By Mohamed Taha
Posted Sun 29 Jun 2014, 12:13am AEST
A national forum is shining the light on domestic abuse in Australia’s growing migrant population, amid warnings that women are being exposed to violence, exploitation and discrimination.
More than 100 people from women’s support groups, agencies and government attended the Culture: No Excuse for Abuse forum at the University of New England campus in Parramatta, NSW.
Hosted by women’s advocacy group Shakti Australia, the forum sought to address violence, exploitation and discrimination of women from Asian, African and Middle Eastern communities.
Shasha Ali from Shakti Australia and New Zealand said the group wanted to draw attention to violence in Australia’s growing migrant population.
“It’s a way for us to demonstrate some of the grave issues that our women and children face on a day-to-day basis in settling in Australia,” she said.
Cultural misunderstanding leads to under-reporting
Ms Ali said domestic violence within migrant and refugee communities is misunderstood by the wider sector, which leads to many incidents being left unreported.
“In Australia, the issue of forced marriage, threats of honour killings, dowry-related violence and other forms of culturally sanctioned abusive practices are misunderstood and unrepresented in the domestic violence sector.”
She said this lack of understanding leaves many victims in the dark and fearful of seeking help.
“We feel it’s only the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
“Most of the time, women don’t want to access most of the services because of stigma, fear of discrimination and language and cultural understanding barriers.”
Ms Ali said the group has received a high number of calls for help in New Zealand, where these particular communities represent 10 per cent of the population.
“We see 700 calls a month through our own crisis line [in New Zealand],” she said.
“We can only imagine the extent of the issue [here] being explored, if it was well promoted and understood in Australia.”
Ms Ali said change has to come from within these communities to encourage more reporting.
“Speaking out, taking responsibility for issues and working together to find solutions to this issue,” she said.
“We need collaborative and innovative models within the Australian community and the support of the wider sector.”
The forum was supported by the Department of Social Services under the Gender Equality for Women program – Women’s Safety Agenda.
Group says greater reporting in subcontinent communities
One of the attendees was Kittu Randhawa from the Indian and Subcontinent Crisis and Support Agency.
She said incidents of violence is on the rise due to more reporting.
“[The increase] is due to the reporting and [the fact] there are more organisations,” she said.
“We’re starting to get some data on this.”
She said the causes of domestic and family violence within the subcontinent communities are not understood by the wider sector.
“Domestic violence is grouped as a large thing,” she said. “There’s not a lot of data or statistics that’s broken down into the subcontinents, cultures or ethnicities.”
Ms Randhawa said one of the difficulties in collecting data is the stigma around speaking out.
“The women become ostracised within their own communities from men, women and children.”
“We need to get through to the children in the communities so they understand what their obligations and rights are … [and] we need to work with the general agencies, the police force, medical institutions and politicians.”
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