The WRAP #32: Exploitation of migrant workers, defining violence and 60 seconds with Zubaidah Shaburdin

Hi WRAPpers!

Hope this issue finds you well!

There has been a lot of talk about violence against women lately, in the home, in the workplace and on the street. One the one hand, we couldn’t be happier that such an important issue is finally getting the coverage it warrants. On the other hand, it’s a hard thing to see just how stark reality is. National Sorry Day, tomorrow, will be a powerful reminder that violence exists in the structures and systems that are so often taken for granted, which is something we all need to recognise. But the month has also brought us some silver linings – we couldn’t be happier that Ireland has legalised same sex marriage this week and we are looking forward to the International Day of Action for Women’s Health on May 28th!

This WRAP we’re finding the exploitation of temporary migrants a bit hard to swallow, rethinking our definitions of violence and then we’ve got our own silver lining of 60 seconds with our newest MCWH project officer, Zubaidah Shaburdin.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team

From labour market to supermarket

labour migrants

We often hear about immigration being good for the labour market. But as with most economic ‘facts’ and arguments, the benefits often obscure the human cost. A recent survey showed that 80% of Australians view immigrants as being good for the economy, which reinforces ideas about immigrant labourers being viewed as ‘factory fodder’ and temporary migrants such as international students as ‘cash cows’. At a time when short-term and precarious employment are becoming a key feature of our labour market, the costs are often at the expense of workers’ health and wellbeing. Immigrant workers are more likely to be made even more vulnerable (and therefore exploited) than Australian-born employees in the workplace precisely because of their migrant status (and there is research evidence which supports this).

It’s also often the dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs immigrant workers take up, especially if they are also on a temporary visa and/or if they happen to arrive in the country as a low-skilled worker. Take the case of the other market: our large grocery chains, where most of our agricultural produce is made readily available for us courtesy of immigrant workers.  Not only are temporary migrants over-represented in the agricultural sector, it’s generally the case that its immigrant workers who are relied upon to pick, pack and produce food for our consumption (about 90% of seasonal farm workers in developed countries were born abroad).

A recent investigative report looked into the slave-like conditions of temporary migrant workers in the fresh food sector and in doing so, highlighted the particular vulnerabilities immigrant women workers face. Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal, yet most immigrant women aren’t aware of their rights, or if they are, are reluctant to claim their rights because of fear of repercussions such as deportation. In such cases, immigrant women are not only abused by their employer, they’ve also been made more vulnerable by the systems and structures that place them there.

How can we prevent such exploitation occurring in the first place and ensure that immigrant workers are supported to be safe and healthy? For a start, we need to shift the way we view ‘migrant workers’: healthy workers are the key to healthy economy, not the other way around.  Making our workplaces ‘healthier’ for immigrant workers needs to cover a whole variety of actions including occupational health and safety support and training, and labour regulation and enforcement.  Above all, programs and policies that will empower immigrant women workers should be a central focus of a healthy workplace.

Thinking more broadly about violence

Toni

Women are always teaching us new things, as long as we take the opportunity to listen. And as bell hooks has reminded us, we need to listen closely to the concrete reality of the marginalised in order to imagine a future that is truly visionary.

One thing we have learned over the last few months from listening closely to immigrant and refugee women is that we need to change our thinking on violence. We have learned that what we think we know about violence against immigrant and refugee women is neither broad, nor specific, enough. Women have told us very clearly that we need to broaden our definition of violence, and at the same time, we need to be more specific about the various forms of violence that impact on particular groups of women.

As Toni Morrison showed us in her beautiful novel, Beloved, violence has varied forms, and physical violence is only one of them. The psychological impacts of slavery include the impact of the racial categorisation of African American people, state-based violence in the form of unaddressed and sanctioned racial discrimination, and legislation or policy that institutionalises inequality. When we think about violence against immigrant and refugee women, we need to also think about how our state structures might contribute to their experiences.

Take women on temporary visas for example. Women who are in Australia temporarily on student, working or bridging visas have a specific experience of violence that is created and exacerbated by their temporary and precarious visa status. For temporary migrant women, not only the family home, but also housing and employment, are key settings where gendered violence finds fertile ground.

Women have told us that landlords and housemates, employers and workmates, spouses and family members, have found opportunities to exploit the system and take advantage of women’s limited options when faced with violence.  In these cases, the violence has taken the forms of threats of deportation, eviction or employment termination, combined with an offer to remove the threat in exchange for sex or unpaid work. In other cases, spouses, supported by family and community members, have hidden passports or other documents from women, threatened to harm children or family members overseas, or they have limited women’s opportunities to work, to participate in the community or learn crucial skills such as English language.

If we aim to fully understand violence against women, and incorporate that understanding into a truly visionary future, these specific forms of violence, and a broader definition of violence, need to become incorporated into what we think violence means to women.

60 seconds with Zubaidah Shaburdin

Zubaidah

MCWH’s new NETFA Project Officer, and diving enthusiast

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
Learning and working on the MCWH NETFA (National Education Toolkit on FGM/C Awareness) Project. After recently completing my dissertation I’m very excited to jump straight into a new project. Women’s health, and particularly the prevention and elimination of FGC, is something I am passionate about and I feel blessed to be given this opportunity to work on it.

What is the best thing that happened to you today?
Buying the last copy of the Big Issue from the vendor this morning. The smile on his face was worth it!

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
If I had a magic wand, I would turn the delicious food I see in recipe books into real food. I would use it to feed myself as well as the growing number of homeless people in Melbourne.

What talent would you most like to possess?
The ability to absorb information quickly and retain it for a long time.

What is your best quality or attribute?
I will always find a way to solve a problem. I don’t like using the phrase ‘I don’t know’. Instead I prefer to figure out the problem.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
To be a traveller. If I could get paid to travel around the world, I would.

What do you most value in your friends?
Loyalty and a wicked sense of humour.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be?
To approach living in Australia with an open mind and immerse yourself in the culture. Australia has a lot to offer in terms of its natural beauty as well as the friendliness and openness of people.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman from an immigrant or refugee background?
Coming to Australia at the age of 17 from Singapore, I struggled in my first few years to understand the idea of independent thinking in Australia. Singapore’s approach to education is to tell students how to think whereas Australia focuses more on creative and independent thinking. It was a shock to me when my first day in year 12, a teacher asked for my opinion on an issue we were discussing in English class.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant/refugee background?

I feel lucky to be part of the diaspora community as I get to appreciate the values of two very different cultures and I get to enjoy the best of both worlds. This means I grew up speaking two different languages and I am privileged to be able to celebrate two different sets of festivities.

If you could invite any woman (dead or living) to dinner tonight, who would it be?
Virginia Woolf and Julia Gillard.

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
My mother. She is the reason I have become the person I am today. Her dedication in doing charity work and her generosity towards the community inspires me every day to be a better and more giving person.

Name a book or film that changed your life.
Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone by Heidi Postlewait and Kenneth Cain. It gives a wonderful insight into the personal experiences of United Nation peacekeepers.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
Multiculturalism to me is about accepting and celebrating the differences of other cultures’ norms and values.

If you could convince the world of one thing, what would it be?
I would convince the world that we are not all that different from one another. Besides the colour of our skin and the culture we come from, we all have the same basic needs and desires.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would want universal access to health care for everyone.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
We are still pretty far from achieving the goal of feminism: egalitarianism. We still need feminism in order to change norms and attitudes towards gender. The sooner we modify our discourse of gender the quicker we will get to achieving egalitarianism.