I congratulate the Australian Migrant and Refugee Women's Alliance for organising today's conference. This conference is an important step towards eliminating violence against women in Australia by promoting awareness of the issue and encouraging a cultural change – encouraging women to stand up for themselves and other women.
I note the Stand Up! National Conference brings together experts on the subject from around the world, as well as grass root practitioners from various fields to discuss violence inflicted on women in various forms.
Violence against women is a universal issue, which has an enormous impact on not only the victims, but also entire communities.
Regardless of ethnic, cultural or religious backgrounds, violence against women occurs at all social and economic levels. However, migrant women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds face additional challenges when dealing with violence.
Their experience is often exacerbated by their specific situation as migrants, including economic dependency, limited English language skills and lack of understanding about their rights, lack of access to assistance and experiences in their home countries.
Apart from domestic violence, many migrant women also endure Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriages, being trafficked for sexual servitude and forced labour.
The Australian Government is committed to safeguarding the rights of women from migrant backgrounds. We are active on many fronts in eradicating violence against women in migrant communities.
For example, the Australian Government is committed to working with, community groups and nongovernment organisations to eradicate the practice of Female Genital Mutilation.
At the recent National Summit on Female Genital Mutilation, government and nongovernment organisations, as well as individuals committed to coordinated action through a National Compact on FGM. The National Compact aims to ensure that FGM is not practiced in Australia, to support women and girls arriving and settling in Australia, and to bring about elimination of the practice globally.
The department is working to ensure new migrants and refugees to Australia, especially those from countries where Female Genital Mutilation is practiced, are given links to relevant support services, and are also clearly informed that its practice is illegal in Australia.
Family violence provisions provide another measure that support migrant women impacted by violence. These provisions enable certain visa applicants to apply to remain in Australia if their partner relationship breaks down and they, or a member of their family unit, have suffered family violence.
The purpose of these provisions is to avoid a situation where someone remains in a violent relationship for fear of losing their right to live in Australia.
The Australian Government has also taken steps to combat people trafficking and forced and servile marriages. On 27 February 2013 the Australian Parliament passed new laws that criminalise forced marriage, forced labour and organ trafficking.
Departments across the whole of government work together to provide solutions in protecting migrant women's rights in Australia.
- The role of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship specifically, includes:
- Prevention activity through the screening of visa applications for evidence that may indicate potential trafficking and help identify possible trends,
- Detection onshore through the department's compliance activities,
- Enhanced departmental data analysis capability to assist in identifying likely traffickers and their victims, and
- Assistance to suspected victims of trafficking through the grant of visas under the People Trafficking Visa Framework.
While there is anecdotal evidence of cases of forced marriage involving Australians, there is a shortage of empirical information about the extent to which it occurs.
The government implements a range of legislative measures and risk profiling tools to ensure appropriate measures are in place to address the practices of forced and servile marriages that occur in Australia, or that affect Australian citizens and residents overseas.
Nonetheless, it remains difficult to identify and address all instances of forced marriage, particularly where victims are unlikely to feel safe to speak out about their situation.
Even in cases where victims do speak out, they are unlikely to be willing to have that information recorded in a visa decision record, which is a legal requirement for a lawful refusal of a visa application.
Australia allocates 12 per cent of the refugee component of its Humanitarian Program to Woman at Risk applicants. With the recent increase in the overall size of the Humanitarian Program, from 13 750 to 20 000, the number of Woman at Risk visa grants will also increase.
Woman at Risk clients are a vulnerable cohort within Australia's Humanitarian Program. Research shows they often require more intensive and specialised settlement support in Australia than other humanitarian clients.
The Australian Government is working to raise awareness of issues impacting on refugee women and highlight the resettlement challenges they face.
To this end staff are working on a suite of materials, including:
- an e-booklet – Getting Settled: Women Refugees in Australia – to be uploaded onto the web, and a hard copy launched in the coming months,
- a set of training materials for staff at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and humanitarian settlement service providers,
- a tip sheet for conducting interviews with the Woman at Risk cohort, and
- an interview script for Woman at Risk clients prior to their settlement
A formal evaluation of regional settlement outcomes for single and unsupported women at risk will also be undertaken.
Educating women about their rights and providing information about services available to them in a domestic violence situation will go a long way towards ensuring they gain the courage and support to stand up against the perpetrators.
The Australian Government also provides a translating and interpreting service for people who do not speak English, which enables any victims to learn about their rights, communicate with authorities, or seek other assistance relevant to their situation.
The work of the Australian Migrant and Refugee Women's Alliance at the grass root levels and with service providers is an effective method for reaching out to women who may be silent victims of violence, and who may be unaware that violence against women is unacceptable in Australian society.
It is encouraging to see women from diverse backgrounds are standing up for their right to live the productive and rewarding life Australia so readily offers them – free from fear of physical and psychological abuse and violence, and full of hope and promise.
I wish the organisers and participants every success in achieving their goals, including developing a framework to eliminate violence against women and their children.
- Parliamentary Secretary's Office: (02) 6277 3545
- Departmental Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555