We held our inaugural Multicultural Women’s Network meetup on 25th May. It was great opportunity to meet with other women from immigrant and refugee backgrounds who are engaged with, or working in the multicultural women’s space. The afternoon allowed us to socialise, share research, knowledge, and information about each other’s work across different areas. Another networking event is in the pipeline, and we hope to see both returning and new faces.
On the 3-7th April, the 15th World Congress on Public Health was held in Melbourne. During this time, The Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) hosted a field visit where we were fortunate enough to welcome and meet like-minded, passionate people from all over the world, including fellow Australians who are leaders in their field on health and wellbeing.
We had the opportunity to talk with visitors who specifically selected our organisation as part of their visit to Melbourne, including: Indigenous Allied Health, UCLA World Policy Analysis Centre, Umea University, The University of Western Australia, The University of Connecticut- Women & Health, School of Public Health-Sydney University, University of Papua New Guinea, Central Michigan University, Lagos State University, The University of Melbourne, Breastscreen Victoria and Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Victoria.
Joyce Jiang, Health Promotions Manager, welcomed the delegates and gave an overview of the work and the various programs and projects undertaken at MCWH. Joyce spoke about the ongoing drive behind our organisation that started over 35 years ago and how we continue to use the same approach to delivering health information, research, health education and training to migrant and refugee women all over Australia.
Amira Rahmanovic, Health Education Program Manager, shared her experience and boundless energy about the health education sessions we conduct in multicultural communities across Victoria. Our Bilingual Health Educators Manasi Wagh-Nikam and Yanping Xu had the opportunity to speak on behalf of the dynamic Bilingual Educator’s team and share their own experiences of facilitating sessions using the peer educator’s model approach.
Monique Hameed, National Training Officer, spoke of the impact and the complexities of the term ‘cultural competence’ and challenged this term, citing how her training program looks beyond cultural competence. Medina Idriess, who has been a constant ambassador and FARREP worker for the Family and Reproductive Education Program for over 20 years, also spoke about her role at MCWH. In her role Medina has been an integral part of the changes and education that have taken place all over the world in the practice of Female Genital Cutting. Medina retold the story of when the controversial conversation about female genital cutting first started in Victoria and the implications for our work in the education and prevention of this practice today.
We would like to thank everybody at the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health for being such an integral part of the day and we would also like to sincerely thank our new friends who took the time to find out a bit more about the uniqueness of our work at MCWH. After meeting the delegates on the day, it is inspiring to be sitting on a platform with people who share a similar, if not the same philosophy, of supporting migrant and refugee women and their health on a global level.
There are many things that separate Anna Moo and Hana Assafiri. They hail from different places around the world, and they come from different generations in life. And yet their lives have converged in the most special of ways, something that those of us in attendance at the 2017 Victorian Honour Roll of Women induction ceremony were happy witnesses to.
Both Anna and Hana had their lifetimes’ work honoured this year, through their induction into the Victorian Women’s Honour Roll. As if that in itself is not special enough, there are also some astounding synergies: Anna Moo was recognised for her integral role in establishing two migrant women’s domestic violence services in the 1970s and 1980s, one of which Hana Assafiri, 10 years later, was to lead. In addition, today Anna is a valued board member of the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, a role that Hana held 20 years earlier.
Both women have dedicated their lives to immigrant and refugee women’s wellbeing and freedom from violence. Their activism and hard work have ensured that immigrant and refugee women in Victoria have safe places to go when they are in situations of domestic and family violence. So many immigrant and refugee women have seen the benefit and value of Anna’s and Hana’s work over the years.
It is fitting that their achievements and their ongoing work were recognised by the government this year and that their contribution to the history of women’s activism is acknowledged as part of the important wider contribution that feminists make.
We know that the feminist work of immigrant and refugee women is not easy. The combined burden of racism and sexism in their lives means that becoming involved in public life and feminist advocacy is not always smooth sailing. There are many hurdles, ranging from the structural to the cultural, and there is discrimination, conscious and unconscious. As refugee and immigrant women, we are not always welcomed into all political arenas – sometimes because we are perceived to bang on too much about racism and sometimes because people think we bang on too much about sexism. Sometimes our allies assume they have it covered and don’t always keep us in the conversation, or include us only as ‘stakeholders’ when we really want to be equal partners. The issues we bring to the table don’t always fit with the agenda, but we don’t just want to be on the agenda but seated at that table, even if we present an opposing view.
So we know that any immigrant woman who started busting stereotypes in the 1970s like Anna Moo did, or who has advocated loudly and proudly about Muslim women’s rights since the 1990s like Hana Assafiri has, deserves a lot more than recognition. Superhero status might get us closer to what these amazing women deserve.
Here at MCWH we are very proud to be associated with these change-making women and to share in their celebrations. Their work makes a big difference to the lives of immigrant and refugee women and inspires the rest of us to keep at it, knowing that we are part of a larger legacy that has had many wonderful wins along the way.
The National Education Toolkit for FGM/C Awareness (NETFA) Project is in its third and final year and to celebrate, MCWH will be hosting a National Forum on FGM/C on 24th March 2017 at the Woodward Conference Centre in Melbourne. It will feature international guest speaker Ms Amina Warsame from Network Against FGM/C in Somaliland and will look at ways we can use international learnings and translating it into local solutions. We will open registrations soon so don’t forget to pencil the date in your diary! In the meantime if you need FGM/C resources head over to www.NETFA.com.au.
Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health’s Education Program was yet again facilitated in Mount Eliza, at the annual AMES Women’s Camp with 90 migrant, refugee, and asylum seeker women, who came to settle in Victoria from around the globe. Most of them came from countries experiencing difficulty due to war and prosecution and an important aspect of our approach was to make women feel safe, welcomed and respected.
MCWH’s team worked tirelessly for months preparing for this important event. Our staff sourced all relevant written resources in the first language of the women attending, made hundreds of printed copies, sorted them by health topic and made individual folders for every single woman as their personal health reference guide. To make this day special and memorable, we also approached many agencies for donations and prepared show bags with goodies to say women thank you to women for their participation, putting smiles on their faces and making them feel appreciated.
Despite the great effort and heavy workload, the reward of seeing women’s faces lit up with amusement and the happiness they felt in reading information in their own language and being able to ask questions and learn about aspects of women’s health they never had opportunity to learn before, makes the hard work worthwhile.
It was so exciting to see the richness of different cultures gathered in one place where religion, skin colour, language, culture, age etc were not as important as the fact that women felt so comfortable and safe in the women-only environment- where everybody looked and talked differently, yet we all understood each other perfectly. The language of respect, acceptance and appreciation is universal and understood equally by everyone, no matter your background.
Our brilliant educators discussed many aspects of women’s health including breast, cervical and bowel cancer, contraception and family planning, preventative programs such as breast screening and the Pap test, menstruation, menopause, osteoporosis, STI’s, healthy lifestyle and healthy relationships, hygiene and heart health. Women enjoyed learning through our very unique model of health education where each women felt they were an active participant and felt comfortable asking questions they never had opportunity to ask before without fear or discomfort of being seen as ignorant or uneducated.
Our educators made sure to break up the ice talking about, sometimes, embarrassing topics by making some jokes, using educational tools, such as banana model to teach them proper use of condom, or Pap smear Victoria reproductive organs aprons and similar, which really made women laugh and relax quite a bit.
After all day intensive engagement with almost 90 women covering heaps of issues and responding to so many questions, we felt exhausted, yet so satisfied in knowing how big a difference we made and that the information we shared with women may put them and their families on a much healthier life path and possibly save some lives. It was definitely worth doing it!
MCWH Health Education Manager
MCWH hosted a forum on May 10th, 2016 titled: ‘What does the Royal Commission into Family Violence mean for Multicultural Communities?’ The forum aimed to facilitate discussion about the RCFV’s findings and recommendations specifically as they relate to CALD women
Please find the summary report from the forum which gives an overview of key points of discussion.