50% increase in racism-related complaints: AHRC

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The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) says there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of racism-related complaints it has received in the past year. And the bulk of issues with regard to racism are experienced by women.

The statistics were revealed at the Racism & Women Symposium held at the NSW Parliament House on 17 October, an initiative of Pallavi Sinha, Chairperson of the Immigrant Women’s Speak-out Association (IWSA). She said that the symposium was meant to prepare recommendations to be given to the state and the federal government.

“It is important to give the community an opportunity to participate in such speeches, and discuss issues with federal and state politicians. As Stepan Kerkyasharian, who is the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission as well as the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW, also attended the symposium, it was a great opportunity for the community to discuss social issues directly with the people involved in resolving them,” said Pallavi.

Pallavi said the IWSA is the peak advocacy group for immigrant and refugee women in NSW and actively represents their interests and concerns. “It was a great experience working with former minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Honourable Chris Bowen, to make necessary amendments to the provisions related to family violence in the migration policy,” said Pallavi, who added that Chris Bowen publicly acknowledged the role of IWSA in bringing about important changes.

“Australia is a ‘lucky country’ having so many people from diverse backgrounds,” said Pallavi in her speech at the symposium, mentioning that reports indicate that since 1945, seven million people have migrated to Australia. “I think that the success stories of people from different ethnic backgrounds should be celebrated in spheres such as politics, business, arts and culture,” added Pallavi.

“I believe that a multicultural society is something to be proud of, but one must remember there is only one race – the human race. Unfortunately, some reports indicate that 1 in 7 people report that they have experienced racial discrimination,” said Pallavi.

She says that racism can occur between cultures, but within them as well. According to IWSA data, 80 per cent of the women who approach them have reported incidents of racism. “When a woman experiences racism, it is a triple or quadruple discrimination because it can be because of her race, her gender, her cultural background, or her age.

Sometimes women are more vulnerable because they don’t know their rights or they don’t have the confidence to stand up for themselves,” said Pallavi, who is also a counsellor.

She said that she has seen women who have suffered a loss of self-esteem, and have felt stigmatised and isolated, all of which have had an adverse impact on their physical, emotional and mental health. “They tend to withdraw from participation in a household or at their workplace, and this can impact productivity and the economy,” says Pallavi, who believes the government needs to adopt a gender perspective in the design, delivery and evaluation of all policies and programs.

In his speech at the symposium, Stepan Kerkyasharian said that he believed racism in 2013 was taking on different forms, as global technology is creating new challenges. “The NSW government’s review of the state’s racial vilification will be released shortly, and I would like to see a review of all Australian legislation regarding racial criticism across all jurisdictions to give some teeth to the legislation,” he said.

Jane Corpuz-Brock, who also addressed the gathering at the Immigrant Women’s Speak-out, said, “There are numerous instances of immigrant women being bullied at the workplace. They find that they are being mimicked. Sometimes, women are not even given jobs because of racial discrimination,” said Jane, who believed that 80 percent of the women at the Speak-out were seeking help after being racially abused.

In her address, NSW Deputy Opposition Leader Linda Burney, the first Aboriginal Australian elected to the NSW Parliament, highlighted the fact that racism often results in sexual violence, especially in the cases of indigenous women living in small towns.

Pallavi said IWSA will be working with the AHRC and ADB to prepare recommendations, which will be presented to the State and Federal Government.

The Symposium was well-attended by federal and state politicians including Minister for Women Pru Goward and Shadow minister for women Sophie Cotsis, and heads of ethnic organisations, including the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council, the Ethnic Communities Council, and the Community Relations Commission.

Speeches were given by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who represented Prime Minister Tony Abbott; NSW Minister for Citizen and Communities and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Member for Ryde, Victor Dominello (who was also the host of the symposium); and NSW Deputy Leader of the Opposition and member for Canterbury Linda Burney.

The event also witnessed a wonderful cultural program by migrant women – highlighted by a vibrant and colourful percussion performance and a flash mob. Two women also shared stories of the racism they had experienced.

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