FGM: Focusing on Girls’ Minds

Image//Ron Gelok

Image//Ron Gelok

There is power in words. Because words make meaning and can have concrete, practical effects on people’s lives: they can liberate or denigrate. There’s a reason why it’s more appropriate, for example, to refer to women who have endured violence as ‘survivors’ rather than ‘victims’. Or why it’s more correct to refer to a person in a wheelchair, not as ‘disabled’, but as a person with a disability. It gets even trickier with words such as ‘wog’, when who does the calling or the naming (and in what context), really does matter. With language, context is everything.

This is one of the challenges with the ‘FGM’ (female genital mutilation) acronym. The use of the term ‘mutilation’ is internationally recognised and is present in our Australian laws. From a legal and advocacy perspective, ‘mutilation’ makes sense insofar as reinforcing the gravity of practice that is a gender-based violation of women’s and girls’ human rights. However, as much as ‘mutilation’ can persuade, highlight and argue the case, it can equally polarise, stigmatise and traumatise.

The recent national NETFA forum hosted by MCWH found that appropriate language-use was overwhelmingly cited by attendees as the one take-away message from the forum. Many attendees agreed that using words such as ‘cutting’ or ‘circumcision’ are more respectful. International best practice also shows that using a community development approach is key to preventing female circumcision and by building community trust and respect we can better engage practising communities for prevention. This approach also means that we take into account all women’s experiences of female circumcision, and not just those that are the loudest, or those that we might agree with.

These are some of the reasons why the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon recently suggested that FGM should stand for ‘Finally Girls Matter’, or ‘Focus on Girls Minds’. He states that it’s time to shift our focus to education, not mutilation. This might also mean educating ourselves about appropriate language in our research, policy, advocacy and community work.  Using different language in different contexts and circumstances doesn’t mean taking female circumcision any less seriously, but rather strengthening our efforts to end the practice. It might mean using ‘mutilation’ at the policy table, at other times it might not. We need to listen to the diversity of women’s experiences and speak and act accordingly.

WRAP #1: Welcome to the first edition

Drum roll please …

We’d like to introduce you to our very first WRAP.  If you’ve ever had the feeling there was something missing in the world of commentary but couldn’t quite put your finger on it, then here’s a clue: the WRAP is the first national e-bulletin of, and for, women from immigrant and refugee backgrounds.

Each month The WRAP will be casting a fresh eye on issues that matter to immigrant and refugee women. Each issue will cover two topics and a regular 60 Seconds column featuring insights from a woman who has impressed us with her wit and wisdom.

Whether it’s an ongoing, new or emerging issue, we’ll be writing about it through our multi-focused lens with the aim of magnifying something new or different.

We hope you enjoy the first issue.

Until next time,
The WRAP Editorial Team

 

our olympic dream

Going for Gold in Health

Of all the things the local media could have reported on this Olympics, it focused on Australia’s ‘abysmal’ medal tally. The Olympic spirit is said to be many things— cooperation, participation, mutual understanding and striving for excellence. Yet, it seems that for elite athletes it absolutely does matter whether you win or lose, regardless of how you play the game.

Something in the whole medal tally navel-gazing does not, for want of a better word, tally up and a little investigative journalism would not have gone astray here: the government has spent millions (178 of them at last count) on our elite athletes yet The Rest of Us are getting fatter and increasing our risk of an early death. And ironically, much like the Olympics, there is competition between countries, or at least between countries of birth, for “highest health risk”. According to recent statistics, a large percentage of overseas born migrants in Australia have or are at high risk of developing diabetes. Your chances are even better (which is much worse) if you happen to be a woman. For a start, if you’re an Asian-born woman, you’re at least three times more likely to develop diabetes while you’re pregnant.

An Olympic Gold medal? Forget that, The Rest of Us would be happy enough to squeeze the recommended 15 minutes of exercise into our usual work-filled, time-pressured day (and let’s not forget, it’s still women who continue to carry the unpaid workload). It begs the question that if more money was channelled into health promotion and preventative health for those who need it most, Australia might one day bag itself a gold-standard health system. Then we’d all be winners.

 

A Loss in Translation

According to the latest census, Australia is a diverse nation with almost half of longer-standing migrants and almost 70% of recent arrivals speaking a language other than English at home. It would be logical then to assume that Australia’s 3,500 interpreters and translators would be basking in this multilingual afterglow. Not so.

The recent launch of the report Lost in Translation, which advocates for better conditions in the translation and interpreting sector, should be a wake-up call for those who think multilingual work is on a par with Google translator. Since the 80s, interpreting and translating work has increasingly been characterised by the three C’s: Casualised, Contractualised and Crap conditions. Yet consider the challenges migrant men and women face in our hospitals and health care services without the expertise of a qualified interpreter or translator (bonus points if you know the difference between the two). Particularly in matters of reproductive health, a woman shouldn’t need her young son, for example, to act as a go-between in personal discussions with health professionals because there isn’t an interpreter available. Nor should situations occur (as they have) where a woman unintentionally falls pregnant simply because she misunderstood the contraceptive advice given to her by the English-Only-Speaking doctor.

Language is never just about words and dictionaries, more often than not it’s about respect and dignity, on both sides. If we continue to outsource and devalue the work of our bilingual workforce, the standards and integrity of our health, social and justice systems will also be compromised. And what would be the meaning of that?

 

60 seconds with Wahibe Moussa

Wahibe Moussa

Actor, playwright, Green Room Award recipient and VCA Masters student

If you were a super-heroine, what power would you possess?
 
The ability to read people’s minds and their true intentions; I would use it to shift people’s mind-sets slowly, over time, so they don’t realise it’s happening.

I’d infiltrate film and television board rooms and subliminally suggest TV shows in many languages; indigenous languages would be heard more often and brought into the mainstream. I would bring a mixture of cultures into the room; a few more wog and indigenous producers, good women producers.

I think the industry is so busy trying to make things financially viable it completely dismisses the notion that a soapie full of coloured faces might possibly be a success. People aren’t black and white and that reality always goes missing in television.

Theatre however caters for the audience’s appetite for personal stories; the more emotional the better.  People’s experiences of horror become entertainment.

The White Guilt thing changes nothing –  I want the power to get into people’s heads and make them aware that their guilt turns them into victims, and takes the focus off the real victims and their experiences.