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‘Educate’ call as STI rates soar

Maribyrnong StarWeekly – 4 March 2015

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Call to action on family violence

One in five people believe there are instances where women are responsible for the violence they experience. These sorts of attitudes are a symptom of gender inequality and show that our society values women less than men. It’s possible to end violence against women, Sumeyya Illanbey explores our call to action in the Melton and Moorabool Star Weekly.

Domestic violence is preventable and not inevitable, according to Women’s Health West. ‘If we want to get real about ending violence against women, we need to work on preventing it,’ the organisation’s senior health promotion officer Stephanie Rich said.

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Respect a key in message

Women’s Health West’s board of directors passed the following statement of respect in April 2015:

WHW values diversity in our region. We recognise, respect and plan around women’s diverse beliefs, strengths, experiences and goals. All women and children in the western metropolitan region of Melbourne have a right to live free from racism, discrimination and violence. WHW is committed to continuing to work with partner organisations, communities and women to eliminate racism, discrimination and/or violence based on gender, ethnicity, race, religion, sexuality, abilities or economic status.

In particular, we offer our ongoing commitment to provide assistance where we can and to advocate for the inclusion, safety and respect of Muslim women and their families. We condemn racism, discrimination and attacks of violence based on religious practices such as the wearing of the hijab.

Brimbank Leader ran a great story about it in the 14 April 2015 edition.

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Talking about Muslim women’s safety

From the archives

As the bombs began falling on Iraq, racism flourished in Australia’s media, in our parliaments and on our streets. The visibility of Muslim women means they are often abused and harassed, heightening their fear and isolation. In this conversation, published in whw news in 2003 at the beginning of the Iraqi war, WHW staff, Meriem and Rumia, discuss their experiences and safety concerns.

Rumia: Some people in the community, for whatever reason, are using the Iraqi war as an opportunity to treat people badly – to call them names, harass them, follow them. [I saw] an African lady wearing a scarf sitting waiting for a tram and another one who was walking. A woman and man with their dog were walking past. The lady walking got scared. I get scared too if I see dogs. When she jumped, the male jumped after her, calling her names – ‘you idiot, you shouldn’t be in Australia’ – and she ran. Then they turned around and started beating the Muslim lady with a scarf who was waiting for the tram. Another Australian who saw this came over, and then the people left. She told the police, but they have done nothing. People are so frightened.

Meriem: Women are scared to talk. Here we say, ‘it’s democracy, freedom of speech’. But the freedom of speech is not for Muslims, it’s not for blacks. This is my understanding. Women cannot express their point of view about the war, or how they are feeling. They say, ‘We are watched. We are going to be on a list. They are going to follow us.’ That’s why they don’t want to talk. When I see these things happen, it reminds me of when I was in my country. But if I don’t talk, it means I am going to be stressed. Since the war started, I’ve stopped doing my normal activities.

Rumia: It’s getting harder, even harder than September 11. Now they have the ‘be alert, not alarmed’ campaign and – to some people – everyone who is Muslim is a terrorist. The minute they see you, especially if you have a scarf, they know you are from the Middle East or from Eastern Africa. That’s it, you are a terrorist. You are told to get out of this country. [Even though] you are a normal citizen who works and pays tax. You have got nothing to do with the war, you didn’t start the war. You are not the cause of the war. You don’t even know anything about what started the war. Yet again, the minute something happens, you are the prime target. It causes damage. It’s dividing the community who needs to live together in harmony. Many people don’t care about whether you are black or white, or even about your religion. Now we are making people think, ‘Muslims are terrorists. Don’t trust them, even if they are your neighbour or you know them, you have to watch, take care.’

Meriem: I was stopped by the police on the street. I was not happy. I asked them, ‘Why are you checking, is it because of my car?’ They said no, they could not give me an answer to my question. They said they were doing it randomly and I asked why but he didn’t even want to look at my face, didn’t want to talk to me. It make you feel like even the police are doing this, so who do you talk to? They say you have to report it [harassment] to the police, but if they are not supporting us, where do we go? You feel helpless.

Rumia: It doesn’t make sense, why this coalition is going to Iraq. They say they are going to liberate, to bring democracy, freedom of speech. In their home country, here in Australia, people are losing their freedom of speech. The government is always telling us, ‘there is no democracy in those countries, so we have to go and help those people get their human rights.’ What about what’s happening here? You are talking about democratic rights, and here a section of your own community does not have rights – and what about the treatment of refugees? It makes me angry. Why should I be called a terrorist? What did I do? Who did I kill?

Meriem: Since September 11 they have started talking about terrorists. We see the ‘be alert but not alarmed’ book but we never hear about a woman beaten on the tram until she has a miscarriage. She reported it, but what action has been taken to prevent this? They are not showing the Muslim community in Australia as people who are contributing to the community. I never see anything in the media which tells me I have the same rights as the others. I see the opposite. A minister will stand up and say, ‘Muslim schools are teaching children terrorism.’ I have never seen politicians, state premiers or the PM taking the concerns seriously and addressing it.

Rumia: Not every Australian says that that a Muslim woman should not wear the hijab. There are so many Australians who fight and die for human rights. But a section of the community will use the opportunity to say these things because they are supported by the government, by police, by everyone.

Meriem: We are lucky we are here at Women’s Health West. We have supportive colleagues who come and talk to us, ‘How do you feel? Is something happening to you?’ But women who work in other places, they are being called terrorists, they are being called different names.

Rumia: When September 11 happened, my son had a lot of problems. His teacher started saying that Muslim people do this and that. My son once told me he got upset and asked the teacher why he had to talk about this. I don’t know how the teachers think, maybe they think it’s good to talk to the kids and hear their opinions but it has an effect because Muslims are in the minority.

Meriem: And it is an attack on us, because some people are saying ‘Muslims’. When you talk about people you have to identify them as a particular person, not make generalisations.

Rumia: That’s right. In so many Western countries, if someone who is not Muslim does something – like the Oklahoma bomber – they say he has psychological problems, he wouldn’t have done it otherwise. If Meriem goes and blows up this building, it’s ‘Muslim terrorists’.

Meriem: We need to move and change. It has to start in schools. They have to tell everyone that every person in Australia is a migrant, except the Aborigines. We have to accept each other, because we come from different countries. We have to live together and accept our different backgrounds and religions. The media also has to change.

Rumia: We should always promote harmony: one Australia. You are Australian. Yes, we are from different cultural backgrounds. There are bad people who are Muslims, Christians, black, white. Those people should be dealt with in the right way, but don’t make it legal to attack sections of the community. Don’t give them the right. If the Minister says something everyone thinks be alert, look at those people, if you suspect then quickly act.’ So who do we go to? Even our children, where do they go?

When refugees come here they are already carrying a big burden. They’ve been abused. Sexually, physically abused. They come from war-torn areas, they have seen their relatives killed, they have lost family members. They have been in a refugee camp, they have ill health, poor nutrition, maybe lost their children. Finally, when they make it to Australia, they think, ‘okay, now it’s time to learn a new language, a new culture. You try to deal with those things. Then you are bombarded with this, ‘You are a terrorist, you are not welcome here.’

Meriem: When I was in Eritrea, you don’t go outside your home when it gets dark. You don’t trust anyone. Now the same is happening here. Women have stopped going outside at night. They have stopped talking on the phone since the ASIO Bill discussion started and the ‘be alert, not alarmed’ ad on TV.

Rumia: Since the war started, I don’t think of anything. It affects me because I know there are innocent civilians who are every day being killed. You see children burnt beyond recognition, losing their limbs. To me, it is not liberation, it is destruction, a killing campaign. As Meriem says, maybe we need to speak, but by speaking what do we get? Maybe we need to just speak for the sake of speaking, hoping one day someone will hear us, or do we just take it and shut up? I feel it when children are killed, houses are demolished for no reason. People are bombed while they are sleeping. To me it doesn’t make sense. I am anti-war, it’s so scary. I don’t think the government knows the impact of what they are doing.

Meriem: Before you come to Australia, you hear that in the West there is human rights, democracy and all that. When you come and live here, you find it the opposite. It might be for a few people, but not for all. Not everybody has their rights. The only difference is that in my country, you have an enemy, you know to be careful. Here, it’s like – who do you trust?

Rumia: There’s nothing more to be said, but is there a listener?

Board passes statement of respect

Women’s Health West board of directors passed the following statement of respect at the 1 April board meeting:

Women’s Health West values diversity in our region. We recognise, respect and plan around women’s diverse beliefs, strengths, experiences and goals. All women and children in the western metropolitan region of Melbourne have a right to live free from racism, discrimination and violence.

Women’s Health West is committed to continuing to work with partner organisations, communities and women to eliminate racism, discrimination and/or violence based on gender, ethnicity, race, religion, sexuality, abilities or economic status.

In particular, we offer our ongoing commitment to provide assistance where we can and to advocate for the inclusion, safety and respect of Muslim women and their families. We condemn racism, discrimination and attacks of violence based on religious practices such as the wearing of the hijab.