The WRAP #12: RU486, the invisibly employed and 60 seconds with Monica Chhay

It’s hard to believe that twelve months have flown by but this issue marks the WRAP’s first birthday!

Thank you for the encouragement and inspiration so far, and particular thanks to the wonderful women who have featured in our ’60 seconds’ piece … they give us far more than a minute of their time each month, and are just as generous with their wisdom and their wit.

To celebrate our twelfth issue, we’re talking about RU486 (isn’t everyone!), employment and then we have a coffee-fuelled 60 seconds with Monica Chhay.

But first, we started the WRAP because we wanted to share our take on women’s research, advocacy and policy issues. But have we? Has the WRAP ever made you think again about a topic that we’ve covered? Have you disagreed, agreed, or just had a good read? As a birthday favour, we’d love you to visit us on facebook or twitter or email us with feedback and tell it to us straight … we can handle it, we’re much more mature now.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team


RU486: where to from here?

The government’s decision to list mifepristone and misoprostol (RU486) on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) should be seen as victory in the battle for women’s right to choose.  Women now have the option, during the seven weeks’ gestation period, of choosing a safe, less-invasive medical termination. But as with all things that have been long-awaited and hard-fought, we shouldn’t feel complacent. A victory for all women? It should be. So, in the interest of ensuring RU486’s availability lives up to its potential we take a good hard look at the fine print accompanying such a milestone achievement.

Its listing on the PBS means the cost of the drug will drop down from $300 to $36, which is reasonably affordable for most women. But what about the women who are not eligible for Medicare and are therefore not eligible to claim for PBS-listed items? Immigrant women on temporary migrant visas such as international students and temporary 457 workers will continue to pay the full cost for RU486 for the first twelve months after their arrival, unless they are paying for a level of private health insurance which includes pregnancy related health care with no waiting period. So if you don’t have plans to get pregnant immediately (in which case you probably wouldn’t need it) chances are you won’t have the cover needed to make RU486 affordable. In our work advocating for international students’ access to pregnancy-related care, we’ve learned that over 70% of insurance claims in the first twelve months are ‘pregnancy-related’. Whether the claims are related to contraception; termination; or child-birth is anyone’s guess because this data is not publicly available.

Which brings us to another critical factor in RU486 being made available and accessible to all: the need for comprehensive and systematic collection of abortion statistics. If we don’t know the extent of what is happening to whom and why, then it makes it difficult to monitor the safety, quality and equity of access to abortion. Some groups of immigrant and refugee women, for example, are more at risk of adverse sexual and reproductive health outcomes than Australian-born women. A national abortion register would assist in designing and evaluating targeted health promotion programs.

The availability of RU486 spans complex territory and no doubt, it will continue to attract controversy and debate (for starters, how might we regulate conscientious objection?). But now that we’ve come this far our efforts should continue to sit squarely with the health and wellbeing of all women. Addressing barriers to access for women who are marginalised or disadvantaged by ethnicity, visa status, disability and/or socio-economic factors is a good place to start.

We’ve just released a Position Paper about International Students’ Access to Pregnancy-Related Care and why the laws around Overseas Students’ Health Coverage need to be amended.

Job success and making a living

Some things are just invisible to most people, no matter how often they see them. Take immigrant and refugee women in the workforce for example. People see immigrant and refugee women every day, working in hospitals, hotels, child care centres, take away food shops and nail salons, without really thinking about the contribution they are making to the Australian economy. When parents pack their children’s lunches with sliced cheese or packaged fruit or yoghurt they are often looking directly at the results of immigrant labour, without necessarily registering the ‘who’ and ‘how’ connections. And when office or retail workers turn up to work and the office or shop has been cleaned overnight, it’s not usual to contemplate who it was that did the cleaning.

Despite their invisibility, immigrant and refugee women play an indispensable role in the Australian labour force, providing an active and flexible workforce for our manufacturing, aged care, child care, hospitality and cleaning industries. But their place in the workforce often comes at a high personal cost and much sacrifice. For many immigrant and refugee women, labour market ‘success’ equates to working in jobs for which they are over qualified. The jobs are more likely to be under-paid, low-skilled and performed under casual and contract conditions with little chance of career development.  And while Australia’s skilled migration program has continued to grow during the last decade, the number of migrant women in highly-skilled positions represents only a minority. Job status aside, women on temporary subclass 457 visas are also more susceptible to exploitation.

It’s now an obvious, if not well-known, fact that immigrant and refugee women continue to be over-represented in the numbers of unemployed. According to the OECD, the rate of unemployment is highest amongst overseas born women (5.1%) compared to overseas-born men (4.1%), Australian-born men (3.4%) and Australian-born women (4.2%). If job success in a new country depends on such things as English proficiency; age; education; and previous work experience, then many immigrant and refugee women also have the additional requirement of balancing these with caring for the family and home. Surely more than a triple burden. It’s also not a far stretch to presume (only because combined gender and migrant specific data is difficult to come by), that the underemployment rate (8.2% for all women compared to 4.9% for men) is much higher for immigrant and refugee women.

The problem goes back to invisibility and lack of recognition. Policy makers need to look behind the unemployment rates and recognise the differences in the migration experiences of different categories of women.  Amongst the diversity, they might just find that job security, workplace protection and opportunity are the keys to equity in employment.

60 seconds with Monica Chhay

Wine lover, General Manager and team motivator at ‘Proud Mary’ cafe.

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I’ve been getting into gardening. I’ve just moved out to Northcote and I’m really into becoming more sustainable and actually knowing where produce comes from. It’s very important. People have lost touch with where everything comes from and it’s good to support local farmers and local businesses instead of big companies that take pretty much everything.

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?
I’d probably want to talk to animals so I can talk to my cat, ‘Le Ginge.’ If he could speak back to me he would sound like Seu Jorge from ‘The Life Aquatic’ soundtrack.

What talent would you most like to possess?
Just to be really calm and not be angry at all … to be one of these level-headed people all the time. I’ve just come back from overseas and it was inspiring seeing monks over there who dedicate their lives to not caring about material things. And now I’m back worrying about first world problems!

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
Be on a self-sustaining farm making my own cheese.

What would you work for instead of money?
Wine and cheese.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
I’m not sure but it’s quite different here. I found it a bit of shock because in New Zealand from a really young age you are taught Maori culture and language and you can go to bilingual classes. You’re taught that it’s very important. I find it bizarre that over here there isn’t any emphasis put on that at all.

When was the last time you laughed out loud?
Ten seconds ago.

Your most cherished memory?
Probably my last trip – I went to Hong Kong, Cambodia and Vietnam with two of my best mates.

Tell us about an amazing woman you know
My mum’s Cambodian but was raised in New Zealand. Mum was adopted into a family and she was actually the first refugee in New Zealand in the 1970s. I only found out a couple of years ago. And my adopted granny was the first female dentist in New Zealand… she’s awesome.  She became really good friends with my real grandad when he came to New Zealand to take an English course– he’s trilingual – and he wanted to learn it so he could teach it in Cambodia. So they lived together and became really good friends. And then when the whole Pol Pot thing blew up she adopted my mum. My gran is a tough lady … really hard core. She ran a homestead with nine people while running the dentistry school. She’s a super super lady.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
To me it means now. I mean, in my circles, it’s actually more of a shock to see something like racism than not, which is pretty amazing compared to say, thirty years ago. It’s such a short space of time but we’ve come a long way.

Do you think Australia is multicultural?
To a certain extent I do. I guess it’s not everywhere … In the big city centres, it’s OK to be totally who you are but if you go further out or go to other countries maybe not everything is so well-accepted.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
women do a better job (laughs).

The WRAP #10 : Ticking all the boxes, justice for women in prison and 60 seconds with Juliana Qian

May has been a month of mind expansion and making friends. The 7th Australian Women’s Health Network Conference was three days of empowering feminist discussion about why, at every level of health service delivery and decision making, gender matters. No really, it matters. We all know it, but hearing and seeing so many smart women around Australia proving that gender matters time and time again through their amazing research and advocacy work has inspired us to say it that little bit louder … gender matters!

So this WRAP we’re talking about cultural diversity in ‘coming out’, calling for equity for women who have been sent ‘inside’ and then spending a glorious 60 seconds with Juliana Qian.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team

Ticking all the boxes

Asian Pride:2011 NYC Pride image courtesy of Jason Pier in DC on flickr

Asian Pride:2011 NYC Pride image courtesy of Jason Pier in DC on flickr

Budi Sudarto, is gay, Asian and proud. And at the 8th National LGBTI Health in Difference conference a few weeks ago we heard him, a peer education coordinator from the Victorian AIDS Council, make the interesting observation that “we live in a society that puts us into a box”. You’d expect that the ‘us’ here is referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) folk, but actually ‘us’ can stand for any number of identities that are too frequently stereotyped, marginalised, or overlooked.

As if being unknowingly shoved into a box isn’t bad enough, it starts feeling really crowded when we have multiple ‘boxed’ identities (try ‘female’, ‘queer’, ‘Chinese-Malaysian’ and ‘Indian-English’ for example). Regardless of whether there are many little boxes or just one very cramped one, the point is that being labelled can be limiting. Budi’s words shed light on what it’s like to live at the intersection of LGBTI identity and a marginalised ethnic/cultural identity. His ‘us’ referred to his racial identity and the marginalisation of non-Anglo-Saxon races experienced not only within Australian society as a whole, but within a minority—the LGBTI community—as well.

There are multiple experiences and issues for LGBTI individuals from an immigrant and refugee background that are never fully addressed or understood within either the LGBTI or multicultural communities. Perhaps because LGBTI immigrants and refugees often tick a lot of the boxes, we don’t really fit into any—and that can be both liberating and isolating. One of the clearest examples of how cultural diversity and sexuality intersect is in “coming out”. While there is often pressure from the LGBTI community to ‘come out’ about your sexuality, it’s a very Western perspective on the process and suggests that your sexuality is the only thing that could define you as ‘different’. For LGBTI immigrants and refugees, who carry so many multiple identities, keeping close family connections and cultural identity can often be vitally important to our sense of self, and our experience of sharing our sexual identity is better expressed as a ‘coming home’ or as (gradually or selectively) ‘inviting people in.’ (Intrigued? Check out MCWH’sSexuality Report.)

In the wider community, including immigrant and refugee communities, being same-sex attracted, transgender, intersex or gender diverse can sometimes mean a lack of support, and it can be even more isolating for LGBTI people in communities who identifysexual diversity as something that’s specific to Western countries. So LGBTI immigrant and refugees gain a lot from being part of both the LGBTI (is it rolling off your tongue yet?) and ethnic communities which can be very close-knit and supportive. But sadly, if you’re from a non-Western background, racial discrimination doesn’t magically disappear in the LGBTI community itself—and it has the added frustration of exoticisation. Likewise, homophobia persists in the wider community, including in immigrant and refugee communities.

We’ve come a long way in recognising diverse gender and sexual identities but are some parts of the rainbow still left behind? As members of diverse minorities, it’s easy to start seeing ourselves in the boxes we’re put in and to stop looking outside them. But, to paraphrase the wonderful Flavia Tamara Dzodan, “Our feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.” So if you find yourself ticking all the boxes, be proud: we can never be exclusively defined as migrants, as Muslims, as heterosexuals, as queer, as mothers, as educated, as middle class, as middle aged, as mentally ill, as overweight, as workers, as women. In the same way, discussions around sexuality and gender should include the diversity of race, religion and cultural beliefs within the community, not just “to be inclusive”, but because our sexuality is inextricably tied to all these things at the same time.