DAY SEVEN: When Bessie Guthrie met the Women’s Liberation Movement

Writer and Director Catherine Dwyer reflects on the Women’s Liberation Movement and the making of her film, Brazen Hussies.

Catherine Dwyer

Featured image: Bessie Guthrie: Fighter for Underprivileged Girls, Tribune 2 Oct 1973

I first came across the story of Bessie Guthrie and her campaigns for child welfare reforms in an essay by Suzanne Bellamy about MeJane, a Sydney Women’s Liberation Newspaper that ran from 1971-1974. I found it in a book called Things that Liberate An Australian Feminist Wunderkammer (2013) edited by Alison Bartlett and Margaret Henderson. The book is a collection of essays by various women centered around objects from the Women’s Liberation Movement. It became an object in my own ‘Wunderkammer’, acquired during the five years I spent researching and making the documentary film, Brazen Hussies.

Image above: Things that Liberate An Australian Feminist Wunderkammer, edited by Alison Bartlett and Margaret Henderson (2013, Cambridge Scholars Publishing)

In Suzanne’s essay I discovered the hilarious story of Vera Figner, a 19th century Russian revolutionary, whose name was used as MeJane’s ‘Publisher’. As a result, Vera Figner was later found to be a “New South Wales Person of Interest” in ASIO’s surveillance on the Women’s Liberation Movement. This story made it into the film where we also combined ASIO surveillance footage with the pop song ‘Girl Watcher’ by the O’Kaysions – putting an ironic twist on the sexist pastime of ogling women.

‘Girl Watcher’ ASIO Spy story featuring Vera Figner in Brazen Hussies (Film Camp, 2020)

But it was difficult to capture all of the facets of the women’s movement in one 90 minute film, and one of my favourite stories ended up on the cutting room floor. It was the story of Bessie Guthrie’s arrival one day at the MeJane Headquarters. She was armed with folders of documents from her one-woman crusade for child welfare reform that she had amassed over 20 years. She announced to the MeJane collective of radical feminists “I’ve been waiting for you girls all my life.”

Image Details: Bessie Guthrie at Sydney Women’s Liberation House, 1974. Photo by Anne Roberts courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Tribune / SEARCH Foundation

One of the most significant campaigns [from MeJane] in terms of its success and coverage came in the wake of the arrival of the grand dame Bessie Guthrie … She was in her 60s when she arrived, a tall, elegant woman who came with piles of folders about her campaigns for child welfare reform. It was an astonishing amount of work and took us time to really process.

Suzanne Bellamy, during her interview for Brazen Hussies

Bessie was a local Glebe woman, concerned about the plight of runaway teenage girls and their horrific treatment in state institutions. She would often take them in, her home becoming a makeshift halfway house for runaways.

She fashioned this campaign through MeJane and she gradually allowed us to explore her material and shape it, and then to access what we had, which was the power of numbers. And so we had really important demonstrations outside the Bidura children’s prison in Glebe in which women climbed up on the roof.

Suzanne Bellamy
Image details: Women’s liberationists storm the roof at the Bidura Shelter for Girls in Glebe on International Women’s Day 8 March 1974. Courtesy of Australian History Museum at Macquarie University [Image 42000127]

With the power of numbers, they were also able to attract the attention of ABC journalist Peter Manning, who reported an exposé on the abuse of girls in state care and the barbaric act of forced virginity testing. It was in watching this report that I was struck by how absolutely horrific the treatment of these girls was.

Video: Parramatta Girls Home and Hay Institute for Girls – This Day Tonight (1973)

In a report for the ABC on the Paramatta Girls Home in 1973, Peter Manning discussed the ‘exposure to moral danger’ laws which could be used against girls up until the age of 18:

Annual reports of the child welfare department state that no young men or boys are ever picked up on the charge of exposure to moral danger. It is the section of the Child Welfare Act used exclusively on girls … They are made to scrub the floors of the shelter on their knees every day, ordered to wear a uniform, and they are given a medical examination.

The medical exam included a pelvic examination to determine whether or not they were ‘virginal’. For this white, middleclass, Australian millennial -at least-the idea that the state could compel teenage girls to be physically violated to assess whether they were virgins or not, sounds like something from medieval times, rather than a common occurrence in 1970s Australia. A pelvic examination is not at all a scientifically sound means of testing ‘virginity’.

Image details: Protest at the Parramatta Girls Home, December 9th, 1974. Photo by Anne Roberts courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Tribune / SEARCH Foundation

The exposure to moral danger law was designed to ‘protect’ teenage girls from having sex out of wedlock, but the punishment was far worse than the crime. Only recently the 2014 The Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in institutions revealed horrific stories of physical, sexual and mental abuse of the girls who were taken into state care and put into homes such as Parramatta Girls Home.

Just like the criminalization of abortion, the lack of financial support for single mothers and the pressure on them to give their babies up for adoption, the ‘exposure to moral danger’ law was all part of the gendered violence that controlled women’s bodies, and subjugated them under a patriarchal society. Exposure to moral danger was a crime only committed by poor, often Aboriginal, young women, for no other reason than being born female.

Images Details: Bessie Guthrie (second from right) with members of Women’s Liberation, photo by Pat Fiske in Cauldron vol. 1, no.1, September 1974

Because of Bessie Guthrie’s collaboration with the Women’s Liberation movement, a group of women also made a short film exposing the plight of girls charged with exposure to moral danger. Home, made by Leonie Crennan, Margot Knox, Barbara Levy, Robynne Murphy and Susan Varga features testimony by Toni Wilson, a young woman who spent much of her adolescence in girls homes. The film shows a reenactment of legs going into stirrups from the patient’s point of view. She recounted the following:

The doctor sticks his finger up you. So you can imagine the effect that would have on a thirteen year old child. And a virgin at that. And the doctor saying you know when I resisted purely out of embarrassment, ‘Oh if you don’t lie still we’ll take you to Parramatta and tie you down.’ Completely misinterpreting my attitude, that’s what shits me. An air of defence is just born of fear and bewilderment and you’re penalised for it.

After the episode of This Day Tonight aired compulsory virginity testing was stopped virtually overnight. Eventually the charge of ‘Exposure to moral danger’ was also dropped.

For more information about the “Exposure to Moral Danger” laws and the girls institutions listen to Ann Arnold’s award winning ABC radio documentary from 2009, Exposed to Moral Danger.

For more info on Brazen Hussies:

Web: brazenhussies.com.au
Facebook: brazenhussiesfilm
Twitter: Brazen_Hussies
Instagram: brazenhussiesfilm

Author bio:

Catherine Dwyer is the Writer and Director of Brazen Hussies– an historical dive into the Australian Women’s Liberation Movement 1965-1975. She was inspired to make the film during her time as an Associate Producer on Mary Dore’s She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014) – about the Women’s Movement in the United States. During this experience she realized how little she knew of her own country’s feminist history and how easily it was being forgotten. Catherine was nominated for an Australian Director’s Guild Award for Brazen Hussies as well as an AACTA award for Best Direction.  Brazen Hussies was nominated for the 2020 AIDC and AACTA Awards for “Best Feature Documentary” and is listed as one of The Guardian’s top 10 Australian films of 2020.

DAY SIX: I Sing of Arms and the Woman: Gendered Violence in Modern Mythic Reinterpretations

Hazel Atkinson

Featured image above: “Penelope at her tapestry loom with a handmaiden picking apples.” by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Mythic reinterpretations are a hot topic. Specifically, ‘feminist’ reinterpretations, which attempt to give a voice to the women of ancient tales who have, until now, largely been watching from the sidelines. The success of Circe (Madeleine Miller), The Silence of the Girls and The Women of Troy (Pat Barker), A Thousand Ships (Natalie Haynes) and Ariadne (Jennifer Saint) among others demonstrates the current appetite for such stories. We are ready, it seems, to hear something new.

But just how successfully have these myths been ‘reclaimed’? In one respect, it is refreshing simply to hear these old stories retold from a female perspective. To hear Circe’s voice bellow over that of Odysseus, or Ariadne speak for herself; to be addressed by the chorus of Trojan women. But does merely placing words in the mouth of a woman amount to a reclamation?

Gendered violence insistently pervades these retellings, whether in the horrific descriptions of sexual assault, or the casual murder of women as a consequence of wars fought by men. How have contemporary authors wrestled with this?

For Briseis, the narrator of Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls, the answer is no. Barker’s novel does not shy away from the brutal treatment of women as a result of the Trojan War; Briseis watches a ‘woman raped repeatedly by a gang of men who were sharing a wine jug’, and gazes upon the corpse of Polyxena, sacrificed so that Greek men might return to their homeland: ‘the deep gash in her throat made her look as if she had two mouths, both silent. Silence becomes a woman’. Even after Achilles’ death, she acknowledges that it is his tale she has been playing a part in: ‘His story. His, not mine. It ends at his grave.’

Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships shifts between perspectives, encompassing all of the women embroiled in the Trojan War, but returning frequently to Calliope, the traditional muse of epic poetry, as her main narrator. Calliope bites at Homer for his reluctance to narrate the demise of women, lest he slip from his chosen genre: ‘Men’s deaths are epic, women’s deaths are tragic: is that it?’ She too dwells upon the pain endured by the various female characters, and throughout the book achieves her objective of making the ‘hidden women appear in plain sight’, as do all these authors who seek to bring their stories to light. But when those stories are still filled with the violence of war, of rape, of enforced childbearing, how helpful, indeed how ‘feminist’, are they for us as readers today?

As a young, female writer, these are issues that concern me directly. My work in progress is a collection of short stories, which also seeks to rehabilitate several of the women from Greek mythology. In this I have grappled not only with how to address the violence dealt out to these women whilst they are alive, but also with the fact that many of their stories end with suicide. The men who originally penned them were claiming to give them a voice. Written during the first century BCE, the most famous classical example is Ovid’s Heroides, a series of letter-poems, addressed from multiple women of Greco-Roman mythology to their respective male partners. Yet, because the endings of these women have overwhelmingly written by men, it is the male pen which therefore deals out such violence to them again and again. This violence is highly relevant in contemporary society, in which the string of murdered women in modern thrillers or crime dramas mirrors reality: on average, one woman is killed every three days by a man in the UK. Does repeatedly depicting the violence women face, even with the best of intentions, challenge or contribute to it?

My personal response has been to treat these myths as malleable, to reshape them into something which feels relevant to our modern world. Sometimes changing a story can draw attention to issues just as effectively as keeping it the same.

This is the power of ‘what if?’. What if Penelope grew bored of waiting, and decided to deal with the troublesome suitors herself? What if Canace did not hang herself from the rafters? What if Dido threw her memories of Aeneas onto that pyre instead of her own body? What if, what if, what if.

There is perhaps no right way to tackle the subject. In many ways, there is something more honest about the work of Pat Barker compared to the ‘softer’ approach of others; her novels may be bleak, but they are unafraid in their depiction of the realities faced by women in the ancient world. But I believe there has to be change, too. There has to be hope that if these women’s stories can be altered, their violent futures un-carved, then so can our own. That, after all, is the enduring allure of myth. That is the whole point of a retelling.

References

Pat Barker, The Silence of the Girls, (Hamish Hamilton, 2018)

Pat Barker, The Women of Troy, (Hamish Hamilton, 2021)

Natalie Haynes, A Thousand Ships, (Mantle, 2019)

Madeleine Miller, Circe, (Bloomsbury, 2018)

Jennifer Saint, Ariadne, (Wildfire, 2021)

Author’s Bio:

Hazel Atkinson is a recent history graduate and writer, currently working on her first book of short stories: a re-interpretation of Greco-Roman myth and is currently represented by Jenny Savill of Andrew Nurnberg Associates. She spends her days working in a bookshop and pottering around Edinburgh. You can find her on twitter @hazel_el_rose

DAY SIX: At the centre and yet forgotten: Violence against women in Oral Narratives

Tanuja Kothial discusses the portrayal of marginalised women and gendered violence in oral narratives and Hindu epic literature.

Tanuja Kothiyal

Featured image above: “Arjuna shooting at the eye of a fish to obtain Draupadi in marriage” source: Wikimedia Commons

Every year I teach a course in Oral Epic traditions in India, aiming to explore the processes through which identities shape up in the performance of traditions among different communities. In the course of teaching, we usually conclude that oral epics provide space to identities which are elided over in the written sources controlled by the dominant groups. However, what we come to see is that hierarchy and dominance remain embedded even in the most marginalized of traditions.

In most oral narratives, often belonging to marginalized groups, portrayal of women and of gendered violence remains caught in stereotypical frames: either benevolent goddesses, mothers, wives who protect families or wronged women, often located outside of marital structures, who become the cause and means of destruction of societal harmony.

Women’s lives are often rendered meaningful through their devotion towards men in their families like that of Sadu Mata in the Devnarayan epic, the mother in the Anananmar epic or Damayanti in the Dhola epic. When denied motherhood or marital spaces, or located outside of familial spaces, women unleash their wrath upon the world and destroy it, like Kannagi from Cilappatikaram, Jaimati from Devnarayan epic, Deval from Pabuji epic, Tankal from Annanmar or Bela from Alha. Then there is the ‘free’ woman, invariably tribal, lower caste or working-class, who is often depicted as ‘loose’, lascivious and sexually available. In the epic traditions all these women are at the receiving end of cycles of gendered and sexual violence irrespective of their social locations.

Among the multitudes of narratives drawing upon the Hindu epic literatures we often find references to women like Menaka, Rambha, Shakuntala, Ahilya, Satyavati, Kunti, Draupadi, among many others subjected to lustful gaze of men, violated and then subjected to a life of guilt and suffering for abandoning children born out of violence. Sometimes, they are erased out of narratives like in the oral epic of Pabuji, where his mother is depicted as a heavenly nymph who vanished when a promise was broken. Alternate readings of the epic suggest the possibility of the mother having been a tribal woman whose identity was erased to create an upper caste identity for the Rajput deity Pabuji.

In several oral narratives we find similar references to forced marriages to tribal or lower caste women, as part of protection treaties. Daughters and sisters were often used as collateral in political treaties. In narratives from Rajputana, women are portrayed as willing participants in the ritual suicides by fire.

Though we do get some references to women refusing to follow men to death, the fear of sexual violence as well as a life of hardship and neglect in absence of any rights outside of marriage, could well have motivated women to seek death over life.

In some narratives where marginalized groups seek revenge it is through inflicting sexual violence upon women, and yet in other narratives it is the danger of sexual violence towards women that is used to justify suppression of lower caste communities.

While the Mahabharata contains numerous references to sexual conquests of the Pandavas, in the Bhili Bharat, an epic of the Dungri Bhils of Gujarat, an episode depicts the rape of Draupadi by the Naga king of the netherworld to spite her husband Arjuna after tying him up. Only in some rare narratives, often referring to goddess traditions, do women faced with sexual violence retaliate, like the Charani goddess Avad of western India who, angered by a king’s insistent marriage proposal, shifted the course of a river rendering his kingdom a desert. In rare instances like in the Bhili Bharat, they emerge as possessors of wisdom and knowledge, as gurus, witches and goddesses, who navigate the events in the face of collective lack of wisdom among the men.

Thus, while we expect oral traditions, which provide voice to marginal communities and groups, to create space for women’s voices, even in these traditions women’s locations remain marginal and mostly with respect to the male figures.

Women’s marginality is ‘invisibilised’ even in the narratives of marginality. The only manner in which they become visible is as ‘bodies’ whose violation or preservation provides cause and context to the actions of men.

Women characters do not escape the cycles of gendered sexual violence. Dominance as well as retaliation to it takes the form of sexual violence upon women’s bodies, imagery of whose brutalization further perpetuates cycles of violence. Women exercise no control over these cycles of violence, irrespective of the side they are located on, as violence is unleashed upon other women to protect their bodies. Women’s bodies are placed at the centre of narratives and yet remain marginal.

Author’s bio:

Tanuja Kothiyal is Professor of History in the School of Liberal Studies, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University Delhi. She is the author of Nomadic Narratives: A history of mobility and identity in the Great Indian Desert (Cambridge University Press, 2016) and co-edited a book ‘South Asian Borderlands: Mobility, History, Affect, CUP 2021) Her recent research project https://www.saltindiahistory.com/people will be published in 2022.

DAY FIVE: Confronting Gender-based Violence in Ancient Rome: The Sexual Violation of Pubescent Boys

In this post, Ulrike Roth explores evidence from the ancient Roman world to raise questions about our preparedness to confront the issue of sexual violence against children, then and now.

Ulrike Roth

Featured Image: Warren Cup, c. 15 BCE–15 CE; Jerusalem. © The Trustees of the British Museum, London/UK (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Although only recently given fuller scholarly attention, gender-based violence was a given in ancient Roman society over the long millennium of its existence, from before the middle of the first millennium BCE to the middle of the first millennium CE. Take the sexual violation of male teenagers in the context of slavery. Deeply disturbing from a modern vantage point, sexual interactions between free adult men and enslaved pubescent boys are repeatedly reported in the surviving sources as forced upon the youngsters, with a focus on youths up to 14 years of age. While taken for granted by many, not everyone agreed.  In fact, despite its prevalence we can find ancient voices exposing and condemning the practice as exploitation.

In the 60s CE, Seneca, the former tutor and advisor of the Roman Emperor Nero, publicly criticised the sexual violation of boys by their enslavers:

Another, who serves the wine, must dress like a woman and wrestle with his advancing years; he cannot get away from his boyhood; he is dragged back to it; and though he has already acquired a soldier’s figure, he is kept beardless by having his hair smoothed away or plucked out by the roots, and he must remain awake throughout the night, dividing his time between his master’s drunkenness and his lust; in the chamber he must be a man, at the feast a boy.

Seneca, Moral Letters 47.7

Elsewhere, Seneca refers to the abused as ‘luckless boys’, and calls their abuse ‘shameful treatment’ (95.24). A wall painting from a dining room in the ancient city of Pompeii, in southern Italy, likely visualises this ‘treatment’ of enslaved boys for sexual purposes: while three servants assist various dinner guests in the foreground, another, possibly North African boy, appears embraced by an adult figure, seated in the centre-right at the back of the room.

Wall painting from the House of the Triclinium in Pompeii (V, 2, 4), 50–79 CE.
Courtesy of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (Naples/Italy), via Wikimedia Commons.

The overlap between the serving function of boys at banquets and their exploitation for sexual purposes is powerfully brought out in full-size sculptures displayed in many an elite Roman home. Intended to appear sexually alluring, the naked ‘dumb waiter’ cast in bronze – such as the statute known by its find-spot as the ‘Xanten Youth’ – underscored the commodification of enslaved boys who could be forced to satisfy their enslavers’ every desire. The tension between Seneca’s critique and these artistic representations that catered to the enslaver’s sexualised gaze is unmistaken.

‘Xanten Youth’, c. 50 BCE–100 CE (Xanten/Germany); without serving tray.
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Antikensammlung / Johannes Laurentius (CC NC-BY-SA)

What makes approaching this material especially tricky for the modern scholar seeking to identify gender-based violence in the ancient Roman world is the fact that same-sex relations between males of different ages were not in themselves frowned upon in antiquity, particularly in culturally Greek contexts, and that they were regularly consensual in nature. Indeed, there is no reason to think that all or perhaps even most of these relationships were framed by the coercion of the younger male. A prime example often cited by modern scholars for such a consensual relationship is that between the Roman Emperor Hadrian and the much younger Antinoos, a youth from Bithynia (in modern Turkey), with whom the Emperor slept. Known for his love of Greek practices, Hadrian even publicly idolised Antinoos, and deified him after his premature death in 130 CE, aged 19.

Relief portrait of Antinoos (on a modern slab), c. 130 CE; Louvre (Paris/France).
Courtesy of: C. Raddato (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Much of the relevant evidence for studying gender-based violence is therefore open to different interpretations – from consensus to abuse. This makes pinpointing occurrences of sexual violence difficult. But history books and museum exhibits ignore these uncomfortable ambiguities when they only talk about Antinoos as the Emperor’s lover. They ignore the signs that he might well have been the victim of what we would now call sexual abuse. Could a provincial boy from Bithynia really have said no to the Emperor’s advances? Could abusive dynamics explain his mysterious death in the Nile, possibly by suicide? We don’t have a shred of evidence from Antinoos to know what he felt.

He shares a mute and muted destiny along with the ranks of enslaved individuals whose voices we just don’t hear. But when privileging a consensual interpretation of Antinoos’ sexual interaction with the most powerful man of his day, we are only listening out for one side of the story.

The same holds for the imagery on the Warren Cup that heads this blog. What are we witnessing? Male homosexual love-making? Perhaps even a consensual sexual act between a slaver and a boy enslaved to him? This has been the view of several modern scholars. What do visitors to the British Museum who see the Cup make of it? If slavery defined the two figures’ relationship, how can a focus on a consensual reading be justified?

How, to ask the question more broadly, is one to talk about this kind of Roman evidence with individuals who have experienced sexual violence if we marginalise in our interpretations the very real possibility, even probability, that sexual violence drove many interactions between enslaver and enslaved in the Roman world?

Confronting the more disturbing settings that lurk behind some of the most aesthetically pleasing relics from the ancient Roman world is not about ignoring the many other interpretative options, to pass anachronistically judgement on a dead society; it’s about contributing to a debate that we, today, must have. Trying to uncover the tracks of abusers is, after all, the same challenging task today. Acknowledging the ambiguities in the ancient evidence, and listening more carefully to the signs of abuse in it, helps to ingrain in our mindsets the kind of sensitivised attitude that is so essential in identifying, and combating, sexual violence today.

Author’s Bio:

UIrike Roth is an Ancient Historian, researching and teaching at the University of Edinburgh. She specialises in the study of slavery, primarily in the ancient Roman world, and has recently directed a 3-year project on child slavery in the Roman Empire, funded by the Leverhulme Trust: ‘Enslaved childhoods in the Roman world’.

DAY FOUR: Bringing back hope

In working towards a domestic and family violence free Australia, Muslim Women Australia (MWA) use faith as a tool for empowerment.

Maha Krayem Abdo OAM

Featured image: Photograph of Maha Krayem Abdo OAM

Imagine you are a gardener, and you love spring. You are sowing the seeds to enjoy your garden in spring and maybe summer. You select the right seed and plant that can give you that satisfaction when the right season comes. But we also know we have autumn and winter, so we have to plan how and when to use different seeds and plants for a different purpose.  

Muslim Women Australia (MWA) is that garden, and I am bestowed and entrusted with a position of the gardener by my seniors. Together we plan, develop and implement the ways we can make a difference, just like how gardeners plan for different seasons.  

Together we are making a garden where people who want to enjoy peaceful retreat visit us, those who want a safe space visit us, those need some shade that can take their mind off the heat of stressful life visit us. 

Since its establishment in 1983, MWA has led the way in centring the needs of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) and faith-based communities, advocating for holistic, culturally and religiously competent, community led and trauma-informed practice. In working towards a domestic and family violence (DFV) free Australia, MWA’s highly experienced and professional staff, highlight the healing and therapeutic nature of utilising faith as a tool for empowerment, with a client-centred focus to maintain a client’s dignity at every stage of support. 

Background 

Early on in the work of MWA, it was identified that while support and counselling could be provided to women and their children dealing with DFV, the issue of accommodation needed a more permanent solution. Thus in 1988 the first ever Muslim women refuge was established, the Muslim Women’s Support Centre (MWSC), which operated for over 25 years. 

This unique service was the first of its kind to be set up in Australia that catered specifically to the cultural and religious needs of Australian Muslim Women. The Centre provided clients with crisis accommodation, support to women and children escaping domestic violence, experiencing homelessness, marital disharmony, financial and other hardships. 

It gave women the autonomy to choose how to deal with their issues, by facilitating safe and neutral spaces for mediation and family restoration, where there was no continued risk of physical harm; as well as to provide a service that was culturally and religiously inclusive.  

MWA made a conscious decision to deal with DFV effectively by involving the whole community.

DFV is not simply a woman’s problem. The community must be involved and aware that no violence in any form or shape can be tolerated. The responsibility of dealing with DFV lies with every member of the community, including men.

A collaborative coordinated community approach to dealing with DFV was developed. 

The main focus of the MWSC was with providing women with choices and in empowering them with information and skills to enable them to make decisions. Muslim women had no access to appropriately tailored services which took into account their religious and cultural needs. They were now being provided with choices and options from which to make a decision which responded to needs appropriately, not what someone else perceived their needs to be.  

An integrated, holistic co-case management model was developed throughout the 25 years of operation. MWSC established collaborative partnerships with the police, the local courts, government departments, local hospitals, schools and other DFV service providers as part of ongoing improvement processes to streamline referral processes and to facilitate better access. 

After 25 years of operation, the changes from the NSW Government State Reforms saw an end to the MWSC as a specialist homelessness service. However, the best practice model used throughout its operation, its foundational principles and the sincerity and integrity of the experienced caseworkers for over two decades made an impact across the sector.  

MWA’s Linking Hearts Multicultural Family Violence and Homelessness Support Service is an actualisation and continuation of this history. When we connect heart to heart, and deal with causes, not just symptoms, real healing, connection and understanding can happen. 

Sowing Seeds of Hope 

Learning, understanding, and acknowledging the personal experiences of women informs a people-centred program design by bringing awareness of the impact of trauma as well as the complex paths to healing and recovery.

Therefore, our contribution to knowledge is an elaborative explanation of using culturally and religiously informed faith-based practice using trauma-informed expertise and experience. 

We cannot change the past, but we can certainly change the present for the future, and to do that we need to come together, we need to sincerely gather to recognize there needs to be healing. 

By enabling change to take place in all aspects of our lives, where hope is embedded in our framework, in our interaction with one another and most importantly, in the sector itself, through reforms, regulations, beginning the change within the sector, by the sector, for the health and wellbeing of women, children and society at large. 

We must begin from a place of sincerity, translating into words, then into action, while recognising the importance of transformation, just like the varying blooms of the garden. We allow people to evolve in their own colours and ways, supporting people to be who they are.    

Without healing, there is no hope. If we continue to sow the seeds of hope, they will be passed on and allow for growth and healing.  

The garden shows us that hope is clear, knowing that together we will walk the path of healing, with the hope of change taking place. 

We are all gardeners, aiming to grow, and showing that an individual is part of the community. Just like the garden itself, the different parts interact with one another. The individual as part of the community demonstrates that we rely on each other, for certainty, in being safe. 

For change is real, and reality is hope, and hope in uncertainty creates that change that we all look for.

Author Bio

Maha Krayem Abdo OAM is a passionate advocate for social justice and uses the common language of faith to bring healing and hope to people of all backgrounds. She serves as the CEO of Muslim Women Australia (MWA), a representative body for Muslim women working to enrich humanity, advocating for equality and the rights of all women, through authentic leadership based on Islamic principles.