Day 10: In her shoes

Whilst the prevalence of violence against women traverses cultural, linguistic, racial, religious and socio-economic boundaries affecting 1 in 3 women no matter where they are in the world or with which culture they identify, a range of factors converge such that culturally and linguistically diverse women are often especially vulnerable to violence. The barriers CALD women experience include: racism and discrimination; a lack of proficiency or confidence in English combined with a limited provision of materials in languages other than English; family and community pressures; social isolation; a limited awareness of rights and where and how to seek help; uncertain residency and prohibitions to travel; lack of income and social support; fear of having their communities vilified and/or pathologised; and a limited provision, in the first place, of services willing or able to be of assistance.

On top of the barriers that come from being a part of ‘not the mainstream’ culture or language group, CALD women often have to overcome stereotypes, discrimination, racism and misplaced cultural sensitivity which can make it very hard, not just to come forward, but for their voices to be heard or understood when they do. Along with this comes fraught issues for women who choose to speak out against violence in their own communities: when they do, they are seen to be bringing their own community into disrepute and, too often, the response from the mainstream is to blame their culture (rather than holding the perpetrator accountable), while exempting our own culture (clearly far from true, as statistics only too readily affirm, not to mention far from helpful). The fear of their testimony providing further reinforcement to an already unjust and discriminatory stereotype of their culture creates a very significant, and distressing, barrier for CALD women.

One initiative run recently seeking to bring the experiences of CALD women into the mainstream, to provide a dialogue around the rights and needs of CALD women, in their own words is the In Her Shoes campaign, run by the Australian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance (AIRWA) – now Network of Immigrant & Refugee Women Australia (NIRWA). For International Women’s Day they produced a series of videos with Australian CALD women talking about a range of experiences and setting right, in their own words, the misrepresentations and misunderstandings that too often precede, and prevent us hearing, their own words. To see the full set of videos click here or here.

Undoubtedly much, much more needs to be done by Australian governments, services, communities and society to better support CALD women, broadly speaking, and when it comes to the experience of violence. This was an issue of particular interest for the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women during her recent study tour of Australia. You can read her report and recommendations here.

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