The WRAP #24: Blue skies, sharing our strengths and 60 seconds with Uma Rani

Hello there WRAP readers,

It feels like it has been ages since we last touched base … August has been a mixed month of consolidation and conferences, colds and flu.

But blue skies are finally in sight! We’re starting to feel the love and leg-stretching that comes with Spring: people are starting to smile again on the street; its not completely dark when we leave for work now; and the rain umbrellas are being replaced with big outdoor ones.

So this month we’re taking the opportunity to do some blue sky thinking, reflect on the success of our NETFA symposium and bask in the warm glow of spending 60 seconds with Uma Rani.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team

Nothing but blue skies


Nothing But Blue Skies Do I See. Kate Ter Haar (2011) flickr.


Feminists are amazingly diverse. There is such a wide range of approaches to the question of what causes women’s oppression, and what to do about it. But if there is anything that binds feminists across time, space and ideology, it has to be that they are good at having ‘vision’. Feminists, like all social justice advocates, have a wonderful capacity to imagine a different world.

Simone de Beauvoir imagined a world in which women were fully recognised as acting, experiencing subjects, rather than merely objects of the patriarchal ‘eternal feminine’ myth. In the radical feminism camp, Shulamith Firestone imagined a world in which women lived free of the burden of reproduction and the regressive limitations of the traditional nuclear family. For liberal feminists, from the sassy suffragettes to our very own Women’s Electoral Lobby, the new world was one in which women, through the mechanisms of the state, were equal actors in the public sphere.

Here at MCWH, our favourite world to live in would be the one imagined by the intersectional feminists, from the materialist to the post-colonial, who made us all think a little differently again about gender. Specifically, they helped us to think more broadly about the ways that sexism as a system of women’s oppression intersects with other forms, such as racism, capitalism, ageism, and ableism.

Feminists such as Angela Davis, with her landmark 1981 book, ‘Women, Race and Class’, alerted us to the role of racism and eugenics, hand in hand with sexism, in holding back women’s reproductive rights. Aileen Moreton-Robinson has articulated the impact on Indigenous women’s lives of gendered oppression in the context of colonisation in Australia. Helen Meekosha has written of the impact of colonialism and capitalism, thinking through the ways that these systems intersect with gender oppression to cause disability in the global South. These are the many ways that we have been reminded that it is not only sexism that contributes to women’s oppression.

Such feminist thinkers, from bell hooks and Gloria Anzaldua, to Kimberly Crenshaw, Chandra Mohanty and Gayatri Spivak, have expanded the vision from one in which women are equal to men, to one in which inequality and oppression on any basis ceases to exist. An intersectional approach gives us a vision of gender equality that does not simply even up the circumstances of women and men within each class, race or culture, leaving the rifts between classes and races intact. Rather, it imagines a world without structural inequality itself.

That’s a difficult world for us to picture now, an almost unfathomable change in what we know and what some of us experience, but look how far we’ve already come. We need to keep the blue skies of intersectional feminism firmly in our sights, and make sure we take the time to appreciate its variation, its subtleties and its colour.

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.

60 seconds with Uma Rani


Bilingual health educator, mother and future case manager

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?

Being at home and taking care of my daughter and husband. I am also enjoying my new role as a bilingual health educator and working in the community.  

What talent would you most like to possess?

I would like to be able to cook various types of cuisine. Right now, I can only make South Indian dishes but I would love to have the skills and talent to make food from other cultures. Good food brings people together and you can always make more friends if you know how to cook well.

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

I would like to be a case manager. I have a dual diploma in community development and services and I have already done some volunteering in the community sector. So I can see myself working as a case manager in the community one day.

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

I would ask them to focus on their health first and get to know the health system. Many of the men and women I have met focus on getting employment. But taking care of their health is of great importance and having your health allows you to make the most of other opportunities in life.  

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

“Oh my God”- I like these words as I say them quite a lot in most situations.

If you could invite anyone to dinner tonight, who would it be?

It would be someone spiritual. I don’t have any one particular in mind, but as long as the individual has spiritual knowledge and wisdom I would like to have dinner with them. I would like this as the discussions over dinner would be insightful and filled with new teachings.  

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.

Chinna Pillai is probably one of the most amazing woman I would know. In her late 60’s she went to villages in Tamil Nadu and encouraged women to start their own work. She provided these women with resources to become entrepreneurs and helped them not be dependent on men. I admire her work as she did these things in her 60’s and did not let her old age stop her from helping others.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?

Multiculturalism means respecting every religion and culture regardless of how different they are from yours.

If you could meet the Prime Minister tomorrow, what would like to tell him?

If I met the Prime Minister I would talk about the health care system. Even though the Australian health care system is really good it is not efficient. I would share my personal experiences. For example, for certain issues I am better going back to my home country and getting treatment that is on time and more specialised. If the health care in Australia improved I would not have to travel to my home country with my daughter to get the right type of health care.  

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”

Maybe we need feminism more in places where it is misunderstood or does not exist. Many people misunderstand what feminism means and mistake it to mean that women can be powerful over men. I think we need feminism to help people understand what it means.

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.