We are proud to present our annual report for the 2016-17 year. MCWH has worked with so many wonderful organisations to achieve great things for immigrant and refugee women’s health in Australia. We’d love to share our thanks and invite you to take a look at what makes multicultural women’s health so important.
Last month we wrote about the possibility of a poll on same-sex marriage and this month, as we all know, it’s a reality. If you’d like to read or share our take on same-sex marriage click here. If you’re looking for more inspiration, you should also watch this fabulous video created by Colour Code: Multicultural Communities for Marriage Equality.
We’ve had a splendid September full of achievements including placing second in the Women’s Street Soccer Interagency Tournament, speaking at the Cultural Diversity and News in Australia Symposium and hosting 30 amazing Indonesian women leaders as part of the Leadership Development Course for Islamic Women Leaders led by Deakin University in partnership with Australia Awards in Indonesia and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
We’re also excited to be advertising for a new part-time Project Officer role.
Meeting so many incredible women this month has inspired us to write about promoting positive media and the real power of women’s leadership. When it comes to positivity, inspiration and women working together, Lisha Constantino-Murphy is the perfect woman for our 60 seconds interview.
Until next time,
The WRAP Team
Throughout the history of Australian mass media, migrants have provided sensational opportunities for exciting news. Migrants have played the reliable fall guys, the ones that could be hauled out to boost newspaper circulation, or encourage widespread and divided debate about the troubled state of the nation.
Headlines about migrant thugs and crooks who are getting “shipped” back to their countries make great copy, and fit easily with well-known migrant stereotypes, particularly those of migrant men as aggressive and violent. When it comes to migrant women, the common stereotype that media reaches for is almost the complete opposite. Migrant women are depicted as passive, hyper-oppressed and in need of protection… mostly from migrant men.
Of course, these two corresponding stereotypes of migrant men and women feed into and reinforce the belief that migrant cultures are more traditional and backward. And of course this picture fits neatly into our favourite Australian narratives, including those that celebrate our egalitarian approach to life and our superior level of respect and equality for women.
Once you start to read between the lines, it’s clear that the tabloid kit bag is full of migrant stereotypes. And like all stereotypes, messages that rely on fixed narratives are limiting and ultimately do harm to those who are described in this way. If migrant women are represented as inherently passive and oppressed by their virulently patriarchal cultures, we overlook immigrant and refugee women’s active agency in their lives. Migrant women who identify positively with their cultures and migrant communities are sometimes wrongly represented as promoting violence against women. None of these stereotypical narratives treat immigrant and refugee women with respect or individuality, nor do they promote immigrant women’s strength and resilience in determining the course of their own lives.
Let’s create some new narratives and images of migrants and our diverse and valuable cultures and communities. Most importantly, let’s encourage the Australian media to elevate the visibility and voices of immigrant and refugee women as an important strategy to promote gender equality and to prevent violence against women. That would make sensational reading.
Once again, new data confirms that women from immigrant backgrounds are disadvantaged when it comes to progressing to leadership positions in the workplace. This latest finding echoes the Australian Human Rights Commission’s study from the same time last year that highlighted key leadership positions across the business, government and tertiary sectors are still the stronghold of Anglo-Celtic men.
How can we make headway on the lack of immigrant women in visible leadership? Given that white men are not inherently better leaders, why do they dominate the leadership ladder while immigrant women are left to cling to the bottom rung? While more research is essential (good policy should be the result of good evidence), we think it’s equally important to make visible the contexts in which great leadership is recognised, valued and nurtured.
One step toward this is rethinking the idea of leadership as being only about individuals, as if personal characteristics are the deal-breakers in leadership success. There are, of course, many qualities that a great leader should have. However an overly prescriptive and overly individualised approach to leadership can hide the contexts – the circumstances – in which leadership roles are sought after, gained or, in the case of many immigrant women, never attained.
As we’ve pointed out before, many immigrant women have unique obstacles to negotiate (recognition of overseas qualifications for a start), which invariably limit their capacity to participate fully, if at all, in formal leadership opportunities. Immigrant and refugee women are subject to a ‘triple jeopardy’ of inequality due to their gender, ethnicity and immigrant status and it is this combination of factors that needs to be recognised as the starting point for promoting women’s leadership. To quote our Race Discrimination Commissioner, ‘breaking the glass ceiling and cracking the bamboo ceiling should not be regarded as mutually exclusive’. In other words, gender, cultural and racial diversity should be non-negotiable elements of inclusive and diverse leadership.
We need to stop viewing leadership as a highly individual project, only requiring individual effort or serving highly individualised ends. If immigrant women are under-represented or rather, locked out of the leadership ranks because of racism and discrimination, then we need to direct our collective leadership efforts towards changing the conditions of immigrant women’s lives. Collective leadership will involve supporting and celebrating individual women on their own leadership paths. However more than that, collective leadership will raise the circumstances of all immigrant women, and push through whatever manner of ceiling is set – glass, bamboo or patriarchal. We might even bring the house down.
What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
At the moment I am enjoying the fact that I can celebrate some of my team’s achievements, particularly in community-based health promotion (at Djerriwarrh Health Services). Last weekend we celebrated the Dream Big Festival in Melton South for the third year in a row. Melton South is marked by experiences of disadvantage, and when we began working there the residents had to overcome stigma and negative perceptions associated with their community. Seeing the Melton South community showcasing their art, culture, talent and generosity was an absolute pleasure to be part of. It was a vibrant celebration of a community coming together. It has been really rewarding seeing all the relationships that have been formed, the collaborative actions which have taken place around preventing violence against women, promoting social inclusion and cohesion and the stronger sense of community that has been built through our work.
If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
I would love to have a happiness wand, I feel like there are so many people out there who are battling mental health issues. There is still so much stigma attached to mental health and it makes it even more difficult for people to look after themselves and, more importantly, to ask for help when they need it. My magic wand would help bring happiness to those who are struggling with their mental health, I know how disabling it can be.
What talent would you most like to possess?
I wish I could sing. Singer/song writers have so much power as they tell and share stories to last the ages.
What is your best quality or attribute?
I believe I’m a good friend. I really value friendships I think they can get us through the worst of times and make our happiest moments even richer!
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is that it is largely unpredictable. Having worked in Health Promotion for close to a decade I am passionate about the power of community and have been fortunate enough to have roles where I work with communities to realise their aspirations. It has been such a beautiful ride and I never stop being blown away by the creativity, generosity and innovation that comes from community.
If you could have any job in the world what would it be?
I feel pretty lucky to be doing the type of working I am doing but if I had to choose a fantasy job I would love to be a documentary filmmaker travelling the world documenting people’s stories, especially the stories of women.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be?
I came to Australia as a child so I suppose my experiences of settlement would be very different to an adult, especially adults coming to Australia with their families. Growing up there is so much emphasis on trying to fit in and trying to belong. If I could give advice to a young person that is new to Australia I would say that although it can be hard sometimes, try and celebrate all that is unique and different about you. Everything that makes us different and unique is actually the gift we give back to the world, it helps us find our purpose, so don’t ever, ever trade it in to be just like everyone else.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman from an immigrant or refugee background?
Always feeling that I have to catch up because I didn’t have the same foundation or starting point as my peers. This was probably more pronounced when I first arrived in Australia and I had to learn the language and deal with the settlement issues my parents were navigating at the time such as finding meaningful employment, social networks and support.
Can you describe a time where you felt discriminated against as a woman or as someone with an immigrant and refugee background?
I don’t think a week goes by where my race, cultural identity or background isn’t raised. Although it is not always negative, the comments always make me aware that I’m perceived as ‘different’ and because of that I feel judged in a way.
For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant refugee/ background?
The fact that I have story, a story of survival from the journey that I have travelled with my family. I love the fact that the history of my family is only just being created in Australia and that we are in turn influencing Australia’s history.
If you could invite any woman, (dead or living) to dinner, who would it be and why?
So many! My grandmother for one, who I never met, she was a poet who died from a broken heart. Frida Kahlo, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama, Amy Winehouse, Arundhati Roy, Merlinda Bobis, it would be quite a party. I have always believed amazing things come out of women being together.
Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
I want to talk about three women, my mum Jovita and two younger sisters, Aimee and Clarisse. They are all amazing in their own way. My mum has never stopped fighting for as long as she has been alive. I hope she knows how much I love, respect and admire her. Mum has worked in disability service for over twenty years, a job that is tough on her body and spirit, but this has never wavered her commitment to ensuring the individuals she cares for live meaningful, dignified lives. My younger sisters are my best friends and they are both my source for inspiration and strength. They have both gone through so much, especially our youngest Clarisse and she continues to live out her life with a strength and dignity beyond her years.
This story reveals just some of the challenges that many immigrant and refugee women experience from the time of leaving their homeland to their settlement in Australia. It is also a testimony derived from our own experiences and the experiences of other women that we have been privileged to know. Finally, it is a tribute to the strength of immigrant and refugee women.
We travel often, sometimes not even thinking about the road taking us from one destination to another. Roads to work, roads to shops, roads to a friend or road to a holiday. As it turned out for me, my life changed and I will always remember two roads and two routes, which changed my life in every possible way.
I had to leave my homeland because civil war started in 1992. The only way out was a road traveled in haste, through the mountain region, a road traveled with love and determination that we had to live and go on. The road was symbolically named – The Salvation road.
For people who decided not to flee, but to stay, despite constant shelling and fighting, food was their salvation. For anyone who was lucky to have a chance to escape and seek refuge somewhere else, the road was a salvation.
I found myself on the road to salvation together with my children, being part of the lucky ones; happy to be among lucky people but heart-broken leaving many thousands behind. I could still remember with an excruciating pain in my heart – faces… hundreds of frozen faces that expressed a deep pain and hopelessness as we were leaving the town and they were waving goodbye with their eyes wide open in a desperate attempt to remember the faces of their loved ones going to the unknown.
We both took a risk – the ones left behind risked being killed or tortured or starved to death. We (‘the lucky ones’) risked being stopped on the road and taken away by enemy forces, possibly killed. We were terrified of this unknown – how would we manage to survive on our journey to ‘safety’? Worst of all were the bewildering thoughts we faced: would we ever see our loved ones again, our home and everything that meant to us? Our journey to the unknown was an act of faith, as was our faith that our loved ones who were left behind would survive.
This road was closing one part of my life and opening a new and unknown life ahead of me. I knew little of what the future was going to bring me on this new journey.
Women from our country were faced with multiple challenges requiring enormous energy, stamina and commitment. Women who had to go through transit countries on their journey to safety, and spend several years there waiting for permanent settlement had to go through the misery of refugee life which contributed further to our psychological pain and suffering. Some of the women that I knew had to continually move from one country to another, against their choice. Every time they were faced with a new and foreign environment, sometimes hostility and humiliation. Each time children and their mothers (us) had to undergo the enormous effects of having to adapt and adjust to new schools, new languages, new cultures, new systems. We had to make new friends, find our way around a new city … survive!
Did we think that we as mothers and carers and breadwinners needed anything? No! To even be able to think of our needs at that time would have been a real luxury! We had other priorities in our everyday lives … the wellbeing of our children, helping families back home who had to survive without the most basic necessities such as a food, electricity, water, gas, nor to mention the 24 hour fear of been killed.
Dealing with our children’s experiences of settling into schools and their peer groups was another big obstacle – how to help them with their homework, how to support them emotionally and fill other gaps to ensure a healthy childhood? It was a constant battle. How to replace the people and things that they missed out on and that were so dear to them? How to help them feel that they belonged to their peer group while still maintaining the values that we wanted them to grow up with? We’d often wake up panicking that we hadn’t yet finished what we intended to do, so we decided the only way was to double the load, while trying to grapple time, time that become our worst enemy.
On the other hand, led by the instinct and dedication to survive, women discovered some incredible skills and abilities that had been hidden and suppressed for a very long time. Those discoveries have made these women more confident, stronger, independent and dedicated. Driven by the desire to survive, women who experienced these disasters deserve to be seen as heroines.
I was impressed by the strength and dedication of all those women, including myself, making our way through that difficult time. Not only did we manage to survive through such a difficult time and, on many occasions within hostile surroundings, but we also managed to play the multiple roles of mothers, carers, counselors, teachers, cooks, laborers, mediators, advocates, managers and you name it, what else! We risked our lives to gain our lives. I’ve always wondered where we drew such energy and Strength from! Later on I learnt that it is called survival.
Written by Ozana Bozic and edited by Amira Rahamanovic
Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health
Want to improve your support of carers from a CALD background?
Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) is offering it’s Beyond Cultural Competency course to professionals in the City of Monash who want to improve their support of carers from refugee and immigrant backgrounds.
The two-day workshop will:
- help identify potential ‘hidden’ carers in your work;
- enhance understanding of CALD carers and the unique barriers they face in accessing support services;
- explore the concept of intersectionality and how we might apply it to our practice;
- identify best practice principles including cultural and linguistic appropriateness, access and equity and collaboration;
- offer professionals the opportunity to reflect on their practice, and develop strategies to improve their work with immigrant and refugee communities.
It is aimed at supporting professionals from:
- General Practices (General practitioners, nurses, admin staff)
- Respite Care Providers
- Community Legal Centre
- Local Council
- Community Health Services
- Schools or playgroups
- Other relevant carer support or community organisation in the City of Monash
Currently two courses have been scheduled:
- 27 October & 3 November (location TBC)
- 9 November & 16 November (location TBC)
To register your interest or for more information please contact our training team on 1800 656 421 or email@example.com.
This WRAP arrives in your inbox on a sad note with the passing of Victorian Minister for Women, Fiona Richardson last week. We have lost a fearless advocate for women across Victoria and everywhere. We’d like to share our deepest sympathy to the Minister’s family, friends and colleagues. A State memorial service will be held this Thursday.
It also arrives at a time of anticipation over the possible upcoming vote on same-sex marriage. So we’ve decided to offer our take on how the vote might impact immigrant and refugee women as well. Still feeling inspired by our national two-day Evidence for Equity: Multicultural Women’s Reproductive and Sexual Health Conference with TRUE Relationships Queensland, we’ve got something to say about researching immigrant and refugee women’s issues. Finally, best for last, we’ve got our regular 60 seconds with another wonderful WRAP reader, Solmaz Yavari.
Until next time,
The WRAP Team
If you’ve been following the national news lately you’ll be aware that next week there will be a High Court decision which will advise Australians about whether we will be heading to the (postal) polls to register our views about marriage equality.
If the postal survey goes ahead the question before all of us will be about whether we agree that all Australians should have the equal right to marry.
From an immigrant and refugee women’s health perspective, MCWH wholeheartedly supports equal rights on all matters for all women. That means of course, that we also support marriage equality in Australia. Besides the compelling question of equal rights in and of themselves, the links are manifestly clear between discrimination and poor mental health, and that holds for all forms of discrimination, whether on the basis of sex, race or sexuality.
Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, and the combination of all three, prevents immigrant and refugee women from accessing the health services they need freely and without fear of negative repercussions. Immigrant and refugee women from LGBTIQ communities should not have to worry about the homophobia they might encounter when they visit a health practitioner; they should access health care confident that their intimate partner will be recognised by the system.
As Audre Lorde has stated, no woman lives a single issue life. As a result, our politics must be multi-faceted.
We support our LGBTIQ sisters and we care about their equal rights. We want all immigrant and refugee women in Australia to enjoy the greatest possible health and wellbeing throughout their lives and to share those lives with whoever they choose.
The answers we seek are often limited by the questions we ask. No, we’re not talking about spiritual enlightenment. We are talking about the challenges of research when issues of race, gender and culture are involved.
For example, research on immigrant and refugee women’s sexual and reproductive health needs is frequently framed either in terms of vulnerabilities, risks and barriers to accessing services, or in terms of differences in immigrant and refugee women’s attitudes or habits as compared with what is considered the ‘norm’ in Australia.
Don’t get us wrong, these questions are important. But framing research about immigrant and refugee women solely in these ways runs the risk of painting immigrant and refugee women (and their cultural differences) as the problem that needs researching. Immigrant and refugee women, their attitudes and behaviour become the scapegoats for other questions we could be asking about inequity in our health system.
This is why we think an intersectional approach to research is so valuable. As we’ve mentioned before, immigrant and refugee women aren’t naturally more vulnerable (or deficient) than other women. They are made vulnerable by the systems and structures in which their lives and experiences are embedded. An intersectional approach that looks at the impact of structures on individuals can shift the focus on immigrant and refugee women’s health from pointing at ‘cultural difference’ to addressing the problem of inequality in our health systems. Going even further, intersectionality can expose the processes that create categories such as race and culture, and how they are used to categorise people.
This month at the Evidence for Equity: Multicultural Women’s Reproductive and Sexual Health National Conference, we heard in so many different ways that how we approach research about immigrant and women has real implications for women’s lives. Researchers need to recognise that their mode of inquiry will, to some extent, determine how their questions are answered. Research can only be socially transformative if the cultural, social, political, and economic contexts of immigrant and refugee women’s experiences are equally examined. By framing our questions in this way, we can expect to hear answers that more accurately reflect the lives and needs of immigrant woman in Australia today.