Media Release: Multicultural women’s health organisation and aged care provider partnering for the primary prevention of family violence

Five women standing in the Southern Cross Care offices, from left to right.

We are proud to be launching our new project in partnership with Southern Cross Care (Vic)! Equality@Work is the first workplace prevention program in Australia to address gender inequality and other intersecting forms of inequality which make immigrant and refugee women particularly vulnerable to family violence and other forms of violence against women.

The project is funded by the Victorian Government through the Community Partnerships for Primary Prevention Program.

A violence prevention program by a community-based organisation for women of immigrant and refugee backgrounds and a not-for-profit aged care provider has been given a boost, thanks to a grant from the Victorian Government through the Community Partnerships for Primary Prevention Program.
The Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) and Southern Cross Care (Vic) were delighted to receive a grant for their partnership project, Equality@Work, which aims to develop and implement a workplace model specific to immigrant and refugee female employees to prevent family violence and other forms of violence.

The partnership project will build on the existing relationship between the organisations. In 2013, Southern Cross Care (Vic) introduced a women’s health education program across the organisation followed by a women’s leadership program, both facilitated by MCWH.
“We are proud to partner with Southern Cross Care again, to build on previous and current initiatives that will further empower women and give them a stronger voice in the workplace,” said Adele Murdolo, Executive Director of MCWH.

“Female workers from immigrant and refugee backgrounds are a growing and increasingly dominant cohort within the Australian aged care workforce. As such, they are of critical importance to the sector’s viability in terms of addressing the need to care for Australia’s multicultural ageing population, which is expected to quadruple by 2050,” said Adele.

Executive Manager of Workforce and Culture at Southern Cross Care (Vic), Danielle Rose, said the grant will enable the organisation to further develop its gender equality and violence prevention model.

“Women account for over 88 per cent of our total workforce of 1400 employees, of which, more than 60 per cent are from an immigrant and refugee background,” she said. “Through our partnership with MCWH, we want to provide opportunities for women from a non-English speaking background to take a leadership role in championing gender equality and violence prevention, and to be involved in the engagement and development of a shared action plan that is meaningful to them.”

“As an accredited White Ribbon Workplace, we are committed to ending the cycle of violence against women. We will be engaging our White Ribbon Ambassador to assist in the promotion and facilitation of the project within the organisation,” said Danielle.

The Equality@Work project has commenced on 1 July. The model will be co-designed with staff at two locations – Southern Cross Care (Vic)’s community services office in the north-west region and the aged care home in Springvale. Once the model is developed, it can be adapted and implemented across all Southern Cross Care locations in Victoria. The project is expected to be completed in 12 months.

Six things you need to know about intersectionality

Image/@Julie_Oberin on Twitter

Image/@Julie_Oberin on Twitter

Last week (19-21 September) the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA) and Our Watch held ‘Prevalent and Preventable’, an international conference on violence against women. The conference provided an important opportunity for service workers, community advocates, policy makers, researchers, government, non-government and other professionals from around Australia, New Zealand, the Asia Pacific, Europe and beyond to come together to discuss ways to prevent violence against women and children.

The conference focused on four key thematic streams: preventing violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women; putting intersectionality into practice; preventing violence against women in settings with limited services and infrastructure, including rural regional and remote communities in Australia and the Pacific; and focusing on children and young people as agents of change.

As convenors of the intersectionality stream, one of our only disappointments was that we were unable to attend the other streams. But insofar as the conference explicitly aimed to ‘focus on the hard questions’, the intersectionality stream certainly delivered. We learned so much, we loved the discussion and after some rest and some reflection, we want to share six things that we took away about intersectionality over an amazing three days. (You can jump on twitter to learn more #PPVAW2016)

1. It’s about Aboriginal Sovereignty

You might be thinking “what is relationship between intersectionality and Aboriginal sovereignty?” Regardless of the ways in which we are racialised, and regardless of our own individual and family migration histories, one of the strongest messages of the conference was the need to address the fundamental fact that we are settlers on Aboriginal land. An intersectional approach must acknowledge Australia’s colonial history in order to ethically and usefully discuss other forms of discrimination in Australia. It requires us to understand Aboriginal issues as intertwined with struggles against racism, poverty, police violence, war and occupation, violence against women and environmental justice, rather than treating the concerns of Aboriginal people as one issue among many others. By doing so, we can ensure that taking an intersectional approach does not subordinate or compartmentalise the Aboriginal struggle.

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2. It’s not a new idea

The concept of intersectionality came out of a legal framework that was based on black women’s lived experiences. The term was originally developed by US feminist legal scholar Kimberley Crenshaw (1989) who was looking for a way to talk about the discrimination that women faced both for their race as well as their sex.

Today it is a whole area of research and scholarship but it is important to acknowledge that as an idea, ‘intersectionality’ only articulates what black, Indigenous and migrant women have known and have been saying for a long time: you can’t tease out identities as separate categories because everything is connected. Thinkers such as Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Irene Watson, Aileen Moreton Robinson and Audre Lorde (to name just a few) have been talking about similar concepts for a very long time.

Ultimately, understanding women’s unique experiences and recognising when those experiences are not being adequately supported, is more important than the word itself. Listening to women is key.

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3. It’s not just about identities…

Discussing identity is an important part of an intersectional approach but we also need to think about how identity relates to structures and systems. Sometimes identity is what we identify with, but it can also be about what we are identified as. For example, identifying some groups as “vulnerable” can hide the fact that they are made vulnerable. So, when we talk about immigrant and refugee health, we need to look beyond the individual to the systems and structures that these identities exist within; which means talking about immigration policy, incarceration, labour rights and access to healthcare as well as individual experiences of discrimination. It’s something we do at MCWH and it’s something we’ll keep doing.

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4. It’s going to take time and energy

A common phrase that was uttered throughout the conference was the idea that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to intersectionality. Because of this, we need to factor in the time, energy and flexibility that will be required in order to work out the best approach for each and every context. It can’t be overlayed as an afterthought, it must be there, as an approach, in the planning stages of any undertaking. Intersectional practice requires us to take the time to work out what is working and more importantly, what isn’t, and why! We need to think about who we are including as well as who we are not and why.

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5. Get ready for some hard conversations

Self-reflexivity is a big part of the work and this will involve hard conversations that will require us to look into our own privileges and biases and note how they play out in our work. To expect the work to be easy would be to misunderstand what intersectionality is. The ability to make mistakes, to learn from them and to sit with uncomfortability are all skills that we can learn as we go.


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6. Yes it’s an approach BUT…

Calling it an approach can make it sound like an option and for many people in positions of power and privilege – it is. What we really need to ask ourselves, if we are considering this work, is what is at stake if we choose not to adopt this approach in our work?

Next steps to prevent violence against all women

Rain and Steps (Nick Page/flickr)

Rain and Steps (Nick Page/flickr)

It is such a positive thing that violence against women is now more acknowledged, recognised and understood than it has been in the past. At all levels of our community we hear statements confirming that violence against women is wrong and that we should all be working together to address it. This year alone, we have heard positive and strong statements from women and men in powerful positions in government, law enforcement, the military, sport and entertainment.

Certainly, many women who are living with violence at the hands of their partners or family members will take comfort in these strong statements and may feel more encouraged to act. Perpetrators may feel less emboldened. Bystanders may feel more encouraged to intervene. And on a violence prevention level, workplaces and other organisations may be less inclined to tolerate sexist images or comments.

This is a fine achievement (back pat). So what are our next steps? What still needs to be done to further boost awareness about violence against women, and indeed to continue to work toward the ultimate aim of eliminating gender-based violence altogether?

It’s time now to ask some more complex questions that will take our work to the next level: including questions that address the ways that gender-based violence impacts on women who are marginalised by the structures of race, ethnicity, disability, migration status, as well as gender.

Our efforts to date have been based solely on an analysis of gender. This makes sense but also leaves them lacking. What is missing is a recognition of how gender intersects with other factors to create an experience of violence that is different to the ones we have ready to hand – the scenarios that we bring to mind and the situations that we have learned (or are learning) to understand.

Which isn’t to say that we should lose our feminist focus on gender equity as the key to violence prevention. Marginalised women need equity just like everyone else. But gender equity will only get us so far in the fight to end violence against women. Add to the wish list all forms of equality, including equality on the basis of race, disability, class, ethnicity, and sexual identity, and then we see more clearly our next steps.

Diverse experiences of violence require diverse violence prevention approaches. Without a tailored approach to violence against women that takes structural disadvantage into account, we often end up with inappropriate programs that lack meaning and have minimal impact. So while some might say that ‘a punch is a punch’, we also know that gender-based violence is never just a punch. It is a punch in context.

Along with strong statements, we need policies and programs that actively include and support the broad diversity of women’s experience. This inclusiveness goes further than asserting that all women’s experiences are different. We also need tailored programs that take account of those specific experiences. A dual approach that combines mainstream inclusion with specific programs will takes us further towards equity, and significantly add to the impact we will have, not only for some women, but for all.