Honouring Immigrant Women on IWD

Hana Assafiri and Anna Moo

Hana Assafiri and Anna Moo

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.

NETFA Forum 2017

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.

 

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AMES Annual Women’s Camp 2016

AMES camp participants

AMES camp participants

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.

Donated contents for goodie bags

Donated contents for goodie bags

MCWH staff worked for months to prepare resources

MCWH staff worked for months to prepare resources

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.

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BHE educator Manasi preparing for a health session

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!

Amira Rahmanovic 
MCWH Health Education Manager

 

Forum summary report: What does the Royal Commission into Family Violence mean for Multicultural Communities?

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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.

NETFA Forum 2016

NETFA Forum

This month we had the good fortune of spending a day surrounded by a group of amazing women who know a great deal about women’s rights, health and female circumcision. On International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, MCWH’s NETFA Forum brought together people from across Australia to consider some key questions and talk about how communities and Australian state and federal governments are progressing with this important women’s health issue.

Discussion started with an overview of the international context, noting that activism around female circumcision, mostly led by women, has taken place for many years across the world. We have much to learn from the past and the guidance of activist groups like the NAFIS Network who show us how best practice has been implemented on the ground.

International best practice requires us to ask who is around the table when we talk about female circumcision. There was a clear consensus at the forum that women from practising communities should be prominently represented around the decision-making table, and their strong, clear, informed voices must be heard nationally and internationally.

Panel discussion covered the complex questions of legislation and data, noting that while legislation is crucial, it can lead to stigmatisation and discrimination in countries of migration. As the recent NSW case has shown, comprehensive and broad reaching community education must be available to all members of practising communities, for effective cultural change to take place.

Research too is a problematic beast, sometimes masking as much as it reveals, so data, research and evidence must be collected, analysed and used with sophistication and wisdom. A recent report indicated that worldwide, the number of circumcised girls and women is 70 million higher than previously thought. However, the increase does not mean the practice is growing: rather, it reflects that Indonesia now reports nationally representative data.

A strong message throughout the forum related to the appropriate use of terminology.  In Australia and internationally the term ‘mutilation’ is used in legislation and policy to reinforce the gravity of this gender-based human rights violation. However, forum participants strongly suggested that the term, ‘mutilation’ can be denigrating and harmful to women and may not accurately convey the different ways women view the practice, let alone the many words in a range of languages that signify cutting practices. Participants suggested that we use terminology appropriate to the context, which might include using different terminology at different times.

MCWH is honoured to have been part of this important national conversation, bringing together national experts and taking a woman-led and respectful approach to complex debate. The symposium proceedings will be published and available soon on the NETFA website.

(L-R) Ms Juliana Nkrumah AM, Ms Maria Osman, Dr Carol Kaplanian

(L-R) Ms Juliana Nkrumah AM, Ms Maria Osman, Dr Carol Kaplanian

Ms Maria Osman, Ms Linda George, Dr Virginia Dods, Mmaskepe Sejoe

Ms Maria Osman, Ms Linda George, Dr Virginia Dods, Mmaskepe Sejoe

AMES Student Retreat 2015

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This is a second year in a row that MCWH multilingual health education program was part of the annual AMES female students’ retreat in Mt Eliza YMCA campsite. Over 100 women – English language students from all over Victoria- gathered at this serene location to stay for three days of fun and empowerment through various activities, sharing information, learning how to stay healthy and safe and navigating the Australian health system.

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Health Education Program Manager Amira Rahmanovic said, “It was wonderful to see this kaleidoscope of different colours! Hearing the music and melodies of all different languages and dialects melt together in very powerful, bonding activities that appreciated our differences and valued them as the best gift this country of ours has!

Our educators Elizabeth and Manasi did a great job facilitating four workshops back to back with four groups of women who wanted to find out as much as they could at this event. It was delightful to see the participants light up with joy in finding out answers and learning about such important aspects of our life, health and well-being, in such a safe, women only, relaxed and respectful environment.

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We would also like to acknowledge and thank our fantastic sponsors who gave us unprecedented donations for participant goody-bags this year and a big hats off to Carmela Ieracitano for taking the lead on and achieving this!

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We are looking forward to meeting more wonderful women next year at the same place and same enjoyable, happy state!

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*We’d also like to ackowledge T2, Key Sun Pty Ltd, Johnson & Johnson, Colgate Palmolive

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