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Diversity In Health Conference 2008

Diversity in Health Conference 2008, "Strengths and Sustainable Solutions" Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, Darling Harbour 10 – 12 March 2008

This conference was attended by a plethora of multicultural mental health service providers, consumers, program managers from the health, mental health and multicultural sectors, policy staff, thinkers, and two representatives of sex worker community services; Elena Jeffreys of Scarlet Alliance and Casey Li of Sex Workers Outreach Project. Keynotes were delivered mostly by international speakers, and there were hundreds of presentations from national, statewide and local initiatives. 3 days long, with 900 attendees and 260 conference presentations, including from the Scarlet Alliance Migration Working Party in conjunction with SWOP’s multicultural outreach team.

The key note presentation on the first day was from Emeritus Professor Anthony J. Marsella. He examined globalisation and the impacts on the modern psyche and inter-personal relations. His broad brush approach included the use of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a guide for the ethical treatment of all of humanity. During question time Elena Jeffreys asked Anthony to consider the application of the UN Declaration of Human Rights on the issue of sex worker rights. Groups such as Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association, uses the Declaration as a basis for arguing in favour of sex worker rights. However anti-sex work feminists use the Declaration to argue against sex worker rights and in favour of the rights of all women NOT to enter sex work, thus removing that right from those of us who are workers in the sex industry. Anthony responded by saying that he too has been stuck in this debate, and recently reviewed one of many books that deny sex workers’ rights to work by arguing against our work, this book wason trafficking in Nevada. He said he has been highly criticised by sex worker rights advocates however he tried to stay in the middle of the debate, for the purpose of encouraging debate, rather than taking sides. This academic rather than practical approach unfortunately makes Professor Marsella impotent in the face of the hate-speech by anti-sex work lobbyists in the USand other countries. It is unfair to expect individual sex workers to shoulder the burden of fighting for universal rights such as the right to work, especially in the face of such privileged, venomous and often dubiously researched opposition. It is Elena Jeffreys’ intention to stay in contact with Anthony and to continue debating these issues with him at every possible opportunity.


Casey Li, SWOP Multicultural Team Health Educator and Elena Jeffreys, President, Scarlet Alliance, prepare our power point presentation with the technical support staff at the conference

On Day 1, Casey Li and Elena Jeffreys were proud to present on health education work with non-English speaking backgound sex workers in Australia.

Recent anti-trafficking raids by the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship on an council approved Surry Hills brothel made interesting comparative examples alongside similar raids and activities in southern China. Casey and Elena utilised the recent raids’ prolific media coverage to highlight the human rights abuses against sex workers in our own neighbourhoods. The Daily Telegraph among other newspapers were present outside the raid and photographed the forced removal of sex workers from the premises. Sex workers were led behind police taped areas and into vans, with towels over their heads to hide their identity, and their arms held behind their backs. These images burned into the minds of attendees the massive shortfalls in our own local approaches to migrant sex work. Elena and Casey answered many questions about the raid, and about the preliminary data from the national survey of Chinese migrant sex workers.


Casey Li, SWOP Multucultural Team Health Educator presents at the conference


Elena Jeffreys, President, Scarlet Alliance, presents at the conference

Throughout the entire conference mental health consumers had a high profile as presenters. The session on “Consumer Capacity Building” focussed on projects that involved consumers, their families and communities. A project by the Transcultural Mental Health Centre, entitled “Shared Stories” was presented by Hien Le, Lily Wu, Sak Phoumirath and Jan Heslpep. This project brings together the voices of mental health consumers, their personal stories and their experiences. Claudio Silva made an inspiring presentation about the importance of mapping and understanding personal recovery stories. He stated in his abstract “..there is now greater recognition of the need to listen to the voices of the journey makers so that the provider of supplies and equipment can be more aware of potential perils, and make sure safety factors are covered… (this presentation covers) the narrative experience of CALD consumers who have embarked on their own journeys of recovery.

Community consultation featured heavily for many projects showcased at the conference. Lena Dimoloulos, Transcultural Manager for Eastern Health, explained a five month translation process that included 2 different teams of qualified translators and 2 different focus groups of affected communities, to create a “consensus” translation of health related information. Given the cultural implications of communicating complex health messages in a range of languages, this process of ensuring translation that is appropriate to a specific community is vital. While the methods Lena described are in no way foolproof, they do lay a good grounding for ethical translation. There were many discussions of translation during the conference, including the Simpson Centre of Health Services Research, Gordana Vasic and Anna Kenny from the Sydney West Area Health Service. Scarlet Alliance and SWOP are engaged in many translation projects, and as such learning more about how other organisations approach this complex issue was very helpful.

Joan Hughes from Carers Australia raised important demographic information to highlight the prevalence of caring in Australia. In a key note address she discussed the work of Carers Australia with the Wellbeing Unity Index. A comparative survey showed that carers in Australia are more likely to suffer illness and lower standards of health than non-carers. This index may be useful to sex worker communities to measure our own needs and issues.

Other key note speakers included Professor Frances Hughes, who facilitates the Pacific Mental Health Network (PIMHNet) and Shona Sturgeon from the World Federation of Mental Health Centre for Transcultural Mental Health, and the Global Consortium in the Advancement of Mental Health.

The topic of cultural competency was also explored during a number of sessions at the conference. Ellen Mercer chaired a session on day two. On day three Dr Bettina Meiser chaired a session on Cultural Competency Assessment. Fiona Robards chaired a session on Culturally Competent Engaging Young People. The University of South Australia and Domiciliary Care SA collaborated on“Cultural Competence” training in South Australia. Over 450 people have been through the training since it began. It was developed within the “Cultural Respect Framework” of indigenous communities in Australia. The training challenges privilege and racism in Australian society. It is run for a full day for direct care workers and for a day and a half for managers, team leaders, allied health workers and executive members of relevant organisations. It is an annual mandatory training for Domiciliary Care workers in South Australia. Scarlet Alliance runs a number of training projects; the added perspective on cultural competence increased our own knowledge in this field.

Social marketing is of interest to health projects who are trying to get their message to multilingual and diverse communities. In a project by BreastScreen Australia, they focus tested a translated version of their social marketing campaign in 5 language groups. They found that CALD communities responded better to positive messages than negative messages in social marketing. The positive message had more effective outcomes. This is similar to commercial marketing that also uses mostly positive messages. Changing a social marketing message from negative to positive had measurable outcomes in this particular CALD targeted campaign.

One of the highlights of the conference for the Scarlet Alliance and SWOP delegates was the discussion of media issues. A number of presenters discussed their experiences with the media. Monique Wakefield chaired a session on Multicultural Mental Health and the Media. Jo Piggot is the senior project officer at the Hunter Institute of Mental Health. Jo discussed the benefits of engaging with the media in relation to youth suicide. In the past this has been a contentious issue. Jo explained the potential negative impact of advocates saying “no” to media interviews at times of crisis. The media will always try to put a negative slant on the story. It is the role of the advocate to engage successfully with the media and to bring positive or uplifting aspects to any story, and to challenge preconceived stereotypes.

Jo Piggot emphasised the importance of promoting advocacy and service organisations in the media, especially contact numbers and websites. Those reading, listening or watching media stories that are relevant to them will feel connected to the information, services and organisations. Doing positive and challenging media decreases alienation issues for family members and significant others. By hearing relevant issues treated with dignity and respect in the media, it can encourage others to connect to services, and feel more connected to their community. Good media sets a positive example to the rest of society about how to treat contentious or difficult issues. Jo Piggot does training with media professionals to increase their awareness and use of appropriate language. To assist journalists in this area the training offers specific words to use in place of inappropriate terminology.

Margaret El-Chami from Multicultural Health Australia explained specific issues that arise with ethnic media, barriers and benefits of engaging with them. Her strongest message was about not overlooking local, small and non-mainstream media outlets.

In conclusion, the conference was incredibly useful for gaining an insight into the intersection of mental health and multicultural issues. Great contacts were made, and it would be of benefit for other sex worker projects to attend in future years, or for Scarlet Alliance to have a booth. Congratulations to the organisers and good luck for future projects for Diversity In Health!