WRAP #16: Turning 35, rethinking pink and 60 seconds with Anna Moo

MCWH is turning 35!

That’s right, we’ve been talking to women about their health and their rights for 35 years. You have to agree, it’s impressive.Like many women, we’ve had our ups and downs, a few makeovers, changed our name and our address, but from the very beginning, it’s always been about empowering women by sharing information, supporting women to find their voice on matters of health and wellbeing and building relationships between women within their community so they can make changes for the better, for their families and for themselves.Sadly, there are other things that seem to have stayed the same. 35 years is a long time but many of the issues that were relevant in 1978 are still relevant now – immigrant and refugee women still struggle to access health information, to navigate the health system and to recognise themselves in mainstream representations of what women should be.We are honoured to have been working with and for immigrant and refugee women for so many years, we are proud of where we are now and we are taking a big breath in – not just to blow out the candles, but to get ready for the work still to be done.On that note, this Wednesday 4 December we’ll be marking our birthday officially with the Victorian Minister for Health, the Hon. David Davis, and acclaimed writer Alice Pung, followed by our AGM. You are most warmly invited to come along.

Now without further ado, we’re talking about 1978, rethinking pink and then spending 60 seconds with MCWH board member Anna Moo.

he first MCWH education session conducted in October 1977

The first MCWH education session conducted in October 1977 – only 3 months before the best year of our lives.

 

35 years ago, 35 years later

It’s official: scientists have discovered that there is, indeed, such a thing as the good old days. In fact, University of Canberra researchers have even pinpointed a year: 1978. According to the research, 1978 was the year the world’s quality of life peaked, and it has gradually deteriorated ever since.

Such a provocative conclusion naturally led us to think about the quality of life of immigrant and refugee women in Australia.

If you’re old enough to remember, 1978 was the year that had most people bopping along to the ‘Grease’ soundtrack (‘…you’re the one that I want…oo, oo, oo, honey…the one that I want…’). It was also the year MCWH first opened its doors to immigrant and refugee women. In that year, the newly-established Action for Family Planning (as MCWH was known then) took multilingual family planning information and education to women in Victoria’s factories.

Did AFP reach the peak of cultural responsiveness for immigrant and refugee women? Will there ever be a peak for immigrant and refugee women’s health?

Current evidence suggests that immigrant and refugee women have, and are at a greater risk of suffering, poorer health outcomes than Australian-born women. However research has also shown that they are well-placed to improve their own health through preventative health education. Here are a few other factors we might need to consider before we can say we’re living in the ‘1978’ of immigrant and refugee women’s health:

  1. Contrary to opinion, migrants create jobs by increasing demand for goods and services, yet overseas-born women have a higher unemployment rate (5.1%) than both Australian-born women (4.2%) and Australian-born men (3.4%).
  2. Despite their valuable civic contributions, not all immigrant and refugee women have the same rights as permanent residents and Australian citizens: some cannot vote, while others have to wait for public health and social welfare entitlements, often to the detriment of their health and wellbeing.
  3. Whenever you stay at a hotel, walk into a clean office, or choose the packaged nuts from the grocery aisle, it’s probably an immigrant woman who has laboured to make it possible, often in insecure and low-paid conditions.
  4. During migration and settlement, immigrant and refugee women negotiate upheavals, setbacks and obstacles with perseverance, resourcefulness and organisation. These are skills possessed by the greatest of leaders and should be used and recognised to our advantage.

These are the compass points for the type of work that needs to be done with immigrant and refugee women in order to stem the gradual deterioration. Now, how to bring back the good old days?

Taxi courtesy of pragism on flickr

Rethinking pink

Pink—the colour, not the singer—has been in the spotlight again.

It seems pink has been hijacked  by consumer market forces in that ‘Pink-Ribbon-Barbie-Doll-Disney-Princess’ kind of way, at the expense of feminist action. Instead of tackling issues head on, pink detractors argue, it only reinforces gender stereotypes and dilutes advocacy to the level of awareness-raising.

Take for example, the idea of introducing women-only taxis to Victoria (pink taxis, of course) in response to concerns about women’s safety, which has led some to suggest that the proposed scheme is a ‘mediaeval’ form of segregation that disempowers women to speak out against violence.

Given that colour is loaded with cultural meanings (remember, former Prime Minister Gillard’s comments about women being sidelined by men in blue ties?) it’s difficult to pin point whether the criticism is aimed at ‘pink’ or at ‘women-only’, but it’s safe to say that the relationship between the two is like chewing gum to hair.

However, by focusing on the pink/women-only aspect, we could inadvertently be advocating for a form of mainstreaming that runs counter to many feminist principles. ‘Specialist’ services, whether multicultural, Indigenous, women’s and/or ethno-specific services, serve a need in the community. The provision of gender specific and culturally responsiveness services doesn’t and shouldn’t equate to a form of gender or cultural segregation. In fact, the reverse logic is true: by making available specific services, we are acknowledging that there is no such thing as a level playing field. The Pink Taxi recognises that while men’s violence against women is prevalent in our community, women have the right to travel safely.

Inequity and violence exist and at the same time as we work to change that fact, there is a need for a service response.

Similarly, by providing services such as bilingual health education to women, we are in fact acknowledging immigrant and refugee women’s right to choose, to access appropriate informationand to feel safe on their own terms. The very existence of a multicultural women ‘s health service signals a long-term commitment to also eliminating the barriers underpinning women’s needs and not just serving them.

If people are blind to gender or race, then colour should be viewed as a visual aid. We need to see pink—or the co-opting of any other colour for advocacy purposes for that matter—not as the cure, but as a symptom of what needs to be fixed in our world.

Pink taxis are one option, but what action do you most want to see in the community that would help end violence against women? Listen and learn from women for 16 Days of Activism led by Women’s Health East.

60 seconds with Anna Moo

Anna Moo

Feminist and social justice activist

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I’m reading ‘To Each His Own’, a book set in the South of Italy. The author Leonardo Sciascia uses storytelling as a way to demonstrate and attack the ethos of the insidious mafia culture that prevailed in Sicily in the 1960’s. Sadly that culture still endures today.

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
I would use it to gather all nations to reach a unanimous agreement to resettle all refugees languishing in camps all over the world in countries of their choice.

What talent would you most like to possess?
I would love to be able to draw and create beautiful pictures. I do appreciate visual arts particularly paintings produced in the Renaissance period in Italy.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
It’s always very difficult for people new to a country to settle. It takes time to adapt and to get to know and understand the new cultural environment. It’s important to make connections, to be informed, to learn the language as quickly as possible and to participate in the community as much as one can. Above all it is critical to establish support systems and networks.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?
‘Welcome’. It’s a word that says a lot of things and it’s always said on a positive note, there isn’t any negativity around it.

If you could invite anyone to dinner tonight, who would it be?
It would be a group of friends – strong, opinionated feminist women. Our gatherings are always exciting, challenging and above all totally enjoyable. Issues would be debated at length over a glass of wine or two and a cigarette.

Your most cherished memory?
When I had my children, there’s some sort of magic in having a child. It’s difficult to describe. It stays with you forever.

Is there a favourite cultural tradition that you like to follow?
The Italians are big on family events, my mother held a family lunch every Sunday. Family and friends would be invited and she had no difficulty in preparing a feast. I don’t know how she did it! I can’t possibly follow that, but in honouring the family’s tradition, we do gather for an occasional Sunday family lunch and reminiscence about the feasts of the past!

Do you think Australia is multicultural?
Australia is indeed a multicultural society. While it is true that overall diversity of cultures and ethnicities are tolerated there is still a lack of acceptance by the general population of particular groups. While we have achieved a great deal, there is still an underlying level of racism that operates against groups who may look different due to religion, race or other characteristics.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
Women’s equality is still to be achieved.

You can hear Anna chat about her work with immigrant and refugee women here.

Continuing the Discussion about Feminism

3CR Community Radio has recently broadcast parts of our March seminar ‘Does feminism speak for all women?’

The national women’s current affairs program, Women on the Line, featured discussions from all three of our speakers: Durkhanai Ayubi, a Senior Policy Analyst for the Federal Government; Juliana Qian a writer and media-maker and Dr Odette Kelada a lecturer at the University of Melbourne who researches and publishes on whiteness, race, colonisation and feminism.

You can listen to the broadcast here…

Invitation to Public Forum: ‘Does Feminism Speak for All Women?’

SEMINARFeminism is making a comeback. In Australia, feminism is increasingly becoming a part of pop culture, politics, and a dominant topic in the world of social media. Internationally, struggles by women all over the world are adding to the significance of feminism. Women are reclaiming feminism for a new era and applying it to the context of their lives.

But does feminism today speak for all women?

One of the critiques of feminism is that it does not represent the diversity of women’s experiences, by making sweeping assumptions of what feminism means. In particular, feminism can be seen to disregard the complexities of racialised/gendered identity.

With the resurgence of feminism, now more than ever, it is important to ensure that feminism gets it right.

What areas of feminism need to be challenged to ensure it truly works to further the interests of all women, regardless of background? What would this new feminism look and sound like?

Featuring a panel of 3 amazing young feminists, this not to be missed forum will raise key questions about feminism today.

For tickets and details click here or download the poster

The WRAP: International Women’s Day Edition

International Women’s Day!

Change Must Happen/Empowerment is Vital image courtesy of UN Women Asia & the Pacific on flickr.

Change Must Happen/Empowerment is Vital image courtesy of UN Women Asia & the Pacific on flickr.

 

March 8 is a special day for women all over the world. It’s a day to celebrate women in all their political, cultural, generational, spiritual, physical, and economic variety which is quite a lot of celebrating, so it’s little wonder that in quite a few countries it’s a public holiday (hint hint).

We’re celebrating at MCWH with a special edition of the WRAP, from our executive director Dr. Adele Murdolo, followed by 60 seconds with her mum.

And speaking of strong migrant feminist role models, we hope that you’ve got your tickets to our special forum “Does feminism speak for all women?” on March 18th at the Melbourne Town Hall. We want you to be part of the conversation!

Wishing you an inspiring International Women’s Day,
from all the staff at MCWH

Striking women in 1909 New York

Striking women in 1909 New York

Well-behaved women do not make history

Adele Murdolo – Executive Director of Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health

 

Mae West had it right – well-behaved women do not make history. Indeed, for the most part we have badly behaved women to thank for our annual celebration of International Women’s Day. It’s a day that we commemorate the capacity of women all around the world to take political action on their own behalf and on behalf of others. We celebrate women who do not behave well in order to make the world a better and fairer place to live.

Of the many examples of women behaving badly in the early twentieth century that I could mention, there is one in particular that is lodged in my political consciousness (click the links for others). In the winter of 1909 in New York, women garment workers staged a general strike. 20-30,000 women workers, many of them migrant women, struck for 13 weeks in freezing temperatures for better pay and working conditions. These women were willing to loose their pay and jobs, even though they were often the family breadwinners. They were arrested and scape-goated by police, employers, politicians and the media. But still they persevered and through their perseverance, these brave, wise migrant women workers helped to pave the way for the long road toward much-needed legislative labour reforms in the US.

This extraordinary action has stuck in my mind—not because of its extraordinariness but because of its very ordinariness. At the time, these were ordinary sweatshops, ordinary working conditions for migrant workers, ordinary employers just making and selling clothes. Everybody was, according to the status quo, behaving well.

But behaving well does not lead to positive change, or even at times, to survival, especially for those most marginalised within in our globalised world. As Irma, a Filipina migrant woman working in California in the 1990s has put it:

We dream that when we work hard, we’ll be able to clothe our children decently, and still have a little time and money left for ourselves. And we dream that when we do as good as other people, we get treated the same, and that nobody puts us down because we are not like them…Then we ask ourselves: How can we make these things come true?” and so far we’ve come up with only two possible answers: win the lottery or organise.

May.-Day.11.-Pic-1.A

Like the migrant women striking in the early twentieth century, when ordinary working women, tired of risking their health for occupational hazards, organise and take action, extraordinary things happen. And that’s when history happens.

But—there’s history and then there’s History. I certainly didn’t learn about this kind of history at high school. What I didn’t learn from history books, I first learned from my mum.  My mum worked at a factory in Moorabbin, where I grew up. And one day the women at that factory, most of them migrant women, dissatisfied with the exploitative pay and conditions at their workplace, went out on strike.

I can still remember how proud my mum was about this action, as we all were. There she was, sitting outside the factory with her co-workers instead of working inside with the smelly glue and timber and constant noise. She was so proud that they were actively taking a stand, supported by their union, not putting up with being treated like they didn’t have rights or needs.
After the strike, which was successful, mum brought home a photo that one of her co-workers had taken of the group, a thermos with steaming coffee taking centre stage as a symbol of the women’s strength and full intent to stay out there as long as it took.

I learned from this action, taken that week by my mum and her co-workers at their factory, and taken throughout history at other factories by someone else’s mum or daughter or partner. I learned how extraordinary ordinary women can be … and how absent from our history books they are.

It opened my eyes—once I started to look beyond the books I could see badly-behaved women everywhere! There were women workers going out on strike and confronting sexual harassers; mothers, aunts and grandmothers bringing up kids in peaceful and progressive ways (right in the midst of this war-making world); women against all odds seeking peaceful asylum; indigenous women protecting their own land and cultures; migrant and indigenous women speaking out about racism and sexism; queer and lesbian women unapologetically taking women lovers; women escaping violence from the men in their families, their churches and their schools.

All these badly behaved women are an inspiration. They make history and we need to make sure that their bad behaviour does not go unseen, unrecognised and unrewarded. So today is the day to remember the badly behaved migrant women workers—the commemorated ones of industrial New York, as well as the forgotten ones of sunny California and suburban Moorabbin. You may even know some badly behaved women. Today is the day to thank them.

 

60 seconds with Santina Murdolo

Santina Murdolo

retired factory worker, maker of history, badly behaved grandmother of five

 

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?
I don’t want any super power I just want to be happy.

What talent would you most like to possess?
I would like to be able to sing romantic songs. I would like to sing old Italian songs like Volare and Rose Rosse – not those songs that scream like mad.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
To give herself or himself time to slowly get used to it. Australia is not that bad – it’s a good country – but you do need patience and time. Slowly you get used to it.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?
The first English words I learnt were ‘never never’, but I didn’t know what they meant at the time! The words I like are care, love, help, be happy. There are so many things wrong with this world so these words are important.

What would your last meal be?
A plate of pasta of course! I wouldn’t exchange that with anything!

What would you work for instead of money?
We all need money. But I would work to be with other people, to talk. I enjoyed the time that I worked.  It was hard work, manual labour and dirty. But we could talk, laugh and smile. I was happy. It sounds funny but I enjoyed it. I went to work because I needed to get out of the house, because I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I had so much to do at home but I got much happier when I went out to work.

What’s your favourite possession?
I never really had a favourite possession. Except for my house. It’s not a beautiful house but it’s mine. I’m happy to say that if I put a nail up in the house nobody can tell me to take it down.

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I enjoy it when I have my grand kids with me. I love to talk to them, cook for them, enjoy their company. Maybe they make more work but I wouldn’t change that for anything. I feel happy when they are there.