WRAP #23: Redefining sensational, a not so grim future and 60 seconds with Dawa Juma

Hello everyone

It’s been a whirlwind of a month with the AIDS 2014 Conference coming to town and the prep work involved for our very own special event in a couple of weeks (read on if you want to find out more).

We’re so proud of the work our sisters in the HIV/AIDS sector have done for the Women’s Networking Zone at the AIDS 2014 Conference.  It has been close to 2 years in the planning and, true to form, the WNZ has been the heart of women’s rights organising and building at the Conference. We look forward to nurturing the relationship we’ve formed with Positive Women, Straight Arrows and the many others who were on the WNZ working group.

In this issue, we question why female genital multialtion/cutting continues to be so sensationalised; rethink the future of HIV/AIDS prevention; and spend 60 Seconds with one of our Multicultural Champions, Dawa Juma, who is sure to put a smile on your face.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team

Redefining Sensational

Have you ever read a media article about female genital cutting and cringed at the way the article was written? You know, you get that ‘Oh no, they haven’t used the word “primitive” and “backward” in the same sentence again have they?!’ Feeling.

We’re told the media thrives on sensationalism and that’s why it’s common for news articles to push a line that will attract the most readers. Bums on seats and all that.
But aren’t we getting a bit tired of the same old line? Surely it is time to extend our FGC vocabulary a little and find out more about what else there is to know about a practice that affects an estimated 130 million women and girls globally. Isn’t it time to redefine sensational?

There is in fact so much more to learn about FGC: there is a world of promising prevention practices; different approaches across nations, villages and communities; of advocacy; culture change; and innovation in engaging men and young people in prevention of the practice. Activists and community development workers are working with communities across the world and contributing to the global evidence base about what works best, for whom, and in what context.

Alternative rites of passage (ARP) are said to play a key prevention role in the Kenyan context for example. The Kenyan women’s organisation, Maendeleo Ya Wanawake, started ARP in 1996 as a program of counselling, training and education for girls, celebrated at the end with a ‘coming of age day’ of music, dancing and feasting. ARP has shown itself over time to be an effective strategy in a range of communities, provided the concept is understood and accepted locally by family and community decision-makers.

On a theoretical level, there are complex debates about how we understand and respond to FGC, raising critical questions about who speaks publicly about this issue, and the leadership role of women. If a determinant of FGC is gender inequity, then surely our efforts should promote the leadership of women who are affected by the practice. FGC activists and academics are thinking through these very questions: how does FGC relate to gender equity and what is the relationship of self-representation and self-advocacy by women to the prevention of the practice? And speaking of women, how might we support and harness women’s leadership in communities to meaningfully engage men and boys in prevention? What works and what makes things worse?

Other questions revolve around the more pedestrian issue of number-crunching: or determining exactly how many women in Australia are affected by FGC. Attempts have been made to come up with a figure, and we do now know the numbers of people who have migrated to Australia from countries where FGC is known to be practiced. But these data only draw half the picture because they don’t account for cultural and ethnic differences within countries, which in fact sends us looking in the wrong direction. Rigourous methodologies, incorporating number crunching with considered and knowledgeable community consultation, along with community-based research, are needed.

So, if discussions about media representations of, and theoretical frameworks about, FGC; women’s leadership; ARP and spokesperson programs; sharp number-crunching research; working with young women; and the engagement of men and boys in FGC prevention sound sensational to you, why not join us at our upcoming symposium. You can take part in a national conversation about where our community is in relation to FGC in 2014: beyond sensationalism to considered, sensible and grounded.

You can register for Sharing our Strengths Symposium here.

A Not So Grim Future

Does anyone remember the days of the Grim Reaper?  No, not the scythe carrying, black cloaked skeletal figure of the 15th century, but the 20th century version, made famous in the 1987 TV ad to raise public awareness of AIDS.

Travelling back to the past seems to be a thing we do regularly and with good reason.  If we don’t know where we’ve been how do we know how far we’ve come?  In the case of HIV and AIDS, time travel can give us a real insight into what needs to be done to end the epidemic, particularly as it relates to immigrant and refugee communities living in Australia.

It is 32 years since the first case of HIV/AIDS was diagnosed in Australia and at the time of the Grim Reaper ads, the first cases in heterosexual communities were diagnosed. Although the luxury of time has made us all a lot more aware of, if not more knowledgeable about, HIV/AIDS prevention, we also need to be aware that Australia is a different place to what it was back in the 1980s.

While the jury is still out on whether the public image of AIDS will forever continue to be linked to gay men and more worryingly, homophobic attitudes, community advocates have continued to work hard at broadening and raising the level of discussion that is centred on public health responses. The shift in mainstream thinking from ‘gay disease’ to a legitimate public health issue is admirable (big pat on the back) and has allowed us to focus on those who are and could be most affected.   The news, however, isn’t as good for immigrant communities living in Australia. People born overseas, and women in particular, are disproportionately bearing the burden of new HIV infections.

During the 2008-2012 period, of the HIV infections attributed to heterosexual contact, 72% were among the overseas born, while 67% were among people from non-English speaking countries.  Other statistics follow a similar trend.  In Victoria, for example, HIV is disproportionately represented among migrant communities, particularly amongst Sub-Saharan African women.

According to the Burnet Institute, the challenges in HIV prevention and detection for immigrant communities continue to be cultural barriers in health promotion, testing and treatment, especially for recent arrivals.  The urgency of this issue is evident in the data: of the 1,507 HIV notifications with country of birth recorded, 32% were born overseas and of this group, 54% were classified as recently arrived migrants.  A breakdown of this last figure shows that 29% were from high prevalence countries (92% were from Africa) and 90% acquired their infection overseas.  Of the high prevalence countries, 66% were women born overseas (compared to 35% of Australian-born Victorian women currently living with HIV).

Do we still need the Grim Reaper?  Our first thoughts are that such a—dare we say—sensationalist campaign would never be effective for immigrant communities.  Our recommended approach would be much kinder and simpler: tailored, gendered and culturally responsive sexual and reproductive health education programs are the key.

60 seconds with Dawa Juma

123Multicultural Champion and English Language Enthusiast

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?

I am enjoying my work in aged care as I love to help people. I enjoy that I get to see different people with different stories and values.

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?

I would use my power to stop war in Africa, especially in all the different countries having conflict. I feel that there are many women and children who are suffering the most. I would use my powers to manage or stop this.  

What talent would you most like to possess?

I would to be able to sing and dance.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?

If I could have any job in the world, I would still love to work with people. For instance, working in a community, with women, a hospital or any organisation that has a goal to help people.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?

The first advice I would give them is, don’t feel you are alone here. There are lot of activities and lot of people in the community from various backgrounds. I would encourage them to socialise and use their health supports. I would let them know about interpreters as these are there for them to use and that there are lot of groups available for children and family for example, soccer, English classes and women’s group.  

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?

‘Fork’. It is my favourite as in my country most people have different accents and I have heard it mispronounced in my English language classes back in my country, which always made me laugh.

If you could invite anyone (dead or living) to dinner tonight, who would it be?

I would invite Ian [one of the senior managers at work] because he is a man who is a feminist, from Australia and fighting for women’s health. At dinner I would thank him for his work and that we need more men like him.   

Your most cherished memory?

My second marriage. I didn’t think or expect it would be big event but in 2012 we got married and we had families from both sides attend. We did it traditionally and everything was perfect which made the wedding day memorable.  

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.

My manager, as she does not care about your level of education or how well you speak English level but is always encouraging and motivating. Most managers just tell you what to do, but she gives us choices and information that is helpful. She does not judge me on my English but looks at my skills and guides me in the right direction. Now I want to do more English classes even though I find grammar very difficult. I admire her constant encouragement.    

Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?

My African music.

Is there a favourite cultural tradition that you like to follow?

Eating traditional food on one plate with everyone.

Do you think Australia is multicultural?

Yes, it is multicultural because according to history, Australia belongs to Aboriginal people so most people who have come here are all migrants from different countries.   

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”

…we need people to do things that are special.

Understanding the complexity of gender issues

gender training_DAA 3

I will be more conscious of my own position/role before speaking and engaging. – workshop participant

Last week MCWH partnered with Diaspora Action Australia (formally known as the Humanitarian Crisis Hub) for the second year in a row to facilitate a gender workshop for 10 of DAA’s staff and volunteers. It was an evening of exchanging thoughts, ideas and concepts about gender issues, as they arise in both national and global contexts. Participants were introduced to different ways of thinking about gender and asked to reflect on the impact of gender norms and racial biases in their everyday lives.

Concepts such as ‘intersectionality’ were new to some members of the group, with one participant observing: “I will no longer be simplistic in my assumptions.” For others, the training was a way of deepening their understanding and expanding on their professional practice. As an attendee later reflected: “I was reminded of how amazingly complex these issues are.”

In order to ground these complexities in reality, the settlement stories of real immigrant and refugee women were shared and discussed with participants. What those stories illustrated, and what the group discovered through the workshop, was how interlaced and multifaceted gender issues can be. By seeking out a deeper understanding of oppression and working towards continual self-reflection on the mechanisms which hold it in place, staff and volunteers at DAA are even better placed to effectively empower women and their communities.

If you think your organisation could benefit from an MCWH gender workshop, why not contact us here.


2014 CEDAW Shadow Report Consultation

CEDAW consultationLast week MCWH co-hosted an important discussion focusing on immigrant and refugee women’s rights with Diaspora Action Australia and YWCA Australia. YWCA Australia led the consultation as part of the development of the 2014 United Nations Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Shadow Report.

The 2014 CEDAW Shadow Report aims to feature ‘spotlights’ on four groups of women who continue to face pervasive and severe barriers to claiming their human rights:  women in prison, women with disabilities, single mothers and immigrant/refugee women.

The consultation  included training in CEDAW processes by YWCA Executive Officer, Caroline Lambert and involved key advocates, community leaders and workers who support immigrant and refugee women in the community. Feedback from the day will inform the priority issues to be featured in the report, which is expected to be completed by August 2014.