The WRAP #38- Bringing the Margins to the Centre

Welcome to the last WRAP of 2015!

How this year has flown by. As we count down the nights before Christmas, we continue to do our own counting (and reflecting) as we draw closer to the midway point of 16 Days of Activism.

Looking back, it was a year defined by a palpable momentum against domestic and family violence, which saw Rosie Batty become Australian of the Year.  Our own work in the area has focused on sharing our knowledge and expertise about the gendered impacts of violence in refugee and immigrant communities. We contributed a think piece for the National Framework on the Primary Prevention of Violence Against Women and their Children; completed a major state of knowledge paper for ANROWS; undertook research into the best ways to engage immigrant and refugee men in violence prevention for White Ribbon (to be published later this year). We also continue to examine community–led responses to violence against immigrant and refugee women with our research partners on the ASPIRE Project.

Of course, much more work needs to be done, and after recharging our batteries over the Christmas break, we’ll be back in 2016 to continue advocating for improvements to immigrant and refugee women’s health.

Thanks for all your support in 2015 – you can read about all our achievements in our annual report. 

All the best over the festive season,
Until next time,
The WRAP Team

Breaking with tradition

image via

image via

This time of the year our minds often turn to tradition. We start to see the overt trappings of a Western Christian tradition and culture all around us, in the snow-capped Christmas trees, the bright red of Santa’s wintery woollens contrasted by his flash of white beard, along with the tinny carols on a repeat loop in shopping centres across Australia.

We might stop a moment to think how odd these traditions are in the heat of an Australian multicultural summer, but generally we go with the flow, take the opportunity to celebrate the end of the year in our own ways, and wish our neighbours well.

But in this WRAP we’d like to take the opportunity of good cheer to reflect for a moment longer on tradition and culture, and how these terms tend to take on a different meaning when we are talking about migrants and refugees in Australia. We’ve noticed that when the terms culture and migrants are used together, in media representations in particular, they are often used to link immigrant and refugee communities with a negative understanding of tradition and culture, as something  unchanging and fixed, which is contrasted against a more ‘modern’ way of thinking and being.

And this is never more the case than when the topic under discussion is gender and cultural norms about women’s roles or women’s rights. Stereotypes of migrant men as holding more traditionally gendered views, and representations of migrant women as more compliant because of their cultural beliefs, circulate prolifically in the Australian press and elsewhere.

The pairing of traditional migrant culture and the oppression of women becomes even more acute in representations of violence against women. One recent article, quoting a Coroner’s finding relating to a domestic murder, described a violent migrant man as having ‘culturally entrenched, patriarchal’ attitudes, and his victim as having ‘cultural factors against her’. It is rare to see violence perpetrated by non-migrant men attributed to ‘cultural factors’. More commonly, the reasons given for Anglo-Australian men’s violence relate to individual pathology. Culture does not enter into the story.

Equally absent in accounts of violence against immigrant and refugee women is a recognition that systems and structures play an important role in facilitating violence against women. A second case reported this month based its defence on the premise that a migrant woman who reported violence by her husband invented the story so that she could secure a visa to stay in Australia. In this case, the legal system is using the immigration visa system, along with stereotypes of migrant women as duplicitous and tricky, to invalidate a woman’s allegation of domestic violence.

Research has shown that factors such as immigration policy, temporary and dependant visa status, along with social isolation and economic insecurity flowing from the settlement process, all play a role in making women more vulnerable to violence. While some aspects of culture and tradition can be harmful to women, this is not limited to migrant cultures. As we know too well, the culture of men’s violence is alive and well in modern day, Christmas-celebrating Australia. While patriarchal attitudes clearly play an important role in the perpetration of violence against all women, we need to balance that knowledge with an understanding of the role of structural and systemic factors.

That means thinking outside of the tradition versus modernity square, to better understand how ‘modern’ systems and structures can harm women as much as ‘culture’ (traditional or otherwise).

To find out more about the intersections of systems and culture, register for our panel event. 

Marginal or marginalised?



If we were in any doubt about it, this month has clearly demonstrated that the urgent need to prevent violence against women has well and truly reached both public consciousness and government attention. The international campaign for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence is in full swing, and continues to gather momentum with the influence of champions like Rosie Batty and media coverage like Sarah Ferguson’s Hitting Home. As Moo Baulsh has put it: “2015 is the year that Australians finally admitted that we have a serious problem. It is fatal, far-reaching and has reached epidemic proportions.”

Although it’s clearly no cause for celebration, it is a victory to finally have this issue loudly and publically acknowledged.  The conversation is deepening to encompass a broader understanding of violence, beyond physical violence, and a broader approach to addressing the issue, beyond police response.

The national framework for primary prevention Change the story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia, has put Australia at the forefront of primary prevention of violence against women. The message has never been clearer that gender inequality is the core of the problem and it is the heart of the solution. Not only this, the framework stresses that gender is always contextualised. We have the framework we need to prevent violence against all women.

Yet, at this critical moment for the future direction of violence prevention, there are signs that as a nation we have not fully embraced all women within this definition. The alarming increase in public violence against Muslim women, the devastating findings of the coronial inquiry into Ms Dhu, and the rates of Aboriginal women being jailed: so many acts of violence against women often fail to enter the wider conversation because they are seen as marginal. The recent apology issued by Destroy the Joint in relation to their comment moderation of a number of disability activists, provides a clear and recent example of the way in which women can be marginalised even within feminism.

Violence affects women regardless of their age, ability, postcode, beliefs, relationship, income, education or cultural heritage. But that “regardless” doesn’t mean that these other factors shouldn’t be regarded. By pushing the diversity of women’s experiences out to the remote edges of what is a shared or universal experience, we do more than lose sight of the marginal. We actively marginalise these women’s experiences and contribute to their ongoing oppression.

We also ignore reality. While immigrant and refugee women’s experiences of violence rarely feature in broader discussions of violence prevention, 46% of the Australian population has a direct link to the migration program, 32% were born overseas and 20% has at least one parent born overseas (ABS 2014): marginal or marginalised?

Any woman can experience violence, but the way in which she experiences that violence, the circumstances in which violence takes place and the opportunities available to that woman to escape violence are often shaped by factors which are not separate from her gender, but are not confined to it either.  Violence against women takes place in the intersections of systems of power and oppression. Discrimination, racism and other structural inequalities must become part of the universal understanding of violence against women, not just additional to it.

An intersectional approach to violence against women requires a different starting point, one which starts with diversity instead of commonality: if we want to speak for all women we need to bring the voices and experiences of marginalised women to the centre of analysis.

60 seconds with Mmaskepe Sejoe

Mmaskepe BW

Human rights advocate, bibliophile and early morning thinker

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
Reading and just learning to take life easy.

What is the best thing that happened to you today?
I had coffee with a friend I have not seen for a while because she has been managing the difficulties of raising a daughter who’s grappling with being a ‘good’ Muslim and a ‘good’ Australian in an increasingly hostile environment.

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?
Make people see each individual and their potential as part of the greater human family- not their clothes or race, or whether they’re fat, skinny etc. We are all born naked aren’t we?

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
Bestow a SMILE on every sad face out there.

What talent would you most like to possess?
I would love to know how to represent my thoughts with colours, so that I would say less and just express more.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
Work in Textiles.

What is the best part of your day?
Early morning just before sunrise, I get to think clearly.

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

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be?
Do not listen to anybody telling you that Australians are ‘easy going’, they just don’t tell you the parameters of the game and it can be hard going figuring them out.

What’s your favourite word in the English language?
“Pardon?”  It took me a long time to understand colloquial English, so I was forever trying to understand how to use that expression properly instead of ‘excuse me?’  It took me 15 years to figure out.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman from an immigrant or refugee background?
I come from a country where you meet people, shake hands, and acknowledge them next time. I later found out that people here sometimes make introductions to be ‘polite’ not to make a human and ongoing connection; this was very hard to understand.

Can you describe a time when you felt discriminated against as a woman or as someone with an immigrant or refugee background?
Where do I start?  I was introduced to someone and they asked me if it was okay to call me a ‘negro’.  I’ve also been told on numerous occasions how ‘sad’ it is that where I come from they mutilate our genitals.  At one of the tertiary Institutions I taught at, I was told I must be very happy that there is so much food in Australia because I don’t have to worry about famines anymore.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant/refugee background?
Identity is very important to me and being accepted for me, not my job, or race, but for the essence of my being.  This has made me very happy and assured me that connections can be made when we strip off the artificial social constructions of race or whether one arrived on a plane or boat.

Describe a time when you felt that being an immigrant or refugee woman was an advantage?
I have great knowledge and awareness of African, European and post-colonial history, economics and geography, which I wouldn’t have otherwise.  Being from a dominant culture can often limit your outlook in life. Being an immigrant you are aware there are always options, even if they involve risks.

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
My mother was such an amazing woman, she was married young, had 10 children of her own, but raised many more. Her commitment to girls’ education saw her nine daughters being educated, as well as absolute commitment to educating other people’s children who were not in a position to afford fees during the colonial era.

Name a book or film that changed your life.
There are many, but one that comes to mind is Pascal Mercier’s “Night Train to Lisbon”

What are you reading right now?
‘Traitor’ by Stephen Daisley

What is your favourite possession?
Nothing really as long as I can get a book to read I’m happy.  Reading breathes life into me, I can’t imagine life without books.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
Respect and Acceptance not TOLERANCE!

If you could convince the world of one thing, what would it be?
To look for common ground not difference, and to run a class action against gun manufactures and all war machines.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
Essential and basic needs like health and education should not be profited from.

If you could meet the Prime Minister tomorrow, what would like to tell him?
Racism is real and destroys lives.

New international evidence on violence in immigrant and refugee communities

ASPIRE Flyer 2015 SEP with sites
A review of international evidence published today has confirmed that migration helps make immigrant and refugee women more vulnerable to men’s violence against women. Violence occurs in all communities and cultures across Australia, but immigrant and refugee women face structural disadvantages that exacerbate and intensify their experiences and makes it harder for them to act.

The comprehensive review of international and Australian research finds that factors such as immigration policy, temporary and dependant visa status, along with social isolation and economic insecurity flowing from the settlement process, all play a role in making women more vulnerable to violence.

The State of Knowledge report, prepared by the Analysing Safety and Place in Immigrant and Refugee Experience (ASPIRE) research team, finds that perpetrators of violence are enabled to use women’s precarious, dependant and temporary visa status to wield control and power, and to restrict women’s access to services and knowledge, including about their rights and entitlements.

Chief investigator, Dr Cathy Vaughan from the University of Melbourne states, “the literature indicates that this synergy between the system and the perpetrator means that immigrant and refugee women endure violence for longer periods before seeking help, and require more contacts with the service system before getting the help they need.”

The Review also finds that immigrant and refugee women experience the same kinds of violence as all other women, but that in addition they appear more likely to experience multi-perpetrator violence from extended family and community members. Co-investigator, Dr Adele Murdolo from the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health states, “there seem to be key points at which our system makes immigrant and refugee women more isolated and dependent, which increases the power that others have over them, and limits their options for safety.”

Download or read the report online.

 For more information or to arrange an interview, contact an ASPIRE spokesperson

 Dr Cathy Vaughan, University of Melbourne: 0417 116 468
Dr Adele Murdolo, Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health: 0438 823 299

The ASPIRE research project, funded by the Australian National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS), is a partnership between the University of Melbourne, University of Tasmania and the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health.