WRAP #16: Turning 35, rethinking pink and 60 seconds with Anna Moo

MCWH is turning 35!

That’s right, we’ve been talking to women about their health and their rights for 35 years. You have to agree, it’s impressive.Like many women, we’ve had our ups and downs, a few makeovers, changed our name and our address, but from the very beginning, it’s always been about empowering women by sharing information, supporting women to find their voice on matters of health and wellbeing and building relationships between women within their community so they can make changes for the better, for their families and for themselves.Sadly, there are other things that seem to have stayed the same. 35 years is a long time but many of the issues that were relevant in 1978 are still relevant now – immigrant and refugee women still struggle to access health information, to navigate the health system and to recognise themselves in mainstream representations of what women should be.We are honoured to have been working with and for immigrant and refugee women for so many years, we are proud of where we are now and we are taking a big breath in – not just to blow out the candles, but to get ready for the work still to be done.On that note, this Wednesday 4 December we’ll be marking our birthday officially with the Victorian Minister for Health, the Hon. David Davis, and acclaimed writer Alice Pung, followed by our AGM. You are most warmly invited to come along.

Now without further ado, we’re talking about 1978, rethinking pink and then spending 60 seconds with MCWH board member Anna Moo.

he first MCWH education session conducted in October 1977

The first MCWH education session conducted in October 1977 – only 3 months before the best year of our lives.

 

35 years ago, 35 years later

It’s official: scientists have discovered that there is, indeed, such a thing as the good old days. In fact, University of Canberra researchers have even pinpointed a year: 1978. According to the research, 1978 was the year the world’s quality of life peaked, and it has gradually deteriorated ever since.

Such a provocative conclusion naturally led us to think about the quality of life of immigrant and refugee women in Australia.

If you’re old enough to remember, 1978 was the year that had most people bopping along to the ‘Grease’ soundtrack (‘…you’re the one that I want…oo, oo, oo, honey…the one that I want…’). It was also the year MCWH first opened its doors to immigrant and refugee women. In that year, the newly-established Action for Family Planning (as MCWH was known then) took multilingual family planning information and education to women in Victoria’s factories.

Did AFP reach the peak of cultural responsiveness for immigrant and refugee women? Will there ever be a peak for immigrant and refugee women’s health?

Current evidence suggests that immigrant and refugee women have, and are at a greater risk of suffering, poorer health outcomes than Australian-born women. However research has also shown that they are well-placed to improve their own health through preventative health education. Here are a few other factors we might need to consider before we can say we’re living in the ‘1978’ of immigrant and refugee women’s health:

  1. Contrary to opinion, migrants create jobs by increasing demand for goods and services, yet overseas-born women have a higher unemployment rate (5.1%) than both Australian-born women (4.2%) and Australian-born men (3.4%).
  2. Despite their valuable civic contributions, not all immigrant and refugee women have the same rights as permanent residents and Australian citizens: some cannot vote, while others have to wait for public health and social welfare entitlements, often to the detriment of their health and wellbeing.
  3. Whenever you stay at a hotel, walk into a clean office, or choose the packaged nuts from the grocery aisle, it’s probably an immigrant woman who has laboured to make it possible, often in insecure and low-paid conditions.
  4. During migration and settlement, immigrant and refugee women negotiate upheavals, setbacks and obstacles with perseverance, resourcefulness and organisation. These are skills possessed by the greatest of leaders and should be used and recognised to our advantage.

These are the compass points for the type of work that needs to be done with immigrant and refugee women in order to stem the gradual deterioration. Now, how to bring back the good old days?

Taxi courtesy of pragism on flickr

Rethinking pink

Pink—the colour, not the singer—has been in the spotlight again.

It seems pink has been hijacked  by consumer market forces in that ‘Pink-Ribbon-Barbie-Doll-Disney-Princess’ kind of way, at the expense of feminist action. Instead of tackling issues head on, pink detractors argue, it only reinforces gender stereotypes and dilutes advocacy to the level of awareness-raising.

Take for example, the idea of introducing women-only taxis to Victoria (pink taxis, of course) in response to concerns about women’s safety, which has led some to suggest that the proposed scheme is a ‘mediaeval’ form of segregation that disempowers women to speak out against violence.

Given that colour is loaded with cultural meanings (remember, former Prime Minister Gillard’s comments about women being sidelined by men in blue ties?) it’s difficult to pin point whether the criticism is aimed at ‘pink’ or at ‘women-only’, but it’s safe to say that the relationship between the two is like chewing gum to hair.

However, by focusing on the pink/women-only aspect, we could inadvertently be advocating for a form of mainstreaming that runs counter to many feminist principles. ‘Specialist’ services, whether multicultural, Indigenous, women’s and/or ethno-specific services, serve a need in the community. The provision of gender specific and culturally responsiveness services doesn’t and shouldn’t equate to a form of gender or cultural segregation. In fact, the reverse logic is true: by making available specific services, we are acknowledging that there is no such thing as a level playing field. The Pink Taxi recognises that while men’s violence against women is prevalent in our community, women have the right to travel safely.

Inequity and violence exist and at the same time as we work to change that fact, there is a need for a service response.

Similarly, by providing services such as bilingual health education to women, we are in fact acknowledging immigrant and refugee women’s right to choose, to access appropriate informationand to feel safe on their own terms. The very existence of a multicultural women ‘s health service signals a long-term commitment to also eliminating the barriers underpinning women’s needs and not just serving them.

If people are blind to gender or race, then colour should be viewed as a visual aid. We need to see pink—or the co-opting of any other colour for advocacy purposes for that matter—not as the cure, but as a symptom of what needs to be fixed in our world.

Pink taxis are one option, but what action do you most want to see in the community that would help end violence against women? Listen and learn from women for 16 Days of Activism led by Women’s Health East.

60 seconds with Anna Moo

Anna Moo

Feminist and social justice activist

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I’m reading ‘To Each His Own’, a book set in the South of Italy. The author Leonardo Sciascia uses storytelling as a way to demonstrate and attack the ethos of the insidious mafia culture that prevailed in Sicily in the 1960’s. Sadly that culture still endures today.

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
I would use it to gather all nations to reach a unanimous agreement to resettle all refugees languishing in camps all over the world in countries of their choice.

What talent would you most like to possess?
I would love to be able to draw and create beautiful pictures. I do appreciate visual arts particularly paintings produced in the Renaissance period in Italy.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
It’s always very difficult for people new to a country to settle. It takes time to adapt and to get to know and understand the new cultural environment. It’s important to make connections, to be informed, to learn the language as quickly as possible and to participate in the community as much as one can. Above all it is critical to establish support systems and networks.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?
‘Welcome’. It’s a word that says a lot of things and it’s always said on a positive note, there isn’t any negativity around it.

If you could invite anyone to dinner tonight, who would it be?
It would be a group of friends – strong, opinionated feminist women. Our gatherings are always exciting, challenging and above all totally enjoyable. Issues would be debated at length over a glass of wine or two and a cigarette.

Your most cherished memory?
When I had my children, there’s some sort of magic in having a child. It’s difficult to describe. It stays with you forever.

Is there a favourite cultural tradition that you like to follow?
The Italians are big on family events, my mother held a family lunch every Sunday. Family and friends would be invited and she had no difficulty in preparing a feast. I don’t know how she did it! I can’t possibly follow that, but in honouring the family’s tradition, we do gather for an occasional Sunday family lunch and reminiscence about the feasts of the past!

Do you think Australia is multicultural?
Australia is indeed a multicultural society. While it is true that overall diversity of cultures and ethnicities are tolerated there is still a lack of acceptance by the general population of particular groups. While we have achieved a great deal, there is still an underlying level of racism that operates against groups who may look different due to religion, race or other characteristics.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
Women’s equality is still to be achieved.

You can hear Anna chat about her work with immigrant and refugee women here.