Beyond the 'Whanel'


Learning new words can be so gratifying, especially when the word puts a name to a phenomenon that you regularly experience but haven’t quite articulated as a ‘thing’.
The new word that crossed our desks this month was ‘manel’, the name for an all-male panel. In this modern world of ostensible gender balance it’s strange to think that this phenomenon still exists but our research suggests that it is more common than we would expect. And then there is the ‘manel + 1’, the all-male panel with the token woman, very popular with sports commentating and other serious issues.

Following the trend, here at MCWH we have made up another related word: the ‘whanel’, the all-white panel in which organisers aim to address key issues of concern for immigrant and refugee women, but they forget to put actual immigrant or refugee women in.

And of course, there is the more common ‘whanel + 1’, the all-white panel with the token immigrant woman.  We certainly know all about it. You open your inbox and there it is, that request to be the immigrant woman member on a discussion panel. Of course it is great to be invited. But you wouldn’t mind some company on the panel, an opportunity to sit with one or even two of your migrant sisters, to debate the wider range of issues relevant to the topic, rather than to put forward what can become the same repeated message in response to the same repeated exclusions.

Tokenism in the public sphere goes beyond the panel or conference of course and we see it across our community; in the media, in books, public policy, workplaces, anywhere in fact where structural race and gendered disadvantage operate.

The Royal Commission into Family Violence public hearings provided a prominent example of tokenism this month, with its ‘Diversity of Experience’ day, the day that was scheduled to hear the issues affecting immigrant and refugee women, the LGBTIQ community, and women with disabilities. We were so pleased to hear that these issues would be separately considered, but astonished that one day across twenty was allocated to hear about all of the complex cultural and structural issues that combine to make women from these marginalised groups more vulnerable to family violence, and less able to access services. For immigrant and refugee women’s issues, one hour was allocated. Among the approximately 170 witnesses, it was rare to see an immigrant or refugee woman speaking, and there was almost no mention of the ways in which the important issues raised throughout impacted specifically on immigrant and refugee women. As a result, there was no opportunity to hear the breadth and complexity of issues affecting immigrant and refugee women and their communities.

The final recommendations of the Royal Commission next year will combine the findings of the submissions, consultations and roundtable discussions as well as public hearings. So we are hoping that the final outcome for immigrant and refugee women, and all the other marginalised groups that gathered on diversity day, will go beyond the ‘whanel’ approach that we have seen in the public hearings, with issues and solutions incorporated into the whole. These women and their communities need to be more than tokens in this important process. For our part, we are looking forward to making up another new word; one that means ‘comprehensive change to our systems that are meaningful and inclusive for all women affected by family violence’.