The path towards excellent sexual and reproductive health

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It’s sometimes said that the best laid plans can often go wrong but more optimistically, a plan is often a map that marks out where we have come from and where it is we need to go. How we travel along the various paths is, more often than not, key to reaching the destination.

The recent release of Victoria’s first ever sexual and reproductive health strategy and priority action plan is an excellent example of just how far we’ve travelled in relation to women’s health. The narrow thinking that it is simply or only about what affects breasts, wombs and vaginas has gradually given way to an understanding that access to sexual and reproductive health services is a fundamental right for all women.

In Australia, ‘all women’ now includes more than 75% of Australians who identified with an ancestry other than Australian. The needs of women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can no longer be seen as marginal. In this context, Victoria’s action plan has recognised that improving access to reproductive choice also includes addressing systemic barriers. In the case of immigrant women, such as international students and other temporary migrants, systemic barriers like visa status can be a critical risk factor when it comes to women’s health.

The issue of international students’ access to pregnancy-related to care is something we’ve been advocating for several years now and the Victorian strategy now has an explicit plan of action: ‘to advocate to the Commonwealth to ensure that international students have access to reproductive health services immediately upon their arrival in Australia through private health insurance.’

This is one good sign of just how far we’ve come. The action plan also provides an outline for supporting women through increased prevention strategies and the implementation of peer support models such as bilingual educators. And as far as best laid plans go, the devil will be in the detail: we now need to ensure that the map provided for us in Victoria will allow us to further travel along the path to excellent sexual and reproductive health for all immigrant and refugee women, in ways that are appropriate, meaningful and respectful.

Media Release: Reflecting Victoria’s diverse population: what the Royal Commission into Family Violence Recommendations need to ensure

The Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) commends the work of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and is pleased to hear there will be increased capacity for organisations to prevent and respond to family violence.
Violence occurs across all communities and cultures, but it’s important to remember that family violence can also manifest differently and can have different effects in specific cultural settings.

‘Immigrant and refugee women’s social and economic marginalisation certainly adds another layer of complexity to their experience of family violence and this includes ways they seek assistance’, said Dr Adele Murdolo, MCWH Executive Director.

‘Prevention and early intervention programs, for example, are rarely accessible or appropriate to women from immigrant and refugee communities, and as a result, we often see these women over-represented in the crisis system,’ Dr Murdolo said. ‘But it’s also the case that women don’t know what support services are available in the first place.’

Of the 227 recommendations outlined in the Report, 48 refer to ‘family violence and diversity’, with 7 recommendations relating to ‘people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities’ (with 4 of these relating to use of interpreters). According to Dr Murdolo, it’s too early to know whether the majority of the other recommendations could potentially address the service needs of immigrant and refugee women.

‘There are some excellent and much-needed recommendations that recognise the gaps and challenges. However, there’s a danger of undermining everyone’s hard work if the recommendations aren’t given the proper context and detail. ‘Cultural and linguistic diversity’ isn’t simply a matter of speaking another language, it’s also about recognising differences in people’s experiences. Immigrant and refugee women’s experiences of seeking support are affected by a whole range of factors including social isolation, stigma, and stereotyping.’

MCWH urges the Government to commit to resourcing a skilled bicultural and bilingual workforce across Victoria that matches the demographic make-up of the community in order to meet the needs of specific communities.

‘Given Australia’s diverse population, it is essential that the report be read and understood within the context of ethnic and cultural diversity’, said Dr Murdolo. ‘What we need to ensure now is that the recommendations are truly universal in their reach and can make improvements across the whole community.’

Launch of the Culturally Responsive Palliative Care Community Education project

The Hon. David Davis, Minister for Health with Sir James Gobbo, Patron of Palliative Care Victoria (PCV) and representatives of MCWH, ECCV and Pallitiave Care Victoria.

The Hon. David Davis, Minister for Health with Sir James Gobbo, Patron of Palliative Care Victoria and representatives of MCWH, ECCV and Pallitiave Care Victoria.

MCWH is very pleased to be part of the Culturally Responsive Palliative Care Community Education project, a collaborative project headed by Palliative Care Victoria and launched by the Health Minister, Hon. David Davis. The project will use best practice approaches to raise awareness about palliative care and improve access to palliative care services, focusing on the Chinese, Italian, Maltese, Turkish and Vietnamese communities.

In collaboration with the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, MCWH will run around 90 peer education sessions using our bi-lingual educators, as well as raising awareness through ethnic media. The launch was a great success, and MCWH looks forward to working with communities on this issue.

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.