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23 Sep 2021


From the CEO: The sharp edge of gender inequality and the need for specialised services

While every woman and girl is at risk of facing gender-based violence, the experiences and challenges of women are not uniform. Intersectional factors, including visa-status, cultural background, and disability, can layer and increase their risk of harm.

The need to consider intersectional risk factors and ensure access to specialised services at all stages of our response was the key message SSI promoted at the National Summit on Women’s Safety, held earlier this month.

Astrid Perry OAM, Head of Women Equity and DFV, contributed to roundtables and the summit, alongside organisations such as the Harmony Alliance, to ensure migrant and refugee women are kept front of mind in the development of our next national plan.

Astrid’s message to the Summit was simple – to have any success in reducing DFV in Australia, we must imbed into our national plan specialised multicultural and services, free access to interpreters, and emergency support for women on temporary visas.

A recent study by Harmony Alliance and Monash University found one in three women from migrant and refugee backgrounds have experienced domestic violence in the past 12 months, with women living on temporary visas at even greater risk.

As for First Nations women and women living with disability, structural and societal systems can impound the psychological, financial, and physical impact of DFV for women from migrant backgrounds.

Compounding and contributing to the cumulative risk for culturally diverse victims are racist beliefs, cultural barriers, immigration pathways, visa status, language barriers, multi-perpetrator violence, and a limited understanding of a poorly equipped and complex service system.

The effect of these factors is illustrated in the experience of Lillian, a migrant woman who experienced abuse at the hands of her Australian partner. Cultural isolation and visa issues contributed to the impact of her partner’s coercive control, while her language difficulties prevented her from being heard by responders, reinforcing the power of her abuser.

A specialist lens and resource allocation, including nationwide access to interpreters and greater training for first responders, would go a long way in ensuring equity in access to adequate support for women like Lillian.

The SSI Group has experience in delivering specialised DFV services in New South Wales and Queensland. Through this we have seen the immense value of tailored programs that take into consideration the unique experiences and challenges of newcomers.

We have partnered with Relationships NSW to deliver an in-culture and in-language men’s behaviour change program, Building Stronger Families, and deliver the 99 Steps program in Queensland.

This year we also began delivering Supporting U, a project that equips women leaders from diverse backgrounds with the skills and support they need to be social responders to DFV within their communities.

Over the past year these programs have supported almost 300 women, men, families, and their communities to prevent, address, and reduce DFV.

While these programs are impactful and immensely valuable, a coordinated nationwide response is needed to create greater change.

With almost 50 per cent of the Australian population born overseas, or having a parent that was born overseas, it is not adequate to consider the needs and experiences of culturally and linguistically diverse people as an afterthought or add on.

To ensure all Australians are supported to live a life free from DFV, our new National Plan must meaningfully address the experiences migrant and refugee women across all stages of our approach, including prevention, intervention, response, and recovery.

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