, (dead or living) to dinner, who would it be and why? 
I would love to invite Dr Sima Samar, who is currently in Afghanistan, to dinner. She is a well-known women’s and human rights advocate, activist and a social worker within the national and internal forums in Afghanistan. She has also served as Minister of Women’s Affairs of Afghanistan. She is the first Hazara female from Afghanistan who has helped build schools and hospitals all over Afghanistan. She has been the only female who helped and encouraged Afghan people to continue with their education despite the war.

She is an inspiration to me and motivates me to be a leader, a role model and an advocate for women’s rights. If she has been able to do it in a county where women have no equal rights, then I can certainly do it in a country like Australia.

What does multiculturalism mean to you? 
Multiculturalism for me is a source of strength. Diversity brings with it a vast wealth of knowledge and experiences if we choose to accept it.

Happy International Women’s Day 2017!

Happy International Women’s Day! We always celebrate the strong, intelligent, courageous and inspiring women in our lives, especially the ones we work with, laugh with, love and share the various stages of our lives with. That’s why this year we are particularly happy to celebrate our Board member Anna Moo’s induction into the Victorian Honour Roll for Women.

Read more about Anna’s (and the amazing Hana Assafiri’s) contribution to the lives of refugee and immigrant women in Victoria over the past few decades!

Until next time,
The WRAP Team

The WRAP#51- The route to real change, comparing complexities and 60 Seconds with Dr. Kudzai Kanhutu

As the shortest month of the year comes to a close we look forward to March in anticipation of International Women’s Day and also our national NETFA forum. Both of these events remind us that when it comes to representation and the telling of women’s stories, there is no-one better equipped than women themselves, and in this month’s WRAP we examine how this philosophy applies especially when it comes to immigrant and refugee women.

We also examine the rising popularity of labiaplasty, the challenges of drawing comparisons with FGM/C and the lessons to be learnt from best practice.

Last but never least, we chat to Dr. Kudzai Kanhutu for 60 Seconds about amazing women and her guilty pop pleasures.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team