Peace in our homes

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A new project is launched to educate women about domestic violence, ASHA CHAND reports

‘Peace in our Homes’ became the resonating mantra at the recent launch of a domestic violence community project aimed at educating women of Fiji Indian background.

Federal member for Fowler, Chris Hayes, while launching the project called for zero tolerance of such violence, citing alarming statistics which represent a 9.5 per cent growth in domestic violence in the Liverpool area.

Mr Hayes said that although this represents an increased awareness among victims who have come forward with the problem, the community needs to make a solid stand in labelling this “wrong, illegal, and something that it can no longer remain quiet about”.

“When we ignore something, it does not go away,” he said.

He noted that the region he represents in Parliament is the most colourful electorate in Australia and he is “so proud of it”. Sadly, the region is also fast becoming the capital of domestic violence and this is a major concern. The project was initiated as a result of concerns expressed by specialist service providers in the Liverpool area. These providers include the Liverpool police, hospital emergency services and other health service industries.

An information sheet provided by the project worker, Usha Raju says, “Local hospital reports from the emergency department indicate an increase in the numbers of Fiji Indian women sustaining significant physical injuries”.

The Fiji Indian community in the Liverpool LGA and surrounding areas is the project’s primary target group. The community represents the largest population growth in the city with a growth rate of 3.2 % while the national average was 0.7% in the 2001-2006 census, Mrs Raju said.

Citing the Liverpool Community Strategy for 2009, Mrs Raju said Hindi ranks third largest as a spoken language in the area.

While the Fiji Indian community was vibrant, loud and colourful, by remaining silent on domestic violence, it was allowing the problem to “become manifest”.

“If a woman is exposed to violence, 50 % chance is that she’ll accept it. Statistics show that 60% of young boys growing up in such situations are likely to become abusers,” he said.

“We can’t have another generation of society accepting the cycle of domestic violence. If you don’t do anything about it; it is equally bad,’’ Mr Hayes said.

He said one in three women in Australia was subjected to domestic violence at some stage in her life. The sad reality is that many times police (as service providers) do not want to get involved as the two parties “kiss and make up.”

Jai Deo Prasad who operates Radio Madhurima out of Liverpool said kava drinking was the root cause of such problems. Recalling the sufferings and hardship endured by the community during the indenture era, Mr Prasad said the troubles of the past had allowed the community to attach stigma and taboo to such topics.

“These issues were not talked about in the community and were swept under the carpet,” he said later.

Mr Prasad said the girmit (indenture) era of 1869 to 1916 recorded the highest number of suicides in Fiji. During this time, the Indians had nowhere to turn to.

Encouraging the community to openly ‘talk’ about such issues as they are present in every society and community, Mr Prasad said Australia indeed is the lucky country, as living here exposes one to so much knowledge  and learning.

“You indeed begin to see things differently and I urge the Fiji Indians to take a stand against this level of violence,” he said.

Mr Prasad, who has lived in New Zealand and Australia for 25 years, and has worked in radio for 36 years, said that he has seen the community evolve into a new generation where women too have become perpetrators of such violence.

“Women are now hitting men … but the worst hit are children,” he said.

Citing a 2011 report, released this week, on the level of domestic violence in Fiji, Mr Prasad said 80% of women in Fiji have been exposed to this crime.

The Peace in our Homes project is targeting Indian women of Hindi and Urdu speaking backgrounds. It is an initiative of the Liverpool Women’s Health Centre, Green Valley/Liverpool Domestic Violence Team and the South Western Sydney Health Services.

This month’s event was held at Hilda Davies Senior Citizens Hall at 185 Bigge Street, Liverpool. It was attended by more than 80 participants, mostly women of Indian background.

Mrs Raju said domestic violence is not only about having cuts, bruises and broken body parts. “It is also when another person is controlled emotionally, mentally and financially. Domestic violence also involves verbal and mental abuse, not allowing to practice one’s beliefs, socialising with family, friends and not having the freedom to do what one wants to do rather be told what to do”.

The project aims to create awareness while providing resources to facilitate community discussions and forums on the issues of safety, non-violence, and healthy relationships for peace in our homes in the form of art work.

The drivers of the project are targeting Fiji Indian forums such as temple and Ramayana recital groups, soccer groups as well as other social spaces inhibited by the Fiji Indian community. Methods such as consultations, community surveys and focus groups will be used to determine attitudes to and understanding of violence against women, sexual assault and domestic violence. Community leaders will also be invited to participate in such forums, to be attended by men, women and young adults.

Liverpool Women’s Health Centre manager Betty Green said the project was initiated to give women the capacity to make decisions. Using drawings and expressions was a means to understand the level of pain, frustration, anger and expression of those who have been exposed to domestic violence.

She said a lot had been achieved during the nine months’ duration of the project.

This, however, has allowed those involved to touch only the surface of this sensitive issue, she said.

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