Sharing our Strengths: Where to from here for FGM/C prevention?

Our national Symposium was launched by Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash, pictured here with (left to right) Joumanah El Matrah (AMWCHR), Juliana Nkrumah (AWAU), Adele Murdolo (MCWH) and Vivienne Strong (NSWFGM).

Our national Symposium was launched by Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash, pictured here with (left to right) Joumanah El Matrah (AMWCHR), Juliana Nkrumah (AWAU), Adele Murdolo (MCWH) and Vivienne Strong (NSWFGM).

 

Last WRAP we lamented that your average, news-loving Australian is unlikely to learn about the complex issues related to ending female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) because, too often, that kind of complexity is pushed out in favour of some good-old heart-pumping, paper-selling sensationalism.

Now, thanks to the symposium that MCWH held in Melbourne this month, in partnership with our friends Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights (AMWCHR), we can share seven top tips taken from the day, as noted by participants themselves.

1. Don’t assume that women who have experienced FGM/C feel that they are victims or experience it in the same way.

This handy tip, from the AMWCHR media guide, is clearly not only useful for journalists. True, the temptation to simplify women’s experiences of FGM/C is probably strongest in media reporting. However, it can be challenging for anyone who is outside or new to the issue to set aside their assumptions about what women who have experienced FGM/C must feel, think or want. And as reporter Rachel Baxendale reminded us during a thoughtful panel discussion on media representation, it’s not easy for journalists either! AMWCHR’s ‘Respectful Dialogue’ is a much needed reference for anyone reporting on the issue.

2. Women affected by FGM/C need space to speak for themselves – not be spoken for.

We should have known that we didn’t need to look further than the irrepressible Juliana Nkrumah to redefine senational. Her message was simple: now is the time to recognise the leadership and build the voices of women affected by FGM/C in order to overcome the cultural inequities and privileges that are built into our health programs and services. There is a way to work with affected women that values and holds their voice, and there is more we can do to ensure that our work is not only community focused, but community-led and owned.

3. Age appropriate responses are as important as culturally appropriate ones.

If we thought the idea that women used Google doctor was a bit of an exaggeration, Natalija Nesvadbah from Mercy Hospital for Women, who provided the findings from a recently conducted project on young women’s attitudes and behaviours in seeking information about FGM/C, advised us otherwise. And guess what: young women affected by FGM/C want to talk about their sexual and reproductive health with other women who are the same age and who had similar experiences. Well, of course they do, and hearing this made us all wonder why did we hadn’t realised before.

4. There is a gap in FGM/C education and understanding for health professionals, particularly in rural and regional areas.

We know that health in rural and regional Australia is often neglected, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that communities affected by FGM/C living in regional Victoria often lack access to culturally appropriate services and interpreters. But as we learned from a research study conducted by Cathy Vaughan and Narelle White at University of Melbourne, uncertainty about how to talk about FGM/C, and the wish to protect positive relationships with communities, can lead health professionals to avoid the issue altogether in some smaller regional areas. And as NSW panellist Prof Elizabeth Elliot confirmed, the knowledge gap among paediatricians nationally, is just as big a concern.

5. Using alternative rites of passage, communities can abandon FGM/C by embracing cultural tradition, not rejecting it.

Sitting around talking about sexual and reproductive health does not sound like a fun night out for girls of any age. Enter Dr Casta Tungaraza, from African Women’s Council of Australia, talking about ‘kitchen parties’: a highly successful initiative that shows us how sexual and reproductive health education can be woven into existing cultural traditions and celebrations of womanhood. The parties bring girls together to share the excitement of reaching adulthood, to enjoy the support of their female relatives in the process and to ask questions about any health concerns they have without judgement. We think kitchen parties should be a new tradition for every girl.

6. Involving men and boys in this issue is important.

You might think that a Symposium about FGM/C would be the last place you’d find a man, but our men’s panel showed that they have a lot to say about it. The fact that FGM/C is traditionally restricted to the domain of women can obscure the wider social pressures and attitudes that sustain and support the practice, as well as the impact of FGM/C on family relationships. Attitudes that connect the need for FGM/C to women’s marriageability, sexual purity and beauty are reinforced and validated by the whole community, including men and boys, and their involvement is crucial in changing attitudes. Speaker Usama Shahid eloquently explained his research into ways of starting a thoughtful conversation with young men that can lead to positive results for the whole community.

7. Government is a key stakeholder, in providing support for complementary and mutually reinforcing action and commitment at international, national and community levels.

The Symposium marked the culmination of our National Education Toolkit Project which, like the 14 other federally funded initiatives, had a shining, albeit brief, lifespan. There have been some wonderful resources developed through all of the national FGM/C projects which will contribute significantly to our national knowledge-base and build the quality of our practice. We now need to build on the momentum.
Perhaps the most important lesson MCWH has learned from our international research is that effective FGM/C prevention is a long-term process and that coordination is crucial. World-wide, programs have worked best when they are human rights based, community led, and coordinated across international, national and community levels. And the important element in this whole equation is that actions at each level should be complementary and mutually reinforcing.

The Symposium certainly showcased the wonderful work that has been done, and there were some significant signposts for future action. Symposium participants spoke with one voice in their encouragement of both State and Federal governments to continue their support for the ongoing FGM/C prevention work.

The NETFA website, with FGM/C prevention resources for Australian bilingual health educators, is online now.

Media Release: Sharing Our Strengths National Symposium on Best Practice Approaches to the Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

There is no single approach to eliminate female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), but there are many approaches that do work best to end the practice.  This is the message at the core of the ‘Sharing Our Strengths’ symposium being held today.

Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) and Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights have worked together to stage the ‘Sharing Our Strengths’ symposium, a gathering of best practice approaches to FGM/C prevention.

Executive Director of MCWH, Dr Adele Murdolo said that it is also important to recognise the work being conducted around Australia to support the abandonment of the practice.

‘Many of these programs, some of which have been running for over 16 years, are community based and conducted by women from the communities most affected by FGM/C.’

Dr Murdolo said that women affected by FGM/C, as the group most directly impacted by the practice, need to recognised as leaders and change agents.

‘We only seem to hear about stories that are designed to make us feel us shocked, angry or pity, but such sentiments don’t and won’t do anything to prevent and stop the practice.’

Dr Murdolo said many of the speakers at the symposium are working at the front-line of community awareness and education and already demonstrate international best practice approaches to preventing the practice.

‘The international evidence on FGM/C prevention is clear: it’s essential that women most affected by FGM/C lead the charge to bring about its demise, but they can’t do it alone.  All communities and all levels of government need to support women’s leadership efforts in this area.’

Minister Cash will be launching MCWH’s National Education Toolkit for FGM/C Prevention at the Symposium.

Our Voices: Filling the Gaps FGM Spokesperson Project

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African Women Australia’s Melbourne-based FGM Spokespeople from left, Maria Ibrahim, Shadia Mohamed Aly, Nigisti Mulholland, Intesar Homed, Chamut Abebe Kifetew, Mariam Issa, with trainers Paula Abood and Juliana Nkrumah. (Wudad Salim present but not pictured).

 

This week MCWH was honoured to welcome African Women Australia (AWAU) to our Melbourne training room to conduct a component of their national FGM Spokesperson Project. Juliana Nkrumah and Paula Abood worked together with 7 Melbourne-based African women to frame and develop their own digital  stories, which will then be presented at the ‘Our Bodies, Our Voices, Our Lives’ national conference to be held in Sydney on 30 May. The women’s digital stories are a part of the larger Human Rights and FGM accredited course offered by AWAU, in partnership with NSW Tafe, South Western Sydney.

The Our Voices: Filling the Gaps FGM Spokesperson Project is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health.

Southern Cross Care puts their worker’s wellbeing first

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Yesterday MCWH met with Ian Barton, Deputy CEO of Southern Cross Care Vic, which provides Aged Care services across Victoria. We celebrated the start of a wonderful collaborative program to develop women’s health mentors among the Southern Cross Care aged care staff.

A select group of 12 staff members from migrant background will be supported by Southern Cross Care to participate in the MCWH accredited Multicultural Women’s Health Course. The course runs for 12 days and covers many aspects of facilitation, effective communication and women’s health. By mid-April the group, who already make a significant contribution to people’s lives through their work in aged care, will also have the skills and knowledge to act as women’s health mentors in their workplace, communities and families.

MCWH looks forward to providing ongoing support to the mentors after they complete their course, and will continue to offer updates to training over the next few years.

This is an exciting program and we would like to acknowledge Southern Cross Care Vic for their progressive approach to workplace wellbeing.

 

MWHA Roundtable: Building a national picture of immigrant and refugee women’s health

MWHA-Roundtable-2014

Last week MCWH hosted a two-day roundtable for members of our national multicultural women’s health network, which has been developed as part of the the Multicultural Women’s Health Australia program.

The occasion provided a rare opportunity to survey the current landscape for immigrant and refugee women’s health and wellbeing across Australia. Apart from our member in the NT, every state and territory was represented and contributed valuable information about the pressing issues immigrant and refugee women are facing in Australia today.

We’d like to sincerely thank our network members for making the trip to Melbourne (for many a very long one) to sit down together and share our experiences face to face. It was a rewarding and empowering experience and we look forward to the continuing growth of the national network in strength and shared passion to improve the health and wellbeing of immigrant and refugee women.

(Pictured from left: top row, Angela Carnovale, Women’s Centre for Health Matters (ACT); Jasmin Chen (MCWH); Adele Murdolo (MCWH); Andrea Creado, Ishar Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (WA); Vivienne Strong, Women’s Health at Work Program (NSW); Ashley Mattson, Red Cross Tasmania Bicultural Health Program (TAS); bottom row, Jan Williams, Migrant Health Service (SA); Al Hines, Red Cross Tasmania Migration Support Programs (TAS); Regina Quiazon (MCWH); and Cecilia Barassi-Rubio, Immigrant Women’s Support Service (QLD).

Media Release: Voices of Change-Marking International Zero Tolerance Day to Female Genital Mutilation

Women from countries where female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is practiced are the best agents to put an end to the harmful practice.  This is the message at the core of the ‘Voices of Change’ event being held today to mark International Zero Tolerance Day to Female Genital Mutilation.

Women’s Health in the North, Mercy Health, Monash Health, North Yarra Community Health, Doutta Galla Community Health and Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) have worked together to stage the ‘Voices of Change’ event.

Executive Director of MCWH, Dr Adele Murdolo said that it is important to recognise the pivotal role women from affected communities play in preventing and eliminating FGM/C.

‘The global evidence is quite clear that community-based approaches are the most effective.  Our event is a rare opportunity to listen to and learn from women who have been working very hard with their communities to stop the practice.’

Dr Murdolo said that women affected by FGM/C, as the group most directly impacted by the practice, are at the core of successful programs.

‘We rarely hear about the good news stories and successes of the work being done in relation to FGM/C and it’s our intention to celebrate and recognise the tireless activism and engagement of women from the community, who are leading the way for the rest of us.’

Juliana Nkrumah AM, one of the guest speakers at the event, said that any effort to put an end to FGM/C should be motivated by the need to help women in affected communities speak for themselves.

‘It’s essential that we support women and girls by investing in awareness-raising as a way of increasing their decision-making power.  It’s the only way cultural change will come about.’