Caught between two cultures

A sexual and reproductive health program for young African women

Women’s Health West runs a family and reproductive rights education program (FARREP) designed to prevent female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and enhance service provision to women already affected by the practice.

This includes community education sessions designed for mothers and pregnant women who have migrated from African countries that practice FGM/C. The sessions focus on sexual and reproductive health and other women’s health concerns.

Our consultations with young African women and agencies working with them reveal they feel caught between two cultures; that it is difficult to deal with conflicting expectations of African and Australian cultures. So we have designed a new project based on this information that targets young women aged 16 to 25 who have migrated from countries that practice FGM/C and who are now living in the western region of Melbourne.

This age group has limited access to information and resources to make informed decisions about their own sexual and reproductive health. They are also less likely to know that FGM/C is a crime in Australia and may face pressure to practice FGM/C on their daughters for cultural reasons.

Women of this age are particularly influenced by their parents and can experience significant community pressure to prepare for marriage in this way. It is important for them to develop confidence, independence, leadership skills and pride in their dual African / Australian identity. This supports young women to think through and articulate their thoughts clearly and powerfully.

As a starting point we will consult with young African women to identify their sexual and reproductive health needs. We will also consult with parents and female community leaders to ensure that the project is culturally appropriate, community friendly and that the voices of these role models are heard. Then we will work with schools and community organisations to provide the young women with leadership skills to break down gender barriers. We will also provide culturally-sensitive information to support positive and safe decisions for themselves and their daughters.

This project should equip young African women with the knowledge to make important and positive sexual and reproductive health decisions for themselves and their daughters. We hope this knowledge will help to negotiate the space between both cultures.

By Shukria Alewi, FARREP Community Worker, first published whw news ( Ed3, 2012)