Six questions for culture in the age of consumer health technologies: Public lecture

I am visiting the University of Auckland as an international speaker for the Research Café on Migration & Inequality being organised by the Faculty of Science and School of Population Health. The Research Café is a project of the Engaged Social Science Research Initiative and funded by the Vice-Chancellor’s Strategic Development Fund. I’ll also be giving a public lecture on Wednesday 7th December in Room 730-268 at the School of Population Health: 11.30am -12.20pm:

“Wearables” are a growing segment within a broader class of health technologies that can support healthcare providers, patients and their families as a means of supporting clinical decision-making, promoting health promoting behaviours and producing better health literacies on both sides of the healthcare professional-consumer relationship. Mobile technologies have the potential to reduce health disparities given the growing ubiquity of smartphones as information visualisation devices, particularly when combined with real-time connections with personal sensor data. However despite the optimism with which wearable health technology has been met with, the implementation of these tools is uneven and their efficacy in terms of real-world outcomes remains unclear. Wearables have the potential to reduce the cultural cognitive load associated with health management, by allowing health data collection and visualisation to occur outside the dominant languages of representation and customised to a user experience. However, typically, “wearables” have been marketed toward and designed for consumers who are “wealthy, worried and well”. How can these technologies meet the needs of culturally diverse communities?

This presentation reports on the findings from a seminar and stakeholder consultation organised by The Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health, in partnership with the University of Melbourne’s Research Unit in Public Cultures and the Better Health Channel. The consultation brought together clinicians, academics, developers, community organisations, and policymakers to discuss both the broader issues that wearable technologies present for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, as well as the more specific problems health-tracking might pose for people from diverse backgrounds. This presentation summarises the key issues raised in this consultation and proposes future areas of research on wearable health technologies and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

Dr. Ruth De Souza is the Stream Leader, Research Policy & Evaluation at the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity & Health in Melbourne. Ruth has worked as a nurse, therapist, educator and researcher. Ruth’s participatory research with communities is shaped by critical, feminist, and postcolonial approaches. She has combined her academic career with governance and community involvement, talking and writing in popular and scholarly venues about mental health, maternal mental health, race, ethnicity, biculturalism, multiculturalism, settlement, refugee resettlement, and cultural safety.

Contact for Information: Dr Rachel Simon Kumar r.simon-kumar@auckland.ac.nz

 

 

Mouthing off about oral health

I have had several tooth adventures. The time I rather enthusiastically pushed my middle sister on her bicycle and she fell over the handlebars breaking a tooth (or was that the time I helped her break her collar-bone?). My own dental fluorosis (a developmental disturbance of enamel that results from ingesting high amounts of fluoride during tooth mineralization) and my mother’s sobering experience of periodontal disease. Not to mention my parents’ adventures in dental tourism, but I’ll save those for another time.

Apart from the personal injunction to clean and floss my teeth, I didn’t think too much about oral health as a mental health clinician until I’d left clinical practice for education, when I found myself at AUT University in a faculty committed to inter-professional education and practice, where “current or future health professionals to learn with, from, and about one another in order to improve collaboration and the quality of care.”

 

We had learned about oral health as undergraduate nurses, particularly about post-operative oral health care and oral health for older people. But even when working in acute mental health units, community mental health and maternity, I hate to admit, oral health wasn’t on my mind. Unsurprisingly, evidence shows that even though oral health is a major determinant of general health, self esteem and quality of life, it often has a low priority in the context of mental illness (Matevosyan 2010).

As the programme leader of health promotion at AUT, a colleague in the oral health team asked me to talk to her students about the connections between mental health and oral health and that’s when my journey really began. I also had the pleasure of getting my teeth cleaned and checked at the on site Akoranga Integrated Health at AUT whose services were provided by final year and post graduate health science students under close supervision of a qualified clinical team.

It made me think about how oral health care is performed in a highly sensual area of the body. I learned that oral tissues develop by week 7 and the foetus can be seen sucking their thumb. It made me think about how suckling and maternal bonding are critical after birth. It made me think about how we use our mouths to express ourselves and to smile or show anger or shyness, literally 65% of of our communication. It made me think about kissing in intimate relationships and therefore also about how it’s not at all surprising that our mouths also represent vulnerability and that people might consequently suffer from fear and anxiety around oral health treatment. This can range from slight feelings of unease during routine procedures to feelings of extreme anxiety long before treatment is happening (odontophobia). Reportedly, 5-20% of the adult population reports fear or anxiety of oral health care, which can lead to avoidance of dental treatment and common triggers can include local anaesthetic injection and the dental drill.

Poor oral health has a detrimental effect on one’s quality of life. Loss of teeth impairs eating, leading to reduced nutritional status and diet-related ill health. A quarter of Australians report that they avoid eating some foods as a consequence of the pain and discomfort caused by their poor dental health. Nearly one-third found it uncomfortable to eat in general. Oral disease creates pain, suffering, disfigurement and disability. Almost one-quarter of Australian adults report feeling self-conscious or embarrassed because of oral health problems, impacting on enjoyment of life, impairing social life or leading to isolation with compromised interpersonal relationships

People with severe mental illness are more likely to require oral health care and have 2.7 times the general population’s likelihood of losing all their teeth (Kisely 2016). Women with mental illness have a higher DMFT index (the mean number of decayed, missing, and filled teeth) (Matevosyan 2010). In particular, oral hygiene may be compromised. For people who experience mood disorders, depressive phases can leave person feeling worthless, sad and lacking in energy, where maintaining a healthy diet and oral hygiene become a low priority. The increased energy of manic episodes can mean energy is diffused, concentration difficulties and poor judgement. People who experience mental ill health and who self-medicate with recreational drugs and alcohol can further exacerbate poor oral health. Furthermore, drug side effects can compromise good oral health by increasing plaque and calculus formation (Slack-Smith et al. 2016). It is important for mental health support staff to provide information regarding oral health, in particular education about xerostomic (dry mouth) effects of drug treatment and strategies for managing these effects including maintaining oral hygiene, offering artificial saliva products, mouthwashes and topical fluoride applications.

There are organisational and professional barriers to better oral health in mental health care. Mental health nurses do not routinely assess oral health or hygiene and lack oral health knowledge or have comprehensive protocols to follow. As Slack-Smith et al. (2016) note there are few structural and systemic supports in care environments with multiple competing demands. Research shows that dentists are more likely to extract teeth than carry out complex preventative or restorative care in this population. Mental health clinicians are reluctant to discuss oral health and in turn oral health practitioners are not always prepared for providing care to patients with mental health disorders.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog post. Until the 17th century, medical care and dental care were integrated, however, dentistry emerged as a distinct discipline, separate from doctors, alchemists and barbers who had had teeth removal in their scope of practice (Kisely 2016).

Cox, S.; A Country Toothdrawer; Wellcome Library; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-country-toothdrawer-125814
Cox, S.; A Country Toothdrawer; Wellcome Library; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-country-toothdrawer-125814

I spent the weekend at the Putting the Mouth Back into the Body conference, an innovative, multidisciplinary health conference hosted by North Richmond Community Health. It got me thinking about the place of the mouth in the body and developed my learning further. The scientific method and the mechanistic model of the body central to the western biomedical conception of the body, have led us to see the body in parts which can be attended to separately from each other. And yet we know what affects one part of the body affects other parts. There’ll be an official outcomes report produced from the conference, but I thought I’d capture some of my own reflections and learning in this blog post.

Equity and the social determinants of dental disease

Tooth decay is Australia’s most prevalent health problem with edentulism (loss of all natural teeth) the third-most prevalent health problem. Gum disease is the fifth-most prevalent health problem. Tooth decay is five times more prevalent than asthma in children. Oral conditions including tooth decay, gum disease, oral cancer and oral trauma create a ‘burden’ due to their direct effect on people’s quality of life and the indirect impact on the economy. There are also significant financial and public health implications of poor oral health and hygiene. Hon. Mary-Anne Thomas MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Parliamentary Secretary for Carers spoke about the impact of oral health on employment. She reinforced research findings which show that people with straight teeth as 45 per cent more likely to get a job than those with crooked teeth, when competing with someone with a similar skill set and experience. People with straight teeth were seen as 58 per cent more likely to be successful and 58 per cent more likely to be wealthy. Dental health is excluded from the Australian Government’s health scheme Medicare, which means that there is significant suffering by those who cannot afford the cost of private dental care for example low-income and marginalised groups. Dental care only constitutes 6% of national health spending and comprehensive reform could be effected with the addition of less than 2 percentage points to this says a Brotherhood of St Lawrence report (End the decay: the cost of poor dental health and what should be done about it by Bronwyn Richardson and Jeff Richardson (2011)). The socially
disadvantaged also experience more inequalities in Early Childhood Caries (ECC) rates. Research has also shown that children from refugee families have poorer oral health than the wider population. A study by my colleagues at North Richmond Community Health and University of Melbourne found that low dental service use by migrant preschool children. The study recommended that health services  consider organizational cultural competence, outreach and increased engagement with the migrant community (Christian, Young et al., 2015).

The interactions between oral health and general health 

Professor Joerg Eberhard spoke about the interactions between oral and general health through the lifespan. His talk also demonstrated the importance of oral hygiene, not only to prevent cavities and gum disease but impact on pregnancy, diabetes and cardiovascular health. 50 to 70 per cent of the population have gingivitis and severe gum disease (periodontitis) which develop in response to bacterial accumulation have adverse effects for general health. He showed participants the interactions of oral health and general health with a focus on diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases. Most strikingly, Eberhard’s research published in The International Journal of Cardiology in 2014, showed periodontitis could undermine the major benefits of physical activity. If you are interested in the link between oral health and non-communicable diseases, this Sydney Morning Herald article provides a great summary.

Key points:

  • What effects the body also affects the mouth, in fact this is bidirectional.
  • Early experiences impact lifelong health eg sugar preference, early cavities, diet.

Sugar is a significant culprit

I learned a lot about sugar from Jane Martin the Exective Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition and Clinical Associate Professor Matthew Hopcraft an Australian dentist, public health academic and television cook. 52% of Australians exceed the WHO recommendations for sugar intake, and half of our free sugars come from beverages. Sugar intake profoundly impacts cavities and our contemporary modes of industrial food production are to blame. We also need to challenge the subtle marketing of energy dense nutrient poor products eg the ubiquity of fizzy drink vending machines. To that end both Universities in the United States and health services worldwide (see NHS England) are taking the initiative to phase out the sale and promotion of sugary drinks at their sites. At the University of Sydney a group of students, researchers and academics are taking this step through the Sydney University Healthy Beverage Initiative. Check out this fabulous social marketing campaign with indigenous communities in Australia by Rethink Sugary DrinkSugar-free Smiles advocate for public health policies and regulatory initiatives to reduce sugar consumption and improve the oral health of all Australians. There’s also the Sugar by half campaign.

sugary-drinks

Key points:

  • We need to think about what we are eating.
  • Oral health promotion and oral health literacy are important.
  • We need to think about the addition of sugar in foods that are ostensibly good for us (cereal and yoghurt for breakfast for example).

The case for working collaboratively: The example of pharmacists

Dr Meng-Wong Taing (Wong) from the University of Queensland persuasively argued how other professionals can have a major role in promoting both oral health and helping to lower the risk of suffering other serious conditions, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Wong cited recent research findings describing the role of Australian community pharmacists in oral healthcare that show 93 per cent of all community pharmacists surveyed believed delivering oral health advice was within their roles as pharmacists. People in lower socio-economic areas often can’t afford to see a dentist and so pharmacies are the first port of call for people experiencing oral health issues. The 2013 ‘National Dental Telephone Interview Survey’, which found the overall proportion of people aged five and over who avoided or delayed visiting a dentist due to cost was 31.7 per cent, ranging from 10.7 per cent for children aged five-14 to 44.9 per cent for people aged 25-44.

Wong’s presentation and those of other speakers over the two days showed the importance of Interprofessional Collaboration (IPC)

IPC occurs when “multiple health workers from different professional backgrounds provide comprehensive services by working with patients, their families, carers, and communities to deliver the highest quality of care across settings” (WHO 2010, p. 13).

Key points:

  • How do we get oral health in health professional curricula? Particularly given the emphasis on the technocratic and acute at the expense of health promotion and public health.
  • How can we focus on oral health from a broader social determinants perspective?
  • Let’s improve access to services and oral health outcomes.
  • Let’s develop inter-professional approaches to undergraduate education.
  • Let’s develop collaborative approaches and avoiding the ‘siloing’ of oral health.
  • Let’s encouraging partnerships between oral health professionals and other health professionals, community groups and advocacy groups.
  • Rather than developing better systems, let’s have better relationships that are consumer centred (see above and AUT’s Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Practice (IPECP) website.

Perhaps the best news of the two days for me is that milk, cheese and yoghurt and presumably paneer, contain calcium, casein and phosphorus that create a protective protein film over the enamel surface of the tooth thereby reducing both the risk of tooth decay and the repair of teeth after acid attacks. This information validates my enjoyment of sparkling wine (low sugar but acidic) and cheese. Cheers.

Smells and bodies out of place: Microaggressions on public transport

A winter evening, wet and cold. Squashed into a tram. When a seat became available, I swooped down into it, finding myself next to a woman who proceeded to cover her nose. As she fanned her face with her other hand, I asked her with gentle concern if she was ok. She responded vehemently and with a force I didn’t expect: “It stinks in here, full of people smelling of onions and curry and shit”. Hmm. We were surrounded by Indians including me.

The new super sized E tram leaves the South Melbourne Depot. Pic. Nicole Garmston
The new super sized E tram leaves the South Melbourne Depot. Pic. Nicole Garmston

It’s not the first time I’ve had funny looks and comments about food and smells but the last time was when it was referring to my lunchbox, quite a few decades ago. The incident on the tram made me think about how smells are political (Manasalan). I’m writing about smells in hospitals in a book chapter coming out later this year and I am interested in what makes some public smells acceptable (for example disinfectant) and other more organic smells not so acceptable or even disgusting.

The food that is a salve for the dislocated, lonely, isolated migrant also sets her apart, making her stand out as visibly, gustatorily or olfactorily different. The soul sustaining resource also marks her as different, a risk. If her food is seen as smelly, distasteful, foreign, violent or abnormal, these characteristics can be transposed to her body and to those bodies that resemble her.

Laksa by Ruth De Souza
Laksa by Ruth De Souza

Food smells categorise groups of people who are different, and those viewed as negative are seen as a marker of non-western primitiveness. The emotion of disgust is emblematic of the too-near proximity of others and the fear that we might be invaded through our mouths. Probyn writes:

disgust reveals the object in all of its repellent detail, it causes us to step back, and, in that very action, we are also brought within the range of shame

However, nutritional assimilation or sanitisation to become odourless and modern does not guarantee belonging, like citizenship it remains thin when compared to the affective power of ethnic identity. (DeSouza, in press).

Grinding my own spice mix, by Ruth De Souza
Grinding my own spice mix, by Ruth De Souza

I am a committed foodie (defined by Johnston and Baumann, 2010: 61), as ‘somebody with a strong interest in learning about and eating good food who is not directly employed in the food industry’ who is also interested in the politics of food. My partner and I commute to Melbourne, a foodie paradise. Melbourne’s food culture has been made vibrant by the waves of migrants who have put pressure on public institutions, to expand and diversify their gastronomic offerings for a wider range of people. However, our consumption can naturalise and make invisible colonial and racialised relations. Thus the violent histories of invasion and starvation by the first white settlers, the convicts whose theft of food had them sent to Australia and absorbed into the cruel colonial project of poisoning, starving and rationing indigenous people remain hidden from view. So although we might love the food we might not care about the cooks at all as Rhoda Roberts points out:

In Australia, food and culinary delights are always accepted before the differences and backgrounds of the origin of the aroma are.

Sometimes though the acceptance is also class based or related to gentrification take Nick Earles’ point:

But it wasn’t as bad as being the kid from the Italian family who had his “wog” lunch thrown in the bin most days, only to watch the perpetrators spend $10 in cafes 20 years later for the exact same food – focaccia and prosciutto – with no recollection of what they’d done.

It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced someone else’s visible disgust. How to negotiate the smell that is out of place and the identity that does not belong? An ongoing process, but I’ve had plenty of practice.

Jellyfish and cabbage salad, by Ruth De Souza
Jellyfish and cabbage salad, by Ruth De Souza

Using forum theatre to facilitate reflection and culturally safe practice in nursing

Unpublished manuscript for those who might be interested. Cite as: DeSouza, R. (2016, July 16). Using forum theatre to facilitate reflection and culturally safe practice in nursing [Web log post]. Retrieved from: http://www.ruthdesouza.com/2016/07/16/using-forum-theatre-for-reflective-practice/

High quality communication is central to nursing practice and to nurse education. The quality of interaction between service users/patients and inter-professional teams has a profound impact on perception of quality of care and positive outcomes. Creating spaces where reflective practice is encouraged allows students to be curious, experiment safely, make mistakes and try new ways of doing things. Donald Schon (1987) likens the world of professional practice to terrain made up of high hard ground overlooking a swamp. Applying this metaphor in Nursing, Street (1991) contends that some clinical problems can be resolved through theory and technique (on hard ground), while messy, confusing problems in swampy ground don’t have simple solutions but their resolution is critical to practice.

Rocks Philip Island
Rocks Philip Island

Australian society has an indigenous foundation and is becoming increasingly multicultural.In Victoria 26.2 percent of Victorians and 24.6 per cent of Australians were born overseas, compared with New Zealand (22.4 per cent), Canada (21.3 per cent), United States (13.5 per cent) and The United Kingdom (10.4 per cent). Australia’s multicultural policy allows those who call Australia home the right to practice and share in their cultural traditions and languages within the law and free from discrimination (Australia Government, 2011, p. 5). Yet, research highlights disparities in the provision of health care to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) groups and health services are not always able to ensure the delivery of culturally safe practice within their organisations (Johnstone & Kanitsaki, 2008).

An important aspect of cultural safety is the recognition that the health care system has its own culture. In Australia, this culture is premised on a western scientific worldview. Registered nurses (RNs) have a responsibility to provide culturally responsive health care that is high quality, safe, equitable and meets the standards expected of the profession such as taking on a leadership role, being advocates and engaging in lifelong learning. RNs who practice with cultural responsiveness are able to ‘respond to the healthcare issues of diverse communities’ (Victorian Department of Health [DoH], 2009, p. 4), and are respectful of the health beliefs and practices, values, culture and linguistic needs of the individual, populations and communities (DoH, 2009, p. 12).

Culturally competent nursing requires practitioners to provide individualised care and consider their own values and beliefs impact on care provision. Critical reflection can assist nurses to work in the swampy ground of linguistic and cultural diversity. Reflection involves learning from experience: not simply thinking back over an event, but developing a conscious and systematic practice of thinking about experience in order to learn and change future behaviour. Critical reflection involves challenging the nurse’s understanding of themselves, their attitudes and behaviours in order to bring their views of practice and the world closer to the complex reality of care. This kind of process facilitates clinical reasoning, which is the thinking and decision-making toward undertaking the best-judged action, enhancing client care and improve practitioner capability and resilience.

Didactic approaches impart knowledge and provide students with declarative knowledge but don’t always provide the opportunity to practice communication techniques or to explore in depth the attitudes and behaviours that influence their own knowledge. Drama and theatre are increasingly being used to create dynamic simulated learning environments where students can try out different communication techniques in a safe setting where there are multiple ways of communicating. A problem based learning focus allows students to reflect on their own experiences and to arrive at their own solutions, promoting deep learning as students use their own experiences and knowledge to problem solve.

In 2015 I developed and trialed a unit for students at all three Monash School of Nursing and Midwifery campuses in their third year. The aim of the unit was to provide students with resources to understand their own culture, the culture of healthcare and the historical and social issues that contribute to differential health outcomes for particular groups in order to discern how to contribute to providing culturally safe care for all Australians. The unit examined how social determinants of health such as class, gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity; education, economic status and culture affect health and illness. Students were invited to consider how politics, economics, the social-cultural environment and other contextual factors impacted on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities. Students were asked to consider how policy, the planning, organisation and delivery of health and healthcare shaped health care delivery.

The unit was primarily delivered online but a special workshop was offered using Forum theatre developed by Augusto Boal in partnership with two experienced practitioners Azja Kulpińska and Tania Cañas. Forum theatre is focused on promoting dialogue between actors and audience members, it promotes transformation for social justice in the broader world and differs from traditional theatre which involves monologue. Simulated practices like Forum theatre allow students to address topics from practice within an educational setting, where they can safely develop self-awareness and knowledge to make sense of the difficult personal and professional issues encountered in complex health care environments. This is particularly important when it comes to inter-cultural issues and power relations. Such experiential techniques can help students to gain emotional competence, which in turn assists them to communicate effectively in a range of situations.

Students were invited to identify a professional situation relating to culture and health that was challenging and asked to critically reflect on the event/incident focusing on the concerns they encountered in relation to the care of the person. Through the forum theatre process they were asked to consider alternative understandings of the incident, and critically evaluate the implications of these understandings for how more effective nursing care could have been provided. Through the workshop it was hoped that students could then review the experience in depth and undertake a process of critical reflection in a written assessment by reconstructing the experience beyond the personal. They were encouraged to examine the historical and social factors that structure a situation and to start to theorise the causes and consequences of their actions. They were encouraged to use references such as research, policy documents or theory to support their analysis and identify an overarching issue, or key aspect of the experience that affected it profoundly. Concluding with the key learnings through the reflective process, the main factors affecting the situation, and how the incident/event could have been more culturally safe/competent. Students were asked to develop an action plan to map alternative approaches should this or a similar situation arise in the future.

Forum theatre has been used in nursing and health education to facilitate deeper and more critical reflective thinking, stimulate discussion and exploratory debate among student groups. It is used to facilitate high quality communication skills, critical reflective practice, emotional intelligence and empathy and appeals to a range of learning styles. Being able to engage in interactive workshops allows students to engage in complex issues increasing self-awareness using techniques include physical exercises and improvisations.

My grateful thanks to two Forum Theatre practitioners who led this work with me:

Azja Kulpińska is a community cultural development worker, educator and Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner and has delivered workshops both in Australia and internationally. She has been a supporter of RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees and for the last 3 years has been co-facilitating a Forum Theatre project – a collaboration between RISE and Melbourne Polytechnic that explores challenging narratives around migration, settlement and systems of oppression. She is also a youth worker facilitating a support group for young queer people in rural areas.

Tania Cañas is a Melbourne-based arts professional with experience in performance, facilitation, cultural development and research. Tania is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Cultural Partnerships, VCA. She also sits on the International PTO Academic Journal.
She has presented at conferences both nationally and internationally, as well as facilitated Theatre of the Oppressed workshops at universities, within prisons and youth groups-in in Australian, Northern Ireland, The Solomon Islands, The United States and most recently South Africa. For the last 2.5 years has been working with RISE and Melbourne Polytechnic to develop a Forum Theatre program with students who are recent migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

References

  • Australian Government. (2011). The People of Australia: Australia’s Multicultural Policy, Retrieved from https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/12_2013/people-of-australia-multicultural-policy-booklet.pdf
  • Boud, D., Keogh, R. and Walker, D. 1985. Reflection: Turning experience into learning. London: Kogan Page.
  • Gibbs, G. 1988. Learning by doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Oxford: Oxford Further Education Unit.
  • Johns, C. 1998b. Illuminating the transformative potential of guided reflection. In Transforming Nursing Through Reflective Practice (eds). C. Johns and D. Freshwater. Oxford: Blackwell Science. 78-90.
  • Johnstone, MJ. & Kanitsaki, O. (2008). The politics of resistance to workplace cultural diversity education for health service providers: an Australian study. Race Ethnicity and Education 11(2) 133-134
  • McClimens, A., & Scott, R. (2007). Lights, camera, education! The potentials of forum theatre in a learning disability nursing program. Nurse Education Today, 27(3), 203-9. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2006.04.009
  • Middlewick, Y., Kettle, T. J., & Wilson, J. J. (2012). Curtains up! Using forum theatre to rehearse the art of communication in healthcare education. Nurse Education in Practice, 12(3), 139-42. doi:10.1016/j.nepr.2011.10.010
  • Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (2006). National competency standards for the registered nurse, viewed 16 February 2014: www.nursingmidwiferyboard.gov.au.
  • Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (2008). Code of professional conduct for nurses in Australia, Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, Canberra.
  • Schön, D.A. 1987. Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Street, A. 1990. Nursing Practice: High Hard Ground, Messy Swamps, and the Pathways in Between. Geelong: Deakin University Press.
  • Turner, L. (2005). From the local to the global: bioethics and the concept of culture. Journal of Medicine and Philosopy. 30:305-320 DOI: 10.1080/03605310590960193
  • Victorian Department of Health. (2009). Cultural responsiveness framework Guidelines for Victorian health services, Retrieved from http://www.health.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/381068/cultural_responsiveness.pdf
  • Wasylko, Y., & Stickley, T. (2003). Theatre and pedagogy: Using drama in mental health nurse education. Nurse Education Today, 23(6), 443-448. doi:10.1016/s0260-6917(03)00046-7
  • Also see DeSouza, R (2015). Communication central to Nursing Practice. Transforming the Nations Healthcare 2015, Australia’s Healthcare News.

The Australian Women’s and Gender Studies Association (AWGSA) member profile

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Fearless speech or parrhesia.

Favourite food?

I have to say Goan food. It represents connection to my ancestral homeland, as well as to my family. It has sustained me through multiple migrations and immediately evokes comfort and nurturance.

What do you think is an important feminist issue in Australia at the moment?

The policies of detention and deterrence that are being invoked in the state management of asylum seekers

Why are you a member of AWGSA?

As a relative newcomer to Australia, I want to be involved in the inter-disciplinary conversations happening in feminist spaces. I attended the conference in Melbourne two years ago and made some great new friends. As a nurse socialised into a very gendered hierarchy, I have a unique contribution to makes as a feminist woman of colour, but I don’t want to be limited to conversations only within my discipline.

If you could have been at one historical event, which one would it have been?

Being a diasporic Goan I would have been interested in being at the liberation/Invasion of Goa by the Indian government.

Who are your academic/feminist heroes?

Octavia Butler (overcoming shyness, having self-belief and being committed to her writing), Audre Lorde (for living with illness, for her writing), Angela Davis (for her activism).

Where would you like to live?
Exactly where I live now, South Gippsland.

What do you appreciate most about your friends?

I’d have to say conversations that are energising, learning, rich and which mean that the friendship continues to deepen and has potential for depth and transformation.

Favourite book?

Too many to count but I’ve just been reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories and am awed by her ability to draw you into her character’s worlds. Another favourite was Americanah by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

A goal?

To learn more about the Aboriginal history of Australia and Aboriginal feminists. Not in an appropriative way but to be a better ally.

What is privilege and cultural appropriation? and why is it so difficult to talk about?

On 15 February 2016, I spoke on 612 ABC Brisbane Afternoons with Kelly Higgins-Devine about cultural appropriation and privilege. Our discussion was followed by discussion with guests: Andie Fox – a feminist and writer; Carol Vale a Dunghutti woman; and Indigenous artist, Tony Albert. I’ve used the questions asked during the interview as a base for this blog with thanks to Amanda Dell (producer).

Why has it taken so long for the debate to escape academia to be something we see in the opinion pages of publications now?

Social media and online activism have catapulted questions about identities and politics into our screen lives. Where television allowed us to switch the channel, or the topic skilfully changed at awkward moments in work or family conversations, our devices hold us captive. Simply scrolling through our social media feeds can encourage, enrage or mobilise us into fury or despair. Whether we like it or not, as users of social media we are being interpolated into the complex terrain of identity politics. Merely sharing a link on your social media feed locates you and your politics, in ways that you might never reveal in real time social conversations. ‘Sharing’ can have wide ranging consequences, a casual tweet before a flight resulted in Justine Sacco moving from witty interlocutor to pariah in a matter of hours. The merging of ‘private’ and public lives never being more evident.

How long has the term privilege been around?

The concept of privilege originally developed in relation to analyses of race and gender but has expanded to include social class, ability level, sexuality and other aspects of identity. Interestingly, Jon Greenberg points out that although people of color have fought racism since its inception, the best known White Privilege educators are white (Peggy McIntosh, Tim Wise and Robin DiAngelo). McIntosh’s 1988 paper White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies extended a feminist analysis of patriarchal oppression of women to that of people of color in the United States. This was later shortened into the essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (pdf), which has been used extensively in a a range of settings because of it’s helpful list format .

Many people have really strong reactions to these concepts – why is that?

Robin DiAngelo, professor of multicultural education and author of What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy developed the term ‘white fragility’ to identify:

a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include outward display of emotions such as anger, fear and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence and leaving the stress-inducing situation

DiAngelo suggests that for white people, racism or oppression are viewed as something that bad or immoral people do. The racist is the person who is verbally abusive toward people of color on public transport, or a former racist state like apartheid South Africa. If you see yourself as a ‘good’ person then it is painful to be ‘called out’, and see yourself as a bad person. Iris Marion Young’s work useful. She conceptualises oppression in the Foucauldian sense as:

the disadvantage and injustice some people suffer not because of a tyrannical power coerces them but because of the everyday practices of a well-intentioned liberal society…

Young points out the actions of many people going about their daily lives contribute to the maintenance and reproduction of oppression, even as few would view themselves as agents of oppression. We cannot avoid oppression, as it is structural and woven throughout the system, rather than reflecting a few people’s choices or policies. Its causes are embedded in the unquestioned norms, habits, symbols and assumptions underlying institutional rules and the collective consequences of following those rules (Young, 1990). Seeing oppression as the practices of a well intentioned liberal society removes the focus from individual acts that might repress the actions of others to acknowledging that “powerful norms and hierarchies of both privilege and injustice are built into our everyday practices” (Henderson & Waterstone, 2008, p.52). These hierarchies call for structural rather than individual remedies.

We probably need to start with privilege – what does that term mean?

McIntosh identified how she had obtained unearned privileges in society just by being White and defined white privilege as:

an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I am meant to remain oblivious (p. 1).

Her essay prompted understanding of how one’s success is largely attributable to one’s arbitrarily assigned social location in society, rather than the outcome of individual effort.

“I got myself where I am today. Honestly, it’s not that hard. I think some people are just afraid of a little hard work and standing on their own two feet, on a seashell, on a dolphin, on a nymph-queen that are all holding them up.”
“I got myself where I am today. Honestly, it’s not that hard. I think some people are just afraid of a little hard work and standing on their own two feet, on a seashell, on a dolphin, on a nymph-queen that are all holding them up.”

From: The Birth of Venus: Pulling Yourself Out Of The Sea By Your Own Bootstraps by Mallory Ortberg 

McIntosh suggested that white people benefit from historical and contemporary forms of racism (the inequitable distribution and exercise of power among ethnic groups) and that these discriminate or disadvantage people of color.

How does privilege relate to racism, sexism? Are they the same thing?

It’s useful to view the ‘isms’ in the context of institutional power, a point illustrated by Sian Ferguson:

In a patriarchal society, women do not have institutional power (at least, not based on their gender). In a white supremacist society, people of color don’t have race-based institutional power.

Australian race scholars Paradies and Williams (2008) note that:

The phenomenon of oppression is also intrinsically linked to that of privilege. In addition to disadvantaging minority racial groups in society, racism also results in groups (such as Whites) being privileged and accruing social power. (6)

Consequently, health and social disparities evident in white settler societies such as New Zealand and Australia (also this post about Closing the gap) are individualised or culturalised rather than contextualised historically or socio-economically. Without context  white people are socialized to remain oblivious to their unearned advantages and view them as earned through merit. Increasingly the term privilege is being used outside of social justice settings to the arts. In a critique of the Hottest 100 list in Australia Erin Riley points out that the dominance of straight, white male voices which crowds out women, Indigenous Australians, immigrants and people of diverse sexual and gender identities. These groups are marginalised and the centrality of white men maintained, reducing the opportunity for empathy towards people with other experiences.

Do we all have some sort of privilege?

Yes, depending on the context. The concept of intersectionality by Kimberlé Crenshaw is useful, it suggests that people can be privileged in some ways and not others. For example as a migrant and a woman of color I experience certain disadvantages but as a middle class cis-gendered, able-bodied woman with a PhD and without an accent (only a Kiwi one which is indulged) I experience other advantages that ease my passage through the world You can read more in the essay Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person.

How does an awareness of privilege change the way a society works?

Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege by Sindelókë is a helpful way of trying to understand how easy it is not to see your own privilege and be blind to others’ disadvantages. You might have also seen or heard the phrase ‘check your privilege’ which is a way of asking someone to think about their own privilege and how they might monitor it in a social setting. Exposing color blindness and challenging the assumption of race-neutrality is one mechanism for addressing the issue of privilege and its obverse oppression.  Increasingly in health and social care, emphasis is being placed on critiquing how our own positions contribute to inequality (see my chapter on cultural safety), and developing ethical and moral commitments to addressing racism so that equality and justice can be made possible. As Christine Emba notes “There’s no way to level the playing field unless we first can all see how uneven it is.” One of the ways this can be done is through experiencing exercises like the Privilege Walk which you can watch on video. Jenn Sutherland-Miller in Medium reflects on her experience of it and proposes that:

Instead of privilege being the thing that gives me a leg up, it becomes the thing I use to give others a leg up. Privilege becomes a way create equality and inclusion, to right old wrongs, to demand justice on a daily basis and to create the dialogue that will grow our society forward.

Is privilege something we can change?

If we move beyond guilt and paralysis we can use our privilege to build solidarity and challenge oppression.  Audra Williams points out that a genuine display of solidarity can require making a personal sacrifice. Citing the example of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, where in challenging the director of a commercial about the lack of women with speaking roles, he ends up not being in the commercial at all when it is re-written with speaking roles for women. Ultimately privilege does not gets undone through “confession” but through collective work to dismantle oppressive systems as Andrea Smith writes.

Cultural appropriation is a different concept, but an understanding of privilege is important, what is cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that is not their own (Nadra Kareem Little). Usually it is a charge levelled at people from the dominant culture to signal power dynamic, where elements have been taken from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by the dominant group. Most critics of the concept are white (see white fragility). Kimberly Chabot Davis proposes that white co-optation or cultural consumption and commodification, can be cross-cultural encounters that can foster empathy and lead to working against privilege among white people. However, an Australian example of bringing diverse people together through appropriation backfired, when the term walkabout was used for a psychedelic dance party. Using a deeply significant word for initiation rites, for a dance party was seen as disrespectful. The bewildered organiser was accused via social media of cultural appropriation and changed the name to Lets Go Walkaround. So, I think that it is always important to ask permission and talk to people from that culture first rather than assuming it is okay to use.

What is the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation?

Maisha Z. Johnson cultural appreciation  or exchange  where mutual sharing is involved.

Can someone from a less privileged culture appropriate from the more privileged culture?

No, marginalized people often have to adopt elements of the dominant culture in order to survive conditions that make life more of a struggle if they don’t.

Does an object or symbol have to have some religious or special cultural significance to be appropriated? 

Appropriation is harmful for a number of reasons including making things ‘cool’ for White people that would be denigrated in People of Color. For example Fatima Farha observes that when Hindu women in the United States wear the bindi, they are often made fun of, or seen as traditional or backward but when someone from the dominant culture wears such items they are called exotic and beautiful. The critique of appropriation extends from clothing to events Nadya Agrawal critiques The Color Run™ where you can:

run with your friends, come together as a community, get showered in colored powder and not have to deal with all that annoying culture that would come if you went to a Holi celebration. There are no prayers for spring or messages of rejuvenation before these runs. You won’t have to drink chai or try Indian food afterward. There is absolutely no way you’ll have to even think about the ancient traditions and culture this brand new craze is derived from. Come uncultured, leave uncultured, that’s the Color Run, promise.

The race ends with something called a “Color Festival” but does not acknowledge Holi. This white-washing (pun intended) eradicates everything Indian from the run including  Holi, Krishna and spring. In essence as Ijeoma Oluo points out cultural appropriation is a symptom, not the cause, of an oppressive and exploitative world order which involves stealing the work of those less privileged. Really valuing people involves valuing their culture and taking the time to acknowledge its historical and social context. Valuing isn’t just appreciation but also considering whether the appropriation of intellectual property results in economic benefits for the people who created it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar suggests that it is often one way:

One very legitimate point is economic. In general, when blacks create something that is later adopted by white culture, white people tend to make a lot more money from it… It feels an awful lot like slavery to have others profit from your efforts.

 

Loving burritos doesn’t make someone less racist against Latinos. Lusting after Bo Derek in 10 doesn’t make anyone appreciate black culture more… Appreciating an individual item from a culture doesn’t translate into accepting the whole people. While high-priced cornrows on a white celebrity on the red carper at the Oscars is chic, those same cornrows on the little black girl in Watts, Los Angeles, are a symbol of her ghetto lifestyle. A white person looking black gets a fashion spread in a glossy magazine; a black person wearing the same thing gets pulled over by the police. One can understand the frustration.

The appropriative process is also selective, as Greg Tate observes in Everything but the burden, where African American cultural properties including music, food, fashion, hairstyles, dances are sold as American to the rest of the world but with the black presence erased from it. The only thing not stolen is the burden of the denial of human rights and economic opportunity. Appropriation can be ambivalent, as seen in the desire to simultaneously possess and erase black culture. However, in the case of the appropriation of the indigenous in the United States, Andrea Smith declares (somewhat ironically), that the desire to be “Indian” often precludes struggles against genocide, or demands for treaty rights. It does not require being accountable to Indian communities, who might demand an end to the appropriation of spiritual practices.

Go West – Black: Random Coachella attendee, 2014. Red: Bison skull pile, South Dakota, 1870’s.
Go West – Black: Random Coachella attendee, 2014. Red: Bison skull pile, South Dakota, 1870’s by Roger Peet.

Some people believe the cuisines of other cultures have been appropriated – is this an extreme example, or is it something we should consider?

The world of food can be such a potent site of transformation for social justice. I am a committed foodie (“somebody with a strong interest in learning about and eating good food who is not directly employed in the food industry” (Johnston and Baumann, 2010: 61). I am also interested in the politics of food. I live in Melbourne, where food culture has been made vibrant by the waves of migrants who have put pressure on public institutions, to expand and diversify their gastronomic offerings for a wider range of people. However, our consumption can naturalise and make invisible colonial and racialised relations. Thus the violent histories of invasion and starvation by the first white settlers, the convicts whose theft of food had them sent to Australia and absorbed into the cruel colonial project of poisoning, starving and rationing indigenous people remain hidden from view. So although we might love the food we might not care about the cooks at all as Rhoda Roberts Director of the Aboriginal Dreaming festival observed in Elspeth Probyn’s excellent book Carnal Appetites:

In Australia, food and culinary delights are always accepted before the differences and backgrounds of the origin of the aroma are.

Lee’s Ghee is an interesting example of appropriation, she developed an ‘artisanal’ ghee product, something that has been made for centuries in South Asia.

Lee Dares was taking the fashion world by storm working as a model in New York when she realized her real passion was elsewhere. So, she made the courageous decision to quit her glamorous job and take some time to explore what she really wanted to do with her life. Her revelation came after she spent some time learning to make clarified butter, or ghee, on a farm in Northern India. Inspired, she turned to Futurpreneur Canada to help her start her own business, Lee’s Ghee, producing unique and modern flavours of this traditional staple of Southeast Asian cuisine and Ayurvedic medicine.

The saying “We are what we eat” is about not only the nutrients we consume but also to beliefs about our morality. Similarly ‘we’ are also what we don’t eat, so our food practices mark us out as belonging or not belonging to a group.So, food has an exclusionary and inclusionary role with affective consequences that range from curiosity, delight to disgust. For the migrant for example, identity cannot be taken for granted, it must be worked at to be nurtured and maintained. It becomes an active, performative and processual project enacted through consumption. With with every taste, an imagined diasporic group identity is produced, maintained and reinforced. Food preparation represents continuity through the techniques and equipment that are used which affirm family life, and in sharing this food hospitality, love, generosity and appreciation can be expresssed. However, the food that is a salve for the dislocated, lonely, isolated migrant also sets her apart, making her stand out as visibly, gustatorily or olfactorily different. The resource for her well being also marks her as different and a risk. If her food is seen as smelly, distasteful, foreign, violent or abnormal, these characteristics can be transposed to her body and to those bodies that resemble her. Dares attempt to reproduce food that is made in many households and available for sale in many ‘ethnic’ shops and selling it as artisanal, led to accusations of ‘colombusing’ — a term used to describe when white people  claim they have discovered or made something that has a long history in another culture. Also see the critique by Navneet Alang in Hazlitt:

The ethnic—the collective traditions and practices of the world’s majority—thus works as an undiscovered country, full of resources to be mined. Rather than sugar or coffee or oil, however, the ore of the ethnic is raw material for performance and self-definition: refine this rough, crude tradition, bottle it in pretty jars, and display both it and yourself as ideals of contemporary cosmopolitanism. But each act of cultural appropriation, in which some facet of a non-Western culture is columbused, accepted into the mainstream, and commodified, reasserts the white and Western as norm—the end of a timeline toward which the whole world is moving.

If this is the first time someone has heard these concepts, and they’re feeling confused, or a bit defensive, what can they do to understand more about it?

Here are some resources that might help, videos, illustrations, reading and more.

White privilege

Cultural appropriation

All I want for Christmas is… On International Day of Solidarity with Migrants 2015

December 18th marks the anniversary of the signing of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families by the United Nations in 1990. Lobbying from Filipino and other Asian migrant organisations in 1997, led to December18th being promoted as an International Day of Solidarity with Migrants. The day recognises the contributions of migrants to both the economies of their receiving and home countries, and promotes respect for their human rights. However, as of 2015, the Convention has only been signed by a quarter of UN member states.

2015 has seen the unprecedented displacement of people globally with tragic consequences. UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report shows a massive increase in the number of people forced to flee their homes. 59.5 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.

Politicians and media have a pivotal role in agenda setting and shaping public opinion around migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. A 100-page report, Moving Stories, released for International Migrants Day reviews media coverage of migration across the European Union and 14 countries across the world. The report acknowledges the vulnerability of refugees and migrants and the propensity for them to be politically scapegoated for society’s ills and has five key recommendations, briefly (p.8):

  1. Ethical context: that the following five core principles of journalism are adhered to:
    accuracy, independence, impartiality, humanity and accountability;
  2. Newsroom practice: have diversity in the newsroom, journalists with specialist knowledge, provide detailed information on the background of migrants and refugees and the consequences of migration;
  3. Engage with communities: Refugee groups, activists and NGOs can be briefed
    on how best to communicate with journalists;
  4. Challenge hate speech.
  5. Demand access to information: When access to information is restricted, media and civil society groups should press the national and international governments to be more transparent.

Much remains to be done, but it is heartening to see Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response to the arrival of thousands of Syrian refugees: 

You are home…Welcome home…

Tonight they step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada. With social insurance numbers. With health cards and with an opportunity to become full Canadians

Trudeau’s response sharply contrasts with that of the United States, where many politicians have responded to Islamophobic constituencies with restrictions or bans on receiving refugees. The welcome from Indigenous Canadians to newly arrived refugees has also been generous and inclusive, considering that refugees and migrants are implicated in the ongoing colonial practices of the state. These practices can maintain Indigenous disadvantage while economic, social and political advantage accrue to settlers. It is encouraging that Trudeau’s welcome coincided with an acknowledgement of the multiple harms Canada has imposed on Indigenous people since colonisation. 

Alarmingly, the center-right Danish government’s bill currently before the Danish Parliament on asylum policy, allows for immigration authorities to seize jewellery and other valuables from refugees in order to recoup costs. The capacity to remove personal valuables from people seeking sanctuary is expected to be effective from February 2016 and has a chilling precedent in Europe, as Dylan Matthews notes in Vox:

Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany for five years, from 1940 to 1945, during which time Germany confiscated assets from Jewish Danes, just as it did to Jews across Europe. Danish Jews saw less seized than most nations under Nazi occupation; the Danish government successfully prevented most confiscations until 1943, and Danes who survived the concentration camps generally returned to find their homes as they had left them, as their neighbors prevented Nazis from looting them too thoroughly. But Nazi confiscations still loom large in European historical memory more generally.

The UN, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have advocated for the development of regional and longer term responses. Statements echoed by Ban Ki-moon which proposed better cooperation and responsibility sharing between countries and the upholding of the human rights of migrants regardless of their status (Australia take note). He proposes that we:

must expand safe channels for regular migration, including for family reunification, labour mobility at all skill levels, greater resettlement opportunities, and education opportunities for children and adults.

On International Migrants Day, let us commit to coherent, comprehensive and human-rights-based responses guided by international law and standards and a shared resolve to leave no one behind.

What does this all mean for Australia and New Zealand? I’ve written elsewhere about the contradiction between the consumptive celebrations of multiculturalism and the increasing brutality and punitiveness of policies in both countries; the concerns of Australia’s key professional nursing and midwifery bodies about the secrecy provisions in the Australian Border Force Act 2015 and the ways in which New Zealand is emulating a punitive and dehumanising Australian asylum seeker policy.

It is appropriate then in this season of goodwill and peace to write an updated Christmas wish list, but with a migration focus. As a child growing up in Nairobi, one of my pleasures around Christmas time was drawing up such a list. I was so captivated with this activity that I used to drag our Hindu landlord’s children into it. This was kind of unfair as I don’t think they received any of the gifts on their list. For those who aren’t in the know, a wish list is a list of goods or services that are wanted and then distributed to family and friends, so that they know what to purchase for the would-be recipient. The idea of a list is somewhat manipulative as it is designed around the desires of the recipient rather than the financial and emotional capacity of the giver. Now that I’ve grown up a little, I’ve eschewed the consumptive, labour exploitative, commercial and land-filling aspects of Christmas in favour of spending time with family, as George Monbiot notes in his essay The Gift of Death:

They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generations.

So, this list focuses on International Day of Solidarity with Migrants. All I want for Christmas is that ‘we’:

  1. End the Australian Government policy of turning back people seeking asylum by boat ie “unauthorised maritime arrivals”. 
  2. Stop punishing the courageous and legitimate right to seek asylum with the uniquely cruel policy of mandatory indefinite detention and offshore processing. Mandatory detention must end. It is highly distressing and has long-term consequences.
  3. Remove children and adolescents from mandatory detention. Children, make up half of all asylum seekers in the industrialized world. Australia, The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy directly contradict The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
  4. Engage in regional co-operation to effectively and efficiently process refugee claims and provide safe interim places. Ensure solutions that uphold people’s human rights and dignity, see this piece about the Calais “Jungle”.
  5. End the use of asylum-seeker, refugee and migrant bodies for political gain.
  6. Demand more ethical reporting by having news media: appoint specialist migration reporters; improve training of journalists on migration issues and problems of hate-speech; create better links with migrant and refugee groups; and employ journalists from ethnic minority communities, see Moving Stories.
  7. Follow the money. Is our money enabling corporate complicity in detention? Support divestment campaigns, see X Border Operational matters. Support pledges that challenge the outsourcing of misery for example No Business in Abuse (NBIA) who have partnered with GetUp.
  8. Support the many actions by Indigenous peoples to welcome refugees. Indigenous demands for sovereignty and migrant inclusion are both characterised as threats to social cohesion in settler-colonial societies.
  9. Challenge further racial injustice through social and economic exclusion and violence that often face people from migrantnd refugee backgrounds.
  10. Ask ourselves these questions:‘What are my borders?’ ‘Who do I/my community exile?’ ’How and where does my body act as a border?’ and ‘What kind of borders exist in my spaces?’ The questions are from a wonderful piece by Farzana Khan.
Seppo Leinonen, a cartoonist and illustrator from Finland
Seppo Leinonen, a cartoonist and illustrator from Finland

Medical pluralism: Supporting co-existing diverse therapeutic traditions in mental health

This was first published in the Spring 2015 edition (Issue 41) of the Federation of Ethnic Councils of Australia (FECCA) national magazine, Australian Mosaic. Cite as: DeSouza, R. (2015). Medical pluralism: Supporting co-existing diverse therapeutic traditions in mental health. Australian Mosaic (FECCA). 41, 34-36.

Decades afterward, I still recall the frequent waking, getting out of bed and moving around our Nairobi house in the dark. Sometimes I moved pots and pans, re-arranged furniture, but mostly I caused a disturbance. My parents decided to address my distressing behaviour by taking me to an older woman from our Goan community who chanted
prayers and anointed me with chilli and garlic. Her incantations arrested the nocturnal disturbances, which never perturbed me again. The evil eye was diagnosed, the somnambulism caused by envy, inflicted on me with a look. I later learned that the
evil eye is seen as the cause of many problems and illnesses globally with a multitude of rituals and remedies to either prevent or cure it.

Charm- Niall Corbet on Flickr

My own experience of being a multiple migrant and then a clinician, led me to consider many possible antecedents to mental illness. The dominance of biomedicine to manage health and illness, assumes cross-cultural universals. Yet, mental health is a contested specialty with problematic treatments. Culturally derived norms and values from a specific location impose labels on behaviour from another context, which drive treatments, or management that flattens those contexts. Psychiatry and counseling are often viewed skeptically by people from refugee and migrant backgrounds who instead turn first to informal sources outside the health system including self-help, family, community, social networks, various forms of spirituality, religion and church. Increasingly, clinicians are appreciating the part these sources of support play.

Once mental health services are accessed, if staff focus on mental illness without understanding the cultural context or without realising that clients and their families might integrate both biomedical and more “traditional” beliefs, quality psychiatric assessment can be impaired and the potential for inaccurate diagnosis and inappropriate treatment and care can occur. Incorrectly identifying culturally appropriate behaviour or experiences as psychopathology is problematic, just as assuming that something is cultural rather than psychopathology or symptoms. However, every culture has frameworks for understanding health and illness and how these are demarcated.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, where I have spent most of my life, Maori psychiatrist Mason Durie has conceptualised Maori health as encompassing mental (hinengaro), physical (tinana), family/social (whänau), and spiritual (wairua) dimensions. In Australia, the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (1989) views wellbeing through a communal lens, broadening the concept of well-being beyond the to the social, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole community. Situating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health within a framework of social and emotional wellbeing emphasise wellness, harmony and balance rather than illness and symptom reduction (AIHW 2012). Connection to land, culture, spirituality, ancestry, family and community, interdependence between families, communities, land, sea and spirit are also seen as necessary for health. The Ways Forward National Aboriginal and Islander Mental Health Policy Report 3 (pp19-20) adapted from Swan and Raphael also prioritises holism, self-determination, the need for cultural understanding, the impact of history in trauma and loss, human rights, acknowledges the impact of racism and stigma, kinship, cultural diversity and Aboriginal strengths.

Contemporary neoliberal health discourses have co-opted patient rights movements and positioned patients as consumers ­­-active partners in health who are responsible for their own health. Consumer engagement and health literacy form a suite of strategies for inducing medical citizenship, so that individuals can participate and become knowledgeable consumers. Some would argue these are assimilatory processes. However, in order for medical citizenship to be a two way process, one’s own beliefs about the causes of illness and the corresponding treatments must also be considered. Health literate organisations must also be open to a multiplicity of illness explanations and to those locations from which such beliefs are derived. As Beijers and de Freitas (p.245), note:

Health care is transforming social suffering into illnesses and diagnoses, while often denying the social and moral origins and implications of the suffering

David Ingleby suggests that two perspectives are available for thinking about culture and mental illness. A technical perspective assumes mainstream frameworks and treatments can be universalised to all patients/clients and that more sensitivity and overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers will assist therapeutic efforts. With a technical approach to mental health, the goal of care is to deliver it efficiently and increase utilization (efficacy). Strategies can include access to language matched information and professional interpreting services, or improving mental health literacy and awareness, supporting community resilience and coping strategies. However, technical approaches do not ask questions about power imbalances between groups.

On the other hand when care is given through a critical lens (equity), the questions become what is going on when interventions developed for one population are applied to another? What are the underlying power relations? Whose interests are being served? Is there a covert attempt to impose the values and perspectives of the dominant group? Ingelby suggests that becoming a user of Western health care involves accepting its underlying philosophy and values and “acquiring health literacy”.

It is important that collaborations between traditional healing mechanisms and western practice are made possible, however within professional discourses traditional healing is frequently viewed as primitive and unprofessional, yet people often utilize different health beliefs simultaneously in their search for optimal treatment. Furthermore, assimilation and acculturation into the dominant culture are thought to negatively impact on migrant health status and to contribute to migrant ill health and disparities as the healthy migrant advantage that people arrive with reduces after a year. Developing collaborative models that combine traditional and Western health knowledges and combining health literacy and consumer participation with better access and quality of staff can indeed facilitate better health outcomes.

As an educator, I am interested in how I can do my part to increase the awareness and openness to pluralism, so that the next generation of nurses can be effective and therapeutic. There is guidance available from The Cultural Diversity Plan for Victoria’s Specialist Mental Health Services. There is an emphasis on being respectful and having non-judgmental curiosity about other cultures. Mental health workers are encouraged to seek cultural knowledge in an appropriate way, tolerate ambiguity and develop the ability to handle the stress of ambiguous situations. In addition, developing a family-sensitive practice, where family and community resources are viewed as partners in recovery as appropriate allow syncretism and innovation to take place. There are significant institutional barriers remaining to this in mental particularly the emphases on privacy, independence and the one-to-one relationship between consumer and professional.

Politics and policies reflect values: Border Force Act 2015 and the Immigration Amendment Bill (NZ)

World Refugee Day in June acknowledges the courage, resilience and contributions of refugees. On this day, I acknowledge those caught in geopolitical situations that aren’t of their own making. I acknowledge those who risk life and limb for a better life. I acknowledge those who create new lives despite horror, profound loss and hardship. I acknowledge those who fight for a better world. I mourn for the loss of life, the loss of potential, the loss of innocence, the loss of family, the loss of dignity, hope, freedom. I burn fiercely with rage for those who dehumanise, destroy, lay waste to, ignore, collude and contribute to the reason people flee. For all those who have survived, I salute your courageous hearts and spirits, your resilience in the face of unspeakable atrocity. 

The many celebrations, performances, speeches representing individual and community acts of welcome in both New Zealand and Australia, disguise the increasing brutality and punitiveness of policies in both countries. Policy refers to “a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by a government, party, business or individual” (Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary). Policy not only references content, it points to the kinds of values and beliefs held in a society. Consider the passing of the second reading of the Immigration Amendment Bill by the New Zealand Parliament which will allow the imprisonment of asylum seekers arriving boat, following in Australia’s footsteps of penalising maritime arrivals. Consider the persecution of refugees who arrive by sea, the removal to offshore facilities of babies and children, the payment of “people smugglers” to “turn back the boats” in Australia. For health professionals the secrecy provisions in Section 42 of the Australian Border Force Act 2015 threaten jail for up to two years for professionals who disclose information about the conditions in immigration Detention Centres. These policies are often cited as grounds for moral superiority by New Zealand, but Australia has a larger refugee quota per capita than New Zealand does, which is more often being seen as “a heartless country and a bad global citizen” (see Dr Bryce Edwards excellent summation).

So what “we” are to do with these contradictory aspects of celebration and deterrence that are present in World Refugee Day? RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees is the first and only refugee and asylum seeker welfare and advocacy organisation in Australia, entirely governed by refugees, asylum seekers, and ex-detainees. RISE have made a powerful statement for World Refugee Week:

The world has forcibly displaced over 57 million people, the highest number since World War II. Most of the displaced refugees are hosted by non-signatory refugee countries, yet most people who celebrate Refugee week are signatories of the refugee convention. There has been no coordinated effort to create more places for resettlement nor other long-term humanitarian solutions for refugees other than lucrative “border security” that feeds the military industrial and detention industrial complex at the expense of our lives. Presently, most refugee signatory countries are trying to block borders and decrease refugee intake, so what is left for us to celebrate here? The death and torture of refugees? Thus far, we have not witnessed safe passage for asylum seekers and refugees across borders.

Questioning the performance aspects of the many activities organised for this week and especially today, they state:

Basically we are remembered once a year as entertainers, visible once a year but voiceless and too incompetent to provide solutions to address our own community’s needs for the rest of the year.

UNHCR’s new annual Global Trends report shows a massive increase in the number of people forced to flee their homes. 59.5 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago. Over half the world’s refugees are children. How can those of us who are disturbed by the scale of displacement and trauma influence governments to influence policy? Murdoch Stevens’ work is a great example. He set up Doing Our Bit in New Zealand and has spearheaded a campaign since 2013 supported by the New Zealand Greens, World Vision, Amnesty International and the New Zealand Race Relations Commissioner Susan DeVoy asking for the New Zealand Refugee Quota to be doubled (you can sign a petition at Action Station). On Wednesday 17th June a private members bill was launched by Denise Roche of the Green Party to increase the refugee quota from 750 to 1000 places.

Tracey Barnett a journalist has responded to the backlash from calls to increase the quota in New Zealand by developing a series of one minute videos to counter misconceptions about refugees : Can New Zealand Get a Refugee Boat Arrival?Define a refugee, an asylum seeker and an economic migrant?Are boat arrivals really jumping the UN queue? :

As families risk their lives at sea rather than die in the war that has engulfed them, New Zealand has quietly just shrugged. It’s not our crisis. It’s so far away. We’re missing the boat entirely. We are every bit a part of the problem. New Zealand has very quietly closed the door to refugees from long-term neglect.

In Australia, The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) released a new Refugee and Asylum Seeker Health Policy and Position Statement which outlines the deleterious health impacts of detention and sets out the RACP’s Policy relating to Refugee and Asylum Seeker health. The Position Statement outlines four key aspects influencing health for people seeking asylum in Australia and New Zealand: an end to immigration detention, good access to health services in the community, rigorous health assessments, and promotion of long-term health in the community. There is also a video. The Australian College of Midwives, The Australian College of Mental Health Nurses and The Australian College of Nurses, Australia’s key professional nursing and midwifery bodies have expressed serious concern about the secrecy provisions in the Australian Border Force Act 2015, arguing that the threat of imprisonment for nurses or midwives that disclose any protected information acquired while working in immigration detention centres, places them at odds with obligations under the Australian Codes of Professional Conduct and Codes of Ethics:

This law actively prohibits nurses and midwives from fulfilling their duty under their respective Code of Professional Conduct and Code of Ethics which set the minimum standards for practice a nurse or midwife is expected to uphold. Under their respective Codes of Professional Conduct both nurses and midwives are required, where they have made a report of unlawful or otherwise unacceptable conduct to their employers and that report fails to produce an appropriate response from the employers, to take the matter to an appropriate external authority. However, restrictions imposed by the Australian Border Force Act prohibit nurses and midwives from doing so.

 

The nursing and midwifery bodies endorsing this statement are of the strong view that the Australian Border Force Act 2015 requires urgent amendments. These amendments must ensure that all health professionals and all contractors can advocate freely for best practice health care and against conditions or practices that are harmful to detainees’ health or that otherwise violate their human rights.
As organisations representing Australia’s nurses and midwives, we consider it inconceivable that the Government should seek to place us at odds with our obligations under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency when delivering health care to people in immigration detention. The Australian Border Force Act requires immediate amendment so nurses and midwives working in immigration detention centres can comply with their professional requirements.”

These examples highlight how activists, professionals and citizens can advocate and influence policy and politics. We can influence politics meaning discussions of how resources are allocated and we can influence policy meaning the distribution of resources. Furthermore, we can engage in politics in the context of how conflict is expressed in the public sphere with regard to values (Mason, Leavitt, Chaffee, 2014). Teanau Tuiono (Ngāpuhi, Ngāi Takoto, Atiu) advocates for Māori values of manaakitanga and whanaungatanga and a respect of Indigenous Peoples guide the criteria of who can stay. It would do us all well to remember which values are embedded in the actions of our political leaders and policy makers and whether these values reflect our own. As Rachel Smalley asks, what is more frightening?

There is nothing frightening about a refugee, nothing at all.  But there is everything to fear about an ignorant and xenophobic society which increasingly shuts the door on humanity

Leunig July 1 2015: 40 current and former workers at Australia’s detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island challenge Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton to prosecute them under new secrecy laws for speaking out over human rights abuses in this open letter.