Redefining Sensational

Have you ever read a media article about female genital cutting and cringed at the way the article was written? You know, you get that ‘Oh no, they haven’t used the word “primitive” and “backward” in the same sentence again have they?!’ Feeling.

We’re told the media thrives on sensationalism and that’s why it’s common for news articles to push a line that will attract the most readers. Bums on seats and all that.
But aren’t we getting a bit tired of the same old line? Surely it is time to extend our FGC vocabulary a little and find out more about what else there is to know about a practice that affects an estimated 130 million women and girls globally. Isn’t it time to redefine sensational?

There is in fact so much more to learn about FGC: there is a world of promising prevention practices; different approaches across nations, villages and communities; of advocacy; culture change; and innovation in engaging men and young people in prevention of the practice. Activists and community development workers are working with communities across the world and contributing to the global evidence base about what works best, for whom, and in what context.

Alternative rites of passage (ARP) are said to play a key prevention role in the Kenyan context for example. The Kenyan women’s organisation, Maendeleo Ya Wanawake, started ARP in 1996 as a program of counselling, training and education for girls, celebrated at the end with a ‘coming of age day’ of music, dancing and feasting. ARP has shown itself over time to be an effective strategy in a range of communities, provided the concept is understood and accepted locally by family and community decision-makers.

On a theoretical level, there are complex debates about how we understand and respond to FGC, raising critical questions about who speaks publicly about this issue, and the leadership role of women. If a determinant of FGC is gender inequity, then surely our efforts should promote the leadership of women who are affected by the practice. FGC activists and academics are thinking through these very questions: how does FGC relate to gender equity and what is the relationship of self-representation and self-advocacy by women to the prevention of the practice? And speaking of women, how might we support and harness women’s leadership in communities to meaningfully engage men and boys in prevention? What works and what makes things worse?

Other questions revolve around the more pedestrian issue of number-crunching: or determining exactly how many women in Australia are affected by FGC. Attempts have been made to come up with a figure, and we do now know the numbers of people who have migrated to Australia from countries where FGC is known to be practiced. But these data only draw half the picture because they don’t account for cultural and ethnic differences within countries, which in fact sends us looking in the wrong direction. Rigourous methodologies, incorporating number crunching with considered and knowledgeable community consultation, along with community-based research, are needed.

So, if discussions about media representations of, and theoretical frameworks about, FGC; women’s leadership; ARP and spokesperson programs; sharp number-crunching research; working with young women; and the engagement of men and boys in FGC prevention sound sensational to you, why not join us at our upcoming symposium. You can take part in a national conversation about where our community is in relation to FGC in 2014: beyond sensationalism to considered, sensible and grounded.

You can register for Sharing our Strengths Symposium here.

Our Voices: Filling the Gaps FGM Spokesperson Project


African Women Australia’s Melbourne-based FGM Spokespeople from left, Maria Ibrahim, Shadia Mohamed Aly, Nigisti Mulholland, Intesar Homed, Chamut Abebe Kifetew, Mariam Issa, with trainers Paula Abood and Juliana Nkrumah. (Wudad Salim present but not pictured).


This week MCWH was honoured to welcome African Women Australia (AWAU) to our Melbourne training room to conduct a component of their national FGM Spokesperson Project. Juliana Nkrumah and Paula Abood worked together with 7 Melbourne-based African women to frame and develop their own digital  stories, which will then be presented at the ‘Our Bodies, Our Voices, Our Lives’ national conference to be held in Sydney on 30 May. The women’s digital stories are a part of the larger Human Rights and FGM accredited course offered by AWAU, in partnership with NSW Tafe, South Western Sydney.

The Our Voices: Filling the Gaps FGM Spokesperson Project is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health.

Media Release: Voices of Change-Marking International Zero Tolerance Day to Female Genital Mutilation

Women from countries where female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is practiced are the best agents to put an end to the harmful practice.  This is the message at the core of the ‘Voices of Change’ event being held today to mark International Zero Tolerance Day to Female Genital Mutilation.

Women’s Health in the North, Mercy Health, Monash Health, North Yarra Community Health, Doutta Galla Community Health and Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) have worked together to stage the ‘Voices of Change’ event.

Executive Director of MCWH, Dr Adele Murdolo said that it is important to recognise the pivotal role women from affected communities play in preventing and eliminating FGM/C.

‘The global evidence is quite clear that community-based approaches are the most effective.  Our event is a rare opportunity to listen to and learn from women who have been working very hard with their communities to stop the practice.’

Dr Murdolo said that women affected by FGM/C, as the group most directly impacted by the practice, are at the core of successful programs.

‘We rarely hear about the good news stories and successes of the work being done in relation to FGM/C and it’s our intention to celebrate and recognise the tireless activism and engagement of women from the community, who are leading the way for the rest of us.’

Juliana Nkrumah AM, one of the guest speakers at the event, said that any effort to put an end to FGM/C should be motivated by the need to help women in affected communities speak for themselves.

‘It’s essential that we support women and girls by investing in awareness-raising as a way of increasing their decision-making power.  It’s the only way cultural change will come about.’


WRAP #17: The festive edition with music, Mary and 60 seconds with Alice Pung

Well we’ve made it people!

It’s been a fantastic year which has passed at break-neck speed and for many of us, there will soon be an opportunity for a small pause. Even for those of us who will still be toiling through December and January, there is something about the end of the old year and the approach of the new that makes you want to sing. Or scream. Or sigh. In all cases, there is an urge to use your voice.

We’d like to use ours to sing the praises of the wonderful women at MCWH, who cheer us on each month and make work fun. We’d also like to say to each of you: thank you for supporting us, staying in touch and sharing our stories with others. Thanks to those especially who came along to our AGM and birthday party … it was a wonderful event. And finally, we’d like to start your 2014 calendar with a brilliant February event that we are hosting with Women’s Health in the North, Mercy Health and North Yarra Community Health.

It’s called Voices of Change and if you want to hear a host of incredible women sharing stories of strength and success in relation to their work with FGM/C then get your ticket now!

Now for a light WRAP on music, Mary and 60 seconds with Alice Pung.

We’ll be taking a quick break from WRAPing in January (after too much wrapping in December ha ha) so we wish you all a wonderful and safe summer.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team.


Creole choir of Cuba performing at WOMAD 2011 courtesy of Stuart Madeley on flickr

A universal language

While merrily decking our office halls with boughs of holly, it occurred to us that even Christmas carols are not immune to gender analysis: where are the little drummer girls? Has Frosty always been a snow man? And why is it mummy kissing Santa Clause underneath the mistletoe? Like all products of culture, music—for better or worse—usually reflects the time and place from which it originates.

Singing along to ‘White Christmas’ may not be for everyone then, but chances are many of us will be breaking out our Bollywood moves, miming the macarena or hip-swaying to makossa because it makes us feel relaxed and joyous. Alive. Whatever your taste or persuasion, the power of music and song to unite, transform and uplift is the reason for its enduring appeal. Like some magical elixir, it somehow appeals to our better selves.

When we asked Ee’da Ibrahim what multiculturalism means to her she responded with a musical  metaphor: “It’s like a symphony of music, of sound—a beautiful orchestra where every single sound and instrument contributes overall to the beauty of the music.”  It’s a sentiment also found in the work of ‘Kween G’, a Sydney hip-hop MC and radio presenter who migrated to Australia from Uganda at the age of four. For Kween G, teaching hip-hop to indigenous youth in the Northern Territory is a way of transcending language and helping others to both preserve and transform their unique culture.

Youth has always been a time of change and, if you happen to be different to your peers by virtue of your skin colour, sexuality, culture and/or socio-economic circumstances, then music can be both a leveller and a life-raft. One young girl, a member of the ‘Recycled Orchestra’, puts it this way, “My life would be worthless without music.” This young girl lives in Cuerta, Paraguay, a city essentially built on top of a landfill. Much closer to home, the ‘With One Voice’ choir has membership from a range of immigrant communities and has led to networks and friendships being developed amongst and beyond the group. Choir members have literally been singing all the way to improved wellbeing.

You don’t have to believe in Santa to harness the magic of the season: go Gangnam Style, shimmy those tassels, sing your best karaoke— it’s the silly season after all—and remember that you are also participating in an enduring, life-changing art form. Share it widely and passionately.


Nativity play courtesy of CK Koay on flickr.

…but what about young Mary?

Christmas Day is arguably the largest birthday celebration of the year, which makes Jesus the most well-known birthday celebrant, at least in the Western world. Yet, despite knowing in detail the exploits of his father (the big G), few know as much about his mother, ‘The Virgin Mary’ (Jesus was an ‘immaculate conception’ so the story goes) beyond the fact that she was engaged to a carpenter and gave birth in a stable surrounded by three wise men.

Less well known is the fact that Mary was also a teenager when she gave birth (in some accounts, she may have been as young as 13). Of course, circa 6 B.C. was a very different time, people died young and it was common for girls to marry and bear children at a young age. Nevertheless, Mary of Nazareth was young, poor and female. Thousands of years and much research have shown that these qualities alone make it more difficult to achieve good health, let alone manage an adolescent pregnancy.

For the millions of young girls each year who experience an unplanned or unintended pregnancy, opportunities for education are reduced and vulnerability to poverty and social exclusion are heightened. Although the majority of adolescent pregnancies (19%) and adolescent births (95%) occur in less industrialised countries, the causes and consequences of adolescent pregnancy cut across regions. You are more likely to become pregnant if you are poor; poorly educated; culturally marginalised; and/or have limited or lack access to appropriate sexual and reproductive health care.

According to the latest UNFPA ‘Motherhood in Childhood’ Report’, adolescent pregnancy is both a cause and consequence of rights violations. Regardless of the circumstances or reasons, when a girl falls pregnant it often stems from lack of choice and opportunity and is a reflection of powerlessness (and in many cases, is a result of violence and coercion). It can also significantly diminish a young woman’s choices throughout her life.

Prevention of unplanned and unintended pregnancy should therefore focus on ensuring girls can exercise their rights to health, education and autonomy in the first place. A broad-based human rights approach requires that we shift the focus away from targeting prevention at girls and instead, invest in building their capacity to make transformative decisions.

Australian birth data suggests that some overseas-born adolescents have a higher fertility rate than their Australian-born peers.  Exactly why this is the case needs further investigation.  Girls and adolescents from immigrant and refugee backgrounds do need access to culturally relevant sexual and reproductive health information and education. However, it’s never just purely and simply about ‘their culture’. The complex interplay of forces in young girls’ lives needs consideration. It’s essential that we speak with and listen first to what they have to say.

60 seconds with Alice Pung

Alice Pung

writer, editor and lawyer

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?
I would like the power of invisibility so I could be a silent witness and eavesdropper in places where I am not supposed to be – this would be an invaluable power for a writer!

 What’s the most interesting job you’ve had?
Teaching older people in Alaska to tell their stories in writing workshops

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
Try and learn as much English as you can. It opens up the new world for you, and will keep you connected to your children as they grow up in this country.

If you could invite anyone (dead or living) to dinner tonight, who would it be?
Aung San Suu Kyi

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
My grandmother was essentially a single mother with ten kids in Cambodia (because she was the second wife of my granddad – back then, Chinese men could have multiple wives). She started a plastic bag factory until the Khmer Rouge took over, and she came to Australia at the age of 72, as the oldest surviving member of her work collective in the Killing Fields. She had a lot of time and love for us, and an innate sense of dignity. Even after she had a stroke, and was in a wheelchair, she would not have a photograph taken without her lipstick on. I do not see that as vanity, but as a sign of enormous self-respect. She did not want to be ‘young’, she just didn’t want people to see her as decrepit.

Name a book or film that changed your life?
I have Never Forgotten You: The Story of Simon Weisenthal. He was a holocaust survivor that spent most of his life bringing war criminals of the Nazi regime to justice. It was not work that he enjoyed doing, and he suffered greatly for his work, which he did up till his death in his nineties. But through his life’s work, he was instrumental in helping Europe heal its wounds.

What are you reading right now? (e.g. blogs, books, magazines, or anything else!)
I just read an incredible profile of a homeless 11 year old girl, Dasani, in New York City, written by Andrea Elliot, who spent over a year following Dasani around. It was a story of great resilience, empathy and hope; and also longform journalism at its finest.

Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?
All the songs of Michael Jackson, from his childhood years. He had such an angelic voice.

Is there a favourite cultural tradition that you like to follow?
I love coming back to my parent’s house for Chinese New Year. It is very important to my mother, because when she arrived here, she lost the one thing she had looked forward to every year – in Southeast Asia, new year is as big, if not bigger, than Christmas, and it signifies family time and new hope and new beginnings.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
Multiculturalism means that we are collectively enriched by our individual cultures.

Do you think Australia is multicultural?
In urban areas, there is a very unselfconscious multiculturalism happening because different groups, by circumstance, live together. So multiculturalism is not a ‘big deal’ like the media makes it out to be, it is just a nice pre-existing reality. It only becomes a problem when the media decides to point this out. Then, the people in communities that do not have such diversity, are usually the ones who are most vocal about it.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
… if you didn’t have it, you are denying the rights of fifty percent of the human inhabitants on this planet, who have just a tiny fraction of the world’s resources, and yet are responsible for the birth, growth and usually, education, of the entire human race.

FARREP Statewide Planning Meeting

Maria Ibrahim, from North Yarra Community Health; Aisha El-Hag from Doutta Galla Community Health and Wemi Oyekanmi from Mercy Hospital for Women contributed to the Statewide FARREP Planning day at MCWH.

Maria Ibrahim from North Yarra Community Health; Aisha El-Hag from Doutta Galla Community Health and Wemi Oyekanmi from Mercy Hospital for Women at the Statewide FARREP Planning day.

Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health was pleased to host the Family and Reproductive Rights Education Program (FARREP) statewide planning meeting last week. Funded by the Victorian Department of Health, FARREP is the Victorian program that works with communities that are affected by FGM/C. FARREP provides support to women and conducts FGM/C prevention programs with affected communities across the state, creating links to services and improving sexual and reproductive health.

Apart from the obvious pleasure of catching up with old friends, the day was a great opportunity to make better use of our resources by sharing our plans for the year. A series of working groups were established to better share our expertise in providing professional education, school-based programs, community education, direct support to women, and evaluation.

Media Release: National project to assist communities affected by FGM/C

MCWH is focusing its national efforts on improving support and assistance provided to women and girls affected by female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). The development of a national website and best practice guidelines for the abandonment of FGM/C are at the core of MCWH’s latest initiative.

Executive Director of MCWH, Dr Adele Murdolo said that the National Education Toolkit for FGM/C Awareness (NETFA) Project will ensure a more targeted approach to community education that will help communities affected by FGM/C move toward abandonment of the practice.

The NETFA Project is one of 15 projects funded through the Federal Government’s Health System Capacity Development Fund FGM Support Targeted Round and will be carried out over the next twelve months.

Read the full media release …