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Well the next time we speak a new political day will have dawned.. what that day will look like is anyone's guess but one thing we can say for sure is that the result is out of the hands of approximately 2 million non-citizens who contribute so much to this great country, many having lived here for over a decade, raised their children here and become part of their local community.

On that uncertain note this WRAP we're talking about one thing that's NOT on the election campaign agendas, catching up on violence prevention and then spending an uplifting 60 seconds with Ee'da Ibrahim.

And to all of you who are able to have your say on 7 September, as you wait in line spare a thought for the many migrant names missing from the electoral roll ... We may not all be with you at the voting box, but we are there in spirit.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team

80-year-old Ratna Maya Thapa from the Central Region of Nepal shows her voter registration card after walking for one and a half hours to cast her ballot in the Nepalese Constituent Assembly elections. 10/Apr/2008. Dolakha, Nepal. UN Photo/Nayan Tara.


Voting Power

With great power comes great responsibility.  It’s a mantra that should make politicians sit up and take notice.  In just over two weeks’ time, those of us fortunate enough to vote will be deciding who will be governing the country for the next three years, and for voters and politicians alike, it’s a daunting prospect.  It may be increasingly difficult to separate the facts from the deluge of election spin, but it’s Australian citizens, not the politicians, who—theoretically at least—have the ultimate power of the vote.

At a time when more than a quarter (27%) of Australia’s population are born overseas and one in four people have at least one parent who was born overseas, the major political parties have been silent about issues affecting immigrant and refugee populations.  It’s as though ‘stopping the boats’ has stood in for, and shut down, all discussion about migration, settlement, and diversity.  Issues of importance to immigrant and refugee women are not necessarily exotic or spectacular; in fact they are often common to everyone:  maintaining health, setting up a home, completing an education and finding employment.  But there needs to be greater recognition that it is still much more difficult for immigrant and refugee women to accomplish what many others accept as part and parcel of everyday life.  It is not because immigrant and refugee women are any less capable but rather because the systems they are required to navigate and fit into to—whether it’s housing, health or employment—fail to accommodate their difference. 

The electoral system, including the process of citizenship is one relevant example.

There are approximately 2 million people in Australia who do not have citizenship, among them temporary migrants and permanent residents, who cannot exercise their right to vote.  This population, nevertheless, pays taxes and contributes in many other ways to Australia’s economic, social and cultural life.  If migrants are eligible for citizenship, the citizenship test is more likely to favour those from English-speaking countries.  New citizens from Vietnam and China, for example, have an average pass rate of 89% and 72% respectively (compare this with a pass rate of 99% for citizens from the U.K).  People on humanitarian visas need to sit the test 2.3 times before passing and we know that women and girls worldwide are at a significant disadvantage in terms of access to education, so they face even further barriers.
           
Politicians like to focus on the economy and budget deficits but, in reality, what it boils down to is ensuring all taxpayers’ money is distributed equitably. You'd think that would mean that funds are allocated to those who need it most.  Australian taxpayers (including non-citizens) have spent $1.5 billion in the last year keeping asylum seekers in detention and the government is expected to spend another $2.9 billion next financial year.  Imagine the state of our social services if even half of this money were spent on things such as health education and prevention; language services; and community development initiatives.  Just imagine.  It would be false economy to think otherwise.

Violence prevention: what’s happening now?

'Peace and Violence' is an artwork by Ayel Akot from Fitzroy, Victoria (orginally from Sudan) which was shortlisted for the 2013 Heartlands Refugee Art Prize. Winning artworks will be on display at Werribee Park from 1st to 14th September.


The very public display of grief and anger over Tracey Connelly’s and Jill Meagher’s senseless murders has demonstrated an increased community awareness about women’s vulnerability to violence. This is an important step towards stopping violence, but we’re still not that much closer to understanding how this awareness might translate into practical knowledge about just how violent attitudes, behaviours and systems can be tackled in the first place. That’s where violence prevention comes in.

It’s reassuring to see governments taking active steps to ensure the prevention of violence against women remains a priority.  Last October, the Victorian Government launched a 3-year action plan to address violence against women and children, which included primary prevention strategies. And a few days ago, the appointment of eight non-government members to the newly established NSW Domestic and Family Violence Council was announced.  The Council members will advise the NSW Government on all aspects of domestic and family violence policy and programs, including primary prevention.
 
The NSW announcement follows the recent launch of The National Foundation to Prevent Violence Against Women and their Children in Melbourne, which was an initiative under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.  Natasha Stott Despoja AM, Chair of the Board of the Foundation, declared that the Foundation ‘is a truly national, cross party, cross jurisdictional body that will actually ensure that attitudes and behaviour are tackled’.  These are all reasons to remain hopeful, but it’s also fair to ask which attitudes, behaviours and systems will be targeted.

The global statistics on violence against women and girls should shock us into united action: no one culture or ethnicity has a monopoly on violent behaviour.  In Australia, it's currently estimated that 1 in 3 women will experience intimate partner violence.  If Australia’s current population has literally become a global village, then we should be approaching violence prevention from a position of diversity.  It would make sense then that any policies and strategies developed for women living in Australia would be representative of, and benefit all, communities. Indeed, they do make mention of the importance of inclusion and diversity.  However, we are yet to see the concrete strategies in place that will make a difference across the community, including in immigrant and refugee communities.

If we take a closer look at the initiatives that have been developed under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children for example, so far only 6 of 51 (13%) projects funded under the Plan have been specifically targeted to immigrant and refugee communities (a grand total of 11% of the funds).  The Victorian Plan is yet to deliver on its undertaking to address prevention in culturally and linguistically diverse communities. There is still time to achieve these goals, but to date, there has  been little progress toward fair representation of all of our diverse communities.
 
A truly national primary prevention approach would ensure that diverse attitudes, behaviours and systems, whether informed personally, culturally or geographically, are included in all stages of development.  This approach requires listening to immigrant and refugee women themselves, and their representative organisations, and enabling them to be at the forefront of change.  Harnessing all the expertise, energy and linkages that immigrant and refugee women can bring to the task can only build on our success.

60 Seconds with Ee’da Ibrahim

Singer, dancer and spoken word artist

 
What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I’m enjoying creating dance fitness programs for my students.  I really enjoy sharing different art forms that I’ve learnt throughout the years.  I’m trained in classical Indian dance and Bollywood.  I infuse that into my dance programs.  I try to make it fun and accessible for everyone.  I’ve been enjoying sharing the love of dance and music to the wider community.  I’m organising another fund-raising event with ‘Sisters for Sisters’ on the 17th September, it’s a lot of work but a lot of fun.  It will be huge offering of dance, music and theatre performances.           
 
If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?
The power to change people in order to seek compassion in every human being.
 
What talent would you most like to possess?
To play an instrument really, really well ... piano or guitar.

What would you work for instead of money?
The pleasure of travelling the world and to be housed and looked after by local communities.
 
If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
I would tell them to try and not change completely who they are to fit in.  The more people hold on to their culture, the more beautiful Australian culture can be.

What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten?  
I was travelling in Rajasthan last year and a local gypsy woman invited me back to her dwelling to share a meal with her husband, her eight children and the rest of her family. I had the most warm and unique experience spending the afternoon with them.
 
If you could invite anyone (dead or living) to dinner tonight, who would it be?
Arundhati Roy, Bob Marley, John Lennon, Martin Luther King, Erykah Badu, Maya Angelou and Fela Kuti.

Your most cherished memory?
I have a bunch of memories; it’s really hard to pick one because I believe every moment is sacred.  But what sticks out in my mind is going to Cuba and being exposed to such a different culture and feeling embraced by the people.  The Cuban people are very passionate, they may not have a lot of money but they have their music and their salsa, each other and a strong sense of community.  Even though I was a traveller there I felt like I was part of their community.  I was fed a feast, taken to a festival by the ocean with salsa music dancing and everyone dancing on the sand. It was really quite spectacular.

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
My mum.  She grew up in a village and her story is filled with challenges.  Her father died when she was very young.  She’s the eldest of five girls.  When she was 10 years old she had to tap rubber trees for a living.  She’d have to get up at 5 a.m. because it was the best time to get the sapling from the rubber trees.  When she was big enough she was sent to work at people’s houses so that she could earn extra money but she was mistreated. 
 
Then she met my dad and she thought she didn’t have to live in the village anymore.  But it turns out there was lot of prejudice towards her because she wasn’t of the same social standing as my father’s family and she accepted it because she felt there was no other option for her.  During the time, divorce was never an option and because she had no education, she didn’t think she could raise us without my dad.  So she stuck with him.  She accepted her destiny.  Through it all she’s given me all the advice about being the best I can be; to be self-sufficient; to speak English well and not be mistreated by anyone.  I now have a strong sense of who I am because by default and by bearing witness to her suffering and her challenges, I’ve been able to create an amazing life. 
By seeing how I turned out, she knows it was for something.
 
Name a book or film that changed your life?
‘Amandla!’ is a documentary film about the freedom songs in South Africa during apartheid. 
 
Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?
I love music with positive content.  I love India Ari because a lot of her music is about believing in yourself and having courage, strength and wisdom.  I believe that words and music have strong energy and a high vibration.  If you listen to it, you’ll radiate more positivity.
 
What are you reading right now? (e.g. blogs, books, magazines, or anything else!)
Yesterday, I was reading a post on Facebook by The Hot Potato, they had a panel at Federation Square and they were talking about asylum seekers and debunking myths about them.
 
What does multiculturalism mean to you?
It’s like a symphony of music, of sound– a beautiful orchestra where every single sound and instrument contributes overall to the beauty of the music and the way the audience perceives it.  The sound of the oboe can be so different from the sound of the violin but they complement each other.  I think multiculturalism is a bit like that. This whole thing about not wanting asylum seekers and refugees coming to the country ... where would Australia be without this diversity? It wouldn’t be such pleasant place to live in.
 
Do you think Australia is multicultural?
Not as multicultural as it would like to think.
 
Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
…women are true leaders that can guide their children and their families to a more fulfilled life.
 
Copyright © 2013 Multicultural Centre for Women's Health, All rights reserved.
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