The CALD Women’s Club
The Neighbourhood Hub
What is the project about?
The CALD Women’s Club (the Club) is a free weekly social group for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women of Mackay.
The Club aims to build and promote social connectedness for CALD women, to support them to build confidence, learn new skills, learn about women’s health and wellbeing, share stories and experiences, and most importantly enjoy themselves in a safe environment. The Club also provides a soft entry to Mackay Women’s Services, aiming to empower CALD women, provide access to knowledge and opportunities to reach their potential, and to any additional support that might be required. The action research aspect of the CALD Women’s Club aims to identify and explore ways to better assist CALD women to access support and meet their needs, especially when they are new to Mackay and face barriers to settling in, reaching their potential, and being safe and respected.
The project activities include a variety of events, workshops, sessions and outings that the women propose, such as:
- Buying or renting a home in Mackay (information session)
- Women’s health workshop with a local naturopath
- Sarina Sugar Shed tour
- Explaining Family Law with Mackay Regional Community Legal Centre (information session)
- Healthy family relationships workshop with Reconcile Life
Art Workshops have been identified as an area of particular interest. The Club has been flourishing and growing with the help of art, with activities including: macramé, mixed media art, art therapy, paint pouring, textile art, and watercolours.
- Observations from project staff of the CALD Women’s Club
- Informal interviews with participants, facilitators, stakeholders
- Reflective journal
- 92 participants in the Safer Pathways for CALD Women Survey
Where was the project conducted?
October 2018 – June 2020
How has this project impacted communities, organisation, or the region?
The Club provided an opportunity for women to have a safe space where they can go to learn something new, to connect with other women or to have some reprieve from everyday stress. Some of the feedback that women shared included:
“I can just come here to have a distraction from arguments and stress at home”
“I learn new skills, get confidence and it helps me to get out of my comfort zone”
“We have become more than a family”
“I know that every Friday it is there for me with my friends and a cup of tea”
“I look forward to every Friday”
The Club, recognizing the challenges of living in a regional city, created a network of CALD women that are connected and support each other. After a session about preparing for disasters, the women created a group on Facebook messenger to stay in touch and be able to support each other in times of need. This chat group has now grown to include 32 participants.
Women that have been in the Club since the start have become advocates for women supporting women and connecting to address loneliness and isolation. They welcome new participants and make time to connect. The main impact is seeing the Club taking ownership in what they do and spreading the message about supporting each other.
The Club has strengthened partnerships between key stakeholders, especially the collaboration between TNH and Mackay Women’s Services, as well as with Mackay Regional Council, local refuge homes, Queensland Police Service, and other local organisations and businesses.
What worked well?
- Providing transport for women who are unable to get to the Club to attend.
- Providing morning tea assisted women to connect over a tea break.
- Children are always welcome. CALD Women’s Club is unable to provide child support, however women support each other and keep an eye on the little ones.
- Having a well-planned activity timeline that women are involved in creating. It is always planned in consultation with the participants about what they are interested in doing.
- Activities are interactive, casual and friendly. There is also always space for genuine feedback to improve the activities.
- Observation of the group and listening to their stories.
- Using a strength-based, grassroots approach to empower women to achieve new goals and support each other.
What did not work?
- Initially the group started in April 2018 as a closed support group for women impacted by Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) and that model did not work. It did not work to use the language of domestic violence because of the stigma and shame that would have been attached to participants. We changed to a strength-based focus using the language of healthy relationships opened up new opportunities for engaging with women and establishing a successful club.
- The need to limit the numbers of women attending the Club is still a challenge, especially when the demand is greater than the capacity (for example, recent art workshops).
- One of key challenges that Mackay faces is an extremely poor public transport system. When CALD women do not drive, they end up being isolated at home. To address this gap, TNH provides transport using its own volunteers and vehicles. As a result the program is reliant on volunteer support.
What did you learn from the project?
- It takes time to build relationships, for women to open up and for barriers to come down to share personal stories. It can take years and when it happens that is the point where the change can happen, and it is important to have someone who cares and is available to support you at that time.
- A challenging learning for the project in a regional city is when women finally step forward and speak up seeking support to escape DFV, most of the time there is nowhere for them to go and they have to return to the perpetrator. There is no crisis accommodation available in Mackay, and being sent to a different location with children and pets is not an option that they would choose.
- Through a number of sessions women explored opportunities for growth and change, and learnt about their rights and supports available for them. We learned how surprised some of CALD women were to learn what a healthy relationship in Australia is and women’s right to say no.
- It is paramount to invest in respectful and supportive partnerships, especially for a regional city like Mackay, where resources are limited.
- With these challenges in mind and other barriers that CALD women face in a regional setting, it is important to be patient, flexible and creative; use available resources; build on partnerships and pay forward; be open to change; and learn from challenges and celebrate successes.
Suggestions for policy-makers, educators or service providers?
- There is an acute need for emergency housing in Mackay.
- There is a need for culturally safe services that can competently support CALD women and meet their needs.
- It is important to include CALD women’s voices in development of new policies that impact on the wellbeing of women and their children, and for there to be acknowledgement and respect of skills, knowledge and experiences that CALD women bring to Australia.
- Women migrating to Australia on spousal visas need to be supported to know about their rights in relationships, DFV and supports available. That can be incorporated in the visa application process and could include the sponsor in this training. This could assist in reducing violence against CALD women on partner visas, especially when they already arrive in a socially and economically disadvantaged position which is used by perpetrators to control and manipulate women (including threats of deportation).
Where to from here?
The Club recognises the need to be a sustainable hub for CALD women to connect and support each other in Mackay. In the future, we will be engaging the participants in conversations about how to support the Club to continue and be self-sufficient, and what the participants would like it to achieve and/or become. The Club will aim to keep ownership among participants where the women can volunteer to facilitate Friday meetings. TNH and Mackay Women’s Services will be seeking funding opportunities to support the club with their activities and will look into other support that can assist, for example in-kind funding, fundraising, etc.
People and organisations to thank:
TNH acknowledges the traditional owners and custodians of Mackay – the Yuwibara people. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and our Young People to follow.
TNH would like to acknowledge the invaluable support and mentorship from ANROWS and all the CALD PAR Projects that we connected with. Thank you to Mackay Women’s Services for the ongoing support and commitment to women’s safety and to assisting women in reaching their best potential. A special thank you to CALD Women’s Club participants for your compassion and genuine desire to help each other, for being brave to step out of your comfort zone and for sharing your knowledge and your stories.
Thank you to everyone who participated and supported the CALD Women’s Club, as a stakeholder, facilitator, supporter or a community member. TNH would also like to acknowledge the Australian Government Department of Social Services for putting their trust in us and supporting us with the funding to deliver this project.
The Neighbourhood Hub
4 George St & 43 Shakespeare St, Mackay, QLD
07 4957 2626