The WRAP #45- Early bird, leadership and recognition and 60 Seconds with Carmel Guerra

As the days get longer, brighter and warmer we look forward to saying goodbye to winter and welcoming spring. Spring is all about rejuvenation, renewal and new life and for any new life to blossom, there needs to be the proper care in place. This month we look at the factors that prevent women, especially from migrant or refugee backgrounds, from accessing crucial antenatal care within the first few months of pregnancy.

We also consider findings from a recent study that indicate that non-Anglo populations are highly underrepresented in leadership positions across Australia and in government. We know from our own PACE (Participation, Advocacy, Community, Engagement) women’s leadership program, that immigrant and refugee women make great leaders and this underrepresentation needs to change.

Speaking of other changes that need to happen: gender, race and age need to be considered in tandem when improving the lives of women.  For example, older women, particularly those in aged care, are susceptible to financial, physical and sexual abuse. You can read our recent submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry on Elder Abuse for solutions on how we can overcome the language barriers and social isolation that can leave immigrant women in aged care vulnerable to abuse.

Finally, we also feature Carmel Guerra, CEO of Centre for Multicultural Youth in this month’s 60 seconds who is working on improving equality in education for women across the globe.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team

The early bird

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It’s difficult to make an argument against timely antenatal care. All the available research indicates that timely antenatal care leads to better health for mothers, fewer interventions in late pregnancy and positive child health outcomes.  In the case of pregnancy and birth, the early bird achieves greater outcomes. Accordingly, the Australian Antenatal Guidelines recommend that the first antenatal visit occur within the first ten weeks of pregnancy. Wise advice.

However, in Australia there is a group of women that miss out on care within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Of the women who gave birth in Australia in 2013, 43% of overseas-born women and 35% of Australian-born women did not see a doctor for their pregnancy before 14 weeks. By 20 weeks, these figures decrease to 18% and 14% respectively: better numbers but concerning nonetheless.

What is behind these numbers? What prevents women from seeing their doctors within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy? Cost is a factor. The public health system offers free care to Australian permanent residents, but there are many immigrant women on temporary visas who pay their own way if they become pregnant during the first twelve months on arrival, and therefore fall within the 12 month health insurance waiting period.

Accessibility is another factor. While the health system might be self-explanatory to those who are familiar with its idiosyncrasies, for people born overseas, the health system can be a labyrinth. It takes time to decipher the system and evaluate the right entry point, for different reasons and at particular points in time.

Language barriers also get in the way, as do time constraints. The multiple demands on women’s time and energy lead to a need to prioritise and women’s health doesn’t always make it to the top of the list. During the course of our health education work we met a newly arrived woman who was in her eight month of pregnancy and who had not yet booked in to the hospital. The woman had a range of other pressing priorities: she needed to earn an income, find a stable home, and arrange for her husband to join her in Australia. Fortunately we were able to link her with a hospital that then arranged supports for her other issues.

Every woman giving birth in Australia should have the opportunity to access timely and appropriate antenatal care. Health services can play their part by acknowledging that their service starts long before a woman approaches them for care. There are proven strategies that health services can employ to reach out more widely, including promotion in ethnic media,  and the use of interpreting services and bilingual workers. Even when written information is provided in-language, women still need the opportunity to discuss the options available to them in ways that are culturally responsive and relevant to their needs.

Partnerships with organisations like MCWH, or ethno specific and settlement services help in creating a smoother pathway from the community to the health system. There is no doubt that timely care benefits mothers and babies, and makes the job of health professionals more effective. Further sustained investment into early intervention will make it easier for all women to take action on their health at the time it matters most.

Leadership and recognition

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Immigrant and refugee women make great leaders. We have come across so many amazing women over the years through our PACE (Participation, Advocacy, Community, Engagement) women’s leadership program. So many of these women have ‘what it takes’ to lead. However, a recent study by the Australian Human Rights Commission indicates that key leadership positions across business, government and tertiary education remain a tightly held bastion of Anglo-Celtic homogeneity.

Despite the fact that approximately 32% of the Australian population has a non-Anglo background, only 23.4% of business CEOS and a little under 20% of our Federal parliamentarians come from this group. Within the public service and universities, the leadership includes only 17% and 15% respectively of people from non-Anglo backgrounds. Federal cabinet fares even worse, with only 12%. When we break these figures down further, we note that representation of people from non-European backgrounds is dismal: only 5% of business leaders, 4% of federal parliamentarians and 1.6% of top public servants. None of our federal ministers or university vice chancellors are from non-European immigrant backgrounds.

The AHRC report makes a strong case for inclusion and equity in leadership, noting that the practice of redefining leadership and advancing diversity brings benefits to all. These are extremely important points to make, but it is disappointing that the report, while bringing visibility to the issue of inclusive leadership, does not sort the data by gender as well as cultural diversity, and therefore renders immigrant and refugee women invisible.

The report rightly states, “what gets measured gets done”. An intersectional approach to data collection, that records gender as well as cultural background in leadership, would mean that more would get done to build immigrant and refugee women’s leadership, not just that of men. We could develop a sharper analysis and therefore deliver more targeted and inclusive solutions. There is no reason why our work to bring about gender equality cannot complement and intersect with our work to build racial equality. Australia’s immigrant and refugee women have already displayed many leadership qualities in meeting the challenges of migration, we now need to provide opportunities for wide-spread and formal recognition of their leadership abilities.

60 seconds with Carmel Guerra

CEO and youth advocate

What are you enjoying doing at the moment? 
With generous philanthropic support, I have been given the opportunity lately to think more creatively about employment initiatives that will really make a difference to the Victorian community. Australia’s youth unemployment rate has risen from 12% in March 2016 – 13.2% in June 2016, demonstrating the importance of sustainable and effective action in this space.

Best thing that happened to you today? 
It made me so happy to hear today that a Centre for Multicultural Youth program participant has joined the team in an official capacity – as a staff member. That we have seen this young man grow so much in the time that we have known him, and then to be able to offer him employment has honestly made my day. He, and the other young people CMY works with every day, is an inspiration and true testament to hard work, dedication and going after your goals, even when you may face adversity.

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for? 
My first order of business would be to rectify the inequality seen in education for young women across the globe. I would make sure that each and every young woman who wanted to go to school was supported, encouraged and enabled to do just that.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be? 
If I couldn’t be CEO of CMY, I would really love to be a pilot. Or an astronaut! Good thing I didn’t follow that path though, as I’m sure my motion sickness and hatred of flying might have hindered my success!

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be?
Uprooting your life and moving it across the world can be, understandably, overwhelming, unnerving and anxiety-inducing. Fortunately, there are a number of professional and community structures in place to assist migrants in the settlement process. Australia is a country built on migration and is generally very welcoming. Embrace the opportunities available to you and this great country will show you its true beauty.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why? 
Being bi-lingual, I love the fact that some words just don’t translate. One of my favourite Italian sayings is ‘Cosi Cosi’ which is used extensively in Naples, where my family comes from. It translates roughly to ‘So So’, but the English equivalent just doesn’t quite cut it!

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman from an immigrant or refugee background?
Growing up in Australia can be hard. Every child faces their own challenges and experiences their own issues. The biggest barrier to success for me, however, was the expectation that, as a child from a migrant background, I would not amount to much. I distinctly remember my high school careers teacher dampening my enthusiasm for journalism, instead saying I should just be a secretary like all the girls in my class.

Are there any disadvantages about being a woman from an immigrant/refugee background?
Similarly to what I mentioned earlier, I think the expectation that I wouldn’t amount to much in comparison to other kids was hard to grasp. But I see it now as both a curse and a blessing. It saddened me to think that my heritage, my family, might be the reason I couldn’t thrive in a country like Australia. But it also made me stronger and more determined. Ultimately it is one of the reasons I’ve worked so hard to ensure other refugee and migrant young people don’t ever feel the same way.

If you could invite any woman, living or dead, to dinner tonight, who would it be? 
There are so many possibilities but when it comes to dinner company, I would be looking for a really great conversationalist. Somebody who could stir emotion, ask deep questions and be fun all at once. I think with those criteria, Michelle Obama would be one of my top choices. She is grounded, intelligent and would have many stories to tell about her time in the White House.

What is your favourite possession? 
The jewellery that my mother left me when she passed is my most treasured possession. It carries with it such beautiful memories but also the hardship of the migration journey to Australia from a small village outside Naples.

If you could convince the world of one thing, what would it be?
We see so much negativity in the portrayal of young people in the media, particularly of late. I want to shout from the roof tops that young people are incredibly resilient, intelligent and resourceful. They are entrepreneurs, leaders and the future of this country. I think that if I could convince others of one thing, it’s that young people are the future – and that future will be bright if we give them a chance to shine.

If you could meet the Prime Minister tomorrow, what would you like to tell him? 
Please Mr Turnbull re-instate a Minister for Youth! We need this to believe the rhetoric of Australia being an innovative country and that young people are an important part of building a new economy.

Finish this sentence, “We need feminism because….”
We have made enormous strides in equality and women’s rights (18 current female world leaders are testament to this) but there is still so much work to do (as these women account for only 1-in-10 leaders of UN member states – and half of them are the first women to hold their country’s highest office!).We must never take for the granted the improvements we have made to the life situation of women throughout the world, and we can’t rest on our laurels.

Gender and elder abuse: what’s the connection?

The Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health and the University of Melbourne made a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry on Elder Abuse. The submission draws on recent research that shows that elder abuse is gendered and that immigrant and refugee older women are at particularly risk of physical and sexual abuse due to language barriers, social isolation and dependence on others to access social services. Solutions include providing multilingual education and information for immigrant and refugee women, delivered by female bilingual educators, using a variety of formats and media.