The route to real change

Image via: www.aaww.org

Image via: www.aaww.org

Reality TV is an odd indulgence. How many of us have not sat with interest and awe as we watch people play out some aspect of their lives on film, facing an array of challenges, from the extreme to the banal? Reality TV brings us real life dilemmas from the kitchen or the jungle, and asks us to empathise, identify, judge, or simply laugh along with a shared experience.

In short, we are hearing and watching people tell their stories. Of course, not in their own words, but we allow ourselves to be taken on the emotional ride knowing that the reality is a trick, that the stories are a construction and that there is always a story behind the story. The question of representation, who speaks for whom, in other words, is up for grabs.

And while it may seem like a world away, in MCWH’s work promoting immigrant and refugee women’s wellbeing, this question of representation is at the centre of our practice. People often think they know a lot about us as immigrant and refugee women, our experiences of gendered inequality or our experiences of ‘Australian’ culture, but how real is that knowledge? How often have they listened to women tell their own stories from their own perspectives and in their own words? In reality, immigrant and refugee women rarely have the opportunity, in the public realm, to control the production of their own stories. As a result, the stories that do exist are often distorted because they are viewed through a lens of racist and sexist stereotypes.

We know there is a strong will from community workers and organisations to make a difference to immigrant and refugee women’s health, to promote gender equality and to prevent gendered violence in immigrant and refugee communities. But sometimes these well-meaning attempts to make a difference start with a particular view of reality, that is, that immigrant and refugee women don’t need to speak on their own behalf and that others can validly speak for them. This is a view that inadvertently excludes the very women who are intended to benefit. In effect, immigrant and refugee women get caught in the middle of two groups that are keen to speak on their behalf – immigrant and refugee men, and non-immigrant/refugee women.

Programs that make a real difference to immigrant and refugee women should be conducted in equal partnership with immigrant and refugee women. They start with the question of what women have already done in their communities to promote gender equality or women’s health and build from there. Successful and effective programs ensure immigrant and refugee women are fully resourced to actively lead the planning and decision making of those programs. They are also based on equal partnerships with immigrant and refugee women’s representative organisations, building on existing expertise and what has already been done.

If you are a part of a gender equality or violence prevention program that does not start with the leadership of immigrant and refugee women, you might need to question the gender justice foundations on which the program is based. Immigrant and refugee women need to tell their own stories, in their own way, so they are in control of their own narrative and their own realities. This is the route to transformative change.

Leadership and recognition

Image via thebumpwa.org.au

Image via thebumpwa.org.au

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.

Submission to the Victorian Gender Equality Strategy

MCWH is proud to share our submission to the Victorian Gender Equality Strategy, which was endorsed by eleven regional and state-wide women’s organisations including: Women’s Health In the North; Women’s Health in the Southeast; Women’s Health East; Women’s Health West; Women’s Health and Wellbeing Barwon South West; Women’s Health Grampians; Women’s Health Goulburn North East; Gippsland Women’s Health; Women’s Health Victoria; Women with Disabilities Victoria; and Positive Women Victoria.

We are also very pleased to endorse submissions made to the Strategy by these organisations.
Because MCWH is a national, community based organisation committed to the achievement of health and wellbeing for and by immigrant and refugee women, our submission focuses on the needs of immigrant and refugee women.

Click here to read the full submission, including our recommendations.