International students’ rights: it’s time for change

Image via map.my

Image via map.my

It’s a little known fact but an important one: there are more people arriving into Australia as temporary migrants than there are recently arrived permanent migrants. As of December 2015 there were over 1 million people living in Australia on temporary visas, compared to about 190,000 migrants who settled in the country as part of the 2014-2015 Migration Program.

Statistics also show that more than 40% of new permanent migrants are not so ‘foreign’, ‘international’, or ‘temporary’ at all and have already been in the country under some type (or in many cases, other types) of visas for several years. Many have successfully overcome the challenges of precariousness in order to secure permanency and stability. But at what cost? The answers are strikingly clear if we take the case of international students.

Since last recorded (December last year), there were about 352,000 immigrants on student and temporary graduate visas. That’s almost twice that of our total yearly permanent migrant intake. You would think that, given their numbers, they must by living it up in Australia: enjoying all the privileges, advantages and benefits of a student on an international holiday. Not so. Despite the negative stereotypes of cashed up international students stealing jobs, there is actually more evidence that shows temporary residency status can impact negatively on international students’ health and wellbeing.

While all students face the mounting expenses related to education, as well as the general cost of living, international students also face exploitation in employment and accommodation, and experience social isolation, racism and discrimination. International student’s situation is only worsened by their temporary visa status, which limits their access and entitlement to services and support.

It’s now four years since the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) first articulated the human rights of international students and more than five years since MCWH first identified the challenges female international students face in relation to accessing equitable pregnancy-related care. During this time, after four changes of prime minister, the precarious situation for international students, particularly those who find themselves pregnant in the first 12 months of arrival, remains unchanged.

Why are we struggling to uphold international students’ human rights? A recent review of the AHRC’s Principles to promote and protect the human rights of International Students suggested that the challenge can arise because human rights principles are seen to be too broad to advocate for change.

We can rise to this challenge. MCWH’s advocacy position on advancing the rights of international students to pregnancy-related care is practicable and specific: remove the 12 month waiting period for pregnancy-related care from the terms of the Overseas Student Health Cover Deed, so that international students can access equitable and affordable sexual and reproductive health care whenever it is needed. It’s not the only step, but a first step to eliminating discrimination against female international students and their partners.

MCWH in Melbourne Law School, Human Rights Law video

Melbourne Law School Promo vid

Human rights is something we place great emphasis on at MCWH and we were thrilled to meet Professor Dianne Otto, who is the Co-Director of Human Rights Law at Melbourne University Law School. Dianne visited us to see the work we do on a community level and even sat in on some of our BHE training! Our lovely National Training Officer and our BHE’s even featured in Melbourne Law School’s video, highlighting the importance of human rights lawyers engaging with active communities and organisations that deal with human rights related issue- as MCWH strive to do!

 

 

2014 CEDAW Shadow Report Consultation

CEDAW consultationLast week MCWH co-hosted an important discussion focusing on immigrant and refugee women’s rights with Diaspora Action Australia and YWCA Australia. YWCA Australia led the consultation as part of the development of the 2014 United Nations Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Shadow Report.

The 2014 CEDAW Shadow Report aims to feature ‘spotlights’ on four groups of women who continue to face pervasive and severe barriers to claiming their human rights:  women in prison, women with disabilities, single mothers and immigrant/refugee women.

The consultation  included training in CEDAW processes by YWCA Executive Officer, Caroline Lambert and involved key advocates, community leaders and workers who support immigrant and refugee women in the community. Feedback from the day will inform the priority issues to be featured in the report, which is expected to be completed by August 2014.

Australian Human Rights Commission Roundtable in Melbourne on increasing CALD women’s voices

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick with representatives across Victoria.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick with representatives from immigrant and refugee women’s organisations.

In 2011 the Australian Human Rights Commission hosted a successful study tour undertaken by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women in Australia. You can read about the some of the outcomes of that tour, including the AHRC Report, in a previous WRAP. Following on from that study tour, MCWH was extremely pleased to host the AHRC Melbourne Roundtable on ‘Working together to address issues affecting women from CALD backgrounds’, led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick and attended by many wonderful women representing organisations that support immigrant and refugee women across Melbourne and nationally including the National Ethnic Disability Alliance, Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre and Small Giants (pictured above).

The roundtable was a wonderful opportunity for women working in the field to share their expertise and experience and to identify existing opportunities to raise the national profile of migrant women’s concerns. MCWH would like to thank the Commissioner and her team for their initiative and looks forward to continued discussion about many of the issues raised, and further opportunities for migrant and refugee women’s increased visibility at a policy level.

Media Release: International seminar highlights invisibility of abortion as a federal election issue

Variation in abortion law among the states is not the only issue at stake for women in Australia.

Today MCWH will host a visit by Dr Anu Kumar, Executive Vice-President of Ipas, a global nongovernment organisation dedicated to ending preventable death and disability from unsafe abortion.

Dr Kumar’s visit marks the beginning of MCWH’s partnership with researchers from the Social Sciences and Health Research Unit, Monash University on a research project investigating the contraceptive and reproductive choices of immigrant and refugee women.

Executive Director of MCWH, Dr Adele Murdolo said that while abortion law continues to be a matter for the states, both state and federal governments need to ensure that abortion is accessible and available to all women.

Twenty six per cent of the world’s population still live in countries where abortion is generally prohibited, so in that regard Australian women are in the fortunate position of living in a country where induced abortion is legally available. However, access to abortion is still restricted to different groups of women in various ways. It is already well-known that immigrant and refugee women have limited to access to sexual and reproductive health for a range of reasons including visa status, economic reasons and lack of access to culturally sensitive programs.

A recent report has found that living in a rural or regional area can also severely restrict your access to abortion because of the lack of services in certain regions. There’s a triple disadvantage then if you’re an immigrant or refugee woman living in one of these regions.

In many respects there are overlaps with the human rights work being done at an international level. In Australia, immigrant and refugee women’s access to abortion is still determined by such things as visa status and other policies, which can indirectly impact on women’s right to free choice.

Women’s rights aren’t just a matter for the law, although legal reforms are crucial – we’d like to see government make the necessary policy changes, and fund appropriate services, to improve women’s access to abortion.

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 …