Tuesday, 13 March 2012
National Women's Alliances
Last Thursday, as we all know, around this nation and the world we celebrated International Women's Day. I want to take the opportunity to talk about this government's initiative of creating the national women's alliances which came into effect back in May 2010. A good way to start my speech is to publicly congratulate Minister Lundy, another fantastic woman elevated to the ministry in the Gillard Labor government. It is a great week for us to celebrate that as well.
The national women's alliances are programs with a new approach to engaging with the women's sector in Australia. The alliances are funded to take the lead in ensuring that the voices of as many women as possible are heard, especially those who in the past have found it difficult to engage in advocacy, policy development and decision making. The role of the alliances is twofold. First, they bring together women's organisations and individuals from across Australia to share information, identify issues that affect them and identify solutions. Second, they actively engage with the Australian government on policy issues as part of a better, more informed and representative dialogue between women and government. The alliances' programs differ from the previous national women's secretariats' model because the alliances are encouraged to advocate on behalf of women, to collaborate with one another, to actively engage with all relevant ministers and community departments and to influence policy making to deliver improved gender equality. The alliances bring together women from close to 150 women's organisations in this country, as well as individual women representing a range of social, economic and cultural backgrounds.
There are three issues based alliances—they are the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance which addresses issues of women's safety and elimination of violence, the Economic Security 4 Women which focuses on improving women's economic security and financial independence and the Equality Rights Alliance which addresses gender equality and leadership issues. There are three stakeholder based alliances, one of them being the National Rural Women's Coalition and Network which provides a voice for more than 250,000 women in rural and regional Australia. This alliance fulfils the government's election commitment to establish the National Rural Women's Network. There is also the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women's Alliance, a newly formed alliance which provides Indigenous women with a strong voice in government and decision making.
I want to talk about the third of those stakeholder based alliances—that is, the Australian Immigrant and Refugee Women's Alliance. This is an alliance which engages with and advocates on behalf of immigrant and refugee women, with a particular focus on building leadership and advocacy skills amongst its members. This alliance is focused on lifting the status of immigrant and refugee women through a unified and national front, raising awareness of their issues, advocating for change on behalf of this culturally and linguistically diverse group of women. They do some great work, but I probably do not have enough time to outline in detail the work that the alliance, AIRWA as it is known, do.
For example, in the last 12 months they have expanded and strengthened their leadership training program for young immigrant and refugee women, developed a policy paper on women in precarious employment, conducted a lobbying campaign—as we well know—to get the government to sign the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, provided support and training materials to Asian women at work, produced a research report examining migrant and refugee women who are disengaged from the labour force and responded to emerging issues as needed. In particular, people may know a bit about this alliance if they have seen the In Her Shoes advertisements. They are the result of the preparation of an online social media and print advertising campaign that highlights the adversity immigrant and refugee women face as they integrate into Australian society. These advertisements are now in magazines such as the March edition of Marie Claire and the current edition of Frankie. I think I also saw an In Her Shoes advertisement on the back page of the Weekly when I read it the other day.
On 1 March in this place I had the pleasure of hosting a roundtable on young immigrant and refugee women's issues that was initiated by AIRWA. All members of this parliament were invited to attend this round table and there were representatives from across this parliament, from the coalition and the Greens in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Men and women came to this round table. The chair of AIRWA, Vivi Germanos-Koutsounadis, was there. It was great to see two women from the Northern Territory, Emcille Cada, or Em as she introduces herself, from Sanderson Middle School and Mahongo Fumbelo who works at WISE Employment. They are two great immigrant women from the Northern Territory who joined us on that day. It was a pleasure to have Minister Lundy there. She had a chance to promote the booklet called 'Getting started: women refugees in Australia'. It is a collection of personal stories of remarkable woman and their involvement in volunteering, education and their local communities, stories of their resolve to build a new life for themselves and their families. Of course, Australia remains one of only three countries—the others being Canada and New Zealand—that manages a dedicated refugee resettlement program for women and their families. Since 1989 the Woman at Risk visa subclass 204 has helped protect more than 11,000 women in this country.
I want to very quickly run through some of the issues that were raised during the one-hour roundtable that we had. We had a presentation from young immigrant and refugee women from Victoria and Western Australia, who were the predominant spokespeople on that day. They talked about the need to empower these women and the lack of incentives and opportunity for leadership training. Leadership is often embedded in the cultures from which they come but for women it is a much harder concept or it is much harder to get the confidence to do that. So they wanted more assistance for teachers in schools to encourage and understand the role of girls—where, for example, culturally, after school and at the end of the day, they are expected to undertake the chores in the household, when there would be an expectation from the school that homework would be undertaken—and to understand how teachers in schools could deal with that.
The women wanted quotas for young CALD women—women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds—in government internships. In other words, they wanted a quota system for women from those backgrounds in the internships and then a quota for a guarantee of employment.
The women particularly raised the issue of sexual and reproductive health, the full costs of health care and the impact that this has on the lives of these women as they try to integrate with and get to know a new culture. They raised the issue of a booklet being produced on services and how the whole system operates, so that women can have a roadmap in front of them about how they negotiate getting advice about sexual and reproductive health matters. There also raised the issue of a subsidy for those on temporary visas, so that reproductive health would not be a big issue for them; so that they would be assisted.
The women raised the issue of media images of young children being culturally appropriate, the lack of access to services if you are on a different visa and support for child care—for example, they are trying to study, yet they might be on a bridging visa or some other visa that does not entitle them to the full benefits of accessing child care. They talked about safety for international students, but predominantly they talked about how their skills are undervalued and that there is a need for this country to get a dose of cultural reality and the need for Australia to be more representative across all fields.
I want to say that we are interested in how we can better support and assist people arriving from countries and becoming new Australians. I congratulate those who attended the roundtable and encourage them to remain passionate and keen to ensure that the government does what it can to support them in their causes.