DAY SEVEN: Systemic Stereotypes: Violence against Bonda tribal women

Nancy Yadav writes about stereotypes embedded in myth and colonial history that oppress the Bonda tribal women in India.

Nancy Yadav

Featured Image: Bonda women at Bhubaneswar (Odisha) Tribal Fair (author’s own)

“We have the same colour of blood as others, why are we kept behind and exploited?”

Mini (Bonda Adivasi/Tribal advocate

 The right to live free from violence is one of the most fundamental human rights; the Universal Declaration of Human rights internationally recognised documents advocate these rights. In India ‘Article 21 of the Constitution of India, constitutes a basic human right, the right to life with dignity sans violence. The introduction of “Report no.230 on Atrocities and Crimes Against Women and Children” mentions that women’s “status witnessed a sharp decline with pervasive gender stereotypes in society.” The situation of tribal women remains perilous, the reports observe that in the rural, tribal areas the communities accept atrocities as a way of life in the absence of organisational assistance. As per the National Crime Records Bureau records, which are documenting crime against women from Scheduled Tribes (ST) specifically since 2015, we see 1137 cases of rape being recorded against ST women in 2020 as against 885 intent to outrage the modesty of ST women. The situation of Bonda women is no different. 

Odisha’s “Remo” Bonda tribe is one of the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) among 13 PVTGs in Odisha and 75 PVTGs in India. The PVTGs categorisation, which was supposed to provide special rights, itself creates a divide discriminating the tribal women based on their ethnicity, gender and class in the larger Indian society.

Mini’s experience of hostility is one such example which indicates the systemic violence faced by tribal women in Odisha.  Mini is a Bonda woman from Malkangiri district Odisha (whom the researcher met and conversed with during her fieldwork), every year she puts up her stall, selling agricultural produce at Adivasi Mela Ground (annual tribal fair) at Bhubaneshwar.

When asked about her community, Mini says that she does not like the attitude of people from the plains; her community is often perceived as “violent” and women are seen as photographic objects because of the customary attire. “Only for mere 10 rupees tourists take pictures and advertise our community women as ‘exotic’ Indians and “naked” Indian tribes”. As someone actively engaging in social work in her region, Mini is determined to shatter the stereotyped identity of her community and challenge the idea that by “giving alms to the tribals they (the non-tribals) cannot exploit and restrict them from developing.”  

Mini’s reaction is against a long-standing historical violence and injustice done to the Bonda community. The narratives and knowledge formation of the community have its roots in colonial ethnography which stereotyped the community as “primitive” and “savage.” The “strange dress” and appearance of Bonda women, violent and homicidal ways of men, and inaccessibility of their villages, in the colonial narratives remained the primary information, recognising the Bonda tribe as “classical savage type.”

Historically, Bonda women keep their head shaved, covering it with a fillet of palmyra, olive shells or scarlet seeds. They cover their upper body with brass collars of different patterns of brass chains and beadwork necklaces of different colours. Their lower body is covered with a small ‘ringa’ skirt tied by a waistband attached in front. Though Bonda women cover themselves with a lot of ornaments and necklaces, their semi-naked appearance to others is determined to form the identity of the community as “naked tribe.”

In the Bonda community, all significant roles of gender-based identities are attached to myth and rituals, and the customary attire is part of myth which constrains Bonda women from wearing any other cloth except” ringa” (loin cloth). Gregory Staley (2008) in his essay published in the anthology Laughing with Medusa: Classical Myth and Feminist Thought, articulates that investigating myth is a constructive feminist exercise.

Myth becomes a tool through which women can escape the world which men have constructed for them through myth, can attack it, can begin their voyage of discovery’

Gregory Staley (2008:219)

Revisiting the Bonda myth explains the origins of the prohibition of clothing among the Bonda community.

The shaven heads and half-clad bodies are the result of a curse given by goddess Sita, as a penalty for laughing at the bathing goddess. It is necessary to note that the goddess Sita is a Hindu goddess, and the curse version is most widespread among ‘outsiders’–the non Bondas, most likely the non-tribals. The second myth explains that the scrap of cloth is given as a gift by Mahaprabhu (Bonda deity). There is no offence and no curse, the skirt is a gift of Mahaprabhu’s mercy, as an advance on complete nudity. In the third myth, a Bonda woman who has removed her clothes to husk grain on a warm day, jumps below the earth to avoid being seen in the nude by her brother; he catches her by the hair, and it comes in his hand. The woman thus stayed hairless and with only a tiny rug she was holding to wipe off her sweat.

These curse myths are the most narrated myths explaining Bonda women’s attire. The significant issue with the myth is that it propagates the stereotyped identity of the Bonda community as “naked,’ and ‘uncivilised”.

The myths reinforce the violent gendered stereotypes of cursed nudity, and  propagate and reinforce colonial stereotypes that justified the documentation of the tribe as ‘uncivilised’.  Thus, caught between tradition and coloniality, the Bonda women, ironically, face violence both within and outside the community.

Over time, wearing sarees (as many women in some parts of Eastern and Southern India do) and shedding the traditional clothing and nudity led to the Bonda women being outcast from within the community. On the other hand, appearing in customary clothing in weekly Onukadelli markets, Bonda women are objectified through a sexual gaze and ‘voyeuristic tribal tourism’ and “human safaris.” 

In sum, the myth and recorded history of the Bonda community intersect with violence against Bonda women making them stereotyped and reduced to bodily descriptions. But Bonda women like Mini brings a ray of hope, interrogating negative stereotypes that they are born into and repositioning their identity.   

Researcher with Bonda women at Mudulipada (Odisha)

Author’s bio:

Nancy Yadav is PhD candidate in Gender Studies at the School of Human Studies at Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi.  

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 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.