Media Release: Reflecting Victoria’s diverse population: what the Royal Commission into Family Violence Recommendations need to ensure

The Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) commends the work of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and is pleased to hear there will be increased capacity for organisations to prevent and respond to family violence.
Violence occurs across all communities and cultures, but it’s important to remember that family violence can also manifest differently and can have different effects in specific cultural settings.

‘Immigrant and refugee women’s social and economic marginalisation certainly adds another layer of complexity to their experience of family violence and this includes ways they seek assistance’, said Dr Adele Murdolo, MCWH Executive Director.

‘Prevention and early intervention programs, for example, are rarely accessible or appropriate to women from immigrant and refugee communities, and as a result, we often see these women over-represented in the crisis system,’ Dr Murdolo said. ‘But it’s also the case that women don’t know what support services are available in the first place.’

Of the 227 recommendations outlined in the Report, 48 refer to ‘family violence and diversity’, with 7 recommendations relating to ‘people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities’ (with 4 of these relating to use of interpreters). According to Dr Murdolo, it’s too early to know whether the majority of the other recommendations could potentially address the service needs of immigrant and refugee women.

‘There are some excellent and much-needed recommendations that recognise the gaps and challenges. However, there’s a danger of undermining everyone’s hard work if the recommendations aren’t given the proper context and detail. ‘Cultural and linguistic diversity’ isn’t simply a matter of speaking another language, it’s also about recognising differences in people’s experiences. Immigrant and refugee women’s experiences of seeking support are affected by a whole range of factors including social isolation, stigma, and stereotyping.’

MCWH urges the Government to commit to resourcing a skilled bicultural and bilingual workforce across Victoria that matches the demographic make-up of the community in order to meet the needs of specific communities.

‘Given Australia’s diverse population, it is essential that the report be read and understood within the context of ethnic and cultural diversity’, said Dr Murdolo. ‘What we need to ensure now is that the recommendations are truly universal in their reach and can make improvements across the whole community.’

Who cares for our carers?

Nurse, doctor, teacher, lawyer: professions many of us and, no doubt, our parents would have typically cited as the things ‘to be’ as a grown-up.  But aged care worker? For many immigrant and refugee families, caring for the elderly isn’t something you aspire to be let alone be paid for.

If you’re from a migrant background (and especially if you’re also a woman), caring for an elderly family member is part of family life, it’s something you just do. What must it be like then, for the many overseas born workers (34% in 2012) who make up Australia’s aged care workforce? Does the cultural imperative of caring for the aged necessarily make the job easier for them? These were some of the questions arising from research MCWH recently conducted in partnership with the University of Adelaide’s WISeR research centre and Southern Cross Care Victoria (SCCV) into supporting the professional development needs of SCCV’s culturally diverse workforce.

We’ve mentioned before that caring isn’t any easier just because you’re paid to do it and our research certainly confirmed this. The majority of migrant aged care workers who participated in the research cited workload pressures and lack of teamwork and miscommunication as the things that made their jobs more difficult. Not surprisingly, the factors that made work easier were not only the exact opposite of whatever made things difficult, but also individual factors such as enjoyment of their work, a positive disposition and good health. Over half of the workers interviewed cited the residents as the main reason for what they like most about their work: being appreciated and feeling that a difference is being made to the quality of their lives.

These findings suggest that despite the stereotypes, migrant women workers don’t possess an innate quality that makes them want to do aged care work or that they’re naturally skilled for it because of their ‘culture’. Rather the findings highlight the important role played by personal values in care work and how these come into play when they intersect with the work-day reality of many immigrant and refugee women.

The majority (74%) of the workers interviewed cited one or more systemic issues relating to gender, migration, settlement and employment, which led them to pursue a job in the aged care sector because of their limited employment opportunities. This reason alone points to the need for immigrant and refugee women to be supported in all aspects of their professional development so that their jobs aren’t seen as an opportunity born solely of luck, but as a profession and an opportunity for advancement.

For further information about the research project, please contact Dr Regina Quiazon, Senior Research and Policy Advocate, email or call 03 9418 0912

THE WRAP #39- The power of language, our take on the Royal Commission and workforce diversity, and 60 seconds with Yue Gao

The WRAP is back!

The Chinese Year of the Red Fire Monkey already seems to be whizzing past us so we’re grateful for the extra day this leap year brings us!

MCWH have been busy – we hosted our NETFA forum to coincide with International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation in early February, which brought about some great insights and discussion regarding how we can educate communities in Australia in order to eradicate this practice.

We also continued our work in contributing to increased knowledge about domestic violence in immigrant and refugee households by presenting at the ANROWS conference, sharing our research findings from our ASPIRE project ‘Community-led responses to violence against immigrant and refugee women’, conducted in collaboration with Melbourne University researchers.

We’ll also be keeping a keen eye on new Australian of the Year David Morrison and hope that despite criticism of his white male status, he will do good things to promote gender equity and cultural diversity and continue the work of Rosie Batty on issues of domestic violence.

It’s good to be back!

Until next time,
The WRAP team

FGM: Focusing on Girls’ Minds

Image//Ron Gelok

Image//Ron Gelok

There is power in words. Because words make meaning and can have concrete, practical effects on people’s lives: they can liberate or denigrate. There’s a reason why it’s more appropriate, for example, to refer to women who have endured violence as ‘survivors’ rather than ‘victims’. Or why it’s more correct to refer to a person in a wheelchair, not as ‘disabled’, but as a person with a disability. It gets even trickier with words such as ‘wog’, when who does the calling or the naming (and in what context), really does matter. With language, context is everything.

This is one of the challenges with the ‘FGM’ (female genital mutilation) acronym. The use of the term ‘mutilation’ is internationally recognised and is present in our Australian laws. From a legal and advocacy perspective, ‘mutilation’ makes sense insofar as reinforcing the gravity of practice that is a gender-based violation of women’s and girls’ human rights. However, as much as ‘mutilation’ can persuade, highlight and argue the case, it can equally polarise, stigmatise and traumatise.

The recent national NETFA forum hosted by MCWH found that appropriate language-use was overwhelmingly cited by attendees as the one take-away message from the forum. Many attendees agreed that using words such as ‘cutting’ or ‘circumcision’ are more respectful. International best practice also shows that using a community development approach is key to preventing female circumcision and by building community trust and respect we can better engage practising communities for prevention. This approach also means that we take into account all women’s experiences of female circumcision, and not just those that are the loudest, or those that we might agree with.

These are some of the reasons why the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon recently suggested that FGM should stand for ‘Finally Girls Matter’, or ‘Focus on Girls Minds’. He states that it’s time to shift our focus to education, not mutilation. This might also mean educating ourselves about appropriate language in our research, policy, advocacy and community work.  Using different language in different contexts and circumstances doesn’t mean taking female circumcision any less seriously, but rather strengthening our efforts to end the practice. It might mean using ‘mutilation’ at the policy table, at other times it might not. We need to listen to the diversity of women’s experiences and speak and act accordingly.

Why do we need a diverse violence prevention workforce?


Image via

It’s a well-known statistic by now: nearly half (46.8%) of the Victorian population and almost a quarter of Victorians speak a language other than English (ABS 2011). The reality today is that cultural diversity is closer to mainstream than marginal. Logically, you would expect that our institutions, family violence policies and programs would be representative of this demographic picture. Sadly, logic can sometimes lose out to inaction. And as we near the date for the release of the findings of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, we wonder whether the recommendations that will be made about improvements needed to the family violence workforce will reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Victorian community. Will we see adequate acknowledgement of the benefits brought to the community by bilingual and bicultural workers?

Bilingual, bicultural workers do an amazing job. They are an integral part of their communities and of the service system, and are in a unique position to link their communities with mainstream and specialist services. However, even when programs can be seen to greatly benefit from the use of a bilingual workforce, limited resources are often cited as a drawback to their inclusion. Bilingual, bicultural workers have long been undervalued, largely because there is an entrenched lack of understanding of what they actually do, and what an important role they play in service provision.  Often confused with interpreters, bilingual, bicultural workers provide support by working alongside clients and the community by drawing on their cultural skills and knowledge to negotiate and advocate across a wide range of issues. Bilingual work is not just about language: bilingual workers work together with immigrant and refugee women to facilitate informed decisions about their rights, health and well-being.

We’ve mentioned before that in order to prevent violence against all women, we need to place the diversity of women’s experience at the centre of analysis. And of course this principle extends to those working in family violence prevention and response: a diverse family violence workforce must be placed at the core of all programs.

The violence prevention workforce is still in the early stages of development, but at this important Royal Commission moment, it’s timely to think about what strategies will be truly effective in the context of multiculturalism, and what inclusive strategies might entail. If we can agree that increasing women’s leadership in the community is a gender equitable goal, there’s no better place to start than with harnessing and building bilingual and bicultural immigrant and refugee women’s skills and ensuring that they are properly resourced and supported to do their indispensable work with women.

60 seconds with Yue Gao


GAP Project Officer and aspiring pole-dancer

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
Exploring the city with my parents who are visiting from China and enjoying being with them.

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?
It’s pretty personal. I wish I could become a time traveller so that I could push my cousin away before he was hit by a car several years ago.

What talent would you most like to possess?
I wish I could do pole dancing….like a professional!! The dance is most of the time perceived and constructed as very sexually seductive, but it is actually a good exercise to help strengthen your body and can be done in a very professional manner.

What is the best part of your job?
It’s so cool that I work with a bunch of really supportive women from various cultural backgrounds, who are really passionate about their work and are bringing positive changes to society. Of course, another fabulous thing about having colleagues from different cultures is you get to taste authentic home-style cooking from around the world!

What has been the biggest challenge about living in Australia so far?
The biggest challenge for me since coming to Australia is constantly re-defining myself and finding myself a comfortable position in a new environment. It also took me a while to get rid of the guilt of not ‘blending’ into the local ‘culture’ quickly (I partially blame my AFAA, i.e. Asian Flush and Alcohol Allergy, for that. Lol). Therefore, my suggestion to new migrants would be don’t rush into things you are not comfortable with doing, or try to identify with everything around you and don’t get frustrated if you cannot because these things don’t just happen overnight. Take it slowly and find your own tempo, see where your guts lead you to.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?
I love the word ‘Empathy’ or in my mother language ‘同理心’ and I am trying to share and understand the feelings of people around me rather than simply feeling pity or sorry for them. It might be a bit hard but I’m trying.

Can you describe a time when you felt discriminated against as a woman or as someone with an immigrant or refugee background?
Believe it or not, I was told to go back to where I came from by an old lady who I never met before on a bus while I was in Sydney.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant/refugee background?
Being an immigrant woman, I get the chance to appreciate beauty from both cultures. It gives you a unique perspective to appreciate and interpret things and it also forces you to think and observe  more.

If you could invite any woman (dead or living) to dinner tonight, who would it be?
I would love to invite Wu Zetian, who was the only female Emperor of China during the short Zhou Dynasty about 1400 years ago. There are countless stories in history books, anecdotes and folklores about her political legends. Her active personal life, sophistication, toughness and wisdom as a wife and mother have always been one of the hottest themes for Chinese popular culture e.g., movies, songs and television dramas. Therefore, it would be fantastic to hear from her about what happened 1400 years ago and how she pioneered feminism in a patriarchal society like feudal China.

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
My mum is absolutely amazing. Losing her dad as a teenage girl, she managed to finish her school as well as look after the whole family (her mum and two younger brothers). These days, nothing seems to beat her as she is so resilient and optimistic.

Name a book or film that changed your life.
It’s a bit unusual because it is an academic book, which I read several years ago, called ‘A Brief History of Neoliberalism’. It is not a thick book but I found it really helpful to better understand the world in the post-cold-war era and the modern financial system. It also argues how neoliberalism as a social discourse has shaped people’s views on education, finance, health and well-being as personal responsibility to make up for the retreat of the public welfare system (I still find it quite useful and constantly reflect on the book for my current work at MCWH).

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
Mutual respect and support.

If you could meet the Prime Minister tomorrow, what would like to tell him?
Medicare is brilliant and please pay more attention to the welfare of international students.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
…we live in a highly mediated and info-explosive world and women’s bodies are highly sexualised and commercialised, which only exacerbates systemic gender inequalities.