Empowering multicultural women through health education


In the period of July – September an expert team of MCWH bilingual health educators facilitated our free health education program for state-wide female students of the Adult Migrant English Service (AMES) at the Multicultural Hub in the CBD. It was a greatly empowering program for all women involved! We discussed all health related aspects concerning women and their families including sexual and reproductive health, mental health, women’s safety, healthy nutrition and lifestyle, and many more. The culmination of the eight week program was an evaluation day, where women shared the impact our education had on their everyday lives including understanding the importance of prevention, changing old habits and behaviours and making more informed decisions to act on in the future. We enjoyed a celebration which involved awarding all women participants with Certificate of Attendance.

Here is one of many quotes demonstrating the impact of the MCWH health education program on women:

“ I have never thought that being compelled to have sex should constitute some form of domestic violence, because in my family I have never discussed this with my mother. My mother gave me advice that to maintain happy family the first thing I need to do is make my husband happy. I have never said ‘no’ to my husband since I married him.”

‘Cultivating Culture, Unravelling Racism.’

Positioning, pitching and promoting a cultural training program

Earlier this year MCWH was pleased to sponsor a group of highly motivated students from the University of Melbourne’s Graduate Certificate in Advanced Learning and Leadership program (GCALL).

The GCALL program is taken alongside doctoral study and aims to develop students’ skills in leadership, project management, cross-disciplinary problem solving and communication. An important component of the program involves working collaboratively as an interdisciplinary team to manage solutions to ‘real world issues’.

This is the third year in a row that MCWH has sponsored GCALL students to undertake a specific project related to our goals, as we also gain a lot from providing the opportunity to work collaboratively to plan, develop and manage an important project.

This year, the team was asked to explore different ways to position and pitch MCWH’s unique cross-cultural training program and promotion of our training philosophy. After an initial consultation with MCWH about our training approach, the students developed a number of key objectives and outcomes for the project. Over a number of months, the students researched and reviewed cross-cultural training programs both nationally and internationally and produced various visual prototypes that MCWH could develop as a promotional tool for the course.

Thanks to the fabulous team: Marek Cmero, Irina Herrschner, Jyh Liang Hor, Rebecca Jordan and Wei Tong for their commitment, creativity, enthusiasm and inquisitiveness. We are currently exploring ways we can build upon their fantastic work.

You can view some of the prototypes that came out of their work here and here.

The WRAP #36- Myths, migrant workers and 60 Seconds with Dr Nadia Chaves

As September comes to a close, we reflect on a month where the world stopped as we watched unprecedented numbers of refugees flee the Middle East to seek refuge in Europe. We were touched by the nations and people who welcomed the refugees with open arms and could not understand why other nations decided to close their borders.  In Australia, we have seen the benefits of giving everyone ‘a fair go’: through the years we’ve seen the successful settlement of migrant families seeking a better life and who have enriched Australia in many ways.

In this month’s WRAP we look at how words such as ‘a fair go’ in women’s health and employment don’t always readily translate into action.  We re-examine why women deserve the right to access sexual and reproductive health services, including safe and legal abortion, without stigma and harassment and why “the right to life” should first, and foremost apply to a woman’s right to make choices relevant to her own life. We also look at how international students and migrant workers continue to be exploited when it comes to equal wages and fair working conditions in Australia.

We also chat to Dr Nadia Chaves and her reflections on migrating to Australia and working in the refugee health sector.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team

Why myths can be dangerous to your health

Alex Danko: Songs of Australia

Alex Danko: Songs of Australia

Every culture has them.  Stories, slogans and words that help to explain the often difficult, complex and challenging aspects of the world we live in.  Our language is peppered with imagined explanations—‘jumping the queue’, ‘she was asking for it’ or ‘too clever for her own good’—that are far removed from the messy realities of seeking asylum, violence against women or gender inequality.  The complex reality of abortion is one issue that has long been subjected to the type of shorthand thinking underpinning cultural myths.

Today (the 28th of September) is the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, and this year’s Call for Action focuses on busting cultural myths. We’ve mentioned before that access to safe and legal abortion in Australia is generally thought about as a ‘third world’ problem, yet feelings of silence, shame, guilt and fear are still very real barriers to accessing abortion services whether you’re an immigrant and refugee woman living in Frankston or a woman living in the Philippines.

In some ways we have good reason to call ourselves the Lucky Country, where abortion is less legally restricted than many other countries around the world (it is, however,still in the Crimes Act in NSW).  Yet, safe access to abortion is far more complex than making it legal.  In Australia, physical access to the premises of an abortion service has been an ongoing issue because of the constant presence of anti-abortion protestors.  In addition to blocking entry and making unwanted comments to women, protestors have been known to hand women anti-abortion information.  Immigrant and refugee women already face many barriers when accessing health services and this type of harassment would further prevent them from accessing safe and timely treatment.

The Victorian Government has recently announced its intention to introduce a safe access Bill to ensure women (and clinic staff) can safely and privately access abortion services without fear of being harassed and intimidated.  The proposed bill could not be more welcome.  It sends a clear message that harassment, intimidation and any other form of violence directed at women will not be tolerated under any circumstance.  People shouldn’t be prevented from expressing their opinion but not at the expense of women’s privacy and security.

The proposed bill also conveys an implicit message that the propagation of myths such as ‘the right to life’ can lead to misinformation. Myths spread when access to evidence-based, comprehensive information is limited.  Today is the day to help bust a few of those mythical balloons.

Further information about abortion can be found on the Women’s Health Victoriawebsite, the Reproductive Choice Australia website and the Marie Stopes website

Paying the price for our convenience

Image// clarkstore.com

Image// clarkstore.com

Behind the façade of convenience stores lies an inconvenient truth: it’s the store workers who are paying the price for our 24/7 appetite for bottled water, donuts, and slushy frozen treats.  The recent expose of exploited 7-Eleven workers, many of who are international students, has highlighted what we’ve always known: being a worker and a migrant means that you are more likely to fall through the occupational cracks.

As the latest 7-Eleven expose has shown, migrants such as international students (they might be on temporary visas, but they’re still migrants) continue to be exploited in the workplace and marginalised in workplace laws, policies and practices.  The 20-hour per week work restriction dictated by student visa conditions, for example, has forced the majority of students into low-paid sectors and has created a situation in which gross underpayment of wages, employer bullying and intimidation of international student workers thrives.

Employers have been known to threaten migrant workers on temporary visas with deportation if they report employers’ illegal work practices. It’s a bizarre Catch 22: if an international student works more than 20 hours (most likely because they’re chronically underpaid in the first place), it gives unscrupulous employers with the necessary leverage to threaten, to abuse and to exploit. Current workplace laws can’t be enforced when there are visa breaches.  Such a perverse situation leaves female international students (and all women on temporary visas for that matter), at an increased risk of violence and abuse at the hands of their employer. As another investigative reportrevealed, female migrant workers on holiday working visas were subjected to sexual harassment and abuse.

It’s important to remember that migrant workers are not born vulnerable, they’re made vulnerable by a host of systemic factors.  Unlike Australian-born workers, migrant workers on temporary visas are placed at the intersection of employment, education, immigration, health and safety policies. The complex interactions of each of these areas places workers, especially women, in specific positions of vulnerability.  Lack of knowledge of workplace rights, lack of support networks and lack of access to health care entitlements make the health and wellbeing of migrant workers poorer. Tightening and enforcing workplace laws are one thing, but governments also need to ensure that other policies such as those relating to visa status and health don’t contribute to the vulnerability of workers.

There are 1.3 million workers in Australia on a visa (enough workers to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground thirteen times over), and this should make us pay attention to the ways in which migrant workers contribute to our daily lives.  The convenience of having our offices cleaned and the convenience of having readily available fresh produce at the supermarket shouldn’t come at the expense of migrant workers’ rights and safety.

International students working in Australia can find useful information and assistance viaFair Works’ website and Facebook page.

60 seconds with Dr Nadia Chaves

Refugee Adult Health Fellow and classical music lover

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I am enjoying looking at all the Spring blossoms

Best part of my job?
Getting to meet all the passionate people who work in the refugee and asylum seeker health sector, and getting to meet the wonderful clients too.

Biggest challenge as a woman from an immigrant background
I am lucky that I don’t believe I have been discriminated against because of my background in my profession. However, as a working mother I always feel pressure (be it from my colleagues at work or at home)– to do more work or to spend more time with the kids – and balancing that is my biggest challenge!

What’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant/refugee background?
I actually love the fact that my name is Nadia – it is a name in so many languages around the world from Spain through to Eastern Europe, the middle east, North Africa, Russia and India – I feel that when people meet me sometimes they simply feel they can connect with me because of my name! And then I tell them I have been in Australia for 35 years they feel reassured because I love my work and family and I’m so settled in – I am Australian– and they know that they have a chance at doing that too.

An amazing woman I know is my mother. She (with my father) travelled the world with young children to four continents. She taught me about the wonder which is to be found everywhere. When I arrived in Australia in 1980 and went to school the kids called me an Abo. I asked her what that was. She replied that is an Aboriginal person, and although you are Indian if they think you are Aboriginal it is a great honour, because the Aboriginal people were the first people in Australia, they are the owners of this land and they have one of the oldest living cultures on earth.

Songs that inspire me:
I love Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata no 23 in F Minor – one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. I listened to this when I was in labour with my son and I will never forget that moment. I have another song with a similar memory for my daughter, Gurrumul’s Wiyathul.

If I could convince the world of one thing
It would be from the Depeche Mode song!
“People are people!”