Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia is delighted to launch our Free From Violence Against Women and Girls Report and to announce the opening a women’s-only space in Parramatta. This new space is part of a new Women’s Project called “Finding Safety.”
Last night, JRS Australia celebrated our opening at a new location in Westmead and the launch of the Free from Violence AgainstWomen and Girls (VAWG) Report.
The release of this report precedes International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on the 25th November. Each year, this day is followed by a campaign called 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Today also marks White Ribbon Day.
The report is part of an overall plan to effectively respond to the specific challenges faced by asylum seeker women and girls who are survivors or at risk of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV).
“Asylum seeker women are incredibly resilient and are agents of their own lives. For us, it is crucial that they are drivers of this project,” said JRS Australia Director, Carolina Gottardo.
A huge issue for many asylum seeking women is violence. “Unfortunately, violence against women and girls is endemic and it affects women seeking asylum in very specific ways as a result of the multiple layers of discrimination that they face on the grounds of their gender, race and migration/asylum status,” said JRS Australia Director, Carolina Gottardo.
The report is ground-breaking because it highlights the experiences of women seeking asylum in Australia who have encountered SGBV. Until now, such experiences are generally missing from the broader public discussion on gender-based violence.
Stephanie Beckwith, JRS Australia Project Coordinator said “we wanted to hear from the women themselves about their experiences and how their experiences of gender-based violence have impacted their journey of seeking asylum and in accessing support services in Australia.”
To complete the report, JRS Australia conducted 10 in-depth interviews with women experiencing SGBV. Additionally, a round-table with service providers from the domestic violence sector and asylum sector highlighted the challenges in supporting these women.
“We are finding in our work that it is particularly difficult to find access to specialist services for this group of [asylum seeking] women,” said Ms Beckwith.
Common issues include lack of income and a lack of access to housing and community services. Additionally, these women fear the threat of deportation and/or violent repercussions for reporting cases of domestic violence to the police. Such fears are not unfounded with cases of some women being forced to return to potentially dangerous situations in their countries of origin.
Insecure visa status often contributed to asylum-seeking women perceiving Domestic Family Violence (DMV) as a minor issue. One interviewee said;
“Sometimes you have this big problem…And then you have another problem, like sexual violence or…maybe you’re beaten by your partner or your husband, so your mind becomes so much occupied by this asylum seeker thing, you end up thinking these other ones are just too, they’re not as serious as what you have. Because, like seeking asylum, it’s about like… your life. So, it occupies your mind and it’s like….so you’re sexually abused or molested there, so you’re like ok, it’s not as serious as what you have at the moment.”
The report also revealed that past trauma can prevent this group of women trusting authority figures to seek help. Many asylum-seeking women were raped when they lived in refugee camps.
JRS Australia is committed to bringing the experiences and voices of women seeking asylum into the public arena, and supporting them to advocate for change. Finding Safety, JRS Australia’s new 3-year project funded by Women NSW, is the first step in this journey.
“We are delighted to have secured funding through Women NSW to start our Finding Safety project to respond to the issues found in the report. This will be a women’s-only space based in Parramatta” said Ms Gottardo.
JRS Australia wishes to thank Women NSW for funding this important project, and thanks the women who participated in the research.
The VAWG Report provides a series of recommendations to prevent SGBV and address its impacts for women seeking asylum. These include:
– Specific housing and/or additional beds allocated within existing refuges for asylum seeker women and children leaving DFV.
– Access to social security payments and childcare subsidies for women seeking asylum who are survivors or at risk of domestic or family violence, regardless of their visa status.
– Clear policy guidelines separating reporting of SGBV from immigration controls, thus ensuring that women can disclose such issues without fear of being detained or deported.