Invisible Women, Invisible Violence
in the Australian Human Rights landscape
5th March, 2019
ANU PODCAST of lecture HERE
Here below is background text to Khadija’s speech.
The Experiences of CALD women accessing domestic violence services
I will like to start by acknowledging the 69 women killed last year and 2 women killed so far this year as a result of violence, mainly men’s violence in Australia. On average 1 woman a week is murdered by a current or former partner in Australia. Violence against women occurs across the whole of Australian society and is not restricted to any one community. All women and children, regardless of cultural identity, ethnicity, religion or language, have the right to live without the fear or reality of violence.
The term culturally and linguistically Diverse (CALD) refers to people from a range of different countries, races and ethnicities, who speak different languages and follow various religious and political beliefs. This includes refugees, migrants, international students, tourists, asylum seekers etc. The 2016 census shows that nearly 49% of Australians were either born overseas or have at least one parent who was born overseas. There are over 300 languages spoken in Australian homes and over 27% of Australian homes speak languages other than English. Despite making up almost half of the Australian population the CALD community faces gaps in service delivery, data collection, policy and practice guidelines. This creates a significant disconnect between the needs of CALD women accessing domestic violence services and positive service outcomes. Furthermore, the intersectionality of CALD women’s experiences means that they present a level of complexity which can be seen as daunting to service providers, policy makers and program designers. This has resulted in inadequate and one size fit all solutions.
Why CALD women are vulnerable
Many of the migrant and refugee women accessing services have experienced rape, sexual assault, war, civil unrest and other types of conflicts in their lifetime. They may have also spent time in refugee or detention camps. For CALD women, once arrived in Australia other factors such as community pressure, lack of knowledge about rights for victims, racism and discrimination increase their vulnerability. The intersection of these factors can compound the risk, experience and impact of violence on CALD women. Therefore there is a crucial need for specific and targeted effort with communities affected by multiple forms of disadvantage and discrimination and who are experiencing the compounding impact of many risk factors below.
CALD women are considered to be a vulnerable population group based on a range of factors such as;
- Fears about breaches of confidentiality by service providers, including interpreters
- Shame or fear of exclusion from communities can also make it difficult to talk about violence and seek help
- Greater likelihood of being dependent on a visa sponsor (usually a man)
- Lower English language proficiency
- Lower digital literacy
- Lower levels of full-time employment
- Higher levels of employment in insecure, informal and poorly paid jobs
- Cultural practices such as dowry abuse, FGM and early forced marriage
- Complex forms of violence, including dowry abuse, forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) not being treated foremost as forms of gender-based violence
- CALD women account for a disproportionate amount of women with disabilities (one third)
- A lack of established family networks and support systems
- Dealing with the distress of refugee displacement and prior experiences of torture and trauma
- language barriers and social isolation that can limit awareness of rights and available services
- Uncertainty or fear around visa or immigration status
- Limited access to support services for women on certain visas
- The obligation to pursue criminal charges without fear of incriminating family members by seeking assistance
Barriers to accessing services
While CALD women share many issues and experiences in common with other Australian women in relation to domestic violence such as finding affordable accommodation, achieving financial independence, undertaking employment, obtaining legal advice and locating appropriate childcare. However, these difficulties can be exacerbated by factors such as lack of awareness, migration, racism, seeking asylum, access to justice and communication.
Lack of awareness
Awareness and understanding of family, domestic and sexual violence is lower in some communities, particularly in those more recently arrived because information about violence against women has not been accessible nor reached all migrant communities in Australia. Lack of understanding of their rights or the laws in Australia makes CALD women vulnerable. Currently women who arrive through non-humanitarian pathways can be particularly isolated from information regarding Domestic and family violence, as they have limited touch-points with systems or services. This includes spouses of Australians and migrants, who are often dependent on their partner for support when settling in a new country. It also includes international students who often arrive in Australia and are inexperienced in navigating new cultural attitudes towards relationships and sex. Domestic violence services are often not openly discussed among women in CALD communities. This reveals the importance of the dissemination of appropriate and accessible information to CALD communities.
Migration itself can be a trigger point for violence. For example, the ever-present threat of deportation for those on bridging visas and the character test for all migrants, adds to a sense of loss of power, while discouraging victims/survivors from reporting violence. Their lack of access to accurate information compounds this fear. Visa status affects eligibility to access government- funded services and payments, leaving many victims/survivors financially dependent on a perpetrator which may be a partner or other family member or with no personal income at all. Even in circumstances where women on temporary visas who have no income are able to access crisis support services, they have limited pathways to re-establish independence, and often require prolonged assistance from crisis support services. This puts heavy pressures on already limited support services. The newly proposed extension of waiting periods to access many welfare support payments (Encouraging Self-Sufficiency for Newly Arrived Migrants) will leave more women financially dependent on their partners or families, and more vulnerable to violence.
Women seeking asylum in detention centres
The continued use of detention centres is in direct conflict with the Australian government’s commitment to ending violence against women. Women and children in detention are at high risk of family, domestic and sexual violence; there are numerous allegations of sexual harassment and assault in the detention centre in Nauru. This is including reports of rape from the UN Special Rapporteur on Sexual Violence against Women after her visit to Australia in February 2017. The removal of autonomy and the resulting mental health issues from sustained periods of detention, create conditions correlated with higher risks of violence.
Access to justice
Interacting with police and courts is a daunting experience for women from CALD background due to histories of negative interactions with authorities and experiences of discrimination. Complex procedures, systems, questions and forms can be inadequate for women with limited English skills. The engagement of third parties, including family members, to facilitate interpretation usually prevents victims from disclosing.
CALD women often struggle with navigating the realities of an unfamiliar justice system, while also not wanting to disregard their own cultural systems for resolving disputes such family mediation. Engaging with the police also attracts stigma and fear of discrimination. CALD women are therefore risk greater isolation if they choose to engage with the justice system and can be left particularly vulnerable if the response is ineffective. These issues leave CALD women at a distinct disadvantage.
Language barriers continue to be an obstacle to victims/survivors seeking help. From experience I know that even when women may have wanted to disclose an experience, the barrier of language or f having a relative and/or child present as an interpreter has stopped them. Lack of information in languages is another barrier. Even NAATI-certified interpreters can present a barrier if they are from the same community leading to a lack of trust in the confidential treatment of information shared. Women have shared stories of encounters with interpreters who threaten them while they are disclosing confidential information. Telephone interpreters were preferred by participants as they offered greater anonymity however, such services are not consistently offered. The gaps in eligibility for Free Interpreting Services (FIS) and complexity of service delivery further discourage their use.
Racism and discrimination
The experience of racism and discrimination from workers and service providers hinder CALD women’s access to services and support when needed. Examples of racist comments and attitudes include inappropriate questions about family structure, cultural or spiritual beliefs, or workers using statements such as, “you have been here long enough to speak English, your men are more violent, next time date a white man, this is normal for your culture, this is how your culture is so we can’t help you”. It should be recognised that the Western way of life and the values on which it is founded are just one of many worldviews. It is important to address attitudes that prioritise Western values and judge other cultures as “inferior” and inherently violent. Such bias and prejudice in addition to being offensive towards the clients community and culture, may contribute to minimising and dismissing CALD women’s experience of domestic and family violence.
Working with CALD women requires an intersectional approach which acknowledges a diversity of needs across all domestic violence priority areas and includes the need for comprehensive data collection and further research on the experiences of CALD women. This approach will inform the gaps in service provision and knowledge which directly impacts on policy, program and service delivery. Intersectional best practice will also ensure that service delivery is practised in an individualised, inclusive, empowering and strength-based manner.
The recent high profile case of Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Mutlaq Alqunun seeking refuge in Australia brings much needed attention to dangers women face in an international context. Once here, however, women in culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities face enormous barriers to accessing domestic violence services. They are invisible in many ways, being under represented in data collection, disempowered by a lack of awareness of our health and social support systems and access barriers. They are rendered mute due to poor language proficiency, discrimination and community backlash. Victims face an increasingly hostile social policy framework that has set up significant delays in access to government-funded health and welfare payments and/or services.
Khadija Gbla is a very passionate and inspiring African Australian woman. She is an award winning human rights activist, inspirational speaker, facilitator and consultant. She has displayed great courage and determination in achieving her aspirations of giving women, youth and minority groups a voice at a local, state and international level. Khadija utilises her powerful and inspired voice to advocate equality.
Khadija provides advocacy, training, speaking on domestic and family violence, racism, human rights, refugees and cultural diversity through her cultural consultancy. She is the survivor advocate protecting Australian girls from FGM and supporting survivors of FGM. She has represented Australia in the international arena at the Harvard National Model United Nations, Commonwealth Youth Forum and Australian and Africa Dialogue, Commonwealth heads of States Women’s Forum etc. She has displayed great courage and determination in achieving her aspirations of giving women, youth and minority groups a voice at a local, state and international level.
She is an Ambassador for Our Watch, an organisation established to change attitudes of violence towards women and their children, and member of Harmony Alliance -Migrant and Refugee Women for Change aims to provide a national inclusive and informed voice on the multiplicity of issues impacting the experiences and outcomes of migrant and refugee women in Australia.
Khadija has been recognized through numerous awards for her vision and leadership, including 2017 cosmopolitan magazine women of the year finalist, 2016 women’s Weekly and Qantas Women of the Future finalist, 2016 AusMumpreneur Rising Star and Making a difference –non-profit Award, 2014 The Advertiser South Australia’s 50 most Influential Women, 2013 Madison Magazine Australia’s top 100 inspiring Women, 2013 Amnesty International Human Rights Activists to watch out in 2013, 2011 State, Finalist Young Australian of the Year just to name a few.