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Ending family violence in culturally diverse Australia

Jasmeet Sahi |  21 February 2016

Violence in the family is not a cultural thing, but all cultures have different ways of addressing it. What might be suitable for an Anglo population may not be appropriate for other cultural groups. Understanding cultural nuances and having differentiation in approaches to family violence is therefore crucial to ending it in all Australian homes.

Indian women and children flee the spectre of family violenceI was raised in India, where I saw the value given to respecting elders, obeying them, being compliant and maintaining good relations with family members.

The family and its unity is where a lot of Indians derive their sense of identity. Nobody wants to be that family that airs its dirty laundry in public. Women learn early in life that it is paramount to maintain calm and peace in a family home. Voicing dissent, raising arguments is not the way to achieve this.

Men learn these things too, but often it is seen as the woman's obligation to ensure them. Good Indian girls learn how to be industrious enough to cope with raised tempers and irritable family members, and still be pleasing, not only at home but also socially. This may not be a female Indian experience alone.

Australia's first Royal Commission into Family Violence was set up a year ago on 22 February with a focus on system improvement for finding ways to prevent family violence in Victoria. At the time, Commissioner Marcia Neave AO said that determining where the money goes and where it might be required would be a large part of what the Commission ascertains.

In less than six weeks time, on 29 March, the Royal Commission is due to provide its report and recommendations to the government. What will this change?

Research indicates that cultural values and immigration status compound the complexities in family violence scenarios for women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

Although there is limited information and no national data available on the prevalence of violence against women from CALD backgrounds, it is known that they are generally less likely than other groups of women to report domestic violence, for several socio-cultural reasons.

Hearing Her Voice reportAccording to the Department of Social Services report Hearing Her Voice, drawn from conversations with CALD women and their children, these include a lack of support networks, socioeconomic disadvantage, language barriers, community pressure and limited knowledge about their rights and Australia's laws.

This is where local community-based programs come to the rescue.

Sunila Shrivastava of Hum Tum, a task force working with victims of family violence, primarily within the Indian communities in the eastern and southeastern suburbs of Melbourne, says that often it is only with the influence of such programs that people find the courage to report incidents and apply for intervention orders against a perpetrating family member.

In the Indian context, perpetrating family members may mean the spouse or even the in-laws.

Shrivastava speaks of the difficulties victims suffer if they have recently migrated to Australia and feel the pressure to acquiesce to social norms and values they have learnt in India in the face of abuse or neglect inside the family home. Unfortunately a lack of resources and funds limits the support that programs such as Hum Tum can offer.

On the first day of the public hearings of the Royal Commission into Family Violence in July last year, submissions highlighted that almost all community programs and service providers were overwhelmed with work and severely underfunded. They also indicated that empowering communities to develop local approaches to preventing and tackling family violence was important.

I wonder if they will see the connection between these two realities and the value that culturally diverse organisations can bring to the reduction of family violence in many homes in Australia. What kind of support can these organisations hope for from the Royal Commission next month?


Jasmeet SahiJasmeet Sahi is a Melbourne-based writer and editor.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

Main image: Chris Johnston


Jasmeet Sahi

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Submitted comments

Family violence is a kind of cannibalism. Sensing the danger of taking out its frustrations on an outsider with an equal power to respond punitively, the compressed aggressor eats its own.

Roy Chen Yee 19 February 2016

A terrific - and important - article…I hope that many people read it and take on board its contents. Thank you Jasmeet!

Christine Nicholls 22 February 2016

We all need to learn to be kind to each other. You don’t have to like someone but we do all need kindness. Family violence etc and women who have learned to be silent, is not just a problem for Indian families. From silence, I also learned how to survive, how to recognise those motivated by power, the manipulator and the soft do-gooder who has no actual idea. However, a heartfelt grateful thank you to all those who have been kind throughout my life and to all those who uplift the spirit. Please God, I always do the same.

jane 22 February 2016

"Violence in the family is not a cultural thing". It may not be part of a culture, but it is regularly found in primitive dog-eat-dog situations where 'might is right', and men traditionally 'lorded it over their women'. Such traditions of exercising power are only slowly and reluctantly given up, until men and societies evolve sufficiently to appreciate the ideal of selfless love, for 'Love changes everything', and the light of love dispels the dark instincts and traditions that cause so many problems in the lives of families, communities and nations.

Robert Liddy 22 February 2016

An insightful article addressing the grassroots-level needs to address an intricate and complex problem that often goes unspoken. Cultural sensitivity and meaningful, sensible solutions to help women become speak up and then work towards becoming self-sufficient within their communities is vital. Glad to see you addressing such an issue and bringing out the importance of help at the community level. Looking forward to more! Love, Jo

Jyotsna 22 February 2016

I'm not from Indian background, but a mixture of European backgrounds like a lot of 4th or 5th generation white Australians), but I can totally relate to Jasmeet's view of traditional family culture in India. It's probably the reason I was baffled by the realisation of the amount of domestic violence in Australia. It wasn't that my father was at all violent or even verbally of psychologically abusive, but in the normal course of family dramas and arguments, my mother was always the peacemaker and usually sacrificed have "her say" for the sake of family unity, and not wanting to make a mountain out a of molehill. It wasn't until I started to mature that I appreciated my mother's actions were far from passive - but courageous and loving.

Aurelius 23 February 2016

Excellent article Jasmeet!!!

Navika 25 February 2016

Excellent article Jasmeet!

Suparb 27 February 2016

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