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Working for reconciliation: Sorry Day commemoration

Deadly-HealthSome of the participants of the ‘Deadly Health’ sexual health and respectful relationships half-day education session with Aboriginal young people in Melton. Photo by Amanda Wimetal

Adapted from a speech by Robyn Gregory

On 26 May every year, ceremonies, marches, speeches and presentations are held around the country to commemorate Sorry Day, the day on which Australians express regret for the oppression of Aboriginal people, including the systematic removal of children from their families.

The first National Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998, one year after the tabling of the report Bring them Home, which outlined the extent and impact of the stolen generation. Following Kevin Rudd’s apology in 2008, Sorry Day gained a more formal strength that was missing with John Howard’s refusal to issue a formal apology.

Since the first Sorry Day the focus has been on the healing needed throughout Australian society if we are to achieve reconciliation. It is an opportunity for organisations such as ours to report back on what we are doing to work towards reconciliation.

Here at Women’s Health West (WHW), we have developed a Foundational Reconciliation Plan (January-June 2015), designed to lay the foundations for a comprehensive Reconciliation Action Plan. That work will be consultative and shaped by the recommendations of our local Aboriginal communities, Elders and community controlled organisations, as well as staff, clients and community women.

However, WHW recognises that before seeking to develop respectful and reciprocal relationships with local Elders and communities, we must publicly recognise the past and ongoing injustices perpetrated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

We must also begin building our organisation’s capacity for understanding and engaging in the work of reconciliation. We see this action as the foundation on which respectful and meaningful partnerships and relationships can be built to ‘close the gap’ in health outcomes for first nations communities.

Here are some examples of ways we are working to build our capacity as an organisation towards reconciliation with first nation peoples:

  • Our health promotion and family violence managers conducted a ‘Making two worlds work’ cultural audit of Women’s Health West in April. The results will be used to inform the four-year Reconciliation Plan.
  • WHW was approached by DHS in late November 2014 to auspice funding for the Indigenous Family Violence Regional Action Group. The funds, which must be held and distributed by an incorporated body, support the business of the IFVRAG in educating, preventing, reducing and responding to family violence in Indigenous communities. We were pleased to be approached and to be able to assist.
  • WHW, in partnership with the Wulumperi Sexual Health Unit, the Department of Education’s Koori Engagement Unit and the Secondary School Nursing Program, delivered a sexual health and respectful relationships half-day education session with 13 Aboriginal young people in Melton. This ‘Deadly Health’ event will be held in Wyndham in early June and is a bi-annual activity for our health promotion team.
  • WHW hosted a meeting in April between the Preventing Violence Together Partnership and members of the West Metro Indigenous Family Violence Regional Action Group. The meeting was held to develop a series of recommendations about the primary prevention of family violence within Aboriginal communities, for inclusion in the PVT Partnership’s submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
  • Cross-cultural training will be provided for staff and board at the end of June on developing culturally-appropriate solutions to the difficulties confronting Indigenous people in a way that empowers individuals and communities to look to the future.
  • Our new policy development worker, who has extensive experience in working with Indigenous communities, will support the completion of the Foundational Plan before beginning the process of developing a four-year Reconciliation Plan. This plan will be developed in close consultation with staff, the board, and Elders and community members.

For personal inspiration on reconciliation you might like to watch BabaKiueria – a satirical film from 1986 that is unfortunately still relevant 30 years later. You might also watch Paul Keating’s Redfern speech, which he made as Prime Minister on 10 December 1992 to mark the Year of Indigenous People.

Five programs for diversity and inclusion

Happy World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development! It’s a bit of a mouthful but, long story short, May 21 is a day for remembering to celebrate our differences, deepen our understanding of diverse cultures, and learn to live together better.

On this day we are encouraged to ‘Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion’ – take concrete action as individuals and as organisations to support diversity. At Women’s Health West, one of our guiding principles is to value the diversity of our region and work to actively recognise and respect women’s diverse strengths, experiences and goals. Here are our top five practical programs promoting diversity and inclusion.

1. Financial literacy program for women from newly-arrived communities

This program aims to help women understand Australian financial systems and their social and economic rights. Together with Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre, we ran this program with Eritrean women in February and March, and there’ll be another program run for Ethiopian women later this year.

‘Because of this course, I have confidence now’ – Eritrean participant

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2. Culturally and linguistically diverse crisis housing program

This program is a family violence case management service supporting women with diverse backgrounds to access culturally appropriate crisis accommodation. In 2013-14, we assisted 53 women and 97 children from a variety of backgrounds across the western region. Women from more than twenty different countries were represented.

‘Without your encouragement and support for my family violence situation and helping me and my children move into a permanent house, I would not be able to live in a family violence free situation’ – Woman assisted through the CALD housing program

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3. Lead On Again leadership program

This program for culturally and linguistically diverse young women supports participants to build skills, knowledge and capacity to be community leaders. Together with the Western Young People’s Independent Network we recently ran our tenth successful year of the program, with a mix of young women from Thailand, Sierra Leone, China, Sudan, Chile, Burma and Ethiopia.

‘Lead On Again has changed me and got me believing in myself more, it’s also got me interested in planning events and being a better leader and much more…’ – Lead On Again 2015 participant

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4. Family and Reproductive Rights Education Program

This program works to ensure culturally appropriate services are available to women affected by female genital mutilation/cutting. We work in both community education to raise awareness and improve access to services, and in professional development to help healthcare professionals to respond appropriately to women who are affected.

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5. Our Community, Our Rights

This program is designed to build recently arrived women’s understanding, skills and confidence in the areas of human rights, civic participation and advocacy. We recently launched a series of short films where some of the past participants reflect on their experiences as human rights advocates in their communities. And there are fact sheets with ideas for how to design culturally responsive projects, and how to advocate for human rights in specific situations.

‘I believe that knowing your rights is really precious for your physical, emotional wellbeing and safety.’ – 2013 participant

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These are just some of the ways we work hard to bring about a world where diversity is valued. To find out more about any of these programs, check out our annual report, call 9689 9588 or send us an email!

Budget ‘puts women at risk’

20 May 2015  |  Wyndham Star Weekly

Vulnerable women and children in Melbourne’s western suburbs have been ‘completely ignored’ by last week’s federal budget, Women’s Health West contends.

Wyndham Star Weekly article about federal budget impact on women experiencing family violence

31 deaths in 15 weeks requires urgent action

Women’s Health West was a signatory to this open letter to the Prime Minister published by Women’s Agenda | 16 April 2015

The Hon Tony Abbott, MP Prime Minister
Australian Parliament House

15 April 2015

Dear Prime Minister

Urgent action needed to respond to the national epidemic of violence against women

We, the undersigned, are writing to you about this week’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting to discuss ending violence against women.

The media reports that, this year alone, 31 women in Australia have died as a result of gender based violence. And we’re not even half way through the year. Where we used to talk about the death of ‘one women a week’, tragically the figures are now closer to two women. Violence against women is a national emergency that requires urgent responses from the leader of our nation.

You have recognised this in directing COAG to address violence against women in 2015, by your establishment of the Advisory Panel on violence against women, including the participation of Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, and in your support for the second phase of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children (National Plan).

Yet, the murders of these women as a result of gender-based violence (and countless other women, children and men) emphasises the need for further decisive action.

It is widely recognised, including in the National Plan, that a holistic approach to ending violence against women is needed – a strategic approach that encompasses both primary prevention and specialist frontline services. It is also widely recognised that both aspects of the approach need adequate long-term funding to effectively address the epidemic of violence against women.

Robust, long-term and adequate resourcing for all the elements of the National Plan is critical. At a time of heightened community awareness, political momentum, and a real appetite for cultural change, we urge you to ensure that the COAG meeting this Friday delivers the political commitment to allocate the funding required to end violence against women. We urge you to reconsider your funding priorities to ensure that desperately needed financial resources are spent on initiatives that will make the biggest and most profound impact on Australia’s culture of violence. We need more than lip service to be paid to this issue.

Frontline services

Unprecedented demand for services, without commensurate funding to match this demand, has left family violence and sexual assault services struggling and under incredible pressure.

Specialist health, counselling, housing and legal services, critical elements of the response to violence against women, are also experiencing unprecedented demands with inadequate funding and funding uncertainty.

Long term, sustained funding for these services is essential.

Primary prevention

Violence is preventable, through long-term actions to address gender inequality and male entitlement. A critical element of prevention is respectful relationships education.

In the interim report released this month, the Senate Committee that inquired into Domestic Violence in Australia called for respectful relationships education to be implemented in all schools through the national curriculum, as a primary prevention measure to end violence against women in the long term.

We ask that the $30 million earmarked for a national awareness-raising campaign addressing domestic violence (to be jointly-funded by the states and territories) is redirected to an urgent national rollout of evidence-based respectful relationships programs in our schools. In our view, this would be a more effective use of the funding.

Prime Minister, we are asking you to:

  1. Reconsider the allocation of the Australian Government’s $30 million awareness- raising campaign to ensure that primary violence prevention programming is embedded in the national curriculum.
  2. Ensure COAG provides robust, long-term and adequate resourcing of women’s specialist violence and related services (including health, counselling, housing and legal services) to enable better outcomes for women who present in crisis and with complex needs.

We wish you every success in your meeting on Friday and for the work of COAG in the coming year.

Many of us have been working in this sector for years and we have never seen such a strategic alignment of political and cultural will to end violence against women – but we need your leadership, and the leadership of COAG, to resource and drive this change.

As Prime Minister, and the Minister for Women, you have a unique opportunity and capacity to address our culture of misogyny and violence against women and girls. We urge you to further steps to meet the challenge, and we look forward to working with you to create a safer nation for our community.

Yours sincerely,

Anglicare Victoria

Annie North Women’s Refuge Inc

Australian Women Against Violence Alliance

Australian Women Educators

Australian Women’s Health Network

Beryl Women Inc.

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre

Carrie’s Place Domestic Violence and Homelessness Services Inc.

Centacare Limestone Coast Domestic Violence Service

Coalition of Women’s Domestic Violence Services of South Australia

Connections UnitingCare

Domestic Violence Crisis Service

Domestic Violence NSW

Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria

Domestic Violence Victoria

Doris Women’s Refuge Inc.

DVSM Domestic Violence NSW Service Management

Emerge Women and Children’s Support Network

Ending Violence Against Women Queensland

Family Planning Queensland

Georgina Martina Refuges

Gippsland Women’s Health

Immigrant Women’s Health Service

Inanna Inc

Mallee Family Care

Mildura Rural City Council

National Association of Community Legal Centres

National Association of Services Against Sexual Violence

National Foundation for Australian Women

North Coast WDVCAS

Nova for Women and Children

NSW Men’s Behaviour Change Network

NSW Women’s Alliance

Penrith Women’s Health Centre

Port Macquarie Hastings Domestic and Family Violence Specialist Service

Queensland Domestic Violence Refuge Sector

Tablelands Sexual Assault Service in Far North Queensland

Toora Women Inc.

Warrina Women and Children’s Refuge

WESNET (Women’s Services Network)

WISHIN

Women & Their Children’s Intervention Team

Women with Disabilities ACT

Women With Disabilities Australia

Women with Disabilities Victoria

Women’s Community Shelters

Women’s Housing

Women’s Legal Services Australia

Women’s Liberation Halfway House Inc

Women’s Essential Service Providers Tasmania

Women’s Health West

Women’s Services Network (WESNET)

Young Women’s Advisory Group of the Equality Rights Alliance

YWCA Australia

YWCA Canberra

YWCA Hunter Region

YWCA of Adelaide

YWCA of Broken Hill

YWCA of Darwin

YWCA of Perth

YWCA Victoria

‘Educate’ call as STI rates soar

Maribyrnong StarWeekly – 4 March 2015

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