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Domestic violence stats

The release of the latest crime statistics from Victoria Police show a disturbing trend that is mirrored in Women’s Health West’s statistics, Maribyrnong Leader took up the story in the 24 March 2015 edition:

Crime stats show cases almost triple over four years

Domestic violence cases have almost tripled in Maribyrnong over the past four years, new crime stats reveal… Women’s Health West chief executive Robyn Gregory said she wasn’t surprised by the data, given the announcement of a royal commission into family violence and high profile cases such as the death of Luke Batty. Dr Gregory said domestic violence boiled down to gender inequality and while the system for helping women wasn’t broken, it was under enormous strain…

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10 lessons for meeting diverse cultural needs on Harmony Day

Today (21 March) is Harmony Day. Coinciding with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Harmony Day celebrates Australia’s cultural diversity and is all about inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone. This Harmony Day post includes extracts from a speech by our CEO Robyn Gregory, given at a forum on 17 March 2015.

Women’s Health West has been working in Melbourne’s culturally diverse western region for 27 years, assisting women affected by family violence and seeking to prevent violence from occurring in the first place.

In the west we are particularly proud of our diverse and vibrant community. The 2011 census shows that in each of the west’s local government areas, over a quarter of female residents were born overseas. The three most common countries of birth were Vietnam, India and China.

This diversity brings rich opportunities – and significant challenges in meeting the diverse and complex needs of women. Here are ten things we’ve learned in trying to be a culturally aware and accessible service.

1. Family violence is everyone’s problem

One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned over the past three decades is that family violence is a problem for all communities.

As Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said recently, ‘one of the things about family violence is that at its core it’s about gender inequality… the key risk factor to suffer family violence is not your race, it’s not your ethnicity, it’s not your postcode, your wealth. It is whether you are a woman.’

In Australia, more than one in three women aged over 18 have experienced violence at the hands of a man since the age of 15 (ABS 2013). One in three – your mothers, daughters, sisters, colleagues, friends, perhaps you… Family violence will affect everyone at some stage of their life. We’re all in this together.

We need to work together to tackle the systemic inequalities between women and men in families, groups, communities and organisations, along with the rigid adherence to gender stereotypes within systems of power and privilege, because it is these factors that cause and maintain the conditions under which men’s violence against women occurs.

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2. Eliminate inequity through a tailored response

Diverse communities in the west face a range of challenges – from negotiating the Australian health care and justice systems, to language barriers, to difficulties accessing culturally-appropriate and affordable services, to accessing education and employment; and, for some, dealing with everyday discrimination and racism, for instance while shopping or using public transport. Given the multiple and compounding inequities facing different groups of women in the west, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

3. Ask what people want to know and work from there

Women’s Health West works with women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to develop, implement and evaluate programs designed to break down barriers that increase disadvantage and isolation.

Many of these programs are designed around the topics women identify as essential to support their communities – such as teaching financial literacy to newly-arrived community women; inspiring leadership among young women from diverse backgrounds; or training young women to become peer educators in respectful relationships sessions in schools and universities.

We also facilitate a human rights program for newly-arrived and migrant women to build their confidence, knowledge and skills to make change. Three of the women’s self-selected human rights advocacy projects in Our Community Our Rights, focused on raising awareness of family violence in their communities and giving women information about where to go for help.

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4. Acknowledge your own power and make room

WHW believe that cultural responsiveness is about acknowledging our own position of power and responding appropriately; acknowledging what we don’t know, and actively listening; giving women space to find their own voice and their own solutions, tailored to their skills, knowledge, capacity and experiences. Our role is to provide a safe place, support and resources for women from diverse communities to explore what works best for them.

5. Your staff should reflect your community

Another way we work to support women from culturally diverse backgrounds is by ensuring our workforce reflects the community within which we work.

Over 50 per cent of our staff have diverse cultural and language backgrounds, and 40 per cent of our staff live in the western region. We have a broad spectrum of age and life experience as daughters, mothers, grandmothers, activists and carers of others.

Examining organisational diversity can be forgotten or understated. WHW are proud of the level of diversity we have achieved.

6. Look the part

We believe it is very important to provide resources that reflect the diversity of our community. This goes beyond the important tasks of translating text and providing an interpreter service. We have worked hard to build a public image as an accessible service through our resources, our images, our branding, and our ‘self-talk’ on social media.

We try to make sure the people we want to reach are shown on the pages of our fact sheets and brochures, on our website and in our strategic plan. If you’re not sure if your group or organisation appears welcoming to people of different backgrounds, why not ask them?

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7. Be aware of the layers of inequity

Women’s Health West’s records show that women born overseas from a non-English speaking background are over-represented as users of the family violence support services we offer.

Data shows that 37 per cent of female residents in the west were born overseas, but they represent 47 per cent of women accessing our outreach service. The 2011 data also shows that 0.4 per cent of women in the west identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander but 5 per cent of our outreach clients identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

In looking at this data, we need to acknowledge the effect of intersecting disempowerment – of being a woman, of being from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, of living with a disability, of following a certain religion, of economic disadvantage, of the impact of coming from a country where public policy does not prioritise gender equity.

8. Do something about gaps you can see

Our data book shows that female residents who speak a language other than English report poorer English-language proficiency than men. Without English-language proficiency, accessing health, education and employment services can be difficult – particularly given the predominantly monolingual context of mainstream services in Victoria.

One of the ways we have responded is by providing a tailored response to migrant and refugee women escaping family violence to access transitional, private and public housing. In 2013/14, the CALD housing case manager assisted 53 women and 97 children from a variety of backgrounds including Vietnamese, Ethiopian and Sudanese-speaking women.

Almost half (44 per cent) of our crisis accommodation service clients in that year did not speak English as their first language and required interpreters to communicate.

9. Keep looking for gaps

WHW tries to remain responsive to emerging problems facing women in the west. For instance our staff report increased harassment and abuse faced by Muslim women following terrorist attacks. As a result, after the Sydney siege, we placed a sign in our front window to let women know that WHW is a safe space. We organised a roster of staff who volunteered to sit with women, listen to what happened, provide information about their rights, offer a cup of tea and a phone call for someone to pick them up.

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The main principle behind our response is to try to maximise the woman’s control over decision-making in a situation where she might feel like she has lost all control. We encourage other agencies to do the same.

10. For goodness’ sake, don’t assume

We don’t want to speak on behalf of culturally and linguistically diverse women or on behalf of victims of violence. Instead we strive to respect and engage communities, and create space for their voices and their stories to be heard.

In that spirit, we’ll end with a story from one of our family violence workers. She agreed to share some of her experiences as an Afghani Muslim woman to highlight the barriers women face, particularly at this time.

We have this situation where, let’s say, ‘Tom’ commits a crime, Tom is held accountable. Yet when ‘Ahmed’ commits a crime, Islam is somehow linked or held to account for his crimes. We really need to learn that the individual should be held accountable and not a whole faith, and this is sadly not reflected in media reporting.

My whole life I’ve been a Muslim. I’ve fasted, prayed and practiced without wearing the scarf and I have never been treated differently. A few months ago I went on a pilgrimage and after that I decided I wanted to wear the scarf. Since then there have been circumstances where I have been treated differently. Some people assume my English skills are quite low and speak slowly, a man refused to give way while driving then called out a degrading term in reference to my hijab, I get more dismissive attitudes when meeting people, some people stare. It’s the little things really.

But I refuse to generalise that all people have the same attitudes. There are good individuals and there are those who commit bad acts. I have non-Muslim friends whom I consider family, I work alongside people of other faiths and cultures who appreciate and respect my beliefs and this is the Australia I have faith in.

Why not celebrate cultural diversity tomorrow at the free Viva Victoria Multicultural Festival (22 March) at Fed Square.

Booklet spreads message to combat violence in all cultures

Booklet spreads message to combat violence in all cultures

Academic consultant required to undertake literature review

Women’s Health West seeks an academic for a private consultancy to undertake a rigorous literature review to investigate and determine the key health influences of health inequities associated with sexual and reproductive health in Australia and internationally. See consultant brief.

There is a total budget of $15,000 to undertake the project.

For specific queries about the project, please contact Health Promotion Coordinator, Elly Taylor on elly(at)whwest.org.au  or (03) 9689 9588.

Written applications for this consultancy need to be submitted to the Health Promotion Managers at: hpmanager(at)whwest.org.au by 5 pm on Monday 9 March 2015.

Today is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

February 6 is International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, condemn the practice not the people #endFGM
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