Music, romance, violence: The power of celebrity

This article was written by Mae Bajouri during her week-long work experience placement with WCHM back in September. Being a pop music fan, Mae took the opportunity to combine her interests with one of WCHM’s key areas of work: the prevention of violence against women. Mae is about to complete year 10, so we thought we would celebrate by featuring her article. Well done Mae, and keep up the great writing!

He was her first real love, they seemed to be happy in public, they were said to have a fairytale romance, RnB’s hottest couple: Rihanna and Chris Brown. Everything was going so well for the nineteen and twenty year old singers, so where did it all go wrong?

It was the early hours of Sunday February 8 2009, the day of the prestigious Grammy awards. According to police affidavit Chris Brown received a text message from another woman; Rihanna saw the text, became upset and the couple began to argue (Michaels, 2009). The argument continued on the couple’s way home where it is alleged that Brown became physically violent against Rihanna. Brown pulled into a residential area, parked the car, continued the assault and left Rihanna bloodied and bruised (Marikar, 2009; Michaels, 2009; Rush and Dillon, 2009).

Despite the fact that Chris Brown pleaded guilty to the assault, received five years probation and completed 1,400 hours of community service (Duke and Rowlands, 2009; Michaels, 2009), his career was not affected at all. In fact some of his fans posted commentary online suggesting that Rihanna must have been at fault. In 2006 Chris Brown gave an interview with MTV saying that as a child he was surrounded by domestic abuse and that this experience had taught him that he wanted to treat women well. He proclaimed to feel hate for anyone that disrespects women (Kaufman, 2009; Goldstein, 2009).

But what happened to Rihanna? After the assault she said to the media: “Domestic violence is a big secret. Women will hide it because they think it’s embarrassing [but] my story was broadcast all over the world for people to see, they followed every step of my recovery” (ABC News, 2009). She also stated that one positive impact of her experience was that young women could learn from it. The assault didn’t stop Rihanna from doing well in her music career either; since then she has released two albums—of which she has sold over twenty million copies worldwide—has been on the billboard hits twenty times and has collaborated with hit music artists like Eminem, Kanye West and Jay-Z. It can be said her music has not changed since the assault, if anything, it has become provocative and Rihanna has become a true sex icon around the world. It’s worth noting that although her songs may have become more sexaulised since her assault, she presents herself as a very powerful woman, which may be as a result of her experience. It may also just be a result of her getting older and wiser.

Rihanna only ever gave one interview about the assault—nine months after—with Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America. Her intention for giving this interview was for the young women and girls that look up to her to know that what her former boyfriend did was not right. She said that she felt ashamed and embarrassed that she let herself fall in love with him but recognised that the violence was not her fault, it was uncontrollable. “This happened to me. I didn’t cause this. I didn’t do it…I’ll say to any young girl who is going through domestic violence don’t react off of love. F love. Come out of the situation and look at it third person and for what it really is and then make your decision, because love is so blind” (ABC News, 2009). Rihanna also said that she would never go back to Chris Brown because she would not want to set an example for young women to stay with violent partners (ABC News, 2009). Rihanna admitted that Brown had been physically violent toward her before the reported attack but that she went back to him, which she felt was a mistake.

Nevertheless, Rihanna feels the pressure of being a role model to young women. When Rihanna and Chris Brown started to follow each other on Twitter, one woman who followed Rhianna commented “I never thought you would go back to him! You better not, it’s your life but you do have people who look up to you e.g. young girls”. Rihanna responded to this by saying “It’s f***** Twitter not the altar” (MTV Networks, 2011).

As a young woman myself I feel that it is never okay to hit a woman. Or anyone at all for that matter. I think it is a very bad idea for Rihanna to take Chris Brown back because no matter how much he apologises he may never change and there is always the possibility that he will be physically violent again. If they are back together young women will think that it is okay to let a man hit you or to give one a second chance, but it never is. Before the assault Chris Brown said that he would never hit a woman, but he did, so how can he be trusted not to do it again?

References

  1. Alan Duke and Ted Rowlands, “Chris Brown pleads guilty in Rihanna assault case”, CNN Entertainment, 22 June 2009, http://articles.cnn.com/2009-06-22/entertainment/chris.brown.hearing_1_robyn-rihanna-fenty-schnegg-chris-brown?_s=PM:SHOWBIZ
  2. American Broadcasting Corporation, Rihanna Speaks Out, 9 November 2009, http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=9020947
  3. George Rush and Nancy Dillon, “Rihanna & Chris Brown fight started over text message from other woman”, NY Daily News, 10 February 2009, http://articles.nydailynews.com/2009-02-10/gossip/17915932_1_cops-text-message-witness
  4. Gil Kaufman, “Chris Brown Haunted By Family’s History Of Domestic Violence”, MTV News, 10 February 2009, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1604730/chris-browns-family-has-history-domestic-abuse.jhtml
  5. Melissa Goldstein, “Chris Brown and Rihanna: The Whole Story”, SPIN, 12 February 2009, http://www.spin.com/articles/chris-brown-and-rihanna-whole-story
  6. MTV News, Rihanna And Chris Brown Back Together Again…On Twitter?, 16 May 2011, http://rapfix.mtv.com/2011/05/16/rihanna-and-chris-brown-back-together-again-on-twitter/
  7. Sean Michaels, “Chris Brown pleads guilty to Rihanna assault”, Guardian, 23 June 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/jun/23/chris-brown-pleads-guilty
  8. Sheila Marikar, Report: Rihanna Tells Cops Brown’s Hit Her Before, 12 February 2009, http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/WinterConcert/story?id=6863344&page=1#.TsCX6fJL-Uk

National Women’s Matters

“The system failed to keep me safe”: Sexual assault in an institutional context

Annelise Roberts, WCHM Community Development Worker

A series of alleged sexual assaults in Victoria’s mental health system have recently surfaced, making headlines around the country. One of the alleged victims has been calling for the mental health service she was assaulted in to acknowledge that it failed in its duty of care, saying that “the system failed … to keep me safe” (Baker & McKenzie, 2011).

Unfortunately, institutions (such as prisons and psychiatric inpatient units) do not have a history of creating environments where women can feel safe and supported. A recent report by the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault highlights that, historically, the institution was a “disciplinary site” that operated partly to forcibly ‘correct’ women who failed to perform a socially acceptable femininity (Clark & Fileborn, 2011). In light of this historical background, it’s not surprising that current research shows that women have “frequently” been sexually abused while housed in institutions, and that women living in an institutional setting are also more likely to have a history of sexual abuse (Clark & Fileborn, 2011). What’s more, the environment of institutional control and the loss of individual autonomy not only make it difficult for incidents of sexual assault to be recognised and responded to, but may also be “re-traumatising or abusive” for women with backgrounds of sexual assault (Clark & Fileborn, 2011).

Given the likelihood that a significant proportion of women inmates in any institution will have experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives, it is crucial that institutions develop ways to support and be sensitive to the needs of survivors, and avoid practices that could potentially be re-traumatising (such as strip searching, solitary confinement, or forced medication). As the Victorian case studies demonstrate, there is also an urgent need to ensure that advocacy and complaints mechanisms are adequate to address any incidents of sexual violence which happen within the walls of an institution.

The institutional experience can be immensely disempowering for many women—at the very least, they deserve to be listened to, to be supported, and to feel safe.

References
1. Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie, Mental health service accused of rape cover-up, The Age Online, 2011, http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/mental-health-service-accused-of-rape-coverup-20111106-1n21n.html
2. Haley Clark and Bianca Fileborn, “Responding to women’s experiences of sexual assault in institutional and care settings”, Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault Wrap 10, 2011

Mental health and sexual violence: what’s the link?

Laura Pound, WCHM Project Worker (Mental Health)

In Australia, one in five people will have a mental health issue over their lifetime. One in five women has also experienced sexual violence. But what is the link between these–more common than we would like–health and wellbeing issues for women?

Recently, the media has reported on several separate incidents alleging that women were sexually assaulted while in the care of mental health services in Victoria (Cooper, 2011; Baker & McKenzie, 2011; McKenzie & Baker, 2011). These reports, and others that have gone before them, raise questions about both the safety of women in mental health care, and the supports provided to them and protocols if a sexual assault does occur.

What receives less media attention is the growing body of evidence highlighting how women are more likely to experience mental—and physical—health issues after sexual assault. Physically, women who have been the victim of sexual violence are more likely to have high blood pressure, sleeping problems and neck pain (Rettner, 2011). However, these symptoms are likely to be somatic, or in other words, a physical expression of women’s high stress levels and mental wellbeing (Rettner, 2011).

Studies have also found that women who have experienced sexual violence are more likely to experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attempt suicide (Rettner, 2011). In fact, 89 percent of women who have experienced gender-based violence (compared to 28 percent who have not) will experience a mental health issue over their lifetime (Creagh, 2011). These are just some of the health and wellbeing responses to trauma for women who are sexual assault survivors.

It is alarming that women are at risk of sexual assault when seeking treatment or recovering with a mental health issue in hospital care. We should also remain aware that sexual violence has serious and long lasting impacts on women’s mental health. These relationships between incidences of mental health and sexual assault for women reinforces why it is so important for health and wellbeing services to be sensitive to the gender specific safety and support women require.

Stay tuned for more information about a Summer of Respect forum in February 2012 which will further explore the relationships between mental health, sexual violence and institutionalisation. See http://www.facebook.com/summerofrespect.

References

  1. Baker, R. & McKenzie, N., “Mental health service accused of rape cover-up”, The Age, 7 November 2011, http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/mental-health-service-accused-of-rape-coverup-20111106-1n21n.html
  2. Cooper, M., “Hospital failed sex attack victim: mother”, The Age, 9 November 2011, http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/hospital-failed-sex-attack-victim-mother-20111108-1n5lj.html
  3. Creagh, S., Repeat violence can boost women’s mental health risk to almost 90%, 3 August 2011, http://theconversation.edu.au/repeat-violence-can-boost-womens-mental-health-risk-to-almost-90-2653
  4. McKenzie, N. & Baker, R., “Health service admits fault in sex assault”, The Age, 8 November 2011, http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/health-service-admits-fault-in-sex-assault-20111107-1n3x9.html
  5. Rettner, R., 6 Ways sexual harassment damages women’s health, 9 November 2011, http://www.myhealthnewsdaily.com/sexual-harassment-health-effects-2101/

Violence against women with disabilities in group homes

Nicole O’Callaghan, Women With Disabilities ACT (WWDACT) Administration and Policy Officer

A possible outcome of the Commonwealth Government’s proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is an increase in the availability of accommodation in group homes—small, residential facilities set within the community.

Individuals with mental health issues or high-support needs—those most vulnerable and marginalised—are the most likely to be placed in group home accommodation. This can be beneficial as all services are provided in one location and service delivery is reliable.

However, there is another, often unreported, reality to life in group homes: violence. Cases of violence in group homes are sporadically reported on in the media, however, with women with disabilities and the violence perpetrated against them not being a sexy subject, it is not in the media spotlight as often as it occurs.

So the question is: is housing people in this style of accommodation, even with the aim for them to have their specialised needs covered, really a good idea? Governments obviously think so, or else why would group homes still exist? Thirty or forty years ago, having people located in a single home was extremely beneficial and efficient. However, in light of what we know about the risks to personal safety associated with group home accommodation, does group home accommodation really meet the needs of the vulnerable individuals it sets out to?

It can be argued that people with disabilities who are placed in group homes are having their physical, emotional and intellectual/cognitive needs met under a social obligation held by all Australians. Surely Australia is just being a good global citizen, meeting their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

This may not be the case, however, as article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is not being met. Both of these conventions recognise, and specifically make allowances for, the inherent vulnerability of women and girls. For this recognition alone, it can be argued that Australia should no longer have group homes.

Gender is not a particularly prevalent angle within the current format of the NDIS, nor is the issue of violence against vulnerable people in residential facilities. Women with disabilities have been subject to physical, emotional and intellectual violence, in group home residential facilities. The current format of the NDIS does not make mention of the sensitive nature of women with disabilities in these current group home facilities or any future group home residential facility.

Many people do not realise that violence doesn’t only come in the physical form. Emotional and intellectual violence can often be more harmful and detrimental to an individual. Women with disabilities, violence and the availability of places within group homes as a result of the inevitable rollout of the NDIS require much attention. It does not suffice to just sit meekly back and watch while one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in society are left unprotected.

With the full roll-out of the NDIS, the placement of women with disabilities in group homes needs to be fiercely monitored, by all organisations and governments.

White Ribbon Day: Men preventing violence against women

Jac Torres Gomez, WCHM Project Worker (Older Women’s Safety Audits)

During November, the work of men all around the country in actively preventing violence against women is highlighted through the annual White Ribbon Day campaign.

The White Ribbon Organisation, which supports primary prevention initiatives and the annual campaign, believes in the capacity of the individual to change and to encourage change in others. And that this change needs to come from men themselves.

But one must stop and ask why it is men’s business anyway? Shouldn’t men and women have an equal role in working to prevent violence against women?

Most boys and men are not violent. Many men have loving and respectful relations with women. And most men share the belief that physical or sexual violence against women is never acceptable.

Thus, most men do know the difference between right and wrong, and do have the capacity to speak up. It’s true that when a man speaks up against another man’s act of violence against a woman, he may put his own safety at risk. However, if a man is verbally abusing his female partner in public, of the men or the women witnessing this violence, who has the responsibility to step up and speak out?

Men are often better placed to speak up and say something and change the attitudes and behaviours that lead to men’s violence against women. When men speak out about stopping violence against women, other men are more likely to take notice from these role models and listen. We often identify with and take notice of our own gender group because it is who we are.

Men have the opportunity to show personal leadership on this issue. As mentioned above, it is about that capacity of the individual to change and to encourage change in others. The prevention of violence really is men’s business—it is the business of men supporting men to know that being violent to women is not ‘manly’ and ok.

It is men’s responsibility to show other men that they will not be considered ‘less’ of a man if they choose to prevent or not engage in violence against women.

White Ribbon Campaign is an example of men making the prevention of violence against women their business. Speak up. It’s your business.

Find out more: http://www.whiteribbon.org.au


ACT Women’s Matters

Summer of Respect

Annelise Roberts, WCHM Community Development Worker

The ACT Women’s Services Network’s Summer of Respect anti-sexual violence campaign is well underway!

Summer of Respect is a string of events and public awareness initiatives, starting with Reclaim the Night in October 2011 and finishing up on International Women’s Day in March 2012. The aim is to create a sustained conversation in the ACT community about sexual violence and its continued impact on the lives of so many community members, with a focus on respectful relationships and strong supportive communities.

Summer of Respect is being hosted because it’s wrong that sexual violence still happens in our community. It affects almost 1 in 5 Australian women. And it knows no geographical, socioeconomic, age, ability, cultural or religious boundaries.

Respect is about listening, understanding, communicating, being considerate, and valuing difference. Respectful relationships support individuals, strengthen communities, and help to keep women, children, and men safe from violence and abuse. In a world where everyone practices respectful relationships, there is no place for sexual violence.

Throughout the Summer of Respect campaign there will be many opportunities for the public to engage with activities, issues, and conversations around sexual violence and respect. Visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/summerofrespect to view the calendar of events, participate in conversations, and find out more about sexual violence and respect. If you can’t access Facebook and would like a list of upcoming Summer of Respect events click here.

Let’s have the conversation about respectful relationships.
Let’s have the conversation about ending sexual violence.

If you would like to know more about or get involved in the ACTWSN Summer of Respect please call Angela Carnovale or Annelise Roberts on 6290 2166 or email a.carnovale@wchm.org.au or a.roberts@wchm.org.au.

The ACT Women’s Services Network’s Summer of Respect anti-sexual violence campaign is well underway! Summer of Respect is a string of events and public awareness initiatives, starting with Reclaim the Night in October 2011 and finishing up on International Women’s Day in March 2012. The aim is to create a sustained conversation in the ACT community about sexual violence and its continued impact on the lives of so many community members, with a focus on respectful relationships and strong supportive communities.Summer of Respect is being hosted because it’s wrong that sexual violence still happens in our community. It affects almost 1 in 5 Australian women. And it knows no geographical, socioeconomic, age, ability, cultural or religious boundaries. Respect is about listening, understanding, communicating, being considerate, and valuing difference. Respectful relationships support individuals, strengthen communities, and help to keep women, children, and men safe from violence and abuse. In a world where everyone practices respectful relationships, there is no place for sexual violence.Throughout the Summer of Respect campaign there will be many opportunities for the public to engage with activities, issues, and conversations around sexual violence and respect. Visit our Facebook page at to view the calendar of events, participate in conversations, and find out more about sexual violence and respect. If you can’t access Facebook and would like a list of upcoming Summer of Respect events click .Let’s have the conversation about respectful relationships. Let’s have the conversation about ending sexual violence.If you would like to know more about or get involved in the ACTWSN Summer of Respect please call Angela Carnovale or Annelise Roberts on 6290 2166 or email or Angela on a.carnovale@wchm.org.au or Annelise on a.roberts@wchm.org.au.

WWDACT’s contribution to the Inquiry on Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws

Emilia Della Torre, WWDACT Policy and Projects Officer

Recently, WWDACT contributed to the theme of women and violence and made a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) Inquiry on Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws. This Inquiry contributes to the Australian Government’s commitment to reduce “all violence in our communities” and to the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.

Women and girls with disabilities have a special interest in the issue of family/domestic violence. There are many settings in which women and girls with disabilities experience violence including the family home, group homes, institutions, hospitals, respite care facilities, and day activity centres.

Research indicates that violence against women and girls with disabilities is a problem, and that compared to non-disabled women and girls, women and girls with disabilities:

Recently, WWDACT contributed to the theme of women and violence and made a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) Inquiry on Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws. This Inquiry contributes to the Australian Government’s commitment to reduce “all violence in our communities” and to the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children. Women and girls with disabilities have a special interest in the issue of family/domestic violence. There are many settings in which women and girls with disabilities experience violence including the family home, group homes, institutions, hospitals, respite care facilities, and day activity centres. Research indicates that violence against women and girls with disabilities is a problem, and that compared to non-disabled women and girls, women and girls with disabilities:

  • Experience violence at higher rates and more frequently
  • Are at a significantly higher risk of violence
  • Have considerably fewer pathways to safety
  • Tend to be subjected to violence for significantly longer periods of time
  • Experience violence that is more diverse in nature
  • Experience violence at the hands of a greater number of perpetrators (WCHM, 2010).

One of the key issues to arise from consultation with WWDACT members was the question the inquiry raised about privacy. WWDACT acknowledges that—particularly when issues of family and domestic violence concern girls with a disability—it may be in the best interests of the child to suppress the identity of alleged victims and perpetrators of family and domestic violence. We also acknowledge that allegations of family violence may damage the reputation of an alleged perpetrator of violence, particularly if those allegations are subsequently proven to be false (or at least not capable of being proven true). However, the overall experiences and views of our members is that perpetrators of family and domestic violence are often unnecessarily protected by privacy concerns.

The following extract was sent to WWDACT by one of the members of our national organisation Women With Disabilties Australia (WWDA):

Hi Sue,
i have no problem with you using anything i have written, to be used for the purposes you have outlined. I would prefer that at least my first name be included, if for ‘legal’ reasons my full name can’t be, (i have come across this form of silencing before!!!) …then this is ok too.
Why do i prefer my first name to be included?
Because, as a survivor of over 30 years of DV, 16 years of DV [Domestic Violence], SA [Sexual Assault] and other abuses in family of origin, the rest in marriage, then de-facto relationships, i have finally come to understand, that i need have no shame, or reason to hide. That the only persons my silence and/or anonymity protects, is [sic] the perpetrators. …
thanks for asking to include my voice, i am happy to be heard!!
warm regards
Aquillion

The WWDACT submission will be published on the ALRC website at http://www.alrc.gov.au/inquiries/family-violence-and-commonwealth-laws/submissions-received-alrc. The need for this inquiry was highlighted by the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children in their report, Time for Action in 2009. The 2010 ALRC and NSW Law Reform Commission review (not yet publicly available) of the Family Law Act 1975 affirmed the need for examination of Commonwealth laws that have an impact on the safety of women and children. The Commonwealth laws under scrutiny include child support and family assistance law, immigration law, employment law, social security law, superannuation law and privacy provisions in relation to those experiencing family/domestic violence.

References
1. WCHM, Women With Disabilities Accessing Crisis Services: A project to assist domestic violence/crisis services in the ACT to better support women with disabilities who are escaping domestic and family violence, 2009, http://www.wchm.org.au/Women-With-Disabilities-Publications


WCHM Matters

Reclaim the night

The Women’s Centre for Health Matters was involved in coordinating this year’s Reclaim the Night, in conjunction with the ACT Women’s Services Network. Canberra’s 2011 Reclaim the Night event was conceived as an opportunity for community members to share their stories and messages of support around the issue of sexual violence. Around 200 women, men and children gathered in Garema Place on the evening of Friday October 28 to lend their voices to the Reclaim message: everyone has the right to live free from the fear and reality of sexual violence.

The night opened with speeches from Delephene Fraser (daughter of local Ngunnawal Elder Aunty Jeanette Phillips), Di Collins (Deputy Chair of the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body), and Chrystina Stanford (Executive Director of Canberra Rape Crisis Centre). A performance from local women’s drumming group Purrcussion was particularly popular with the pint-sized members of the crowd. Then followed the traditional march through the streets of Civic.

The focus of the event, however, was an installation conceived by local artist Helani Laisk. ‘Story Tree’ was painstakingly constructed by a dedicated gang of women and men volunteers, and was designed as a showcase for stories of survivors of sexual assault. On the night, crowd members were able to write their own stories or messages of support on a leaf and hang it from the tree. By the end of the evening the tree was covered with all kinds of stories, drawings, and letters of commemoration, confession, encouragement, and hope. One participant wrote:

I am the only [female] in my family lucky enough NOT to have been raped or sexually abused. I come to RECLAIM every year holding them in my heart … So I am here making noise, taking up space, maybe one day all of us can be here together, restored and strong. … Thank you for giving me a way to connect with [my family members’] pain.


WCHM Women at Work

Projects

empower

The Women’s Centre for Health Matters is working in conjunction with the Health Care Consumer’s Association to deliver empower, a pilot leadership training program for CALD women and older women of any background. empower is about giving women from these groups the opportunity to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to get involved in leadership and decision-making roles across the ACT, such as the Boards of community organisations, ACT Government consultations and ACT Government committees.

The empower training will run in February 2012 (dates and location TBA), and will cover things like:

  • Understanding Boards
  • Speaking at meetings
  • Being confident
  • How to get the views of your community heard
  • Understanding the roles of consumer representatives
  • How ACT Government consultations and committees work
  • And much more!

At the end of the training, there is the opportunity to be connected with people from Government, business, or the community sector, who can link participants to opportunities on local Boards, Government consumer committees, or community consultations.

We are currently recruiting participants for the empower training. If you are a CALD woman or an older woman from any background, or you know friends, family members, clients, or community members who would be interested, then get in touch with Annelise Roberts on 6290 2166 or a.roberts@wchm.org.au.

Forgotten Australians project

As part of our work advocating for institutionalised women, WCHM is supporting women who are Forgotten Australians in the ACT.

Who are the Forgotten Australians?
The Forgotten Australians are approximately 500,000 Indigenous, non-Indigenous and former child migrant adults who were incarcerated as children in church, charity and state run orphanages, reformatories, training schools, psychiatric hospitals, children’s homes and in foster care during the 20th century from the 1930s – 1990s.

Commemoration of the Apology
On Wednesday the 16th of November, WCHM partnered with Forgotten Australian Wilma Robb, ACT Women And Prisons Group (WAP) and Woden Community Services to support the 2nd Anniversary of the Apology by the Australian Parliament to the Forgotten Australians. We gathered in Civic Square to listen to ACT and Federal politicians and Forgotten Australians speak about why the apology that acknowledged the trauma and abuse Forgotten Australians experienced was so important, and why more must be done to support Forgotten Australians today, including better access to social and health services. We then visited the opening day of the exhibition at the National Museum of Australia, INSIDE: Life in Children’s Homes.

WCHM literature review

To commemorate the 2nd Anniversary of the Apology to the Forgotten Australians, WCHM has published The experiences of Women Forgotten Australians and Care Leavers: A literature review on our website. It provides an outline of research relevant to the Forgotten Australians, their experiences and continuing needs. WCHM will continue to take steps to raise awareness of the issues affecting the health and wellbeing of Forgotten Australians in the ACT, including the release of more WCHM research into this area.

Addressing the accessibility needs of women with disabilities experiencing violence

Research shows that while women with disabilities are at higher risk of experiencing violence, they tend not to access domestic violence crisis services because these services are often inaccessible to them, or unable to meet their needs.As a result, WCHM, Women With Disabilities ACT and Advocacy for Inclusion (with funding from the ACT Health Promotion Grants Program) have been jointly coordinating a pilot training program that aims to increase the accessibility of domestic violence crisis service organisations for women with disabilities escaping domestic violence. Participating services will receive inclusion and awareness training to learn about the specific needs of women clients with disabilities, and ways to increase the accessibility and inclusiveness of their service.

It is hoped that the training package will increase understanding and lead to a behavioural change in domestic violence/crisis service employees, as well as contribute to the development of disability-friendly organisational policies and procedures which will continue beyond the project funding.

A pilot training session will be held in December of this year, and will be facilitated by women with lived experience of disability, with further training conducted in early 2012. Once all the sessions have been rolled out, aspects of the training manual will be made available online for other services to also access.

For enquiries about this project, contact Annelise Roberts on 6290 2166 or a.roberts@wchm.org.au

Older women’s safety audits update

It has been a busy few months in the Older Women’s Safety Audits Project. We have completed several focus groups and all six safety audits, working in direct consultation and collaboration with older women in the ACT to determine recommendations of how we can improve public spaces for the safety of older women in our city. In total, 23 women aged 65 and older participated in the safety audits, coming from a cross section of ages and with several women identifying as having low mobility and/ or disabilities.

We undertook the safety audits in the following locations which had been identified by ACT women in a survey by WCHM: Civic Car Parks, the Floriade event, the Canberra Hospital, travelling by bus from Civic to Woden Bus Interchange, the Belconnen Bus Interchange/ Shopping Precinct, and Village Creek.

Although we have completed the actual safety audits, this project is not yet finished. Over the next couple of months we will be undertaking more analysis in order to understand our findings from the safety audits before we write up recommendations. Once we finish this analysis we will write up the report and share it with the WCHM broader community. We will also be using this work as a tool to influence the way we design and shape public spaces to ensure a gendered analysis is considered in all infrastructure and planning work in the ACT.

We would like to extend a warm thank you to the women involved in the online survey, focus groups and safety audits as well as the project steering committee for their support and input in this project to date.

Gender sensitive training for medical school students

Over the past year WCHM has been working with two students from the Australian National University Medical School (ANUMS) on research projects aiming to either: measure the effectiveness of storytelling as a means of teaching principles of gender sensitive health service delivery to first-year medical school students, or, measuring the level of awareness of gender sensitive health service delivery principles in fourth-year medical school students before and after they undertake the Women’s Health unit.

A Randomised Controlled Trial of a Patient-Led Gender Awareness Intervention for Medical Students—The first project involved the creation of an audio-visual resource that features three women telling their story about a consultation with a medical doctor who demonstrated gender sensitivity or gender insensitivity. As they relay their story, the women reflect on the ramifications of the experience for them and highlight the simple things that the doctors did that worked or that they could do differently to be more effective in providing better experiences for women of health services.

The project was a randomised controlled trial, with the DVD played for one group of ANUMS first year medical school students and an evidence-based lecture addressing the same educational points delivered to a second group. Changes in gender awareness were measured using the Nijmegen Gender Awareness in Medicine Scale.

Twenty-two students participated. This study showed that either a patient-led teaching intervention or an evidence-based lecture was effective in increasing medical student gender awareness after the learning session. There was a positive impact on gender sensitivity for both interventions, with no significant difference between the two, however, female students learnt more from the DVD compared with male students who learnt more from the lecture. Although both educational interventions resulted in immediate changes in gender awareness, the study sample was too small to allow conclusions to be drawn about the relative merits of either educational intervention.

WCHM is very pleased with the audio-visual resource and will continue to seek out opportunities to use it to advocate for improved gender sensitivity in the delivery of health services. WCHM will also continue to work with the ANUMS to identify ways to increase gender awareness through medical school curriculum.

Gender awareness in a medical curriculum: surveying final year students undertaking a Women’s Health rotation—The second project set out to evaluate the effect that the Women’s Health (WH) rotation at the ANUMS has on final year students’ level of gender awareness.

Final year students undertaking the eight week WH rotation between February and July 2011 (n=30) completed the previously validated Nijmegen Gender Awareness in Medicine Scale survey following one week of classroom teaching, and at the completion of the rotation. Responses were then compared to students who had not undertaken this rotation (n=33).

There was a significant difference in gender sensitivity between the students who received one week of gender focused teaching when compared to those who did not (p<0.05). At the completion of the rotation, however, this significant difference was no longer present when gender differences between groups were controlled for.

The study concluded that following a teaching program focused on WH, students had a higher level of gender sensitivity when compared to those who do not receive WH teaching. Seven weeks later, however, there was no significant difference between the groups when gender differences were taken into account. Therefore students who undertake the WH rotation may not maintain higher levels of gender sensitivity than those who do not undertake the rotation.

WCHM’s New Staff

Hello from Emilia

I have recently come on board and joined WWDACT as the new part-time Policy-Project Officer. Before joining WWDACT, I worked for many years as a human rights lawyer in both the government and non-government sectors. Most recently, I worked as a legal academic and legal consultant specialising in discrimination law and international human rights law and policy.

You can contact me by email at e.dellatorre@wchm.org.au or by phoning WCHM on (02) 6290 2166. It’s great to have become part of WWDACT/WCHM. I am looking forward to a long and productive relationship with all the team.


Worth Checking Out

“Violence against immigrant and refugee women in Australia can be prevented, however, the complexity of women’s experiences of violence highlights the need for culturally-appropriate strategies that address the core issue of gender equality by working to improve the status of women”. These are the findings of the report On Her Way published recently by the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health in Victoria. The report provides an overview of the various groups of immigrant and refugee women in Australia that should be considered in violence prevention efforts and highlights the importance of prevention efforts addressing the specific and diverse situations between women from immigrant and refugee communities, within the cultural, religious and socio-economic contexts of their lives.

Earlier this year the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) launched its Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace program, a consultancy service provided by the ABA to employers who are keen to ensure that their workplaces are not barriers to breastfeeding. The Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace website includes a list of accredited workplaces, which includes a range of ACT and Commonwealth government departments and private and community sector employers with a presence in the ACT. There is also information available for both employers and mothers.

When the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission learned of low rates of awareness among young women about discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation in the workplace they developed the online tool my work rights. The online tool takes users through a ten question quiz, which provides contemporary examples and explanations of behaviour that is not ok at work, all the while giving young women a gauge as to where their knowledge regarding their rights at work is at.

So, what about boys? is the 2011 Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls report published annually by Plan International as a campaign to fight gender inequality and promote girls’ rights. The Because I am a Girl reports examine the rights and needs of girls throughout their childhood, adolescence and as young women and aim to demonstrate how girls are uniquely placed to break the cycles of intergenerational poverty. This year’s report explores the essential role that fathers, brothers and partners have in creating gender equality and how everyone benefits from making equality a reality. These reports will continue to be published until 2015, the target year for the Millennium Development Goals.