The WRAP #29: Celebrating diversity, one voice and 60 seconds with Monique Hameed

Laurence and Annie Happy Chinese New Year 2006Laurence and Annie/flickr

Happy new year WRAP readers!

True, it is the end of February, but Chinese New Year has come around in perfect time for us to legitimately begin our first WRAP for the year by wishing you health and prosperity for 2015!

Speaking of health and prosperity, we haven’t just been sitting around the pool since December. We have been busy behind the scenes and some great and amazing things have happened for us already!

Just to name a few: we’ve begun working on the Our Voice, Changing Cultures Project with LGBTI women from immigrant and refugee backgrounds; the government announced additional funding of our National NETFA network providing prevention education for FGM/C; our Executive Director, Adele Murdolo, had the privilege of presenting at the Inaugural Asia-Pacific Conference on Gendered Violence and Violations in Sydney and; we’ve just been funded to start a new project to provide multilingual education and support for immigrant and refugee women working as carers.

So we’re going to start the year with some broad themes that are dear to our heart, talking about diversity, community leadership and collaboration in FGM/C prevention, and spending 60 seconds with our wonderful new project worker Monique Hameed.

And in case you’re wondering why this WRAP is appearing today, which is clearly not a Thursday, it’s because we’ve made a slight scheduling change. Now we’re making your Monday more multicultural!

Until next time,
The WRAP Team

Let’s hear it for diversity!

George A Spiva Centre for the Arts Diversity MaskGeorge A. Spiva Art Centre/ Diversity Mask

Let’s face it, diversity is a good-news story. Diversity in our workplaces or government policies and frameworks not only brightens the day, but it actually means quite a lot for people who have often been marginalised, to be included. For immigrant and refugee women, diversity in the labour force can translate into enjoyable and productive working lives. Diversity in publishing and the media can mean that readers have access to wonderfully important stories, and immigrant and refugee women have a voice. Diversity in education can mean that learning becomes both accessible and more meaningful for students from immigrant and refugee communities. Culinarily speaking, diversity adds to general enjoyment in life. I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the monotonous days of white-bread, cheddar cheese and lettuce sandwiches for lunch. These days we revel in the diverse gourmet choices we have, from sushi to quinoa, and everything in between.

But (even good-news stories can come with a reluctant ‘but’) diversity can have a down-side. Diversity, and the happy story that goes with it, as the feminist scholar Sara Ahmed has shown, can sometimes be understood as existing outside of the broader context of power relations. Diversity can be interpreted as a benign, horizontal difference which, while promoting the wonderful aspects of inclusion and acceptance, is not necessarily accompanied by any effective mechanisms for positive change. In the absence of real transformative initiatives within organisations that improve conditions for marginalised people, the very focus on ‘diversity’, can have the effect of cutting off diversity from other strategies that challenge inequities more directly, and in fact, may even take the place of such programs.

Diversity and structural change can end up as two sides of a coin. You can’t see both sides at once. Smiling colourful faces on organisational websites don’t always mean that organisations are ensuring that migrants and refugees are getting a fair go. In fact, such a public image may mask the reality that these same organisations tend for example, to reserve management positions to the usual white (and/or) male suspects, while promoting ‘diversity’ among the rank and file.

So we celebrate diversity, and will always promote its happy story. But next time you come across a diversity policy or statement, try flipping the coin over to see whether that diversity is supported by structural change initiatives. Do workplace policies include equal opportunity or affirmative action initiatives? Are there programs in place to value the skills and capabilities of immigrant and refugee women, and to facilitate their promotion and advancement in the workforce? Is funding equally allocated to government policy initiatives to address diverse needs and address structural inequities? If the answer is a resounding yes, now that is a good news story.

One voice

Jessica Lea DFID flickrPreventing the Practice of FGM/C in Primary Schools. Image by Jessica Lea/UK DFID

We’ve all been guilty of it: voicing our dissatisfaction and anger at the things that are unfair and unjust and then proceeding to do nothing about them. Or, perhaps worse, trying to do something about them in a way that turns out to subvert, undermine or undo some of the good work already being done to fix the problem.

An issue such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is something that usually incites feelings of horror and anger among those not affected directly by the practice. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Injustices, particularly those that are an abuse of human rights, need loud and visible activism. But it’s how we go about acting on our words that really counts, especially when our actions impact on people experiencing those abuses. When the issue is as complex as FGM/C, it would be wise to do some homework and find out about what is being, and could be, done to prevent and eradicate the practice.

The most recent International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM marked 13 years of activism and campaigning to ensure that FGM/C remains on the global agenda. During this time, in Australia and internationally, there have been countless initiatives that, together, have laid a solid foundation for generational change. Much of what we know now has been the result of the tireless efforts of women advocates from communities where FGM/C is practiced, community organisations, policy makers, governments and legal institutions around the world. A truly collaborative affair.

While there is still much work to be done, especially in countries of migration like ours, the international evidence suggests that we are still in a good position to know what can work in helping to prevent the practice. Involving the whole community and fostering women’s leadership are both key markers of success and this includes acknowledging the huge amount of prevention work already being done, often quietly and modestly, within the communities where FGM/C exists.

Whether you call it ‘being on the same page’ or ‘singing off the same song sheet’, it takes a united stance to ensure that change does happen. The National Standards Framework for FGM/C-related Educational Resources is one such song sheet, highlighting the best resources currently available for community education. Many of the resources have been developed by and in collaboration with women and their communities, so we can confidently use them as a platform for change, without hitting too many wrong notes along the way.

60 seconds with Monique Hameed

MONIQUE

Australian Indigenous Studies Tutor and MCWH Project Officer

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
Working at the MCWH! Also I’ve been enjoying my work with the Undercurrent Community Education Project doing workshops around sex and consent in the western suburbs of Melbourne. It’s great getting to meet young men and women and talk to them about their lives.

What is the best thing that happened to you today?
I ran into my friend on my way to work and she shared some of her amazing breakfast with me.

What talent would you most like to possess?
Invisibility. The possibilities seem endless!

What is the best part of your day?
Through my role at MCWH I will have the opportunity to meet with young woman and hear about their experiences of being same-sex attracted woman from migrant or refugee backgrounds. I’m excited to meet and be inspired by these young women.

What do you most value in your friends?
Their ability to make me laugh! It doesn’t matter how bad my mood is they can always make me smile!

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman from an immigrant or refugee background?
I guess to be able to talk about my place in Australia. As someone with darker skin I find that I’m often treated as a foreigner, or someone who is not “from here”. As a kid growing up in Australia I found that hard and it affected how I thought about belonging and identity in Australia. Being able to talk about Aboriginal sovereignty as a woman from a migrant background has been really important to me when thinking about these things – it’s a constant challenge. I’m interested in talking about the ways that migrants in Australia profit off the colonisation of this land and thinking about ways that we can show solidarity.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant/refugee background?
Having access to a culture that isn’t just the dominant Western one. I’m proud of my big extended family and have learnt so much from them and their experiences of living both in Australia and their countries of origin.

If you could invite any woman (dead or living) to dinner tonight, who would it be?
Arundhati Roy or Rihanna. I feel like both of these women would know how to have a good time!

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
Joan Nestle – activist, writer, historian and founder of the lesbian herstory archives. She lives in Melbourne and continues to be involved in local political and community events. I have learnt so much from her written work on her experiences of being a lesbian Jew from working-class roots and a femme feminist queer from the 1950’s. Even at seventy-four she is still teaching and learning and I find her open-mindedness inspirational.

Name a book or film that changed your life.
I’ll name a book and a film:

Talkin Up to the White Woman – Aileen Moreton Robinson. This book changed the way I thought about feminism and colonialism in Australia.

Saving Face – This movie was the first time I had seen a same sex attracted relationship depicted on screen between two women who weren’t white. It meant a lot to me at the time. Apparently the screen writer had to fight quite hard to ensure that the actors who played their characters remained Chinese-American as the producers kept pushing for one character to be white arguing that otherwise people wouldn’t be able to relate!

What are you reading right now?
Susan Sontag’s AIDS and its Metaphors (about how attitudes to disease are formed in society) and Peter Polites Ornaments from Two Countries: GLBTIQ Stories of Difference from Western Sydney and Regional NSW (an anthology of essays, poetry and memoir).

Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?
I love listening to Bodu Beru drumming, a traditional form of Maldivian music. I also get lots of inspiration from Mariah Carey!

What could you never be without?
My friends, music, a necklace given to me by my grandmother.

Funding for Multicultural Centre to support FGM/C awareness

 

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).

Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash at the National Symposium for Best Practice in FGM/C Education and Prevention, pictured here with (left to right) Joumanah El Matrah (AMWCHR), Juliana Nkrumah (AWAU), Adele Murdolo (MCWH) and Vivienne Strong (NSWFGM).

Today marks Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation Day. The Australian Government has taken this opportunity to announce funding of more than $265,000 for MCWH to deliver the National Education Toolkit for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) Awareness (NETFA) project over the next two years.

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash said that the Australian Government is strongly opposed to harmful FGM/C practices and is committed to taking strong action at both the domestic and international level.

Senator Cash opened the National Symposium for Best Practice in FGM/C Prevention and Education last August and has been a strong advocate on this issue.

“The work of the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health is very important in supporting our community to understand the long term health effects of this harmful practice,” Minister Cash said.

“Through the NETFA project we will see a national centralised mechanism for networking and sharing expertise between FGM service providers throughout Australia.”

Minister Cash said the development of consistent national resources will increase awareness of FGM/C, support victims to seek help and change attitudes to end this harmful practice.

“We know that effective FGM prevention strategies can take several generations and that coordination is crucial,” Minister Cash said.

“That is why it is so important that we continue to support projects such as NETFA, and take a zero tolerance approach to Female Genital Mutilation in Australia.”

The project aligns with the Second Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, which includes a specific commitment to work with Australia’s culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

FGM/C is recognised internationally as a harmful practice and a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

The Government currently supports Australians affected by FGM/C overseas and provides information for Australian travellers on FGM/C laws, as well as training materials for consular officers posted overseas to assist them support victims and ensure reporting of possible cases.

All states and territories in Australia have enacted legislation that makes it a criminal offence to perform FGM/C, and to remove a child from the state or territory in which they live for the purpose of performing FGM/C. The maximum penalties range from 7 to 21 years imprisonment.

MCWH is thrilled that it can continue the national network of FGM/C service providers, build on the success of the National Education Toolkit for FGM/C Awareness and develop more national resources to reach and support women and communities across Australia about this important issue.

To learn more about FGM/C, access national resources and find out about the good work that is already happening around Australia, go to: www.netfa.com.au