It’s a well-known statistic by now: nearly half (46.8%) of the Victorian population and almost a quarter of Victorians speak a language other than English (ABS 2011). The reality today is that cultural diversity is closer to mainstream than marginal. Logically, you would expect that our institutions, family violence policies and programs would be representative of this demographic picture. Sadly, logic can sometimes lose out to inaction. And as we near the date for the release of the findings of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, we wonder whether the recommendations that will be made about improvements needed to the family violence workforce will reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Victorian community. Will we see adequate acknowledgement of the benefits brought to the community by bilingual and bicultural workers?
Bilingual, bicultural workers do an amazing job. They are an integral part of their communities and of the service system, and are in a unique position to link their communities with mainstream and specialist services. However, even when programs can be seen to greatly benefit from the use of a bilingual workforce, limited resources are often cited as a drawback to their inclusion. Bilingual, bicultural workers have long been undervalued, largely because there is an entrenched lack of understanding of what they actually do, and what an important role they play in service provision. Often confused with interpreters, bilingual, bicultural workers provide support by working alongside clients and the community by drawing on their cultural skills and knowledge to negotiate and advocate across a wide range of issues. Bilingual work is not just about language: bilingual workers work together with immigrant and refugee women to facilitate informed decisions about their rights, health and well-being.
We’ve mentioned before that in order to prevent violence against all women, we need to place the diversity of women’s experience at the centre of analysis. And of course this principle extends to those working in family violence prevention and response: a diverse family violence workforce must be placed at the core of all programs.
The violence prevention workforce is still in the early stages of development, but at this important Royal Commission moment, it’s timely to think about what strategies will be truly effective in the context of multiculturalism, and what inclusive strategies might entail. If we can agree that increasing women’s leadership in the community is a gender equitable goal, there’s no better place to start than with harnessing and building bilingual and bicultural immigrant and refugee women’s skills and ensuring that they are properly resourced and supported to do their indispensable work with women.