Women’s Health and Safety Project
WELLSPRINGS FOR WOMEN
What is the project about?
The Women’s Health and Safety project was designed to work with women from refugee and migrant backgrounds on raising their awareness of the prevention of family and domestic violence. The program included educational workshops on respectful relationships, gender equality and the prevention of family violence. The program also provided one-on-one sessions to women who have different complex needs and referred them to the appropriate agencies who are well-equipped to cater for these.
The project aimed to:
- address domestic and family violence issues identified within the CALD communities;
- successfully engage with key stakeholders and local CALD communities to drive sustainable changes in community awareness, attitudes and behaviours that lead to or contribute to violence against women and their children;
- utilise a culturally relevant approach to ensure that activities are appropriate and targeted; and
- promote existing support available within local CALD communities.
The project involved community education workshops on gender equality, respectful relationships and the prevention of violence against women. These workshops incorporated training tools that engage women with less formal education and less comfort with English comprehension. The workshops were interactive, allowing women to draw on their own experiences and share stories of how they developed their concept of gender and what norms and behaviours they observed growing up in their own communities, which defined gender roles.
The activities the women engaged in enabled them to reflect on how gender is socially constructed and perpetuated. The workshops on family violence explored the various types of violence beyond the physical. Discussions were held about the normalisation and tolerance of violence against women and how this needs to be challenged by all communities. We also covered respectful relationships as a way to illustrate what a healthy relationship between men and women looks like and how equality of gender roles is played out in everyday life.
The program also provided one-on-one support to women who have experienced domestic violence. As part of the one-on-one sessions, the needs of the women were analysed in a sensitive way. The women were then referred to appropriate services that could cater to their complex needs (if they agreed to do so) or, if not ready to be referred, they were assisted by Wellsprings Women’s Health and Safety Program.
Action research focus
What impact does awareness raising and education workshops on gender equality, respectful relationships and family violence have on project participants’ understanding of these issues and their behavioural change?
- Stakeholder mapping was done during the initial phase of the program. The project coordinator attended network meetings and met with workers from different agencies who were working with migrant and refugee communities.
- A reference group was developed, consisting of organisations that expressed their interest to provide advice to the project team throughout different phases of planning, implementation and evaluation of the project. The reference group members include:
- Southern Migration and Refugee Centre (SMRC)
- Integrated Family Violence Partnership
- Interfaith Network
- Women’s Health in the South East (WHISE)
- Uniting Connections
- City of Casey Council
- The project engaged CALD community members from the outset in developing and piloting the content of the workshops and providing input on the language used to describe the key concepts. Moreover, consultation with the community informed the program team about existing issues related to domestic and family violence in the CALD communities. The project directly reached over 400 participants who were involved in the workshops, and indirectly we estimate that the project reached over 8000 people.
- The program gathered participants’ feedback at the end of each education workshop in the form of evaluation forms that were completed by the participants. 203 completed evaluation forms were collected from the participants. Group evaluation of the workshops was also conducted, where the participants shared feedback about the program verbally during the education workshops. Observations were also recorded by the session facilitators. 5 interviews were conducted with program participants, volunteers and program facilitators. The learnings from the evaluation of the program were used to tailor the content of the education workshops according to the learning needs of the program participants.
Where was the project conducted?
The project was delivered in 3 locations including the city of greater Dandenong, Casey and Cardinia in Victoria.
November 2017 – June 2020
How has this project impacted communities, organisations and the region?
Feedback from the participants attending the community education workshops shows an increase in the knowledge around gender equality, respectful relationships and identifying different forms of family violence and taking different actions to prevent violence against women. The project also challenged existing norms, values and behaviours that lead towards gender inequality and violence against women. For example, we offered programs for women where they learn about non-traditional employment opportunities for women.
Feedback from the program participants also indicated a behavioural change and a shift in attitudes towards gender inequality. For example one of the participants in the community education workshops said: “I’m really glad I attended this session, I have learned to raise my daughter and son equally.”
What worked well?
- One of the key successes of the project was that the project was delivered by experienced bicultural/bilingual workers who had an in-depth cultural understanding and knowledge about the CALD communities involved in the project. Delivering the key messages and concepts of the project in different languages and in a culturally appropriate way made the educational content of the session more understandable and comprehensive for the participants.
- The project secured some extra funding to build the capacity of the project staff to manage disclosures of family violence and to develop a family violence manual for the organisation.
- The project secured additional funding to run the Skilled Aware Resourceful Active (SARA) financial wellbeing training for women course, which primarily focusses on the impact of financial abuse in family violence.
- There were media articles published in the local newspaper about our work with migrant and refugee women on promoting gender equity in CALD communities. Also the project was a finalist for the Fiona Richardson Award for Gender Equity awarded by the Neighbourhood Houses, Victoria.
- A digital story was developed depicting migrant and refugee women’s experience of family violence and gender inequality. The video will be used to initiate discussions around prevention of family violence in the community education workshops. It will also serve as a tool to raise awareness among service providers about the journey and lived experiences of migrant and refugee women who experience family violence to advocate for improved services for them.
What did not work?
Although community members were mostly supportive of the topics discussed in the workshops, particularly on gender equality, respectful relationships and identifying and preventing family violence, there is a clear need for ongoing community education workshops. Such activities would continue to unpack these concepts in more detail and in simple language over a longer period of project delivery, so that the messages are entrenched in the everyday life of communities.
There is a need to develop more culturally appropriate resources that recognise intersectionality, are in simple language for different literacy levels and, which resonate with the experiences of migrant and refugee women. For example, resources such as Change the Story (Our Watch, ANROWS & VicHealth, 2015), in their current format, do not reflect the complexities of the lives and circumstances of migrant and refugee women.
What did you learn from the project?
- The project team gained increased knowledge on issues facing migrant and refugee women living in abusive relationships and the difficulties they encounter if they choose to leave. For example, they might face further social isolation and stigma if they leave an abusive relationship.
- The project team gained an in-depth understanding of the underlying drivers of gender inequality and violence against women in CALD communities.
- The project found that there were no education programs targeting migrant and refugee men on gender equality and prevention of family violence.
- Findings from the evaluation of the program indicated that women from CALD communities face different challenges, including language and cultural barriers, when accessing services. Women face extra challenges in relation to finding and securing employment and continuing their studies as they have caring, as well as both work and household responsibilities. Most of the participants were socially isolated and do not have social networks and support. Also, the participants raised concerns about facing cultural clashes when raising children and stated that they needed more education sessions on parenting skills.
- As a result of these findings, the program has run parenting sessions for the program participants. Participants were also referred to the programs running at Wellsprings for Women that focussed on building skills to enable women to find employment. Some were referred to our home visitation program, where they were matched with a volunteer who can provide friendly home visits and other support to break the cycle of isolation.
Do you have suggestions for policy-makers, educators and service providers?
We have used the findings from this project to advocate for better targeted resources for migrant and refugee women accessing the family violence service system. We have been involved in the advocacy to government and decision-makers on the gaps in services experienced by migrant and refugee women living in abusive relationships who are not ready to leave their current situation. The women still need emotional and social support, which currently is a body of work that is not funded and is being carried out by agencies such as Wellsprings for Women as we see this as our duty of care. We have raised these concerns with stakeholders as we believe that properly funded interventions work will de-escalate some cases of DV as women gain confidence and personal power to seek support and address violence on their own terms.
Additional suggestions could be:
- Creating opportunities through different initiatives to empower and build women’s capacity to be self-sufficient.
- Supplement prevention work through creating employment opportunities for women from CALD communities to enable their financial independence.
Where to from here?
The project has secured some funding to develop culturally appropriate educational materials for the community education workshops on gender equality and the prevention of violence against women. The program has also received some funding to continue to deliver community education sessions for the women from CALD communities we are working with in Dandenong, Casey and Cardinia. Moreover, we are in the process of applying for further funding to continue our work on the prevention of violence against women in CALD communities.
People and organisations to thank:
Project Reference group
Our Watch, ANROWS & VicHealth. (2015). Change the Story. Melbourne: Our Watch.