THE WRAP #46: Intersectionality essentials, weighing up the costs of migration and 60 seconds with Neslihan Sari

As September draws to a close we are finally feeling the warm sun on our eyelids, the fragrant breeze in our hair, the gentle rain on our cheeks…and exhausted. Why is there still so much work to do?!

In actual fact not all of us can complain, having just returned from the ‘Prevalent and Preventable’: International Conference on Violence Against Women organised by the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA) and Our Watch in Adelaide. The conference was challenging, sometimes confronting and always inspiring and MCWH couldn’t be prouder to have had the honour of convening the intersectionality stream. We are so grateful to all the wonderful speakers and participants.

This WRAP we’re going to tell you more about it, as well as offering our take on the recent Productivity Commission Report, but whatever you do, don’t miss spending 60 seconds with Neslihan Sari.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team

Six things you need to know about intersectionality

Image/@Julie_Oberin on Twitter

Image/@Julie_Oberin on Twitter

Last week (19-21 September) the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA) and Our Watch held ‘Prevalent and Preventable’, an international conference on violence against women. The conference provided an important opportunity for service workers, community advocates, policy makers, researchers, government, non-government and other professionals from around Australia, New Zealand, the Asia Pacific, Europe and beyond to come together to discuss ways to prevent violence against women and children.

The conference focused on four key thematic streams: preventing violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women; putting intersectionality into practice; preventing violence against women in settings with limited services and infrastructure, including rural regional and remote communities in Australia and the Pacific; and focusing on children and young people as agents of change.

As convenors of the intersectionality stream, one of our only disappointments was that we were unable to attend the other streams. But insofar as the conference explicitly aimed to ‘focus on the hard questions’, the intersectionality stream certainly delivered. We learned so much, we loved the discussion and after some rest and some reflection, we want to share six things that we took away about intersectionality over an amazing three days. (You can jump on twitter to learn more #PPVAW2016)

1. It’s about Aboriginal Sovereignty

You might be thinking “what is relationship between intersectionality and Aboriginal sovereignty?” Regardless of the ways in which we are racialised, and regardless of our own individual and family migration histories, one of the strongest messages of the conference was the need to address the fundamental fact that we are settlers on Aboriginal land. An intersectional approach must acknowledge Australia’s colonial history in order to ethically and usefully discuss other forms of discrimination in Australia. It requires us to understand Aboriginal issues as intertwined with struggles against racism, poverty, police violence, war and occupation, violence against women and environmental justice, rather than treating the concerns of Aboriginal people as one issue among many others. By doing so, we can ensure that taking an intersectional approach does not subordinate or compartmentalise the Aboriginal struggle.

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2. It’s not a new idea

The concept of intersectionality came out of a legal framework that was based on black women’s lived experiences. The term was originally developed by US feminist legal scholar Kimberley Crenshaw (1989) who was looking for a way to talk about the discrimination that women faced both for their race as well as their sex.

Today it is a whole area of research and scholarship but it is important to acknowledge that as an idea, ‘intersectionality’ only articulates what black, Indigenous and migrant women have known and have been saying for a long time: you can’t tease out identities as separate categories because everything is connected. Thinkers such as Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Irene Watson, Aileen Moreton Robinson and Audre Lorde (to name just a few) have been talking about similar concepts for a very long time.

Ultimately, understanding women’s unique experiences and recognising when those experiences are not being adequately supported, is more important than the word itself. Listening to women is key.

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3. It’s not just about identities…

Discussing identity is an important part of an intersectional approach but we also need to think about how identity relates to structures and systems. Sometimes identity is what we identify with, but it can also be about what we are identified as. For example, identifying some groups as “vulnerable” can hide the fact that they are made vulnerable. So, when we talk about immigrant and refugee health, we need to look beyond the individual to the systems and structures that these identities exist within; which means talking about immigration policy, incarceration, labour rights and access to healthcare as well as individual experiences of discrimination. It’s something we do at MCWH and it’s something we’ll keep doing.

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4. It’s going to take time and energy

A common phrase that was uttered throughout the conference was the idea that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to intersectionality. Because of this, we need to factor in the time, energy and flexibility that will be required in order to work out the best approach for each and every context. It can’t be overlayed as an afterthought, it must be there, as an approach, in the planning stages of any undertaking. Intersectional practice requires us to take the time to work out what is working and more importantly, what isn’t, and why! We need to think about who we are including as well as who we are not and why.

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5. Get ready for some hard conversations

Self-reflexivity is a big part of the work and this will involve hard conversations that will require us to look into our own privileges and biases and note how they play out in our work. To expect the work to be easy would be to misunderstand what intersectionality is. The ability to make mistakes, to learn from them and to sit with uncomfortability are all skills that we can learn as we go.


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6. Yes it’s an approach BUT…

Calling it an approach can make it sound like an option and for many people in positions of power and privilege – it is. What we really need to ask ourselves, if we are considering this work, is what is at stake if we choose not to adopt this approach in our work?

Weighing up the costs of migration

Migrant streams

Image// Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Border Protection

Government policy about migration generally focuses on meeting the social and economic needs of the country. Sadly, it’s rarely about the humanitarian (or even just plain old human) aspect or the ways migrants can be supported to help achieve the ideal of a cohesive and prosperous country. This focus on building the economy is evident in Australia’s migration program: of the 190,000 places available in the 2014-2015 program, 68% were skilled migrants and 32% were migrants from family visa streams.

The latest Productivity Commission Report on Australia’s migrant intake also highlights the ways economic benefit might be maximised through the migration program. The report examines the costs and benefits of immigration specifically as it relates to visa charges and the potential for some types of visas to be qualitatively restricted.

The report found that the parents of migrants who have settled in Australia are costing the health and welfare system billions of dollars. As such, the report recommends an overhaul to family reunion visas. In particular, it suggests that tighter restrictions be placed on parents wanting to join their adult children in Australia and that their children be wholly responsible for the health and income cost of their parents during their stay.

Separation from immediate and extended family members is one of the main challenges of settling in a new country, and for many immigrants it is one of the main causes of social isolation. This is why the report’s recommendation that family reunion visas need to be restricted for parents of migrants is particularly concerning.

An intersectional approach to migrant intake would consider the ways that visa types and their respective entitlements and restrictions might impact on groups and individuals already made vulnerable by migration structures and processes. It would also consider the policy impact on partners as well as on “skilled migrants.” If the proposed recommendation is taken up, it is immigrant and refugee women who are most likely to be impacted, whether they arrive as skilled migrants or as their partners. For example, for immigrant and refugee mothers, pregnancy and birth can be a particularly stressful time, especially without close familial and bilingual support. Just like the majority of Australian-born women, immigrant women are also more likely to take on most of the unpaid labour of parenting, sometimes without any assistance. However, unlike Australian-born women, immigrant women must also negotiate the tensions and challenges that arise from the migration experience: changing family dynamics and roles within the household; learning a new language; finding a home and a job; raising a child in a new country; worrying about elderly parents overseas and so on.

For most women and their families, having parents close by helps to ease these various challenges. Our migration program needs to recognise and acknowledge the day-to-day realities of immigrant women’s lives, so that they are able to more fully and equitably participate in Australia’s prosperity, economic or otherwise. It’s an argument that requires us to look beyond the budgets and ask about the real costs and benefits for women, families and migrants in general.

60 seconds with Neslihan Sari

Neslihan Sari

Paralegal at Public Transport Victoria, disability and civil liberties advocate and cat lover

What are you enjoying doing at the moment? 
Working hard and seeking out exciting opportunities wherever I can. As a person from a CALD background, who has a disability (vision impairment), a non-English name, and who dons a veil, I often find myself negotiating multiple ‘identities’ and prejudices. It has been a long journey in finding full-time employment for example. But now that I finally do have a job – with a great team as a bonus – I have been able to achieve a dream I thought I’d never reach, to buy my very own brand new apartment! Every day, I enjoy waking up and saying ‘yes I can’. It has been a long journey in being able to say that phrase with conviction.

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have? Or if you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
I always wanted to fly, freeze time/people and read people’s minds! If I had a magic wand, I would use it to eradicate evil feelings and thoughts from the hearts of people and make everybody smile and dance. I would make cats rule the world. Okay, maybe not that last one… (because they already do!)

What talent would you most like to possess?
To be physically flexible and do all sorts of fancy acrobatic tricks.

What is your best quality or attribute?
People have told me that I am empathetic, a keen observer and listener.

What is the best part of your day?
The best part of my day is usually around 9am because the weather is almost always deceptively sunny and calm around that time, before it decides what mood to take on for the rest of the day. It is a new beginning to the day when only God knows what surprises that will come.

What’s your favourite word?
“YES”. Say yes to opportunities, but let your values and principles always guide you.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be?
You are an asset to this country. Don’t let anybody make you feel unwelcome or less of a person because of anything – whether it is due to your race, your appearance, your name, accent, religion, culture, ideas, dress, health, educational or economic status etc. The bigger the dream, the harder you have to work towards it. Immerse yourself in the many cultures, explore the natural beauty and wildlife Australia has to offer. Open your world to someone. Find a mentor, be a mentor. As one person once said, “If you are not at the table, you will end up on the menu.” Be there and speak up.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant background?
Having access to a rich culture and greater perspective on various topics. I can speak in another language with my friends or my mother whilst out shopping and it could be like a secret code that the shop keeper won’t understand.

What could you never be without?
Quite frankly, oxygen, food, water, shelter, my faith and my mobility cane. It is simply a stick made of aluminium and about a metre long. It allows me to navigate my way around in this crazy big world. Without it, I would be like a fish out of water and very limited in where I could travel. I would bump into, or trip over things, and make new enemies with every person I walk into!

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
Multiculturalism is a politicised term. But ideally, for me it involves more than just sharing good cuisine and music. Multiculturalism means a diversity of cultures integrated under one harmonious umbrella. It means respecting and embracing each other as human beings. It means recognising that we are all human with all the basic human needs, regardless where we come from or what we believe in or how we look. It means appreciating each others’ differences and maximising the strengths we each bring to the table.

If you could meet the Prime Minister tomorrow, what would you like to tell him?
I would firstly remind the Prime Minister that a good leader listens to, and serves the interests of all his/her people, NOT the interests of a few rich white men; NOT the interests of multinational companies; NOT the interests of other countries. I would tell the PM that the Government as well as the other major political parties are not doing enough to foster an inclusive and just society. The past decade or so has seen incredible encroachments on our civil liberties. People have become increasingly fearful and suspicious of one another. I would ask him to take his party on a boat and re-enact the journey of a refugee, to actually step into a war-torn nation, to do more for the equal treatment of the Indigenous community. I would urge him against commoditising people or measuring the value of a person in monetary terms. Whilst the economy is important, a thriving and harmonious society is also important for the wealth and sustainable future of our nation. Australia has become a nation where the solution to almost everything is either to ‘tax it or ban it’, rather than finding creative and innovative solutions. If he can listen to all that, I promise I will vote for him next time!

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because….”
Feminism does not just relate to gender inequality. It holds that each person should be viewed based on their individual strengths and capabilities as a human being, not the strengths and capabilities assumed of their gender. Feminism intersects with seeking equal treatment for other marginalised groups, for example people with disabilities – women with disabilities have the least access to equal access and treatment.

Feminism is not, and should not be about telling women what to do. It is not about competing with men, or denigrating a religion or culture. It is about giving them the ability and freedom to be able to choose to do whatever they want to do and narrowing the political, economical, educational, familial, cultural, and health gaps and inequalities in society.

Introducing our Strategic Plan 2016-2020

We are very pleased and excited to present the 2016-2020 Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) Strategic Plan.  (Or click here for mobile friendly version).

This plan was developed through a comprehensive consultation and summit process. Our valued stakeholders contributed their energy, wisdom and vision through individual interviews, which shaped a two-day strategic summit focusing on ‘strengthening and expanding MCWH’s impact through innovation, collaboration and leadership.’

The end result is a dynamic and practical document that will guide the direction of MCWH for the next four years. Our goal for 2016-2020 is to magnify, focus and celebrate our significant and positive impact on immigrant and refugee women’s health and wellbeing across Australia.