Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Image: Women's March Toronto via: Now Magazine

Image: Women’s March Toronto via: Now Magazine

Those of us who support women’s reproductive rights watched with horror this month as the clock was suddenly turned back on women’s access to health care. Several days into Donald Trump’s presidency the ‘Global Gag Rule’ was reinstated, a signature on a dotted line on a document in the US, which in effect prevents non US-based organisations and health care workers in a range of different countries around the world from providing information to women about abortion services.

There is now a real concern that the health of women will be seriously compromised due to this limitation on their access to information, knowledge and services. Indeed, any barrier placed in the way of women knowing more about their bodies, rights and health takes us right back to a time when knowledge was feared and women’s empowerment was seen as a sign of witchcraft.

Fortunately, there are other signs that we are not still living in those days with respect to women’s rights: on 21 January, 673 Women’s Marches took place in a world-wide protest involving an estimated 4.78 million people. The marches in our own cities of Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney all shared in the collective call to restore our minds and reproductive parts back to the present day.

The marches were inclusive and intersectional; they united around a common goal of creating a society in which all women, without exception, are free to live their lives in safe and healthy environments. Perhaps, as always, Angela Davis most eloquently summed up the meaning of the marches when she said that the women’s marches represented the promise of feminism.

The ticking clock, so often associated with a woman’s reproductive system, takes on a new meaning in the context of the times we live in. There are forces pushing the political clock on women’s reproductive rights backwards, whether it be through new legislation, by limiting resources and funding to women’s health, or by progressively shifting responsibility for women’s health care from the community to the individual. Now, more than ever, let’s hold on to the fact that women’s reproductive health is, literally, what keeps the world ticking over. It needs to be valued.

Broadening our frame of thinking

Image via: newtownproject.com.au

Image via: newtownproject.com.au

It might just be another public holiday for some but for many more, Australia Day is becoming a topic of growing debate. The question being, why should it continue to be a national day of celebration when it more accurately signifies the colonisation and subsequent massacre of the Aboriginal people?

The Australia Day promotional billboard of the two young girls wearing hijabs, which were taken down following death threats has highlighted what is at stake when we see an issue from within a limited vantage point, and lacking an overarching framework.

The problem, supposedly, was that the billboard didn’t accurately reflect ‘Australia Day’. For the vocal minority, it was a case of political correctness gone mad and that Muslims (especially those wearing hijabs) do not, cannot and should not represent what it is to be Australian. The backlash immediately elicited a counter response about Australia’s diversity and the benefits of multiculturalism.

Yet, as the Change the Date protests have shown, the subsequent crowd funding raised to reinstate the billboard (however well-intentioned), ignored the facts of Australia Day and the reality of Indigenous lives since the arrival of the First Fleet. It’s a case of recognising one form of racism and discrimination at the expense of another: in speaking out against Islamaphobia we’ve failed to see that there’s also another group of people who are affected by other forms of racism. In effect, Aboriginal people fell through the cracks of the counter-protest and became invisible.

Kimberlé Crenshaw refers to this inability to recognise who might be implicated and affected by a problem as a ‘trickle-down approach to social justice’ because the frame for understanding injustice is limited. The frame, as Crenshaw urges, needs to be an intersectional frame so that it will allow us to think about how every social problem impacts all members of a group. Especially those made vulnerable by various power dynamics and processes such as racism and sexism.

As for Australia Day, intersectional thinking will allow us to broaden our understanding of not only what it means for all Australians but also how Aboriginal Australians have been and continue to be impacted by racism, sexism, and colonisation in all its multiple and overlapping forms.

So whatever you decide to do on Australia Day next year, whether it be celebrating, protesting or advocating, it’s important to think about who you’re doing it for and who needs to be doing it with you.

60 seconds with Sarah Shoukor

Sarah Shoukor

Mental Health Support Worker and Hogwarts School Graduate

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
If I had a magic wand and was able to attend Hogwarts (still waiting for my acceptance letter) I would build a Hogwarts in every country for children to be accepted for who they are and what they bring.

What is your best quality or attribute?
Loving me for who I am and always being honest with me, even if the truth hurts sometimes.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be?
Do not try and fit into a box. Embrace where you come from and what it has taught you, as well as what you will learn living in Australia.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman from an immigrant or refugee background?
I’m always questioning where I fit in. I feel torn between two cultures: am I Iraqi or Australian? What does it mean to belong to these cultures? It was particularly hard being in high school, starting new friendships and sometimes not being able to fit in because you feel that you won’t be accepted for who are.

What are you reading right now?
The Nawal El-Saadawi Reader.

If you could invite any woman, (dead or living) to dinner, who would it be and why?
Nawal El-Saadawi- she is an Egyptian feminist novelist, critic and human rights advocate. She wrote about physical and psychological hardships women in the Middle East faced. She challenged the “traditions”- particularly writing about sex and women.

Simply being in the same room as her would make me feel more empowered. I would also want to thank her for challenging traditions and for giving a women a voice.

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
My mother, as she has taught me resilience and confidence. She sacrificed a lot to provide my sister and I with a comfortable and safe life. I wish I had enough time to explain how amazing she is. I think you will have to meet her to see for yourself, as words are not enough.

She was always brave and I learnt to be determined from her at a young age. She always made sure my sister and I were looked after, even when crossing the border with us being under the age of 7, and with my father in another country. She had to build a life for us in Lebanon without any support and I never heard her complain or saw her give up.

Name a book or a film that changed your life
The Harry Potter books changed my life. It was my safe place as a young person who was adjusting to a new life in a new country. They taught me to believe in my abilities, to never give up no matter how hard it gets and to be welcoming of different people.

The WRAP#49 Sparkly Moments of 2016


After another busy year, December has us day dreaming of the languid, summer days ahead. And by ‘day dreaming of’ we mean ‘desperate for’)
In case you missed it, this year at MCWH we’ve:

We’ve also done some extremely rewarding health education with women in prisons, supported a number of women to have their babies through a bilingual labour companion project, promoted gambling awareness in a number of communities, started a PACE leadership program for immigrant women working in Southern Cross (Vic) aged care and giving some much needed attention to the needs of working carers.

We pass on our heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you for sustaining our work in so many different ways, whether as project partners, as MCWH event attendees, or regular WRAP readers.  We are grateful to be ending such an eventful year knowing that we have an amazing bunch of supporters and allies.

We wish you all a safe and restful holiday break.

Until next year,
The WRAP Team


Sparkly moments of 2016

This year has been defined by election upsets and the ever increasing need for humanitarian aid in besieged parts of the world. For many of us, the globe has seemed to fall further out of balance, become colder and darker, and it has sometimes been difficult to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel: those glimpses of joy and rays of hope that could sustain us in such times.  But they are there.

In keeping with the abundance of tinsel at this time, here is our pick of the ‘sparkly’ moments you might have missed during the year. The moments that made us smile, rejoice and feel—even for an instant—that all might be alright in the world.

1. Reflecting our diversity on the world stage

Image: Dami Im/ Wikicommons

Image: Dami Im/ Wikicommons

In what was literally a glittering performance, South Korean-born Dami Im represented Australia in the Eurovision Song Contest. While we continue to shout from the rooftops that being ‘culturally and linguistically diverse’ is not marginal (statistics show it is in fact the mainstream), Dami’s performance was a clear statement to anyone who thought the title ‘Aussie Songstress’ could only belong to women named Kylie.

2. Reaching a gold standard in sport

Image: Yusra Mardini/Public domain

Image: Yusra Mardini/Public domain

The ten athletes of the first-ever refugee Olympic team made history at this year’s Rio Games. Many top athletes have had to triumph over adversity, but the refugee Olympians overcame extraordinary odds to achieve their dreams. The team also helped raise awareness about refugees world-wide. As Syrian swimmer, Yusra Madini, who had swum for over three hours in the sea pushing a sinking boat carrying 20 people to safety, said: “I want everyone to think refugees are normal people who had their homelands and lost them not because they wanted to run away and be refugees, but because they have dreams in their lives and they had to go.”

3. Taking the right turn towards marriage equality

Image: Marriage Equality Adelaide/Jenny Scott

This year many of us learned a new word: plebiscite. It’s basically holding an opinion poll on an important public question (interesting fact : there have only been three plebiscites in Australian history — two relating to conscription during World War I, and one to choose a National Song in 1977). However, this time, the question was whether or not Australia should be holding a plebiscite on whether or not same-sex marriage should be allowed.

For many of us who support same-sex marriage,holding a plebiscite would have only served to cause same-sex couples and their families grief and trauma.  But after enduring several months of political debate, there was relief: the proposal was voted down early last month. The road to marriage equality may have hit a bump but it’s fantastic to know that the journey continues.

4. Allowing our inner selves to shine

glitter 5258827384_db5f5099bb_b

Image: Glitter :) / Ângela Antunes

Victoria passed law in August to allow transgender people to change sex on their birth certificate.   Transgender, gender diverse and intersex people will no longer have to divorce or undergo sex change surgery if they need a new birth certificate. While it may seem like a formality, it’s actually a really big deal, especially for people who have been forced to jump through discriminatory and emotionally painful bureaucratic hoops to be recognised for themselves. The legislation also shines a light on how we, as a society, might see ourselves in the near future. Perhaps a society that also sees marriage equality as the right thing to do, and sees people as equally deserving of rights and services, regardless of their visa status. We live in hope.

5. Trail-blazing a path in parliament

Images from You Tube

Images from You Tube

Linda Burney became the first Indigenous woman to enter the House of Representatives and Egyptian-born MP Anne Aly became the first Muslim woman elected to Australian federal parliament and her Labor colleague. At a time when the Australian parliament continues to be mainly white and male, Anne’s and Linda’s achievements made us fiercely proud. If you want to recapture that feeling of pride, you need to listen to their maiden speeches.

6. Looking forward to a dazzling future

my clitoris

Still from “My Clitoris”

Achieving gender equality might not happen in our lifetime, but it’s certainly possible for future generations. Victoria’s Gender Equality Strategy has provided us with the framework. But if this transformational change is to happen, we need to listen to and learn from the next generation, as well as taking on board the lessons of the past. This is why supporting youth-led initiatives is critical, particularly when the issue directly affects or is most likely to affect young women and girls.

Take for example, the award-winning work being conducted by Integrate UK, a youth-led organisation working on issues such as the prevention of FGM/C, violence against women and girls, and forced marriage.

Earlier this month, the organisation released the ‘My Clitoris’ music video to raise awareness about FGM/C. The video is bubbling over with best practice messages about cultural dignity, women’s empowerment, community leadership and the power of peer support.  ‘We won’t stop until we see changes’, the young women of Integrate remind us.  It’s a refrain we should all happily (and loudly) sing along to.

The future is merry and bright.


The WRAP #48- Giving a problem a name, informed choice and 60 seconds with Ruby

We close November with a sharp focus on domestic violence, as we kicked off 16 Days of Activism on November 25th, a date shared by White Ribbon Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. For the next sixteen days we will be sharing an image of MCWH staff, communicating what needs to be done to end violence against ALL women.

We are also immensely proud to be launching the ASPIRE project-  a collaboration between the University of Melbourne, the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, and the University of Tasmania. ASPIRE is a community-based, participatory research project funded by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) which gathered evidence about immigrant and refugee women’s experiences and concerns of family violence. If you haven’t as yet done so, you can still register to attend the launch here.

The launch will also feature a photovoice exhibition with powerful photos taken by research participants.  One of the photovoice participants, Ruby, is featured as this month’s 60 Seconds interview

Until next time,
The WRAP team