60 seconds with Rinda Modut


Personal Care Attendant and Multicultural Champion at Southern Cross Care Vic

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?

I’m enjoying my job caring for the elderly. Back home I used to help my grandmother. She looked after us when we became separated from our mother during the war. I really enjoyed being with her and doing things for her.

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?

I’d change the way the world looks at women.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?

The Minister for Health in South Sudan, there are lots of things happening there at the moment.

What would you work for instead of money?


If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?

To look for others in the community who can support you.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?

‘Power’ because it means a lot: you can do a lot of things, you can stand up for yourself, you can raise your voice, build yourself up with it and make a lot of changes if you have it.

When was the last time you laughed out loud?

I often laugh out loud with my seven year old daughter – children are always doing and saying funny things and sometimes they don’t even have to say anything.  The other day she took out a clean pair of underwear out of the drawer thinking it was hers, but it turned out to be mine.  The expression on her face made me laugh out loud!  

Your most cherished memory?

Back home we used to visit a place regularly during my childhood and I always return to that place and the other children I used to play with and I wonder where they are now.  It’s a time and place that keeps coming back to me.   

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.

My grandmother who had twelve children and taught me lot about life. At dinner time, she would always tell us stories about her life and the changes that have happened in the country especially because of the war.   

What are you reading right now? (e.g. blogs, books, magazines, or anything else!)

I’m reading a lot of women’s health information for a bilingual education course I’m completing.  

Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?

It’s a song from South Sudan that roughly translates as ‘The peace has come and the sun has risen’  

Is there a favourite cultural tradition that you like to follow?

Sharing a joint bank account with my husband. I don’t know if it’s an Australian tradition, but my husband and I share our finances and we work together on saving.  Back home, it’s men who often control the money.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?

It means we’re all in this country together.


The WRAP #19 : Name-calling, working hard and 60 seconds with Dolly Atchia

Naming things is complicated.

On the one hand, it shouldn’t really matter. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, they say. And as many of our parents told us, after finding us in tears after school, it doesn’t matter what people call you: sticks and stones, etc. It only matters how you feel about yourself.

It can work the other way around too. For example, the name ‘feminist’: some women don’t want to be called a feminist, and they wouldn’t call themselves a feminist, but spend five minutes talking to them and it’s pretty clear that they’re feminists.

But on the other hand, it can really matter what people call you. It can say a lot about them and a lot about you, and what you ask people to call you can have far reaching effects on the way they perceive you. ‘Caring’ for example: it’s a lovely word, a warm and loving word, but not one that we usually associate with work. But it IS work and carers are all too often suffer the consequences of our inability to make that connection.

So this WRAP we’re talking about name-calling (no, not the Section 18C kind), we’re calling out for more recognition that caring is work and then we’re spending 60 seconds with an amazing carer, Dolly Atchia, one of the 12 fabulous women from Southern Cross Care Vic who MCWH is proud to be training as Multicultural Women’s Liaison Champions in their organisation.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team


Young woman by Charles Roffey 3


Apparently the most common Australian baby names of 2013 were ‘William’ and ‘Charlotte’, a far cry from the ‘Bear Blaze’ or ‘Blue Ivy Carter’ of some celebrity offspring.  It has to make you wonder why parents choose the names they do for children, because, as we all know, names matter.  What you choose to call others or how you choose to describe yourself and others can conjure up images and associations you may never have intended (just look up the popularity of the name ‘Adolf’). Names can also communicate what you find meaningful and connect to or represent your values.

At MCWH, we’re often asked why we choose to use ‘immigrant’ and ‘refugee’ to describe ourselves and the women we work with and advocate for. The simple answer is this: because the act of immigrating to another country and being an immigrant has significant consequences on your health and wellbeing. Using the word ‘immigrant’, especially when you’re trying to advocate for improvements in health, helps to convey the impact of immigration and settlement policies on immigrant and refugee women’s everyday lives.

Immigrants in Australia (who are not, or not yet, Australian citizens) are often made vulnerable by policies that restrict their mobility and choice. Depending on their visa category, immigrants can be denied access to social benefits and entitlements, including owning a home; health services; educational and employment opportunities; social mobility; and the right to be with family. These are the consequences of being an immigrant and they all, in one way or another, have an impact on health and wellbeing.

Of course not all immigrant and refugee women identify first and foremost as ‘migrant’ or ‘refugee’  and this is the way it should be. The reality of immigrant women’s lives is far more complex than one label can cover and no one should ever, or forever, be defined simply by their migrant status.  Nevertheless, it’s the complexity that demands attention:  immigrant women’s issues aren’t just about ‘immigration’ or ‘women’ but cut across a whole range of areas—health, housing, settlement, education, employment, the law, and citizenship.  ‘Immigrant’ and ‘refugee’ shouldn’t be read as fixed identities, but should be used as platforms for mobilisation around the practical, everyday implications of immigration policy in all areas of women’s lives.

While there are many other ways to describe who we are, terms like ‘ethnic’, ‘multicultural’ or ‘culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)’ can keep hidden the structural and institutional injustices experienced by immigrant women. Moreover, they could just as easily be used to describe food, fashion or the latest dance craze.

It may not seem as big a deal as naming your children, but consciously identifying our work with ‘immigrant and refugee women’ is not a decision we have made lightly: it’s not to force women to identify themselves as immigrants and refugees. It’s to empower women to recognise those injustices and inequities that are related to their immigration and settlement experience, and to change the thinking, the ideas and the associations about what it currently means to be an ‘immigrant or refugee woman’.

The National Ethnic and Multicultural Media Broadcasters’ Council journal is about to publish an extended article we’ve written on this issue in response to a piece in the latest issue of the NEMBC:  ‘Ethnic and the problem of terminology’ (page 2). We’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Why not leave a comment!

She works hard for the money … donna summer

‘…so you better treat her right…’ chanted pop icon Donna Summer in the 80s while her video shows us a woman juggling shift-work, long hours and tiring manual labour with single motherhood and unpaid domestic work. Summer’s song has since become a rallying anthem for working women in the western world. But the bigger picture of women shouldering enormous paid and unpaid workloads hasn’t really changed. So how do we treat her right?

This was the same question that 200 women from 19 nations asked during the International Congress of Working Women in 1919. The questions and issues raised back then revolved around the identity of ‘working woman’ and how to find a set of policies that would best serve her interests. As the Donna Summer video illustrates, the challenge continues to lie in the connections and overlaps of women’s paid and unpaid work and the ways in which society places value on the work women do.

Women still continue to carry the bulk of caring responsibilities in the home and are more likely to be employed in ‘caring’ professions. In fact, these are professions which continue to be undervalued (and therefore less paid) than other occupations. Just take, for example, Australia’s aged care workforce: in 2012, over 90% of the 352,000 employees in the sector were women, a growing proportion of whom were born overseas and from countries where English is not the primary language (an average of 32%).

In fact the statistics also show that 65% of all aged care facilities employ personal care attendants and community care workers who speak a language other than English. In a sector where over half of workers report a workplace injury (in 2012, 35% of employees were on Workcover) and where household responsibilities and management issues are the main reasons for staff loss, the high proportion of immigrant workers should be a critical focus in improving working conditions in the care sector. There is evidence to show, for example, that women who speak a language other than English are less likely to seek Workcover arrangements.

Caring isn’t any easier just because you’re paid for it. Caring as a profession can be even more difficult if you’re in a position of having to negotiate more flexible hours; renew a contract; or question unsafe work practices. But caring for yourself isn’t any easier if you’re from an immigrant or refugee background. Continuous education and training in the sector should include education about health and wellbeing as a way of supporting working women, and especially immigrant working women, in all aspects of their lives and the lives of their families.

We’re not getting any younger. We’re past the 1980s and definitely way past the 1910s. As the needs of our ageing population become more complex, it’s increasingly important that we properly define the ‘working women’ of the aged care sector, that we find working conditions and policies that also serve their interests, and that we equip them with the knowledge and confidence to define what caring means in the future.


60 seconds with Dolly Atchia


Nurse and trainee bilingual health educator

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I’m enjoying the bilingual health education course–it’s a good example that women are very good at supporting other women.

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
To better the lives of women

What talent would you most like to possess?
To be a good counsellor and to be an advocate and a voice for women who can’t speak for themselves.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
A human rights lawyer.

What would you work for instead of money?
To know that I’ve improved the lives of immigrant and refugee women.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
People should have awareness and an understanding of the differences between the two cultures.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?
Love. Between husband and wife; same-sex couples; mother, father and child. Even with animals there is an element of love between creatures. It may be a small word, but it’s something a lot of us in this world need.

If you could invite anyone (dead or living) to dinner tonight, who would it be?
My father has been a role model and mentor. There are a lot of things that he’s told me that still stay with me and have been beneficial to my life: if there’s a will there’s a way and education is the key to success.

Your most cherished memory?
When my daughter was born. It was a big day when my identity changed from being a young, married girl to a parent.

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
My daughter is amazing. When we arrived as migrants she was 4 years old and I was a single mother. I had this one child, a suitcase and $300. I gave whatever I could to my daughter–working full-time so she could have the best education I could afford. At a young age she was doing volunteer work with refugees and I’m very proud of her academic achievements–she never fails to surprise me. She completed a double degree in arts/law and is now a barrister. She’s brave, intelligent and to see her do so well when there was just the two of us when we arrived in this country … she’s everything I have great admiration for.

What are you reading right now? (e.g. blogs, books, magazines, or anything else!)
You’ll laugh but it was ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’! I loved the books. I’ve been single for a long time and I’m always open-minded about those things, so the books didn’t shock me. I’m in awe of the author for writing about things we only fantasise about– it’s brave and I think it’s great for women’s sexual liberation.

Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?
‘Respect’ by Aretha Franklin

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
I’ve travelled a lot and Australia is a perfect example of being multicultural and of difference being accepted. As a new migrant, I’d like to see more of Aboriginal culture in everyday life, which would make the idea of multiculturalism even better.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
“…men need to understand what it’s all about.”

The WRAP #18: The Aussie limbo, finding inspiration and 60 seconds with Khadija Gbla

The WRAP is back for 2014 and, despite the fact that it already feels as though we never left, we’ve got to say, we love what we do.

In fact it’s a privilege, which we were reminded of the other day when we read an article about the famous expression “Love what you do and do what you love.” It’s a fantastic idea in theory, but it may be out of reach for some of us living in more precarious conditions: uncertain of our finances, our safety, our family life or even our citizenship, and facing barriers to do what we love, or to love who we love, every day.

So, as the newness of the year wears off and we all start rolling up our sleeves, it’s good to remember that whether we love it or not, the work we do is valuable. Whether we are caring for family, working casual, part-time, full-time, or overtime, for yourself or someone else, studying or volunteering, here or overseas: our work, whatever it is, is meaningful.

This WRAP, we’re talking about what immigration policy might say about how we value migrant work, asking if everyone can really do what they love and then spending 60 seconds with the truly inspirational Khadija Gbla, who spoke at “Voices of Change” in February to celebrate the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM/C. Thanks to everyone who came along!

And thanks for having us back in your inbox.
Until next time,

The WRAP Team

Waiting alone by Max Wolfe on flickr

The Aussie Limbo

While it may sound like the latest dance craze, it’s actually the tune to which Australia’s skilled migrants are metaphorically dancing: at best a slow two-step shuffle from long-term temporary to permanent resident.

Recent statistics show that there has been two worrying moves in Australia’s migration program. First, the route to permanent residency is increasingly being forged via skilled migration. In 2011-12 for example, the skill stream took up 68% of the 190,000 permanent places (compared to 32% family migration). Second, and related, the permanent migration program is becoming more reliant on temporary migrants: 40% of the skilled migrants granted permanent residency were already living here on a temporary basis (mostly as workers on 457 visas or international students who have graduated from Australian universities or colleges). To push the point home, the number of skilled temporary visas (sub-class 457) issued is steadily increasing (by almost 40% in 2011-12), compared with only a 10% increase in overall permanent visas issued in that same year.

So what does this mean? These shifts in the direction of Australia’s migration program–from permanent to temporary, from supply-driven (those who want to come) to demand-driven (those with skills Australian employers want)–raise pressing questions about the social and ethical implications of such a program on immigrants’ lives and what it means to be an Australian ‘migrant’ today.

We’ve written previously about the social challenges faced by international students and 457 visa holders: in particular women who are rendered more vulnerable to poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes and gender-based violence. Like the Caribbean dance of the same name, those participating in ‘two-step’ migration generally find themselves in the precarious land of limbo: there are far more applications for residency than there are places, so temporary migrants are made to wait, sometimes for years, on further temporary visas, until they even reach the front of the line. When has it ever been acceptable for any migrant to live, work and pay taxes, without political representation or access to services? And ladies, just try to imagine the added difficulty of negotiating limbo with a baby bump.

In setting the bars for migration (and by proxy, for citizenship), governments implicitly set the values to which a country might aspire. In its current form, this ‘try before you buy’ mindset only perpetuates conceptions of the migrant worker as mere labour supply and the international student as only export revenue. It’s also important to remember that the majority of women have less opportunity to participate in education and the workforce, an emphasis on skilled labour is likely to set back immigrant women seeking entry into Australia further.

An unbalanced focus on skills to the detriment of other contributions made by migrants fails to acknowledge what two-thirds of Australians already think, that migration from diverse countries makes us stronger. Behind every strong economy should lie an even stronger community wherein all individuals, including immigrant women, can actively and equitably participate and are valued in return.


If you're not doing what you love... from deeplifequotes on flickr

sweatshop project from marrisaorton on flickr

They can make us smile or strike a chord deep within. At their very best, they can provide solace, comfort and inspire us to action. You may even have a favourite pinned near your desk. Yes, we’re talking about motivational or inspirational quotes: the bumper sticker, fridge magnet, mantra or meme. Even if you’re not a fan of them, there’s at least one that has made you stop and reflect on the life you’re living and what’s important to you. And yet, a recent thought provoking critique of the mantra ‘do what you love, love what you do’ led us to wonder whether other inspirational quotes might also be ‘secret handshakes of the privileged’. While the global corporate mantra ‘Just do it’ has lost some currency over the years, there are still plenty of motivating quotes telling us that we must believe we can, especially if we: look up at the stars; hold fast to our dreams; and create ourselves.

Our intention here isn’t to squeeze the joy out of the beauty of words, or to take away the magic of dreaming of a better world. However, juxtaposing the mantra “do what you love” with the reality of many immigrant women’s career options as cleaners, factory workers and other unskilled labour does highlight the vagaries of feel-good words: they tend to gloss over the details and forget that for some women, the only limits that exist are not just the ones we have set ourselves. Because motivational messages are so personally focused, they can make invisible the systems, regimes and institutions that perpetuate inequities and make us blind to the everyday injustices experienced by the majority of women around the world. They may even reinforce the exploitation and marginalisation of women, because they absolve us of any obligation to act on the root causes of human misery.

All the while, living examples are all around us of immigrant and refugee women who inspire us not just through their words, but through their actions. Whether or not their own life experiences have been buoyed along by a favourite quote or two is beside the point. As a group known for their resilience and strength, immigrant and refugee women have stories to tell that cut through the sugar-coated prescriptions of maxims and mantras. They stand as living proof that challenges can be overcome and their stories point to the ways in which others can advocate for change in all aspects of Australian society.

Nobody really expects platitudes to solve life’s problems. But next time you’re looking for inspiration, why not strike up a conversation with the woman next to you instead.

60 seconds with Khadija Gbla

khadija gbla

Motivational speaker, volunteer and refugee advocate

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I’m enjoying motivational speaking – I love the opportunity to stand in front of people and to inspire, educate and raise awareness. More than that, it’s the opportunity to touch people’s lives through my story-telling and finding humour in the dark places.

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?
It would be healing – physical, emotional and psychological healing. A lot of people go through terrible things and I know we all look good on the outside and we all appear to be functioning very well, but sometimes it’s those who appear to be functioning really well are probably those suffering the most. To give people hope, joy and happiness, the things that come from within. That would be my super-power.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
Probably the president, CEO of the world! Not for the power, but to drive real change. I’ll put funding to finding a cure for a whole range of diseases. I would delegate to get everyone working and to just get things done. I’ll be running the president hotline.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
Be willing to give everything a go. Get out there and talk to people who are outside of your community. Through volunteering, I adapted to Australian society more quickly, my English improved and dealing with other people improved my confidence, I felt more welcome and it made me feel Australia was home. Give it a go.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?
Love, love, love! It encapsulates everything.

When was the last time you laughed out loud?
I was talking to a woman today who has just come out of rehab and we were talking about our struggles and appreciating the simple joy of sleep, that we could now sleep like babies (I suffered from insomnia for such a long time). We were laughing and sharing the joy of our lives changing and appreciating the things most people take for granted. I laughed out loud because I was connecting with another soul.

Your most cherished memory?
When I won Young South Australian of the Year. As a refugee child who has been through so much when I first arrived I had so many demons to battle, depression, nightmares of the war, chronic fatigue, I was being bullied at school … when I won that award I thought what an honour it is to someone with my background: me, an African girl, English is my third language!   It touched my soul in a very special way. For that moment, Australia made me feel grateful and welcome: it wasn’t just for me it was for other refugees, my community, being honoured and appreciated for what we bring and what we have to offer. We have so much debate about asylum seekers and it’s always terrible, but for that one moment when I received the award the discussion wasn’t about what terrible people we were but that we have something to offer. That was memorable.

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
My mum is an amazing woman but I’d like to give a shout out to a group of women, single mothers. I was raised by a single mother, she worked very hard and struggled to get us to Australia. But my mum’s story is not unique to her. During the war a lot of my generation have been raised without fathers. It has been women who have raised us, they have stepped up and have done it with so much dignity. Especially single mothers who have experienced tough situations: they were raped; their kids were taken away from them; protections taken away from them; women running with babies on their backs, running with children by their side to get to safety. Their pain, their tears and their struggle are what have given young people like me a second chance. Coming to Australia hasn’t benefitted my mum as much as it has benefitted my sister and me.

Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?
Gospel and African music – songs of hope and a bright future.

Is there a favourite cultural tradition that you like to follow?
Gathering people around the table for a meal. All the walls come down when everyone is around the table sharing and talking about a better tomorrow. A good meal shared with family and friends always does the trick.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
Every time we talk about multiculturalism, you always hear the words ‘to tolerate’, it’s the worst word in the dictionary. It’s such an insult when people use that term. Appreciating and respecting difference is what multiculturalism is about, tolerance is not. Tolerance is not multiculturalism, that just means ‘we’re stuck with you so we have to tolerate you’, so if you had a choice you’d throw us in a boat and tow us back. We need to welcome, appreciate respect and celebrate our differences. Difference is good.

Do you think Australia is multicultural?
In technical terms, yes but our institutions and our systems do not reflect our multicultural society.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
…we still have much more to do. My generation needs to do justice to all the hard work of our predecessors.

WRAP #17: The festive edition with music, Mary and 60 seconds with Alice Pung

Well we’ve made it people!

It’s been a fantastic year which has passed at break-neck speed and for many of us, there will soon be an opportunity for a small pause. Even for those of us who will still be toiling through December and January, there is something about the end of the old year and the approach of the new that makes you want to sing. Or scream. Or sigh. In all cases, there is an urge to use your voice.

We’d like to use ours to sing the praises of the wonderful women at MCWH, who cheer us on each month and make work fun. We’d also like to say to each of you: thank you for supporting us, staying in touch and sharing our stories with others. Thanks to those especially who came along to our AGM and birthday party … it was a wonderful event. And finally, we’d like to start your 2014 calendar with a brilliant February event that we are hosting with Women’s Health in the North, Mercy Health and North Yarra Community Health.

It’s called Voices of Change and if you want to hear a host of incredible women sharing stories of strength and success in relation to their work with FGM/C then get your ticket now!

Now for a light WRAP on music, Mary and 60 seconds with Alice Pung.

We’ll be taking a quick break from WRAPing in January (after too much wrapping in December ha ha) so we wish you all a wonderful and safe summer.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team.


Creole choir of Cuba performing at WOMAD 2011 courtesy of Stuart Madeley on flickr

A universal language

While merrily decking our office halls with boughs of holly, it occurred to us that even Christmas carols are not immune to gender analysis: where are the little drummer girls? Has Frosty always been a snow man? And why is it mummy kissing Santa Clause underneath the mistletoe? Like all products of culture, music—for better or worse—usually reflects the time and place from which it originates.

Singing along to ‘White Christmas’ may not be for everyone then, but chances are many of us will be breaking out our Bollywood moves, miming the macarena or hip-swaying to makossa because it makes us feel relaxed and joyous. Alive. Whatever your taste or persuasion, the power of music and song to unite, transform and uplift is the reason for its enduring appeal. Like some magical elixir, it somehow appeals to our better selves.

When we asked Ee’da Ibrahim what multiculturalism means to her she responded with a musical  metaphor: “It’s like a symphony of music, of sound—a beautiful orchestra where every single sound and instrument contributes overall to the beauty of the music.”  It’s a sentiment also found in the work of ‘Kween G’, a Sydney hip-hop MC and radio presenter who migrated to Australia from Uganda at the age of four. For Kween G, teaching hip-hop to indigenous youth in the Northern Territory is a way of transcending language and helping others to both preserve and transform their unique culture.

Youth has always been a time of change and, if you happen to be different to your peers by virtue of your skin colour, sexuality, culture and/or socio-economic circumstances, then music can be both a leveller and a life-raft. One young girl, a member of the ‘Recycled Orchestra’, puts it this way, “My life would be worthless without music.” This young girl lives in Cuerta, Paraguay, a city essentially built on top of a landfill. Much closer to home, the ‘With One Voice’ choir has membership from a range of immigrant communities and has led to networks and friendships being developed amongst and beyond the group. Choir members have literally been singing all the way to improved wellbeing.

You don’t have to believe in Santa to harness the magic of the season: go Gangnam Style, shimmy those tassels, sing your best karaoke— it’s the silly season after all—and remember that you are also participating in an enduring, life-changing art form. Share it widely and passionately.


Nativity play courtesy of CK Koay on flickr.

…but what about young Mary?

Christmas Day is arguably the largest birthday celebration of the year, which makes Jesus the most well-known birthday celebrant, at least in the Western world. Yet, despite knowing in detail the exploits of his father (the big G), few know as much about his mother, ‘The Virgin Mary’ (Jesus was an ‘immaculate conception’ so the story goes) beyond the fact that she was engaged to a carpenter and gave birth in a stable surrounded by three wise men.

Less well known is the fact that Mary was also a teenager when she gave birth (in some accounts, she may have been as young as 13). Of course, circa 6 B.C. was a very different time, people died young and it was common for girls to marry and bear children at a young age. Nevertheless, Mary of Nazareth was young, poor and female. Thousands of years and much research have shown that these qualities alone make it more difficult to achieve good health, let alone manage an adolescent pregnancy.

For the millions of young girls each year who experience an unplanned or unintended pregnancy, opportunities for education are reduced and vulnerability to poverty and social exclusion are heightened. Although the majority of adolescent pregnancies (19%) and adolescent births (95%) occur in less industrialised countries, the causes and consequences of adolescent pregnancy cut across regions. You are more likely to become pregnant if you are poor; poorly educated; culturally marginalised; and/or have limited or lack access to appropriate sexual and reproductive health care.

According to the latest UNFPA ‘Motherhood in Childhood’ Report’, adolescent pregnancy is both a cause and consequence of rights violations. Regardless of the circumstances or reasons, when a girl falls pregnant it often stems from lack of choice and opportunity and is a reflection of powerlessness (and in many cases, is a result of violence and coercion). It can also significantly diminish a young woman’s choices throughout her life.

Prevention of unplanned and unintended pregnancy should therefore focus on ensuring girls can exercise their rights to health, education and autonomy in the first place. A broad-based human rights approach requires that we shift the focus away from targeting prevention at girls and instead, invest in building their capacity to make transformative decisions.

Australian birth data suggests that some overseas-born adolescents have a higher fertility rate than their Australian-born peers.  Exactly why this is the case needs further investigation.  Girls and adolescents from immigrant and refugee backgrounds do need access to culturally relevant sexual and reproductive health information and education. However, it’s never just purely and simply about ‘their culture’. The complex interplay of forces in young girls’ lives needs consideration. It’s essential that we speak with and listen first to what they have to say.

60 seconds with Alice Pung

Alice Pung

writer, editor and lawyer

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?
I would like the power of invisibility so I could be a silent witness and eavesdropper in places where I am not supposed to be – this would be an invaluable power for a writer!

 What’s the most interesting job you’ve had?
Teaching older people in Alaska to tell their stories in writing workshops

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
Try and learn as much English as you can. It opens up the new world for you, and will keep you connected to your children as they grow up in this country.

If you could invite anyone (dead or living) to dinner tonight, who would it be?
Aung San Suu Kyi

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
My grandmother was essentially a single mother with ten kids in Cambodia (because she was the second wife of my granddad – back then, Chinese men could have multiple wives). She started a plastic bag factory until the Khmer Rouge took over, and she came to Australia at the age of 72, as the oldest surviving member of her work collective in the Killing Fields. She had a lot of time and love for us, and an innate sense of dignity. Even after she had a stroke, and was in a wheelchair, she would not have a photograph taken without her lipstick on. I do not see that as vanity, but as a sign of enormous self-respect. She did not want to be ‘young’, she just didn’t want people to see her as decrepit.

Name a book or film that changed your life?
I have Never Forgotten You: The Story of Simon Weisenthal. He was a holocaust survivor that spent most of his life bringing war criminals of the Nazi regime to justice. It was not work that he enjoyed doing, and he suffered greatly for his work, which he did up till his death in his nineties. But through his life’s work, he was instrumental in helping Europe heal its wounds.

What are you reading right now? (e.g. blogs, books, magazines, or anything else!)
I just read an incredible profile of a homeless 11 year old girl, Dasani, in New York City, written by Andrea Elliot, who spent over a year following Dasani around. It was a story of great resilience, empathy and hope; and also longform journalism at its finest.

Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?
All the songs of Michael Jackson, from his childhood years. He had such an angelic voice.

Is there a favourite cultural tradition that you like to follow?
I love coming back to my parent’s house for Chinese New Year. It is very important to my mother, because when she arrived here, she lost the one thing she had looked forward to every year – in Southeast Asia, new year is as big, if not bigger, than Christmas, and it signifies family time and new hope and new beginnings.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
Multiculturalism means that we are collectively enriched by our individual cultures.

Do you think Australia is multicultural?
In urban areas, there is a very unselfconscious multiculturalism happening because different groups, by circumstance, live together. So multiculturalism is not a ‘big deal’ like the media makes it out to be, it is just a nice pre-existing reality. It only becomes a problem when the media decides to point this out. Then, the people in communities that do not have such diversity, are usually the ones who are most vocal about it.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
… if you didn’t have it, you are denying the rights of fifty percent of the human inhabitants on this planet, who have just a tiny fraction of the world’s resources, and yet are responsible for the birth, growth and usually, education, of the entire human race.

WRAP #16: Turning 35, rethinking pink and 60 seconds with Anna Moo

MCWH is turning 35!

That’s right, we’ve been talking to women about their health and their rights for 35 years. You have to agree, it’s impressive.Like many women, we’ve had our ups and downs, a few makeovers, changed our name and our address, but from the very beginning, it’s always been about empowering women by sharing information, supporting women to find their voice on matters of health and wellbeing and building relationships between women within their community so they can make changes for the better, for their families and for themselves.Sadly, there are other things that seem to have stayed the same. 35 years is a long time but many of the issues that were relevant in 1978 are still relevant now – immigrant and refugee women still struggle to access health information, to navigate the health system and to recognise themselves in mainstream representations of what women should be.We are honoured to have been working with and for immigrant and refugee women for so many years, we are proud of where we are now and we are taking a big breath in – not just to blow out the candles, but to get ready for the work still to be done.On that note, this Wednesday 4 December we’ll be marking our birthday officially with the Victorian Minister for Health, the Hon. David Davis, and acclaimed writer Alice Pung, followed by our AGM. You are most warmly invited to come along.

Now without further ado, we’re talking about 1978, rethinking pink and then spending 60 seconds with MCWH board member Anna Moo.

he first MCWH education session conducted in October 1977

The first MCWH education session conducted in October 1977 – only 3 months before the best year of our lives.


35 years ago, 35 years later

It’s official: scientists have discovered that there is, indeed, such a thing as the good old days. In fact, University of Canberra researchers have even pinpointed a year: 1978. According to the research, 1978 was the year the world’s quality of life peaked, and it has gradually deteriorated ever since.

Such a provocative conclusion naturally led us to think about the quality of life of immigrant and refugee women in Australia.

If you’re old enough to remember, 1978 was the year that had most people bopping along to the ‘Grease’ soundtrack (‘…you’re the one that I want…oo, oo, oo, honey…the one that I want…’). It was also the year MCWH first opened its doors to immigrant and refugee women. In that year, the newly-established Action for Family Planning (as MCWH was known then) took multilingual family planning information and education to women in Victoria’s factories.

Did AFP reach the peak of cultural responsiveness for immigrant and refugee women? Will there ever be a peak for immigrant and refugee women’s health?

Current evidence suggests that immigrant and refugee women have, and are at a greater risk of suffering, poorer health outcomes than Australian-born women. However research has also shown that they are well-placed to improve their own health through preventative health education. Here are a few other factors we might need to consider before we can say we’re living in the ‘1978’ of immigrant and refugee women’s health:

  1. Contrary to opinion, migrants create jobs by increasing demand for goods and services, yet overseas-born women have a higher unemployment rate (5.1%) than both Australian-born women (4.2%) and Australian-born men (3.4%).
  2. Despite their valuable civic contributions, not all immigrant and refugee women have the same rights as permanent residents and Australian citizens: some cannot vote, while others have to wait for public health and social welfare entitlements, often to the detriment of their health and wellbeing.
  3. Whenever you stay at a hotel, walk into a clean office, or choose the packaged nuts from the grocery aisle, it’s probably an immigrant woman who has laboured to make it possible, often in insecure and low-paid conditions.
  4. During migration and settlement, immigrant and refugee women negotiate upheavals, setbacks and obstacles with perseverance, resourcefulness and organisation. These are skills possessed by the greatest of leaders and should be used and recognised to our advantage.

These are the compass points for the type of work that needs to be done with immigrant and refugee women in order to stem the gradual deterioration. Now, how to bring back the good old days?

Taxi courtesy of pragism on flickr

Rethinking pink

Pink—the colour, not the singer—has been in the spotlight again.

It seems pink has been hijacked  by consumer market forces in that ‘Pink-Ribbon-Barbie-Doll-Disney-Princess’ kind of way, at the expense of feminist action. Instead of tackling issues head on, pink detractors argue, it only reinforces gender stereotypes and dilutes advocacy to the level of awareness-raising.

Take for example, the idea of introducing women-only taxis to Victoria (pink taxis, of course) in response to concerns about women’s safety, which has led some to suggest that the proposed scheme is a ‘mediaeval’ form of segregation that disempowers women to speak out against violence.

Given that colour is loaded with cultural meanings (remember, former Prime Minister Gillard’s comments about women being sidelined by men in blue ties?) it’s difficult to pin point whether the criticism is aimed at ‘pink’ or at ‘women-only’, but it’s safe to say that the relationship between the two is like chewing gum to hair.

However, by focusing on the pink/women-only aspect, we could inadvertently be advocating for a form of mainstreaming that runs counter to many feminist principles. ‘Specialist’ services, whether multicultural, Indigenous, women’s and/or ethno-specific services, serve a need in the community. The provision of gender specific and culturally responsiveness services doesn’t and shouldn’t equate to a form of gender or cultural segregation. In fact, the reverse logic is true: by making available specific services, we are acknowledging that there is no such thing as a level playing field. The Pink Taxi recognises that while men’s violence against women is prevalent in our community, women have the right to travel safely.

Inequity and violence exist and at the same time as we work to change that fact, there is a need for a service response.

Similarly, by providing services such as bilingual health education to women, we are in fact acknowledging immigrant and refugee women’s right to choose, to access appropriate informationand to feel safe on their own terms. The very existence of a multicultural women ‘s health service signals a long-term commitment to also eliminating the barriers underpinning women’s needs and not just serving them.

If people are blind to gender or race, then colour should be viewed as a visual aid. We need to see pink—or the co-opting of any other colour for advocacy purposes for that matter—not as the cure, but as a symptom of what needs to be fixed in our world.

Pink taxis are one option, but what action do you most want to see in the community that would help end violence against women? Listen and learn from women for 16 Days of Activism led by Women’s Health East.

60 seconds with Anna Moo

Anna Moo

Feminist and social justice activist

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I’m reading ‘To Each His Own’, a book set in the South of Italy. The author Leonardo Sciascia uses storytelling as a way to demonstrate and attack the ethos of the insidious mafia culture that prevailed in Sicily in the 1960’s. Sadly that culture still endures today.

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
I would use it to gather all nations to reach a unanimous agreement to resettle all refugees languishing in camps all over the world in countries of their choice.

What talent would you most like to possess?
I would love to be able to draw and create beautiful pictures. I do appreciate visual arts particularly paintings produced in the Renaissance period in Italy.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
It’s always very difficult for people new to a country to settle. It takes time to adapt and to get to know and understand the new cultural environment. It’s important to make connections, to be informed, to learn the language as quickly as possible and to participate in the community as much as one can. Above all it is critical to establish support systems and networks.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?
‘Welcome’. It’s a word that says a lot of things and it’s always said on a positive note, there isn’t any negativity around it.

If you could invite anyone to dinner tonight, who would it be?
It would be a group of friends – strong, opinionated feminist women. Our gatherings are always exciting, challenging and above all totally enjoyable. Issues would be debated at length over a glass of wine or two and a cigarette.

Your most cherished memory?
When I had my children, there’s some sort of magic in having a child. It’s difficult to describe. It stays with you forever.

Is there a favourite cultural tradition that you like to follow?
The Italians are big on family events, my mother held a family lunch every Sunday. Family and friends would be invited and she had no difficulty in preparing a feast. I don’t know how she did it! I can’t possibly follow that, but in honouring the family’s tradition, we do gather for an occasional Sunday family lunch and reminiscence about the feasts of the past!

Do you think Australia is multicultural?
Australia is indeed a multicultural society. While it is true that overall diversity of cultures and ethnicities are tolerated there is still a lack of acceptance by the general population of particular groups. While we have achieved a great deal, there is still an underlying level of racism that operates against groups who may look different due to religion, race or other characteristics.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
Women’s equality is still to be achieved.

You can hear Anna chat about her work with immigrant and refugee women here.

The WRAP #14 : Healthy Lives, Healthy Futures, Bilingual health education and 60 seconds with Mila Robles

September has brought us many new things, new season, new government, new expectations for the future. Spring is typically a time when everything is young and fresh, but being young and fresh is not always what it’s cracked up to be.

Take youth for example … not everyone would do it again if they could. Or being a new arrival … it is not easy to start again, new language, new ways of doing things.

But what can be amazing about being young and fresh is the opportunity! This WRAP we want to talk about making sure that young migrant and refugees have every chance to access the opportunities, making sure that bilingual health education is taken seriously and then we’re spending 60 seconds with Mila Robles.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team