The WRAP #31: Labours of Love, Friends in Need and 60 seconds with Luisa Salvo

Aren’t mothers wonderful? It’s not really a question, but sometimes it’s good to think about mothers and how much they have given us, how unconditionally they have supported us and what an incredible effort it is to raise a child.

On the other side of that coin, sometimes it’s also good to think about how mothers are not only mothers, but can also be professionals, artists, entrepreneurs, dancers, athletes, inventors, doctors, mentors, friends, parking inspectors, and on and on and on.

And then of course it’s also good to think about women who are not mothers themselves but who care for children anyway, or who are inspired by their mothers and the other women in their lives who they, in turn, also inspire and nurture and support. Women like Anna Jarvis, who created the modern Mother’s Day to honour her own mother, a social activist who founded ‘Mother’s Day Work Clubs’ to address public health issues.

This WRAP we’re taking a closer look at how much labour there is in love, remembering the importance of friends and spending 60 wonderful seconds with the vibrant Luisa Salvo.

And Happy Mother’s Day for next week.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team

A labour of love

(UNHCR / S. Phelps / December 2013)

(UNHCR / S. Phelps / December 2013)

For any woman who has given birth, it would come as no surprise that ‘giving birth’ is also aptly referred to as ‘being in labour’. It’s quite a clever alternative expression when you come to think of it. The word labour has at least another dozen meanings, which are variously described as ‘physical work for wages’, ‘having difficulty doing something’, ‘striving hard at something’ and ‘to be burdened by something’.

Giving birth is one of the most physically and emotionally intense times in a woman’s life, but being a mother entails a lifetime of parenting and, one could say, labouring. It requires physical and mental stamina, which means that mothers, birthing or not, need to be in optimal health from the outset.

Tomorrow marks the World Day for Safety and Health at Work and the timing is appropriate with Mother’s Day just around the corner, because for most mums, the real workplace is at home.

Women’s unpaid labour in the home continues to be a significant issue in women’s activism. Someone recently calculated the market salary of a stay-at-home mum (it’s$96,700 p.a., in case you want to invoice your kids, your partner, and/or the prime minister) and while being a mother is indeed a priceless experience, the fact remains that any work that requires a woman to be on-call 24/7 with no leave entitlements, no healthcare, no chance of a raise or other benefits  borders on exploitation. Let’s face it, despite a number of helpful dads out there, it’s women who still do the bulk of the housework. Just as well we can call it a labour of love.

Many immigrant women in paid work are also mothers. Feminists around the world have long championed the labour rights of immigrant women, a group who are subject to, and made more vulnerable by, exploitative work practices. We might be able to say the same things about immigrant women’s ‘labour rights’ in the maternity ward. In every study conducted to date (see here, here and here), immigrant women have rated their maternity care much less positively than Australian-born women.  Reasons for this include problems with communication and being left alone and unsupported during childbirth. Interpreters are also rarely available for women during labour, except when a medical decision is being made, and very often only by telephone.

So how can we begin to improve the labour experience of immigrant women? There’sevidence that shows continuous support during childbirth promotes shorter labour and is associated with lower rates of medical intervention, including caesarean sections.  It would make perfect sense, then, to have immigrant women supported by bilingual companions who speak their language and who can provide them with the support they need during their labour.  It’s a bit like implementing good occupational health and safety practices on the first day of a lifetime of labouring.

MCWH has partnered with the Judith Lumley Centre, Latrobe University on the ‘Bilingual Labour Companion Project’, which will match trained bilingual health educators with immigrant and refugee women giving birth at the Royal Women’s Hospital.  If you would like to know more about this project, please contact the MCWH Senior Research and Policy Advocate, Dr Regina Quiazon

No pressure in this peer group


Imagine you have a problem that is taking over your life. You’re having trouble concentrating, you don’t sleep well and you don’t know what to do about it … it’s damaging your mental and physical health. Even worse, imagine that you think this problem something to be ashamed of, something you think other people would judge you about. You feel alone and isolated, even among friends and family.

This is too often the scenario for immigrant and refugee women and men experiencing gambling addiction and gambling related problems. Research suggests that overall, gambling is less common among immigrant communities in Australia than in the general population. However, gambling does affect some sections of the population and, interestingly, immigrant and refugee communities are more vulnerable to gambling-related harm. The stigma and shame attached to gambling prevents many immigrant and refugee women from seeking out support and if they do, there is a lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate support services.

But now imagine talking to others who are experiencing similar issues in a group setting, where everyone is treated with respect, and where judgement is checked at the door.

As the old saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved, and this is no truer than when it comes to peer support groups.  A dwindling bank balance, relationship breakdowns and declining mental and physical health are some of the issues that can be better faced when you have support and understanding. With the support and encouragement of others who understand your experience, you can analyse problems and develop coping strategies for day-to-day life.

It should come as no surprise that in-language peer support groups are a particularly effective way of tackling gambling related problems. Communicating in one’s preferred language is a practical form of support which makes a significant impact. You have a better chance of being understood by someone who not only shares your struggles with gambling, but also shares similar life experiences. However when dealing with issues that people feel afraid to speak about with family or friends, peer support groups provide the support of community without the judgement that can sometimes come with it.

Empathy, equality and confidentiality are at the core of peer support services. Unlike other personal relationships, peer support groups are bound by ethical codes of conduct. Those close to you may struggle in their concern for you to maintain confidentiality, be non-judgmental, or to create a supportive environment when you need them to. That’s what peer support programs are for.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a gambling-related problem, why not let them know about MCWH’s 10 week peer support program for immigrant and refugee women. See our Project Page for further information.

60 seconds with Luisa Salvo


Multicultural Champion and trainee marathon runner

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I have recently changed from working fulltime to part time and I’m loving it. I am really enjoying spending time with my children. I have also just taken up running (shuffling, really) and I feel really strong and proud of myself for doing it! I’m training to run the Melbourne Marathon in October.

What is the best thing that happened to you today?
The people I work with. They make coming to work so enjoyable.

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?
I would want the power of healing and maybe x-ray vision.

What talent would you most like to possess?
I would like to be a great public speaker.

What is your best quality or attribute?
I am really good at laughing at myself!

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
I’VE GOT IT! [Luisa co-ordinates the diversity workforce projects, including the Multicultural Champions, at Southern Cross Care Victoria]

What do you most value in your friends?
Their love and empathy.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be?
Even though it’s hard you can trust people and most people are good.  Please do not take it to heart if someone is ignorant about your experiences of coming to Australia.  You are perfect the way you are and you have a lot to give.  Try and keep your language and try to speak it to your children. Try and meet other people who have already moved here from your country and find what worked best for them. Get to know your community and use the local services: the library is a great place to start!

What’s your favourite word in your language? Why?
My favourite word is ‘bacala’.  It’s Italian for salty fish but it also means ‘silly’ in a nice way of course – there’s a lot lost in translation! I often call myself a bacala.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman from an immigrant or refugee background?
Racism and stereotypes.  I’ve often felt I don’t fit in with the Australian culture, but I don’t feel I fit in with my own Italian community either.  Feeling in-between has become a lot easier as I’ve gotten older.  My friends have helped because they have gone through something similar growing up in Australia.

Can you describe a time when you felt discriminated against as a woman or as someone with an immigrant or refugee background?
I remember my grandmother – nonna — being made fun of because she was always dressed in black and she used to bring me lunch at school.  I remember being in fights with children a lot growing up and being bullied at school because they thought mynonna was a witch.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant/refugee background?
Being with other women from immigrant backgrounds and sharing experiences.

If you could invite any woman (dead or living) to dinner tonight, who would it be?
My nonna.  I practically lived with her –across the road from my parents—straight after my nonno, died. I want to thank her for telling me never to give up the fight to hang on to my language.  When I was in primary school, my teacher sent a letter home to my parents instructing them to stop speaking Italian to me at home because I wasn’t learning English quickly enough. My parents stopped, but my nonna continued to speak to me in her Sicilian dialect.  I now speak better Sicilian than any of my relatives!

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
My mum because she’s had such a difficult life.  Compared to what she’s endured during her life, I really can’t complain about anything.  She migrated to Australia when she was 11 years old and didn’t know her father until later in life because he was fighting in the war.  My mum wanted to work as a secretary but she had to work in a factory instead to help the family.  I used to think she was quite naïve, but she’s an extremely intelligent woman.  She has an inquiring mind and is not afraid to ask questions.

Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?
The soundtrack from the movie ‘Rocky’, because every time I hear it I want to go for a run.  I wanted to walk down the aisle to ‘Eye of the Tiger’, but I had to have ‘The Lady in Red’ instead (I wore red at my wedding).  Maybe they’ll play ‘Eye of the Tiger’ at my funeral.

What is your favourite possession?
I’m not really into possessions but my nonna’s engagement ring is pretty special. Years ago, my nonna was quite sick, lost a lot of weight and the ring slipped off her finger.  A decade later, years after my nonna passed away, my dad found it in her garden while planting broccoli. Can you believe it?

If you could convince the world of one thing, what would it be?
It’s really important to treat people the way you want to be treated.