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Violence against women and their children affects everybody. It impacts on the health, wellbeing and safety of a significant proportion of Australians throughout all states and territories and places an enormous burden on the nation’s economy across family and community services, health and hospitals, income-support and criminal justice systems.

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A Celebration of Culture and Respect


Companion House

 

What is the project about?

Aims

The aim of A Celebration of Culture and Respect has been to listen to and record the views and observations of young people from refugee backgrounds about gender, relationships, domestic violence and respect. At the same time we also wanted to share evidence from research with young people from refugee backgrounds about domestic violence, and particularly about its drivers. From these discussions we created and delivered messages designed by culturally and linguistically diverse young leaders which foster respectful relationships and prevent domestic violence, while at the same time celebrating culture and identity.

We worked with groups of young people from diverse refugee backgrounds including Karen young men and women from Myanmar, young men and women from Afghanistan, young men from Sierra Leone and South Sudan and also mixed groups of young men and women from diverse backgrounds (including among others: Arabic speaking, Farsi speaking, Eritrean, Guinean, Rohingya).

Project activities

The project progressed in stages, including:

  • Recruiting peer mentors and recruiting individual participants
  • Sharing project aims with community leaders and partners
  • Facilitating workshops and discussion groups
  • Feedback on progress at community events and activities, and with community leaders and families
  • Convening the Youth Advisory Group for input
  • Coordinating filming workshops
  • Supporting a young person to film and edit videos, inviting feedback on video drafts and uploading on YouTube
  • Launching videos in the wider community with young speakers
  • Organising events, small groups and opportunities to share videos.

Not all young people who came to the filming workshops wanted to be filmed, but several came as support people for those who were filmed. We showed the films to advisors, key staff, small groups of young people and individual community leaders before they were released. Once the final videos were uploaded onto YouTube, they were launched officially by young people at the ACT Legislative Assembly.

Action research focus

Our key action research questions which guided the project were: “What do you think about the roles of men and the roles of women, and what are respectful relationships in that context?”

Another subsidiary research question which we developed through discussions at the workshops themselves was “how difficult was it to talk about family violence at all and if so, why was that the case?” A third theme we developed through discussions at the workshops and the advisory group. This led to the question “what is the particular role of men in preventing family violence?”

Fundamentally the question “what are respectful relationships?” was at the heart of the video production.

“In [our] community it can be more difficult to talk about domestic violence, people don’t know how to approach it, but people want to explore their freedom.”
Young person

Research activities

Action Research involved notes taken during workshops and events, feedback (written and verbal) from participants, journal writing of facilitators after workshops, feedback and interviews with peer mentors, notes and reflections from meetings with community leaders, input from the youth advisory group, as well as reflections and ideas from the ANROWS Community of Practice.

 

Where was the project conducted?

Companion House conducted A Celebration of Culture and Respect in Canberra. Most of the project workshops took place at Companion House at different times to maximise opportunities for participation: weekends (both Saturdays, Sundays), early evenings and in school holidays. Some workshops also took place in school at Dickson College during term time. Our Youth Advisory Group also met at Companion House in school and university holidays.

The larger events and presentations took place on weekends around Canberra, at Cook Community Hall, Harrison College Hall, and at the Multicultural Centre in Canberra City.

Time frame:

November 2017 – June 2020.

How has this project impacted communities, organisations and the region?

Impact on communities
  • The project built the confidence of young people, many of whom are now suggesting new project ideas and further collaborations.
  • Considerable feedback from young workshop participants indicated strongly that the  project opened up opportunities to talk about relationships, culture, prevention of family violence in a safe, careful and respectful way
  • The principle of cultural safety was fundamental to the project and gave young people an opportunity to share a diverse views on issues of gender, respect and relationships.
  • All community leaders and faith leaders so far have shown warm support for the videos and encouraged participation in the project as well as suggesting opportunities for screening and further circulation of the resource.
  • Some community leaders are particularly passionate and committed about prevention of family violence and the project offered valuable opportunities for Companion House to support their work and hopes through this project.
  • Refugee communities have also had the opportunity to observe their young people taking leadership roles and observe their skill.
Impact on organisations
  • The videos and events have also given local organisations and services the opportunity to hear the voices of young people from refugee backgrounds on these issues.

What worked well?

It was important to work flexibly to maximise our reach and work with as many young people as possible. For engagement, for example, we worked at times with young peer mentors, and also at times with community leaders and faith leaders. Other times we worked through informal friendship networks of young people who have attended our service and there was no particular leader. We worked with a group of young men who formed part of a soccer team, and members of another soccer team. We had a mix of consulting and listening to young people’s experience and how they viewed issues of gender and respect, while at the same time sharing evidence from research.

Some young people came on board later and joined in the workshops just before the filming.

Action research principles also supported the development of the project, and helped us with evaluating our work and adding new ideas to the project (e.g. Youth Advisory Group).

What did not work?

We had hoped to run more workshops at other youth organisations but that did not prove possible as they did not have the capacity to accommodate us. However we used good relationships with youth organisations to increase awareness about the project and then partnered with them to run larger youth events to showcase the completed videos.

Some of the processes were more complex than we had initially thought. This was particularly the case with filming and editing a series of videos for social media. While almost everybody thought creating videos on social media was the best way to share messages, not all young people wanted to be filmed.  The filming and editing process itself was much more complex than we originally thought. The extra time required for planning and coordination, and to work safely and respectfully, meant our timelines were pushed out.

What did you learn from the project?

Engagement: We needed to be flexible about participation (e.g. young people could join the project at any stage and could determine their level of participation) in order to recruit and engage young people.

Views about gender: We heard a wide range of views about gender and relationships. All workshops indicated diverse understandings and approaches. In some workshops conservative views were more common, while in others, it was more common for conservative ideas to be challenged. Conservative views were more prevalent in workshops where participants were recruited through formal community structures, and community and faith leaders. Views, which challenged these ideas, were more common in workshops which recruited participants from soccer teams, informal friendship networks, school and peer mentors. This underlines the importance of a variety of recruitment methods in order to work with young people with diverse views and experiences. Workshops were also an opportunity to share different understandings and think about how those understandings relate to the evidence about the drivers of domestic violence.

The diverse views of refugee young people may also reflect different migration pathways and settlement experiences. Some workshops were made up of former unaccompanied minors, and young people who had had significant exposure to work, and further studies and were less engaged in formal community structures. Other workshops were made up of young members of family groups who came through the Humanitarian Settlement Program and with strong connections to churches and other community institutions.

Community and family support: It was important to find avenues to share progress and test our developing messages at wider community events for some young people. This enhanced and built on the community, family and leadership support. It also built the confidence of the young people and supported further recruitment to the project.

Editing material: During the editing of the videos we were conscious of ensuring the voices and young people were as faithfully represented as possible. We had to make careful decisions about editing in consultation with advisors. Very occasionally, a couple of remarks without more context might have been misunderstood without considered and sensitive editing.

Sophisticated understanding of relevant issues: Many young people are very conscious of a range of important issues that come into play, such as the impact of trauma on relationships in refugee communities, the significant cultural transition community members experience and the dynamic and complex nature of culture. They welcomed the opportunity to talk about these issues in a respectful and safe environment.

“Every culture and society has different minds and opinions about men and women’s roles”
Young person

“In many countries attitudes are changing.”
Young workshop participant

“When people have escaped from war, – that has an effect on them, and on their emotion.”
Young person

“It is important to respect each other’s opinion and how people want to represent themselves.”
Young workshop participant

Do you have suggestions for policy-makers, educators or service providers?

Young people are prepared to take up leadership roles in the prevention of family violence. Many young people have highly considered and sophisticated views about community, culture, relationships and communication. Young people give considerable weight to the values of their peer groups and this is a vital area of prevention.

Refugee communities are highly diverse and young people are representative of this diversity. Many young people from refugee communities are particularly skilled in negotiating culture and identity in multiple contexts and are a skilled and articulate resource for communicating and sharing ideas with communities.

Young men in particular need to be part of these discussions because their values and views are crucial in prevention.

Where to from here?

The Department of Social Services has extended funding for the project for another year.  We will continue to show the videos and use them to facilitate discussion. Further events are planned such as discussions in schools, an awards night showing, and discussions with soccer coaches. We will train young people as speakers and the advisory group will continue to meet and give further input. We plan to add some more resources to the project, and the videos uploaded on YouTube and other social media will be a legacy of the project into the future. Young leaders involved in the project have built capacity and confidence to share their knowledge and skills beyond the life of the project.

“I learned a lot because we were listening to each other.”
Young workshop participant

“We should keep this going further.”
Young person

 

People and organisations to thank:

Thank you to the young people from refugee backgrounds who participated in the project, the peer mentors and young leaders who encouraged and supported the project all along the way, and refugee community leaders who offered their trust and warmly welcomed the project and supported engagement.

A special thanks to Mustafa Ehsan, the Canberra Kangaroos soccer team and their friends, Arok and Deng; Andrew Sein, Hamasa, Farishta, Nilofar and Sana; Dickson College, Pushpa Ekayanake and Ros Phillips; Chris Hyndes for advice and mentoring; Rhys Freeman for advice and invaluable support; and a very big thank you to Al Azmi for bringing such care, intelligence and respect to their work on the film.

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