Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Experiences of Violence: Pathways to Change

Violence against women occurs in all Victorian communities and across all cultures. There are clear differences in the way that violence is enacted across cultures and social contexts, but no one immigrant/refugee community or culture is any more violent than another.

However, due to structural inequalities, immigrant and refugee women are more vulnerable to violence, and have a lower level of access to family violence services. They face a range of barriers when they act on family violence, and as a result are under-represented in early intervention programs and over-represented as crisis service users.

The MCWH Submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence scopes the range of issues impacting on immigrant and refugee women, addressing policy, prevention and early intervention programs, and access to appropriate family violence response services. The submission charts the pathways to change to improve immigrant and refugee women’s safety and wellbeing, and decrease their vulnerability to family violence.

MCWH would like to see stronger links between policy, resource allocation and program implementation taking a comprehensive intersectional approach so that ‘diversity statements’ in policy follow through to action. We advocate for a broader definition of violence, and a greater focus and investment in primary prevention and early intervention programs so that women are enabled to link with appropriate services at an earlier point in their experience of family violence.

MCWH would like to see a greater valuing of bilingual and bilingual workers in the family violence system through workforce diversification strategies across all types of programs, fostering in particular, the leadership of immigrant and refugee women. Importantly, the family violence response sector needs a significant boost, to ensure that women who do access the system are assisted in the most effective and meaningful ways. Cultural and structural change is required, as are fundamental improvements to on-the-ground practice.

Celebrating immigrant and refugee women


We think immigrant and refugee women are generally pretty amazing, so it’s never really a surprise to see them succeed, even when the pathway to success has not been smooth.

This week MCWH was privileged to complete a wonderful journey with a group of twenty women from as many diverse cultural backgrounds, as they successfully graduated from the MCWH Multicultural Women’s Health Course. The women completed the accredited 12-day training program in women’s health, acquiring the skills and knowledge required to provide bilingual health education to women in their communities and workplaces. Twelve of the graduates are aged care workers from the Southern Cross aged care facility who have been supported by the facility to participate in the training and to become women’s health mentors in their workplaces in the future. The remaining eight graduates, we’re proud to say, have been recruited to work as new MCWH Bilingual Health Educators, making a wonderful addition to the range of languages we can offer to the community in health education. We heartily congratulate all the graduates and look forward to an ongoing working relationship.

We extend our appreciation to the wonderful trainers and supporting staff, to Ian Barton from Southern Cross Care, and of course to the graduates who worked so hard to successfully complete the course.


The WRAP #19 : Name-calling, working hard and 60 seconds with Dolly Atchia

Naming things is complicated.

On the one hand, it shouldn’t really matter. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, they say. And as many of our parents told us, after finding us in tears after school, it doesn’t matter what people call you: sticks and stones, etc. It only matters how you feel about yourself.

It can work the other way around too. For example, the name ‘feminist’: some women don’t want to be called a feminist, and they wouldn’t call themselves a feminist, but spend five minutes talking to them and it’s pretty clear that they’re feminists.

But on the other hand, it can really matter what people call you. It can say a lot about them and a lot about you, and what you ask people to call you can have far reaching effects on the way they perceive you. ‘Caring’ for example: it’s a lovely word, a warm and loving word, but not one that we usually associate with work. But it IS work and carers are all too often suffer the consequences of our inability to make that connection.

So this WRAP we’re talking about name-calling (no, not the Section 18C kind), we’re calling out for more recognition that caring is work and then we’re spending 60 seconds with an amazing carer, Dolly Atchia, one of the 12 fabulous women from Southern Cross Care Vic who MCWH is proud to be training as Multicultural Women’s Liaison Champions in their organisation.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team


Young woman by Charles Roffey 3


Apparently the most common Australian baby names of 2013 were ‘William’ and ‘Charlotte’, a far cry from the ‘Bear Blaze’ or ‘Blue Ivy Carter’ of some celebrity offspring.  It has to make you wonder why parents choose the names they do for children, because, as we all know, names matter.  What you choose to call others or how you choose to describe yourself and others can conjure up images and associations you may never have intended (just look up the popularity of the name ‘Adolf’). Names can also communicate what you find meaningful and connect to or represent your values.

At MCWH, we’re often asked why we choose to use ‘immigrant’ and ‘refugee’ to describe ourselves and the women we work with and advocate for. The simple answer is this: because the act of immigrating to another country and being an immigrant has significant consequences on your health and wellbeing. Using the word ‘immigrant’, especially when you’re trying to advocate for improvements in health, helps to convey the impact of immigration and settlement policies on immigrant and refugee women’s everyday lives.

Immigrants in Australia (who are not, or not yet, Australian citizens) are often made vulnerable by policies that restrict their mobility and choice. Depending on their visa category, immigrants can be denied access to social benefits and entitlements, including owning a home; health services; educational and employment opportunities; social mobility; and the right to be with family. These are the consequences of being an immigrant and they all, in one way or another, have an impact on health and wellbeing.

Of course not all immigrant and refugee women identify first and foremost as ‘migrant’ or ‘refugee’  and this is the way it should be. The reality of immigrant women’s lives is far more complex than one label can cover and no one should ever, or forever, be defined simply by their migrant status.  Nevertheless, it’s the complexity that demands attention:  immigrant women’s issues aren’t just about ‘immigration’ or ‘women’ but cut across a whole range of areas—health, housing, settlement, education, employment, the law, and citizenship.  ‘Immigrant’ and ‘refugee’ shouldn’t be read as fixed identities, but should be used as platforms for mobilisation around the practical, everyday implications of immigration policy in all areas of women’s lives.

While there are many other ways to describe who we are, terms like ‘ethnic’, ‘multicultural’ or ‘culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)’ can keep hidden the structural and institutional injustices experienced by immigrant women. Moreover, they could just as easily be used to describe food, fashion or the latest dance craze.

It may not seem as big a deal as naming your children, but consciously identifying our work with ‘immigrant and refugee women’ is not a decision we have made lightly: it’s not to force women to identify themselves as immigrants and refugees. It’s to empower women to recognise those injustices and inequities that are related to their immigration and settlement experience, and to change the thinking, the ideas and the associations about what it currently means to be an ‘immigrant or refugee woman’.

The National Ethnic and Multicultural Media Broadcasters’ Council journal is about to publish an extended article we’ve written on this issue in response to a piece in the latest issue of the NEMBC:  ‘Ethnic and the problem of terminology’ (page 2). We’d love to hear your thoughts as well. Why not leave a comment!

She works hard for the money … donna summer

‘…so you better treat her right…’ chanted pop icon Donna Summer in the 80s while her video shows us a woman juggling shift-work, long hours and tiring manual labour with single motherhood and unpaid domestic work. Summer’s song has since become a rallying anthem for working women in the western world. But the bigger picture of women shouldering enormous paid and unpaid workloads hasn’t really changed. So how do we treat her right?

This was the same question that 200 women from 19 nations asked during the International Congress of Working Women in 1919. The questions and issues raised back then revolved around the identity of ‘working woman’ and how to find a set of policies that would best serve her interests. As the Donna Summer video illustrates, the challenge continues to lie in the connections and overlaps of women’s paid and unpaid work and the ways in which society places value on the work women do.

Women still continue to carry the bulk of caring responsibilities in the home and are more likely to be employed in ‘caring’ professions. In fact, these are professions which continue to be undervalued (and therefore less paid) than other occupations. Just take, for example, Australia’s aged care workforce: in 2012, over 90% of the 352,000 employees in the sector were women, a growing proportion of whom were born overseas and from countries where English is not the primary language (an average of 32%).

In fact the statistics also show that 65% of all aged care facilities employ personal care attendants and community care workers who speak a language other than English. In a sector where over half of workers report a workplace injury (in 2012, 35% of employees were on Workcover) and where household responsibilities and management issues are the main reasons for staff loss, the high proportion of immigrant workers should be a critical focus in improving working conditions in the care sector. There is evidence to show, for example, that women who speak a language other than English are less likely to seek Workcover arrangements.

Caring isn’t any easier just because you’re paid for it. Caring as a profession can be even more difficult if you’re in a position of having to negotiate more flexible hours; renew a contract; or question unsafe work practices. But caring for yourself isn’t any easier if you’re from an immigrant or refugee background. Continuous education and training in the sector should include education about health and wellbeing as a way of supporting working women, and especially immigrant working women, in all aspects of their lives and the lives of their families.

We’re not getting any younger. We’re past the 1980s and definitely way past the 1910s. As the needs of our ageing population become more complex, it’s increasingly important that we properly define the ‘working women’ of the aged care sector, that we find working conditions and policies that also serve their interests, and that we equip them with the knowledge and confidence to define what caring means in the future.


60 seconds with Dolly Atchia


Nurse and trainee bilingual health educator

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I’m enjoying the bilingual health education course–it’s a good example that women are very good at supporting other women.

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
To better the lives of women

What talent would you most like to possess?
To be a good counsellor and to be an advocate and a voice for women who can’t speak for themselves.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
A human rights lawyer.

What would you work for instead of money?
To know that I’ve improved the lives of immigrant and refugee women.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
People should have awareness and an understanding of the differences between the two cultures.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?
Love. Between husband and wife; same-sex couples; mother, father and child. Even with animals there is an element of love between creatures. It may be a small word, but it’s something a lot of us in this world need.

If you could invite anyone (dead or living) to dinner tonight, who would it be?
My father has been a role model and mentor. There are a lot of things that he’s told me that still stay with me and have been beneficial to my life: if there’s a will there’s a way and education is the key to success.

Your most cherished memory?
When my daughter was born. It was a big day when my identity changed from being a young, married girl to a parent.

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
My daughter is amazing. When we arrived as migrants she was 4 years old and I was a single mother. I had this one child, a suitcase and $300. I gave whatever I could to my daughter–working full-time so she could have the best education I could afford. At a young age she was doing volunteer work with refugees and I’m very proud of her academic achievements–she never fails to surprise me. She completed a double degree in arts/law and is now a barrister. She’s brave, intelligent and to see her do so well when there was just the two of us when we arrived in this country … she’s everything I have great admiration for.

What are you reading right now? (e.g. blogs, books, magazines, or anything else!)
You’ll laugh but it was ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’! I loved the books. I’ve been single for a long time and I’m always open-minded about those things, so the books didn’t shock me. I’m in awe of the author for writing about things we only fantasise about– it’s brave and I think it’s great for women’s sexual liberation.

Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?
‘Respect’ by Aretha Franklin

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
I’ve travelled a lot and Australia is a perfect example of being multicultural and of difference being accepted. As a new migrant, I’d like to see more of Aboriginal culture in everyday life, which would make the idea of multiculturalism even better.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
“…men need to understand what it’s all about.”

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.

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…

Launch of the Bbkayi Report

Bbkayi means Baby plus two in Cantonese. It’s the title of a report which outlines the enablers and barriers for Chinese women in the City of Whitehorse to access antenatal, maternal and parent support. The study found that family and Chinese cultural practices such as the 30 day confinement period play an important part during pregnancy and childrearing and influence how Chinese women access programs and services. Many factors, including the resettlement experience, lack of familiarity with the Australian health system, and differing health and spiritual beliefs of different cultures can make it difficult for immigrant and refugee communities to access health services.

The study, commissioned by Whitehorse Community Health Service, is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in improving the cultural relevance of health services. Congratulations to Megan Wong, the project leader and author of the report and special thanks to MCWH Chinese BHEs, Dongmei Zhang, Rebecca Heli and Yuki Murdolo, who made invaluable contributions to the project with their experience and knowledge.

You can read the full report here.