60 seconds with Zubaidah Shaburdin

ZubaidahMCWH’s new NETFA Project Officer, and diving enthusiast

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?

Learning and working on the MCWH NETFA (National Education Toolkit on FGM/C Awareness) Project. After recently completing my dissertation I’m very excited to jump straight into a new project. Women’s health, and particularly the prevention and elimination of FGC, is something I am passionate about and I feel blessed to be given this opportunity to work on it.

What is the best thing that happened to you today?

Buying the last copy of the Big Issue from the vendor this morning. The smile on his face was worth it!

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?

If I had a magic wand, I would turn the delicious food I see in recipe books into real food. I would use it to feed myself as well as the growing number of homeless people in Melbourne.

What talent would you most like to possess?

The ability to absorb information quickly and retain it for a long time.

What is your best quality or attribute?

I will always find a way to solve a problem. I don’t like using the phrase ‘I don’t know’. Instead I prefer to figure out the problem.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?

To be a traveller. If I could get paid to travel around the world, I would.

What do you most value in your friends?

Loyalty and a wicked sense of humour.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be?

To approach living in Australia with an open mind and immerse yourself in the culture. Australia has a lot to offer in terms of its natural beauty as well as the friendliness and openness of people.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman from an immigrant or refugee background?

Coming to Australia at the age of 17 from Singapore, I struggled in my first few years to understand the idea of independent thinking in Australia. Singapore’s approach to education is to tell students how to think whereas Australia focuses more on creative and independent thinking. It was a shock to me when my first day in year 12, a teacher asked for my opinion on an issue we were discussing in English class.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant/refugee background?

I feel lucky to be part of the diaspora community as I get to appreciate the values of two very different cultures and I get to enjoy the best of both worlds. This means I grew up speaking two different languages and I am privileged to be able to celebrate two different sets of festivities.

If you could invite any woman (dead or living) to dinner tonight, who would it be?

Virginia Woolf and Julia Gillard.

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.

My mother. She is the reason I have become the person I am today. Her dedication in doing charity work and her generosity towards the community inspires me every day to be a better and more giving person.

Name a book or film that changed your life.

Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone by Heidi Postlewait and Kenneth Cain. It gives a wonderful insight into the personal experiences of United Nation peacekeepers.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?

Multiculturalism to me is about accepting and celebrating the differences of other cultures’ norms and values.

If you could convince the world of one thing, what would it be?

I would convince the world that we are not all that different from one another. Besides the colour of our skin and the culture we come from, we all have the same basic needs and desires.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

I would want universal access to health care for everyone.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”

We are still pretty far from achieving the goal of feminism: egalitarianism. We still need feminism in order to change norms and attitudes towards gender. The sooner we modify our discourse of gender the quicker we will get to achieving egalitarianismZubaidah.

One voice

Jessica Lea DFID flickrPreventing the Practice of FGM/C in Primary Schools. Image by Jessica Lea/UK DFID

We’ve all been guilty of it: voicing our dissatisfaction and anger at the things that are unfair and unjust and then proceeding to do nothing about them. Or, perhaps worse, trying to do something about them in a way that turns out to subvert, undermine or undo some of the good work already being done to fix the problem.

An issue such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is something that usually incites feelings of horror and anger among those not affected directly by the practice. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Injustices, particularly those that are an abuse of human rights, need loud and visible activism. But it’s how we go about acting on our words that really counts, especially when our actions impact on people experiencing those abuses. When the issue is as complex as FGM/C, it would be wise to do some homework and find out about what is being, and could be, done to prevent and eradicate the practice.

The most recent International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM marked 13 years of activism and campaigning to ensure that FGM/C remains on the global agenda. During this time, in Australia and internationally, there have been countless initiatives that, together, have laid a solid foundation for generational change. Much of what we know now has been the result of the tireless efforts of women advocates from communities where FGM/C is practiced, community organisations, policy makers, governments and legal institutions around the world. A truly collaborative affair.

While there is still much work to be done, especially in countries of migration like ours, the international evidence suggests that we are still in a good position to know what can work in helping to prevent the practice. Involving the whole community and fostering women’s leadership are both key markers of success and this includes acknowledging the huge amount of prevention work already being done, often quietly and modestly, within the communities where FGM/C exists.

Whether you call it ‘being on the same page’ or ‘singing off the same song sheet’, it takes a united stance to ensure that change does happen. The National Standards Framework for FGM/C-related Educational Resources is one such song sheet, highlighting the best resources currently available for community education. Many of the resources have been developed by and in collaboration with women and their communities, so we can confidently use them as a platform for change, without hitting too many wrong notes along the way.

Funding for Multicultural Centre to support FGM/C awareness


Our national Symposium was launched by Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash, pictured here with (left to right) Joumanah El Matrah (AMWCHR), Juliana Nkrumah (AWAU), Adele Murdolo (MCWH) and Vivienne Strong (NSWFGM).

Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash at the National Symposium for Best Practice in FGM/C Education and Prevention, pictured here with (left to right) Joumanah El Matrah (AMWCHR), Juliana Nkrumah (AWAU), Adele Murdolo (MCWH) and Vivienne Strong (NSWFGM).

Today marks Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation Day. The Australian Government has taken this opportunity to announce funding of more than $265,000 for MCWH to deliver the National Education Toolkit for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) Awareness (NETFA) project over the next two years.

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash said that the Australian Government is strongly opposed to harmful FGM/C practices and is committed to taking strong action at both the domestic and international level.

Senator Cash opened the National Symposium for Best Practice in FGM/C Prevention and Education last August and has been a strong advocate on this issue.

“The work of the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health is very important in supporting our community to understand the long term health effects of this harmful practice,” Minister Cash said.

“Through the NETFA project we will see a national centralised mechanism for networking and sharing expertise between FGM service providers throughout Australia.”

Minister Cash said the development of consistent national resources will increase awareness of FGM/C, support victims to seek help and change attitudes to end this harmful practice.

“We know that effective FGM prevention strategies can take several generations and that coordination is crucial,” Minister Cash said.

“That is why it is so important that we continue to support projects such as NETFA, and take a zero tolerance approach to Female Genital Mutilation in Australia.”

The project aligns with the Second Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, which includes a specific commitment to work with Australia’s culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

FGM/C is recognised internationally as a harmful practice and a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

The Government currently supports Australians affected by FGM/C overseas and provides information for Australian travellers on FGM/C laws, as well as training materials for consular officers posted overseas to assist them support victims and ensure reporting of possible cases.

All states and territories in Australia have enacted legislation that makes it a criminal offence to perform FGM/C, and to remove a child from the state or territory in which they live for the purpose of performing FGM/C. The maximum penalties range from 7 to 21 years imprisonment.

MCWH is thrilled that it can continue the national network of FGM/C service providers, build on the success of the National Education Toolkit for FGM/C Awareness and develop more national resources to reach and support women and communities across Australia about this important issue.

To learn more about FGM/C, access national resources and find out about the good work that is already happening around Australia, go to: www.netfa.com.au