Rich Cultures Should Have Rich Relationships
Western Sydney Local Health District – Multicultural Health Services
What is the project about?
The project is a partnership model between Multicultural Health Services Western Sydney Local Health District and the Punjabi (Harman Foundation) and Sudanese (Nuba Mountains group, Spiritual Revaluation Centre) communities. A participatory action research approach is used where the community is an equal partner.
The major aim of the project is for the communities to lead the development of resources that are appropriate and sustainable in their efforts to prevent Domestic Violence (DV). The project also aims to:
- achieve positive outcomes for families, women and their children by developing community-led, culturally appropriate resources to reduce violence against women and their children in Sudanese and Punjabi communities living in Western Sydney; and
- build community capacity in the planning, development, and management of community-driven DV prevention initiatives.
Action research focus
What strategies can we develop with the Punjabi and Sudanese communities that will help to build trust, respect cultural values and promote healthy family relationships?
Project and research activities
- An initial brainstorming activity conducted with community leaders and members (25 people were involved in this across the communities), gave community members the chance to be involved in project design. The community members suggested reframing the project to be about healthy relationships, rather than DV. The focus for the two communities differed – the Sudanese community were concerned about the impact of broken homes and family violence on children and young people and the Punjabi community’s concerns were around building healthy and harmonious relationships with extended families (to include older parents, mother-in- laws and daughter-in-laws) and build self-worth in women. Following the preferences of community members, the project set up separate advisory committees for each community.
- A practical skills training workshop was provided to both Punjabi and Sudanese community leaders by the NSW Education Against Violence team (ECAV; May 2018). The community leaders attended the program along with clinicians and workers involved in DV prevention in Western Sydney. The workshop provided frameworks and practical skill in the provision of services to people who experience DV. (see ECAV for more information).
- The project overview, terms of reference, research questions and progress were discussed and signed off by the advisory committees. The committees decided that the communities would first host focus groups to get a better understanding of “healthy relationships from a community perspective.”
• Bilingual facilitators for the focus group from within the community were identified, recruited and provided with (Aug 2018) training in DV awareness and prevention facilitated by Life Line (20 participants). Further training on research and focus group facilitation was provided by Sydney University (14 participants).
- Bilingual facilitators facilitated focus groups with community members. Focus group questions and formats were co-designed with communities. The focus groups involved 85 community members across both communities and were gender and age specific. The focus groups in the Sudanese community involved 40 community members, with separate focus groups for women, youth, and men. The focus groups in the Punjabi community involved 45 community members, with separate focus groups for women, youth, men and grandparents.
- The Punjabi community leaders and advisory committee approached the project team to partner with them for a community DV awareness event in February 2019. The project team designed and administered a survey to 300 participants who attended the event with a response rate of 41%. The project team also distributed 250 pamphlets and information brochures about DV prevention, the visa rights of victims and education programs being offered by Western Sydney Local Health District.
- Following data analysis from the focus groups and survey, findings from the focus groups were shared with community leaders from both communities. Communities have expressed interest in jointly publishing findings and using the research findings to support individuals and families to build healthier relationships.
Where was the project conducted?
The project was based in Western Sydney in the Sudanese and Punjabi communities living in the Blacktown, Parramatta and Penrith areas (with a focus on Blacktown).
February 2018 – June 2020
How has this project impacted communities, organisations and the region?
- The participatory action research methodology enabled trust and rapport to be built with the two communities. It has been an empowering experience for the communities to be involved in all stages of the research exercise – research design, implementation, analysis and the dissemination of findings.
- Learnings from community participation across various phases of the research activity were beneficial to other projects that Western Sydney Local Health District is working on, such as healthy relationships interventions in the ante-natal space, work with African communities, a men’s DV prevention project in Blacktown and cultural competence training for staff working with migrant and refugee communities across Western Sydney.
- The communities are interested in using the co-designed focus group questionnaire and the project’s DV awareness survey outside the current reach of the project. The Punjabi community will be administering the DV awareness survey at a community event targeting around 2000 visitors from the subcontinent communities.
- The project built networks across the region with DV prevention consultants and experts, including those at ECAV, the Integration Violence Prevention Response team (WSLHD), WASH House Inc., the extended Multicultural Health Team, Life Line and the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District. Linkages were also made to Legal Aid, local police and local community migrant resource organisations.
What worked well?
- The time and effort spent building trust, credibility and rapport with the two communities as equal partners in the project translated into increased community commitment. Even though this relationship building took time outside of work hours it helped to solidify the community’s relationship with the project worker and enabled explorations of sensitive issues.
- Building a conceptual understanding of Domestic and Family Violence among community leaders and bilingual facilitators was a key part of the project’s successful model for community engagement. The priorities of this model were to inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower communities.
- The passion and support provided by the community leaders has been very valuable. This project benefitted from the involvement of religious leaders, in particular, they were able to open doors and provide links to community members. Building a conceptual understanding of Domestic and Family Violence among community leaders and bilingual facilitators was a key part of the project’s successful model for community engagement. The priorities of this model were to inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower communities.
- During the ECAV training, facilitators found having community representation helped clinicians and workers get a different perspective. Both communities reported it was very useful. Sudanese community members said they were already changing behaviours in families following the training.
- Training bicultural facilitators to run focus groups contributed to participants feeling more comfortable to share their experiences.
- The partnership and involvement of young people from both the communities was a big asset to the project. Their willingness to be vanguards of change in the prevention space provided energy and momentum to the project.
- Centring prevention messaging on the benefits for children helped to motivate both communities to pursue change. The welfare of children and young people is valued across both communities – they expressed that children are their wealth and they strive to build a safer and healthier environment for them to grow.
- Tailoring approaches to the different life and settlement experiences of the two communities was important. For example, the Punjabi community had been exposed to DV prevention messages in the past and were keen to work on incremental changes where the community took ownership and collectively focused on healthier relationships. The Sudanese community, on the other hand, were grappling with challenges around negative images of Sudanese young people in mainstream Australia and wanted to work on parenting skills that would help rebuild homes and families.
What did not work?
- Time constraints in the original project funding period (from February 2018 to October 2019, before an extension of funding till June 2020) were increased with community availability being restricted to weekends and limited availability in the holiday period from January to December.
- The project did not make a provision for a project officer when the grant application was put in. The current project lead is balancing other commitments over and above the time dedicated to the project.
- We had to step away from prescribing available education programs on DV prevention and focus on listening to how the community perceives DV and what cultural expectations exist. Effective prevention work involves appreciating the community’s desire to make changes slowly and walking alongside them on their journey to make change sustainable and the process respectful.
What did you learn from the project?
From the focus groups with the two communities we learned that:
- Gender inequality is an issue for communities, with more advantages often conferred on male children. There is a need to work with the younger generation, especially young men and boys, to deconstruct patriarchal cultural norms around gender stereotypes.
- Intergenerational differences are affecting families – some parents are unable to understand, support and nurture children growing between cultures. Young people in the focus groups reflected on experiencing a disconnect with parents’ cultural heritage and practices.
- It is important to work with and alongside men and support them in their parenting and family roles to be nurturing and supportive. Such work can empower men to model positive behaviours to young people.
- Equipping bystanders in these communities to collectively take a stand against DV and rewarding these behaviours.
Do you have suggestions for policymakers, educators and service providers?
- Projects working in the DV prevention space would benefit from having longer time lines provided by funding bodies. The current project has highlighted the value of cementing and building trust with the communities and this can take 12-18 months of work. From a sustainability perspective a community-led DV prevention project will need a 3-5 year timeline to see positive behavioural change.
- Enabling community leaders to attend and participate in training sessions targeted at building community understanding of prevention was useful for the sustainability and effectiveness of the project.
- Partnering with religious leaders when working on policy and service delivery is important when positive change needs to be made.
Where to from here?
The funding for the project has been extended until June 2020. We have now completed the research phase of consulting, collaborating, administering surveys and running of the focus groups. We are more equipped at this stage to progress and co-design interventions and resources with the identified communities to be impactful and sustainable in our efforts.
The project team is looking to explore the following activities through a co-design process with communities:
- Digital stories – the Punjabi community is planning to make a digital story about community learnings on DV prevention, including gender inequality, cultural practices and expectations around the role of women and the importance of bystander interventions in communities.
- Participatory theatre as a prevention tool – educating the community across Western Sydney in partnership with local organisations.
- An awareness campaign and bystander training about how DV impact on victim-survivors and the family members of victim-survivors in CALD communities. The project team is reviewing the ethical requirements and trauma-informed processes necessary for such work.
- A parenting program focussing on building the positive parenting skills of men and fathers will be explored.
- The project team is investing in partnerships with other Local Health Districts to extend the work across the greater Sydney region.
People and organisations to thank
NSW Centre for Education Against Violence
Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District
Health Literacy Hub – Western Sydney Local Health District