What we can achieve in one generation

Kenya Girl Guides Association - rally against FGM during 16 Days of Activism, 2011, image courtesy of Say No - UNiTE on flickr

Kenya Girl Guides Association – rally against FGM during 16 Days of Activism, 2011, image courtesy of Say No – UNiTE on flickr

This 6th February marks a decade since the then First Lady of Nigeria, Mrs Stella Obasanjo officially declared the date as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C).

Five years later in 2008, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) came together to begin work on the Joint Programme for the Acceleration of the Abandonment of FGM/C.

The Joint Programme has set the benchmark for socio-cultural change on an issue which raises complex questions about gender equity, cultural difference and the universality of human rights (in other words, it’s not an issue you want to casually bring up in conversation). And it has shown impressive results: in 2011, 2,000 communities across Africa have abandoned the practice. That’s a total of 8,000 communities (or 2,600 communities per year) across 15 African countries that have renounced FGM/C since the Programme began.

What did it take to bring about such change? At the core of the programme lies the thought that long lasting social change must be culturally-sensitive, collective and be led by communities.

The three-C strategy is deceptively simple yet, like many things that go unnoticed, it requires everyday hard work. Not that this everyday work is ordinary, but it does take ongoing will and commitment to deliver more than 18,000 community education sessions, to engage almost 3,000 religious leaders and to attract more than 3,000 media features.

While the work in Australia is on a more modest scale, it’s important to recognise that FGM/C education programs have been conducted with affected communities from as far back as 1996. These programs are based on internationally proven strategies, and continue to have great results.

The Australian government’s recent announcement to fund and support communities to eradicate FGM/C is certainly welcome news. It follows and supports an historic resolution made by the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee, calling for aglobal ban on FGM/C. It’s also an opportunity to add another strategy: to consolidate our efforts across the country to ensure that our approach is indeed collective, coordinated and sustained.

If the government continues to match the commitment and hard work already being shown by health practitioners and community and settlement workers across Australia to eliminate FGM/C, change within this generation is entirely possible.

When a house is a home

Maeve's little house, image courtesy of happydacks on flickr.

Maeve’s little house, image courtesy of happydacks on flickr.

All the talk of the gender salary gap and whether or not you can you live on $32 a day as a sole-parent could be enough to make you despair (who would have thought there would be gender-gap deniers, and of course you don’t live on that amount, you endure a miserable existence). But whatever figures and statistics you look at, there’s no denying that women are bearing the brunt of these inequities.

We’ve mentioned before that if you’re a woman, a lone-parent and from a non-English speaking background, your risk of poverty is just about tripled. While the link between poverty and homelessness is relatively straightforward—if you can’t keep up with your rent you lose the roof over your head—the reasons for women’s homelessness can be more complex and are connected to the unequal position women have in our society. Women are more at risk of being homeless because of their greater exposure to violence and poverty (due to lower-paying jobs; insufficient superannuation; and the impact of separation and divorce: gender-gap salary deniers take note).

In 2009-10, 62% of people who accessed homelessness specialist services were women. Yet we know that immigrant and refugee women are less likely than Australian-born women to seek support from homeless services.

Immigrant and refugee women’s reluctance to seek help are varied: lack of knowledge about services; language and structural barriers; or lack of confidence. For many women, especially those who are experiencing physical, sexual, emotional, or economic abuse, asking for help might also be seen as equivalent to losing your pride and self-esteem.

Finding somewhere to live is not always or only about affordable housing, it’s about finding a home where you can also feel safe and secure.

This is the idea behind the projects delivered by the non-profit housing provider,Women’s Housing Limited. Women’s Housing provides award-winning apartment complexes around Melbourne specifically designed for women on low incomes who have experienced a housing crisis. Rent is generally set at between 25%-70% of market rent to make it affordable for women on Centrelink payments. The housing is purposely sourced for its proximity to transport, schools, shops, and other local amenities. Homes are also built using environmentally sustainable design principles: the six star energy rating means women’s heating and cooling bills are kept to a minimum. And they look good. Housing that can be proudly called home.

It’s not often we see a basic human right being explicitly recognised and purposefully acted upon. We have an ethical responsibility to ensure that this type of work continues.

60 seconds with Azam Naghavi

azam

PhD Scholar and international student

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
Being a teacher. I was a teacher and a counsellor and when I go back to Iran, I’ll be teaching at university.

If you could time travel where would you go?
I would love to go to the future. Never in my life have I ever dreamed to be a child again or to redo things again. Not because I regret about what I have done but I’m more curious about what will happen next.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new in Australia, what would it be?
I’ve learnt not to take things too personally. When I first arrived in Australia, I found it very difficult to interpret people’s actions and I sometimes had the feeling that I was being discriminated against and it makes life easier to know it’s not always the case.

During the first couple of months, I didn’t know much about road rules and I was waiting at the traffic lights to cross the road and every driver who wanted to turn left, would stop there and look at me before turning. I was in Islamic dress, in the head scarf and I was so embarrassed thinking, what’s wrong with me? Why are all these drivers looking at me? And when I finally got a car and began driving myself, I realised that the drivers weren’t looking at me but were just doing a head check!

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I’m enjoying motherhood at the moment. My son is nearly 10 years old and he’s fun to be with. He’s very patient and doesn’t complain when I’m working on my thesis.  I also volunteer at the Iranian Cultural School every Saturday and I teach reading and writing in Persian.  I like working with children and helping other people. I’m doing a lot of writing at the moment because I want to submit my thesis very soon.

What talent would you most like to possess?
I would really love to be able to draw: nature, trees, grasses and lakes. I recently went to Mount Gambier and I would like to draw a picture of the two lakes I saw there.

The WRAP #4, November: Still birth, international students & 60 seconds with Maria Hach

Welcome to the WRAP number 4.

As many of you would have already gathered from our chats here on the WRAP, we are pretty keen on statistics. When we can find them, that is. But, no matter how compelling or shocking or commendable, statistics can remain lifeless without any accompanying political analyses of their relevance to immigrant and refugee women. They can remain meaningless without the stories and accounts of migrant and refugee women themselves.

In this issue, we highlight two important statistical rankings and subject them to the WRAP treatment. We also spend 60 seconds with the author of our soon to be launched Common Threads Report and Best Practice Guide, Maria Hach. The Common Threads project is inspired by the notion that every woman has a valuable story to tell. Each woman’s migration and subsequent health experience in Australia is an individual and personal one, from which we can draw common issues and themes which occur in the lives of immigrant and refugee women. It’s the perfect combination of the statistical and the anecdotal and we’re extremely excited that Maria Vamvakinou MP, Federal Member for Calwell, will be launching it in December.

Hope to see you there!
The Wrap Team

Ethnicity plays a role in the stillbirth story

Image "The Little Match Girl" courtesy of Tonia Composto and the Stillbirth Foundation Australia. See below for details on how to purchase a print.

Image “The Little Match Girl” courtesy of Tonia Composto and the Stillbirth Foundation Australia. See below for details on how to purchase a print.

Australia was recently ranked 7th among 165 countries around the world for best places to be a mother. This is a truly fine achievement – an acknowledgement of the relative privilege many women in Australia enjoy. But before we start breaking open the lamingtons in celebration, is women’s health and wellbeing equally shared across the broad diversity of Australian mums? Or are some mums more equal than others?

Recent research conducted among 44,000 women has illustrated one tragic way that inequality reigns in the Australian birthing suite. The research found that immigrant and refugee women born in South Asia run double the risk of stillbirth in late pregnancy (between 37 and 42 weeks). While the reasons for this higher rate are yet unknown, the findings are alarming when you consider our increased migration over the past decade: one in every four Australian births is to a woman born overseas. If you happen to be thatwoman born overseas and about to give birth, you would want, and rightly expect, to know why your ethnicity is a risk factor. From the little we do know, immigrant and refugee women suffer poorer maternal health, are less likely to present for antenatal care before 20 weeks gestation, and are at greater risk of some health conditions such as gestational diabetes.

There are many steps mothers can take in the early stages of pregnancy that can reduce the risk of adverse birth outcomes and this includes ensuring that women are themselves informed and educated about the care they are entitled to receive. And health professionals have an ethical responsibility to provide the best possible care to all women to ensure the best possible outcomes. This is the message underlying the Common Threads Best Practice Guide for immigrant and refugee women’s sexual and reproductive health. Using real-life case studies, the Guide offers practical examples of cross-cultural understanding in health service provision.

Ethnicity awareness for expectant mothers shouldn’t only be about ordering women to undergo more tests, but also ensuring that our health workforce is adequately trained to communicate effectively with patients from various cultural backgrounds. Of course, governments need to take the lead in making sure such a policy becomes a reality. In the meantime, the Common Threads Best Practice Guide is essential reading.

Melbourne artist Tonia Composto created a series of Fairy Tales for Hope prints in memory of her friend’s stillborn daughter, Hope Angel Heppleston. You can read more about Hope’s story or buy a print for $20AUD each + $12 for shipping in Australia and raise money for the Stillbirth Foundation Australia.

Closing the gaps in health for international students

Image (2008) courtesy of RMIT University on flickr.

Image (2008) courtesy of RMIT University on flickr.

Here’s another statistical feather to Australia’s cap: Australia has been ranked number 1 by the World Economic Forum for closing the gender gap on educational attainment. No ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ about it, it’s a ranking we can truly be proud of, a ranking that could attract more dollars, oops, female students, to our successful international education industry. Yet, as they say, with great success comes great responsibility. While success in international education continues to be equated in dollar terms (16.3 billion in 2010-2011), we can and should define our responsibility to international students beyond educational outcomes.

Much has already been said of the international students’ lot: lack of affordable accommodation; restrictions on work rights; lack of transport concessions; experiences of, and vulnerability to, racism, discrimination and violence; and the need for greater access to services and support. Add to this what our research has found:  if you’re a female international student and happen to fall pregnant during the first twelve months of your stay, your mandatory health insurance does not cover you for any pregnancy-related costs (except in cases of emergency). And you thought that growing HECs debt was a problem. Imagine, for a moment, the choices of a full fee paying female student who finds herself in such a dire situation. Access to health services, including accessibility to contraception and abortion, has always been strongly linked to affordability. Unplanned pregnancies are just that: unplanned. Whatever the reason for the pregnancy, every choice available, whether it’s ante-natal care or abortion, should be made a feasible and accessible option for all women. If you’re a newly-arrived international student trying to make ends meet, your options are limited.

As one student told us, ‘I’m paying $13,000 per semester and I study for three semesters. The health cover I get is $700 … and the health cover is limited to only some health diagnoses … people coming from overseas aren’t rich. They are coming to get a living.’ Indeed, the international student population is generally a youthful lot who come to live, work, study and sometimes, maybe, fall in love. Or not. Things happen. International students are no different to Australian-born students when it comes to living life. So why are there restrictions on their right to access sexual and reproductive health care?