Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Launch of radio plays on forced marriage, Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association of NSW

Thank you very, very much to Vivi who I have known for many years and to you all. Thank you very much for the opportunity and welcome that you have given me this morning.

As Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs I am very pleased to be here today to launch the Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association of New South Wales’ radio plays on forced marriage.

Forced marriage is an inherently hidden crime.

Forced marriage is not limited to any particular cultural group, religion or ethnicity. While men and boys can be victims of forced marriage, most reported victims are young women and girls.

We know that victims of forced marriage may be reluctant to seek help for a number of reasons including:

  • the potential involvement of family and community members in organising the marriage;
  • a lack of understanding about healthy relationships and rights in relation to marriage;
  • a sense of shame or stigma;
  • a fear of authorities; or
  • fear of reprisals from alleged offenders.

This reluctance to seek help has contributed to forced marriage being a crime that is hidden in our communities.

This means that there is not a lot of community awareness about the issue and people may not know about the support available to them.

The IWSA series of radio plays aims to raise community awareness of forced marriage and provide information about legal issues and available support.

The decision to produce these plays for use by community radio also reflects the importance of radio to our culturally and linguistically diverse — or CALD — communities.

The forced marriage radio plays will demonstrate the impact on women who are forced to marry and help to educate listeners about the potential legal impacts concerning Australian law.

Under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, what we call the ‘National Plan’, all Australian governments have committed to increase understanding of violence against this vulnerable group, importantly the experiences of CALD women.

As part of this commitment, from October last year to March of this year, women leaders hosted 29 kitchen table conversations throughout Australia with women from more than 40 ethnic and cultural backgrounds to discuss violence against women and their children.

Thank you to Vivi and Jane who provided valuable support in hosting two of the kitchen table conversations.

These conversations resulted in the Hearing Her Voice report. This confirmed what many of us already knew: that there were issues of domestic and family violence and sexual assault in CALD communities, including issues about forced marriage.

Hearing Her Voice found that in some cultures, daughters are married at an early age to prevent them from engaging in sexual relationships outside of marriage, or from entering into relationships considered culturally or religiously inappropriate.

In such cases, a religious ceremony may be performed while the daughter is below the Australian legal age of consent, with the marriage not being legally registered until she is 18 years old.

Causing or being a consenting party to a forced marriage has been an offence under the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 since 2013.

One of the many themes that came through in the Hearing Her Voice report was that CALD communities need access to information in their own languages and need to know about Australian laws and their rights.

Projects such as these forced marriage radio plays are very important, as they raise awareness of people’s rights in regards to forced marriage in an engaging way that is easy to understand.

They are available in eight languages meaning women from different communities have access to this vital information.

The plays will be useful resources as they talk about different places to go if someone needs your help or your support.

In August, I addressed the first National Roundtable on Reducing Violence against CALD Women and their Children.

Over 80 CALD women leaders — community and business leaders, academics, specialists from domestic violence and sexual assault services and other key stakeholders from around Australia–attended, including some of you ladies here today.

How can we ever forget the three CALD women who spoke about their own personal and professional experiences with CALD violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation in CALD communities?

The Roundtable was another step in addressing violence against CALD women and their children and we must continue this momentum.

As the daughter of migrants, I implored all those at the roundtable that we need to start thinking outside the box. We need to look at new and concrete ways to strengthen resilience in families and empower our CALD women.

One of the best ways to start thinking outside the box is to make sure everyone is educated and informed about the issues.

Which is why it is so important that we are here today, acknowledging the great work being done by IWSA to educate and empower our women.
The Australian Government is implementing ways to help those affected by forced marriage practices through legislation, support programmes, education and awareness raising efforts.

One of the ways in which we are working to help is through the Government’s National Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery 2015-19.

A key area for focus over the life of the plan is to refine our response to forced marriage, including our service response to people in, or at risk of, forced marriage.

Assistance to all victims of human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices, including forced marriage, is provided by my own Department of Social Services through the Support for Trafficked People Program.

This programme helps people access a range of support services to improve their mental and physical health and well-being following the trauma of their trafficking experience and provides opportunities to learn new skills and develop options for the future.

To support the implementation of the criminal offences for forced marriage, since 2013 the Australian Government has undertaken targeted education and awareness raising efforts.

And I would just like to take the opportunity to mention some of these measures.

The Forced Marriage Community Pack is a suite of awareness-raising materials designed to help communities recognise and respond appropriately when confronted with forced marriage, and assist those who may be vulnerable to forced marriage.

The Family Safety Pack is a pre-departure information pack about family violence, sexual assault and forced and early marriage for CALD women and men coming to Australia, which is available in 22 languages.

We are also undertaking a review of the AUSCO Handbook that is provided to refugee and humanitarian entrants offshore — with the aim of strengthening information about family violence –before they come to Australia.

We are also providing almost $500,000 under the Grants to Australian Organisations Programme to Anti-Slavery Australia, the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans, and the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, to progress outreach and awareness-raising activities about forced marriage.

Our National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery Communications and Awareness Working Group is also developing a range of awareness-raising materials for frontline officers, teachers, and vulnerable groups.

In addition, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2015 was introduced to Parliament on 19 March 2015 and contains a number of amendments that will strengthen Australia’s response to forced marriage and proposes to expand the definition of forced marriage.

The Australian Government is committed to preventing and addressing forced marriage, which we recognise as a slavery-like practice, a form of gender-based violence, and an abuse of fundamental human rights.

Every day through our support service 1800RESPECT we ensure Australian women are receiving the support they need.

Trained staff are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, providing professional counselling, practical advice, support and reassurance to women who have experienced or are at risk of sexual assault or family and domestic violence, including forced marriage.

This service also provides assistance to family and friends as well as frontline and isolated workers who may know or be in contact with women experiencing violence.

We need to keep working on this problem together as an Australian community.

We need to all come together to provide opportunities to educate, inspire and empower all women, including our CALD women.

This occasion is a great opportunity to do that.

So now it is my very, very great privilege to formally thank IWSA for this initiative and to formally launch the ‘Forced Marriage Radio Plays’.

Thank you.