The WRAP #18: The Aussie limbo, finding inspiration and 60 seconds with Khadija Gbla

The WRAP is back for 2014 and, despite the fact that it already feels as though we never left, we’ve got to say, we love what we do.

In fact it’s a privilege, which we were reminded of the other day when we read an article about the famous expression “Love what you do and do what you love.” It’s a fantastic idea in theory, but it may be out of reach for some of us living in more precarious conditions: uncertain of our finances, our safety, our family life or even our citizenship, and facing barriers to do what we love, or to love who we love, every day.

So, as the newness of the year wears off and we all start rolling up our sleeves, it’s good to remember that whether we love it or not, the work we do is valuable. Whether we are caring for family, working casual, part-time, full-time, or overtime, for yourself or someone else, studying or volunteering, here or overseas: our work, whatever it is, is meaningful.

This WRAP, we’re talking about what immigration policy might say about how we value migrant work, asking if everyone can really do what they love and then spending 60 seconds with the truly inspirational Khadija Gbla, who spoke at “Voices of Change” in February to celebrate the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM/C. Thanks to everyone who came along!

And thanks for having us back in your inbox.
Until next time,

The WRAP Team

Waiting alone by Max Wolfe on flickr

The Aussie Limbo

While it may sound like the latest dance craze, it’s actually the tune to which Australia’s skilled migrants are metaphorically dancing: at best a slow two-step shuffle from long-term temporary to permanent resident.

Recent statistics show that there has been two worrying moves in Australia’s migration program. First, the route to permanent residency is increasingly being forged via skilled migration. In 2011-12 for example, the skill stream took up 68% of the 190,000 permanent places (compared to 32% family migration). Second, and related, the permanent migration program is becoming more reliant on temporary migrants: 40% of the skilled migrants granted permanent residency were already living here on a temporary basis (mostly as workers on 457 visas or international students who have graduated from Australian universities or colleges). To push the point home, the number of skilled temporary visas (sub-class 457) issued is steadily increasing (by almost 40% in 2011-12), compared with only a 10% increase in overall permanent visas issued in that same year.

So what does this mean? These shifts in the direction of Australia’s migration program–from permanent to temporary, from supply-driven (those who want to come) to demand-driven (those with skills Australian employers want)–raise pressing questions about the social and ethical implications of such a program on immigrants’ lives and what it means to be an Australian ‘migrant’ today.

We’ve written previously about the social challenges faced by international students and 457 visa holders: in particular women who are rendered more vulnerable to poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes and gender-based violence. Like the Caribbean dance of the same name, those participating in ‘two-step’ migration generally find themselves in the precarious land of limbo: there are far more applications for residency than there are places, so temporary migrants are made to wait, sometimes for years, on further temporary visas, until they even reach the front of the line. When has it ever been acceptable for any migrant to live, work and pay taxes, without political representation or access to services? And ladies, just try to imagine the added difficulty of negotiating limbo with a baby bump.

In setting the bars for migration (and by proxy, for citizenship), governments implicitly set the values to which a country might aspire. In its current form, this ‘try before you buy’ mindset only perpetuates conceptions of the migrant worker as mere labour supply and the international student as only export revenue. It’s also important to remember that the majority of women have less opportunity to participate in education and the workforce, an emphasis on skilled labour is likely to set back immigrant women seeking entry into Australia further.

An unbalanced focus on skills to the detriment of other contributions made by migrants fails to acknowledge what two-thirds of Australians already think, that migration from diverse countries makes us stronger. Behind every strong economy should lie an even stronger community wherein all individuals, including immigrant women, can actively and equitably participate and are valued in return.


If you're not doing what you love... from deeplifequotes on flickr

sweatshop project from marrisaorton on flickr

They can make us smile or strike a chord deep within. At their very best, they can provide solace, comfort and inspire us to action. You may even have a favourite pinned near your desk. Yes, we’re talking about motivational or inspirational quotes: the bumper sticker, fridge magnet, mantra or meme. Even if you’re not a fan of them, there’s at least one that has made you stop and reflect on the life you’re living and what’s important to you. And yet, a recent thought provoking critique of the mantra ‘do what you love, love what you do’ led us to wonder whether other inspirational quotes might also be ‘secret handshakes of the privileged’. While the global corporate mantra ‘Just do it’ has lost some currency over the years, there are still plenty of motivating quotes telling us that we must believe we can, especially if we: look up at the stars; hold fast to our dreams; and create ourselves.

Our intention here isn’t to squeeze the joy out of the beauty of words, or to take away the magic of dreaming of a better world. However, juxtaposing the mantra “do what you love” with the reality of many immigrant women’s career options as cleaners, factory workers and other unskilled labour does highlight the vagaries of feel-good words: they tend to gloss over the details and forget that for some women, the only limits that exist are not just the ones we have set ourselves. Because motivational messages are so personally focused, they can make invisible the systems, regimes and institutions that perpetuate inequities and make us blind to the everyday injustices experienced by the majority of women around the world. They may even reinforce the exploitation and marginalisation of women, because they absolve us of any obligation to act on the root causes of human misery.

All the while, living examples are all around us of immigrant and refugee women who inspire us not just through their words, but through their actions. Whether or not their own life experiences have been buoyed along by a favourite quote or two is beside the point. As a group known for their resilience and strength, immigrant and refugee women have stories to tell that cut through the sugar-coated prescriptions of maxims and mantras. They stand as living proof that challenges can be overcome and their stories point to the ways in which others can advocate for change in all aspects of Australian society.

Nobody really expects platitudes to solve life’s problems. But next time you’re looking for inspiration, why not strike up a conversation with the woman next to you instead.

60 seconds with Khadija Gbla

khadija gbla

Motivational speaker, volunteer and refugee advocate

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I’m enjoying motivational speaking – I love the opportunity to stand in front of people and to inspire, educate and raise awareness. More than that, it’s the opportunity to touch people’s lives through my story-telling and finding humour in the dark places.

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have?
It would be healing – physical, emotional and psychological healing. A lot of people go through terrible things and I know we all look good on the outside and we all appear to be functioning very well, but sometimes it’s those who appear to be functioning really well are probably those suffering the most. To give people hope, joy and happiness, the things that come from within. That would be my super-power.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
Probably the president, CEO of the world! Not for the power, but to drive real change. I’ll put funding to finding a cure for a whole range of diseases. I would delegate to get everyone working and to just get things done. I’ll be running the president hotline.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
Be willing to give everything a go. Get out there and talk to people who are outside of your community. Through volunteering, I adapted to Australian society more quickly, my English improved and dealing with other people improved my confidence, I felt more welcome and it made me feel Australia was home. Give it a go.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?
Love, love, love! It encapsulates everything.

When was the last time you laughed out loud?
I was talking to a woman today who has just come out of rehab and we were talking about our struggles and appreciating the simple joy of sleep, that we could now sleep like babies (I suffered from insomnia for such a long time). We were laughing and sharing the joy of our lives changing and appreciating the things most people take for granted. I laughed out loud because I was connecting with another soul.

Your most cherished memory?
When I won Young South Australian of the Year. As a refugee child who has been through so much when I first arrived I had so many demons to battle, depression, nightmares of the war, chronic fatigue, I was being bullied at school … when I won that award I thought what an honour it is to someone with my background: me, an African girl, English is my third language!   It touched my soul in a very special way. For that moment, Australia made me feel grateful and welcome: it wasn’t just for me it was for other refugees, my community, being honoured and appreciated for what we bring and what we have to offer. We have so much debate about asylum seekers and it’s always terrible, but for that one moment when I received the award the discussion wasn’t about what terrible people we were but that we have something to offer. That was memorable.

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
My mum is an amazing woman but I’d like to give a shout out to a group of women, single mothers. I was raised by a single mother, she worked very hard and struggled to get us to Australia. But my mum’s story is not unique to her. During the war a lot of my generation have been raised without fathers. It has been women who have raised us, they have stepped up and have done it with so much dignity. Especially single mothers who have experienced tough situations: they were raped; their kids were taken away from them; protections taken away from them; women running with babies on their backs, running with children by their side to get to safety. Their pain, their tears and their struggle are what have given young people like me a second chance. Coming to Australia hasn’t benefitted my mum as much as it has benefitted my sister and me.

Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?
Gospel and African music – songs of hope and a bright future.

Is there a favourite cultural tradition that you like to follow?
Gathering people around the table for a meal. All the walls come down when everyone is around the table sharing and talking about a better tomorrow. A good meal shared with family and friends always does the trick.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
Every time we talk about multiculturalism, you always hear the words ‘to tolerate’, it’s the worst word in the dictionary. It’s such an insult when people use that term. Appreciating and respecting difference is what multiculturalism is about, tolerance is not. Tolerance is not multiculturalism, that just means ‘we’re stuck with you so we have to tolerate you’, so if you had a choice you’d throw us in a boat and tow us back. We need to welcome, appreciate respect and celebrate our differences. Difference is good.

Do you think Australia is multicultural?
In technical terms, yes but our institutions and our systems do not reflect our multicultural society.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
…we still have much more to do. My generation needs to do justice to all the hard work of our predecessors.