Representation matters

Early next month the Federal Government’s virtual, live streamed Women’s Safety Summit will take place to address one of the most pressing issues in the country: violence against women and children.

While we’re pleased to see that the Summit will focus on some key issues affecting women’s safety, including strategies for preventing violence, we’re disappointed at the lack of inclusion of migrant and refugee women and their representative organisations about their views and experiences of gendered violence.

Only a handful of the invited speakers, while all excellent and noteworthy, are women from migrant and refugee communities, even though 40% of women living in Australia are either born overseas or have one or both parents born overseas.

By contrast, one fifth of speakers represent the corporate sector and businesses. No doubt the speaker list reflects existing inequality in the Australian workplace, however, it is essential that migrant women’s voices are included in these conversations. Research has shown that due to race discrimination, only 4.7% of senior leaders in Australia are non-European. Migrant and refugee women in particular are largely ‘locked out’ of senior leadership roles.

Of the eight panel presentations, only one has panel members who represent migrant women’s perspectives. This is despite the fact that over the last 10 years, migrant and refugee women’s organisations have built a strong evidence-base on key topics related to workplace violence, sexual violence, and primary prevention practice. Disappointingly, panels on these issues will lack the perspectives and expertise of migrant and refugee women.

The absence of migrant and refugee women’s voices from the Summit is a lost opportunity to broaden our understanding of violence against women and children. Research has shown that to fully understand migrant women’s experiences of violence, we need to consider the intersection of gender inequality with race discrimination, which results in different experiences of workplace or family violence.

We also need to include understandings of the specific forms of violence that migrant women are subjected to, such as migration related threats and multi-perpetrator family violence. We know that the context is important: precarious visa status, language barriers, high levels of social isolation, and lower rates of social and economic participation. All of these factors make a big difference to how we understand gendered violence and the strategies we develop to prevent and address it.

Migrant and refugee women have been at the forefront of efforts to address and prevent violence against women and to promote gender equality within their communities. They have also been an integral part of broader Australian feminist and other activist movements that promote equality and rights for women. The Joint Statement written by nine migrant and refugee women’s and multicultural organisations reflects the legacy of that activism, as well as the ongoing work that migrant women are leading.

We look forward to coming together at the Summit, and reflecting on its implications for the development of the next National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children. However, let us see it as a clear indicator that more needs to be done to embed an intersectional lens across gender equality and preventing violence against women. In order to promote a more inclusive understanding of gender equality in Australia, migrant women’s voices need to be included and heard.