The WRAP #27: Where to from here?, Where is the data? and 60 seconds with Kristine Olaris

Hi there WRAP readers!

As you are probably well aware, we’re visiting your inboxes in the midst of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. Our friends at Women’s Health East have produced this fabulous video in case you need motivation!

Right now around the office, many of us are busy running towards the end of the year, rushing to meet deadlines and make preparations for end of year celebrations (like ourAGM next week). So, even for a great cause, the thought of embarking on 16 days of activism was exhausting.

But now that it’s here, we’ve realised that acting against gender violence isn’t a high-cardio, mad dash. It’s a marathon, and we’ve already come a long way.

Compared to a few years ago, public awareness of the issue has never been higher and support for the elimination of violence has never been stronger. It’s gratifying to see that an issue that is so important for women is receiving the attention it deserves. It’s also a time to ask, where to from here?

So this WRAP we are asking about the next steps in preventing gender violence, we are demanding data (aren’t we always!) and then we are spending an energising 60 seconds with Kristine Olaris, the CEO of Women’s Health East.

'Together For Equality & Respect - Preventing violence against women in Melbourne's East'

‘Together For Equality & Respect – Preventing violence against women in Melbourne’s East’

Next steps to prevent violence against all women

Rain and Steps (Nick Page/flickr)

Rain and Steps (Nick Page/flickr)

It is such a positive thing that violence against women is now more acknowledged, recognised and understood than it has been in the past. At all levels of our community we hear statements confirming that violence against women is wrong and that we should all be working together to address it. This year alone, we have heard positive and strong statements from women and men in powerful positions in government, law enforcement, the military, sport and entertainment.

Certainly, many women who are living with violence at the hands of their partners or family members will take comfort in these strong statements and may feel more encouraged to act. Perpetrators may feel less emboldened. Bystanders may feel more encouraged to intervene. And on a violence prevention level, workplaces and other organisations may be less inclined to tolerate sexist images or comments.

This is a fine achievement (back pat). So what are our next steps? What still needs to be done to further boost awareness about violence against women, and indeed to continue to work toward the ultimate aim of eliminating gender-based violence altogether?

It’s time now to ask some more complex questions that will take our work to the next level: including questions that address the ways that gender-based violence impacts on women who are marginalised by the structures of race, ethnicity, disability, migration status, as well as gender.

Our efforts to date have been based solely on an analysis of gender. This makes sense but also leaves them lacking. What is missing is a recognition of how gender intersects with other factors to create an experience of violence that is different to the ones we have ready to hand – the scenarios that we bring to mind and the situations that we have learned (or are learning) to understand.

Which isn’t to say that we should lose our feminist focus on gender equity as the key to violence prevention. Marginalised women need equity just like everyone else. But gender equity will only get us so far in the fight to end violence against women. Add to the wish list all forms of equality, including equality on the basis of race, disability, class, ethnicity, and sexual identity, and then we see more clearly our next steps.

Diverse experiences of violence require diverse violence prevention approaches. Without a tailored approach to violence against women that takes structural disadvantage into account, we often end up with inappropriate programs that lack meaning and have minimal impact. So while some might say that ‘a punch is a punch’, we also know that gender-based violence is never just a punch. It is a punch in context.

Along with strong statements, we need policies and programs that actively include and support the broad diversity of women’s experience. This inclusiveness goes further than asserting that all women’s experiences are different. We also need tailored programs that take account of those specific experiences. A dual approach that combines mainstream inclusion with specific programs will takes us further towards equity, and significantly add to the impact we will have, not only for some women, but for all.

Show us the data

graph 2

At a recent forum a public health researcher was asked whether her large population study had included any groups from non-English speaking backgrounds. The researcher responded that there was ‘no single population group big enough in Australia that would be worth doing … it would be prohibitively expensive.’  Although the choice of words is unfortunate, the comments do provide a clue to the dismal state of available data in relation to immigrant and refugee communities.

‘Doing culture’ in research has always been couched as a problem: it’s too costly, too complex, or just too difficult.  While some of these reasons are valid in some resource-poor settings, at other times it might be a lack of political will. As benign as numbers might appear, data is highly political. The way in which data is collected, interpreted and analysed is a politicised process because there are conscious and unconscious decisions being made about what to include and, as a consequence, who is made invisible. The lack of available, accurate and comprehensive data on immigrant and refugee women not only places them at greater risk, but also further marginalises them to the point of invisibility.

We know, for example, that overseas-born women are at a greater risk of poorer maternal and child health outcomes and are less likely than Australian-born women to have adequate information about modern contraceptive methods. However this knowledge only gives us a partial picture of what is happening in immigrant and refugee women’s lives because demographic indicators lack consistency (country of birth, ethnicity, non-English speaking, or overseas-born data sets can’t be compared and monitored), and contextual information such as visa category, religion and sexuality would involve piecemeal detective work across a diverse range of possible sources.

It’s clear that there are many gaps we need to address in the systematic and ongoing collection of disaggregated data. In the meantime, there is also a need to ask exactly why data on immigrant and refugee communities are not being collected, especially when we do know that some overseas born communities are at risk of developing adverse health conditions and more vulnerable to poorer health outcomes.

Unless we bring the margins into the centre of our analysis, we risk perpetuating that marginalisation through our research. If we have the data, we can better advocate for more equitable policies, programs and services that are gender and culturally appropriate. And most important of all, if we have the data at the outset, immigrant and refugee women themselves can  have access to all the relevant information that will enable them to make decisions about their health. Surely that’s good for the whole population. Surely that’s worth doing.

60 seconds with Kristine Olaris

Kristine Olaris Cropped
Environmentalist, politics addict and CEO of Women’s Health East

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
Lots of walking! I am doing a 6 day walk in Tasmania in February (Cradle Mountain) and need to get fit. I love walking so it is really a good excuse to do lots.

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?
I would like the power to shift political will. There are so many important issues that we could solve if our politicians would just commit to them. A just and humane approach to refugees and asylum seekers, effective action on climate change and a commitment to a sustained, coordinated approach to the prevention of violence against women are just a few.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?
I love words that I like the sound of, and that feel good in your mouth! When I was young I toyed with the idea of collecting matchboxes or stamps, not because I thought that was interesting, but because I could say that I had an interest in phillumeny and philately!

What’s your favourite word in any language? Why?
I have an Ethiopian niece and nephew so know a few words and phrases in Amharic. A favourite is ameseganallo which means thank you. I like it because although it is very long it is easy to pronounce.

Can you describe a time when you felt discriminated against as a woman or as someone with an immigrant or refugee background?

My cultural background is Macedonian so while I copped lots of racist comments when I was young, it seems it is acceptable to be Macedonian these days! There are many newer groups of immigrants to discriminate against! However as a woman, from an immigrant background, with a partner of the same sex, I have faced my share of discrimination over the years. Sadly it is almost commonplace. I think the thing that has changed over the years is that I am more confident to challenge people who are being discriminatory. It can be quite exhilarating.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant/refugee background?
I think that having an immigrant background makes life more interesting. It means you have a diversity of cultural traditions, stories, experiences and ways of thinking that you can draw on in your everyday life.

Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?
I am a big fan of lots of styles of music – but if I want something to inspire or motivate me I would usually go for something loud and gutsy. Early PJ Harvey remains a favourite.

What could you never be without?
My glasses! I usually try to carry and old pair with me if I am away from home because I am petrified of being without them

If you could convince the world of one thing, what would it be?
The importance of acting on climate change now (or preferably yesterday). This is the most urgent public health challenge we have and it needs our immediate action.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
We need feminism because gender inequality is alive and well and is one of the most powerful influences on women’s health and wellbeing; because Australian women still earn 20% less than men and are less represented in all aspects of our society; because 1 in 3 women over 15 have experienced physical violence and 1 in 5 sexual assault and because we are still debating a women’s right to make her own decisions about her sexual and reproductive health. We need feminism because the world would be a much better place if women from diverse backgrounds were equally represented in areas of influence across our society and everyone had equality of choice and opportunity. I could go on…how much space do I have?