Women’s health across cultures

Mother and her baby (Getty images).

Social and economic disadvantage are important contributors to poor maternal and perinatal outcomes in high-income countries such as Australia. For example Australian research shows women from refugee
backgrounds have higher rates of stillbirth, fetal death in utero and perinatal mortality compared with Australian born women. However, the recent publication of findings from a retrospective (looking back) population based cohort study of all individual (as opposed to multiple) births at 24 or more weeks gestational age from 2000–2011 in Victoria, Australia, found that the mother’s country of birth was also an important factor in having a baby who was stillborn.

The place of birth of pregnant women has important implications for risk of stillbirth in high-income countries, as research in the UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Singapore and Australia has shown. Yet, only the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) clinical guidelines recognise ‘black women’ as being at increased risk of stillbirth. Other clinical guidelines are silent on maternal region of birth  including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence, and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. A significant omission considering migration remains a feature in those countries. The authors found that women who were born in South Asian or Africa have a significantly higher rate of stillbirth. However, women who were born in South East/East Asian had lower rates of stillbirth. This equates to women born in South Asia having an almost two and a half times greater chance of having a late pregnancy stillbirth than a woman who was born in Australia accessing the same public maternity services. The authors recommend that all clinical guidelines should recognize the importance of maternal region of birth (as an independent) risk factor for stillbirth.

This is only one example where ethnicity, faith, culture and place of birth matter, not just in terms of attitudes and expectations about pregnancy, labour and birth but in the context of risk factors for adverse maternal and perinatal outcomes. Recently, I was part of a webinar panel hosted by the Jean Hailes centre, a women’s health organisation, which focused on: culture and its impact on health; culturally safe practice; communication and health literacy and strategies to enhance practice. Along with Monique Hameed (Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health) and Natalija Nesvadba (Multicultural Services, Mercy Health, Victoria). The free ninety minute webinar for which participants are eligible for
RACGP – 3 Category 2 QI&CPD points can be accessed here. It’s structured with three presentations and then two case studies. Further resources below.

Further reading

Useful multilingual resources from the Health Translations Directory

The Health Translations Directory managed by the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health, comprises a searchable database with over 14,000 translated online health resources in over 100 languages:

Pregnancy and post-natal care resources 
Women’s Health resources

Refs

  • Davies-Tuck, M. L., Davey, M.-A., & Wallace, E. M. (2017). Maternal region of birth and stillbirth in Victoria, Australia 2000-2011: A retrospective cohort study of Victorian perinatal data. PloS One, 12(6), e0178727.
  • Yelland, J., Riggs, E., Szwarc, J., Casey, S., Dawson, W., Vanpraag, D., … Brown, S. (2015). Bridging the Gap: using an interrupted time series design to evaluate systems reform addressing refugee maternal and child health inequalities. Implementation Science: IS, 10, 62.

What can The Handmaid’s Tale teach us about intersectionality in institutional life?

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale focuses on women living in a theocratic totalitarian regime in a newly created dystopian, pronatalist society called Gilead. The regime attributes declining fertility to women’s rights, same sex relationships and an environment damaged beyond repair, which it solves with  the creation of a society predicated on women stratified into their biological destinies to reproduce (Handmaids) or to fulfil household obligations in the private sphere (Marthas). The women are all white, and the story is told through Offred, the plucky white narrator enslaved in a white male supremacist society, where all the people of color have been banished to ‘the colonies'(we are also left uncertain about whether this includes indigenous peoples).  Margaret Attwood doesn’t need to attend to characters of color in the book because in a matter of sentences we already know that they are not included in this new world. This lets Attwood off the hook for engaging with with characters of color in the novel. However, critiques of the book from an intersectional perspective have noted that the narrative banishment comes to extrapolate white women’s experiences as representative of the experiences of all women, even though many of the exploitative and cruel mechanisms to curtail maternity and bodily autonomy used on the white women were used specifically against women of colour in actual North American history that underpins the life of the author and the novel. Or were used on enslaved Africans in the United States including public lynchings and being named after their owners.

The television version attempts to address the invisibility and exclusion of the book where people of color were banished or exterminated. People of colour are visible on screen, as loving husbands, loyal running mates, a daughter, a housekeeper.  The women of color characters are dispersed through the stratified roles of Handmaids or Marthas which also assumes levels of social mobility. But these characters are merely backdrop cardboard cutouts, holograms, one-dimensional, devoid of depth in this white supremacist tale. Characters like Luke and Moira don’t get to explore their racial identities, much less how religious totalitarianism would specifically affect their racialised experiences. In ignoring racism, the show misses an opportunity to show how racism would manifest and evolve in a puritanical theocracy. In the show, The Handmaid’s Tale assumes that racism has been solved or that it is trumped by gender in the cause of preserving fertility. But there is a lost opportunity to consider ‘racist sexism’, that is how policies and practices that discriminate against women, also discriminate in different ways against racialised women. It also fails to acknowledge that America has always been a dystopia for people of color or that American dystopia is founded on anti-Black violence.. It appears on the surface that all subjects other than the commanders and their wives are treated in much the same way as each other. Seemingly the biblical rules of law are applied equally for transgressions. But Bastien asks: 

Are white Commanders and their wives really okay with having a handmaid of color? Is there a caste system for handmaids of color in which some are considered more desirable than others? Do Commanders of color have the same privileges as their white counterparts? If Gilead is meant to imagine a possible future for America, how could deeply entrenched racial dynamics disappear?

In this color-blind, post-racial idyll, there are people of color, but they are hollow and we know nothing about them, past or present. Evan Narcisse suggests it is like the comment made when you’re a non-white person in a predominantly white institution: “When I look at you, I don’t see a marginalised/minority person, I just see a person.” Although meant kindly, in its unmarked privilege it erases the fact of your difference and what it means to inhabit your body and your life. Whiteness is still the unacknowledged default. As Stephanie Brown observes, the men in power are white, as are most of the women. It’s important though that we care about all of this in real life, not just as fiction, as Berlatsky notes:

Because fictional tyrannical dystopias are primarily envisioned as affecting white people, it can be harder to see negative policies that oppress others. At the point where the fictional metaphor matters more than the current reality, something’s gone terribly wrong.

Several critics suggest that The Handmaid’s Tale represents a failure of intersectionality. The term ‘intersectionality’ originates in African American theorising and activism, and is most commonly associated with work by Kimberle Crenshaw and Patricia Collins. It describes how systems of oppression are viewed as interlocking. Therefore, attempts to dislodge one axis of oppression will impact on another. Globally, the term intersectionality is being appropriated as a way to activate attempts to address issues of under-representation in institutions without reverting to a single focus lens on issues such as gender, race, class, or sexuality. Intersectionality provides an understanding that identities can be simultaneously privileged and marginalised, depending on social context. Consequently we are all interpellated differently by racism and sexism through a ‘matrix of domination’ (Collins, 1990).  For example, I can be a migrant woman of color who is marginalised through sexism and racism, but I am also privileged through class position, education, able body and heterosexuality. 

Intersectionality is being introduced into diversity initiatives in Universities and is gaining momentum in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine disciplines (STEMM) disciplines. Intersectionality is seen as a strategy  for addressing the barriers to success and to widen and increase participation by women, working class, indigenous and ethnic minority groups, in order to leverage a diversity dividend. The use of an economic metaphor valorises innovation and economic competitiveness, rather than attempting to address a pressing social justice. Metaphors to account for inequities and the underrepresentation of groups in STEMM disciplines include the old boys club, the glass ceiling and the leaky pipeline. These metaphors also guide the strategies developed to address these failures of inclusion and their limitations. Merely creating a pipeline and applying force to propel people forward does not guarantee an increase numbers (Núñez, 2014). In the case of a pipeline, we know that it leaks at various stages and is still designed for an implicit ideal input, consequently women and ethnic minorities are more likely than white men to leak out. We also know that the leaking is progressive, so the farther along the pipeline, the fewer these groups are in number (Clark Blickenstaff*, 2005). Merely focusing on increasing or diversifying the supply hides the real issue which is at the ‘demand’ end of things, that is, the organization and the need for it to change (Riegle‐Crumb, 2009, p. 4). Similarly, the metaphor of the glass ceiling assumes the barriers facing marginalised groups are a one dimensional insurmountable barrier experienced at the ‘top’, when in fact marginalised identities experience discrimination and ‘hurdles’ throughout their careers (Husu, 2001, p. 177)Instead the analytic of intersectionality is being vaunted as an antidote to under-representation.

Diversity management is fast becoming a feature of the public image of the corporatised entrepreneurial academy. Standing in for structural or organisational change, diversity risks reproducing the issues I’ve identified in the screen version in the Handmaid’s Tale. Damon Williams suggests there are several political, social and economic imperatives for Universities to respond to diversity. In its place in the knowledge based global economy, it must respond to changing demographics and meet the need for creative and capable students and also demonstrate the viability and vibrancy of diversity. The diversity management strategies it employs range from access and equity; to creating a multicultural and inclusive campus climate; enhancing domestic and international diversity research and scholarship and preparing students for a diverse and global world (Damon Williams, p.19). However, the emphasis on diversity as a way of increasing numbers and improving Human Resources, is often not supplemented with an explicit engagement with the systems of power and inequality that structure the processes of knowledge production. Consequently, the white, elite and middle class structures and structural arrangements that reproduce inequality remain both invisible and intact (Dill & Zambrana, 2009). The neoliberal assumption of an asocial and ahistorical individualised world of meritocracy, means sometimes ignoring racism and sexism (Ong, Wright, Espinosa, & Orfield, 2011). Unmarked white, masculine values and norms instituted through colonial processes of political, cultural, and military dominance favor dominant epistemologies which claim universal truths that overlook social locations and identities (Carlone & Johnson, 2007).

The Handmaid’s Tale is being flagged as a universal wake-up call, about a white feminist dystopia. But as critics note, this ‘feminist’ rallying point ignores enduring prior calls by indigenous and women of color and is a failure of intersectionality. The assumption of a post-racial, ahistorical world limits the possibilities of imagining alternative futures for people of color, in a time of Turnbull, Trump, Macron and Trudeau. Similarly efforts in academia to engage with ‘diversity’ without attention to intersectionality and attending to systems of power and inequality, risks positioning people of color as economic resources who are mere backdrop in a white supremacist institution.

      Refs

  • Amery, F., Bates, S., Jenkins, L., & Savigny, H. (2015). Metaphors on Women in Academia: A Review of the Literature, 2004–2013. In At the Center: Feminism, Social Science and Knowledge (pp. 245–267). emeraldinsight.com.
  • Archer, L., Dawson, E., DeWitt, J., Seakins, A., & Wong, B. (2015). “Science capital”: A conceptual, methodological, and empirical argument for extending bourdieusian notions of capital beyond the arts. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(7), 922–948.
  • Ball, S. J. (2015). Accounting for a sociological life: influences and experiences on the road from welfarism to neoliberalism. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 36(6), 817–831.
  • Bolden, R., Gosling, J., O’Brien, A., Peters, K., Ryan, M. K., Haslam, S. A., … Winklemann, K. (2012). Academic leadership: changing conceptions, identities and experiences in UK Higher Education. Leadership Foundation for Higher Education,.
  • Cech, E. A., Metz, A., Smith, J. L., & deVries, K. (2017). Epistemological Dominance and Social Inequality. Science, Technology & Human Values, 0162243916687037.
  • Clark Blickenstaff, J. (2005). Women and science careers: leaky pipeline or gender filter? Gender and Education, 17(4), 369–386.
  • Collins, P. H. (1990). 2000. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment.
  • Carlone, H. B., & Johnson, A. (2007). Understanding the science experiences of successful women of color: Science identity as an analytic lens. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(8), 1187–1218.
  • Dill, B. T., & Zambrana, R. E. (2009). Emerging Intersections: Race, Class, and Gender in Theory, Policy, and Practice. Rutgers University Press.
  • Dodson, D.J. (1997). “We lived in the blank white spaces”: Rewriting the Paradigm of Denial in Atwood’s The. Utopian Studies, 8(2), 66–86.
  • Evans, M. (2004). Killing Thinking: Death of the University. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Eveline, J., & Booth, M. (2004). “Don’t write about it”: Writing “the other” for the ivory basement. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 17(3), 243–255.
  • Ferguson, H., & Wheat, K. L. (2015). Early career academic mentoring using Twitter: the case of# ECRchat. Higher Education Policy and Management. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1360080X.2014.991533
  • Fitzgerald, T. (2014). Advancing knowledge in higher education: Universities in turbulent times: Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
  • Harding, S. (1989). Taking Responsibility for Our Own Gender, Race, Class: Transforming Science and the Social Studies of Science. Rethinking Marxism, 2(3), 7–19.
  • Husu, L. (2001). On metaphors on the position of women in academia and science. NORA: Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies, 9(3), 172–181.
  • Jones, S. R. (2016). Authenticity in leadership: Intersectionality of identities. New Directions for Student Leadership, Winter 2016(152), 23–34.
  • Ko, L. T., Kachchaf, R. R., Ong, M., & Hodari, A. K. (2013). Narratives of the double bind: Intersectionality in life stories of women of color in physics, astrophysics and astronomy. AIP Conference Proceedings, 1513(1), 222–225.
  • Lynch, K. (2006). Neo-Liberalism and Marketisation: The Implications for Higher Education. European Educational Research Journal, 5(1), 1–17.
  • Lynch, K., Grummell, B., & Devine, D. (2012). Crafting the Elastic Self: Gendered Experiences of Senior Management. In New Managerialism in Education (pp. 134–153). Palgrave Macmillan UK.
  • Mignolo, W. (2000). The Many Faces of Cosmo-polis: Border Thinking and Critical Cosmopolitanism. Public Culture, 12(3), 721–748.
  • Miller, R. A., & Vaccaro, A. (2016). Queer Student Leaders of Color: Leadership as Authentic, Collaborative, Culturally Competent. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 53(1), 39–50.
  • Naidoo, R. (2003). Repositioning Higher Education as a Global Commodity: Opportunities and challenges for future sociology of education work. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 24(2), 249–259.
  • Núñez, A.-M. (2014). Advancing an Intersectionality Framework in Higher Education: Power and Latino Postsecondary Opportunity. In M. B. Paulsen (Ed.), Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research (pp. 33–92). Springer Netherlands.
  • Ong, M., Wright, C., Espinosa, L., & Orfield, G. (2011). Inside the Double Bind: A Synthesis of Empirical Research on Undergraduate and Graduate Women of Color in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Harvard Educational Review, 81(2), 172–209.
  • Riegle‐Crumb, C. (2009). Removing Barriers: Women in Academic Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics . Edited by Jill M. Bystydzienski and Sharon R. Bird. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006. Pp. 347. 75.00 (cloth); 29.95 (paper). The American Journal of Sociology, 114(4), 1231–1233.
  • Ruderman, M. N., & Ernst, C. (2004). Finding yourself: How social identity affects leadership. Leadership in Action, 24(3), 3–7.
  • Slaughter, S., & Rhoades, G. (2004). Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education. JHU Press.
  • Su, F., & Wood, M. (2017). Cosmopolitan Perspectives on Academic Leadership in Higher Education. (Camilla Erskine Tanya Fitzgerald, Ed.). Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Williams, D. A. (2013). Strategic Diversity Leadership: Activating Change and Transformation in Higher Education. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  • Winter, R. (2009). Academic manager or managed academic? Academic identity schisms in higher education. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 31(2), 121–131.
  • Zaharia, S. E., & Gibert, E. (2005). The Entrepreneurial University in the Knowledge Society. Higher Education in Europe, 30(1), 31–40.

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.

Wearable devices and the potential for community health improvement

Written for and first published in in the August 2016 edition of Nurse Click  (the Australian College of Nursing’s monthly electronic, interactive PDF publication available to ACN members, and to stakeholders, the wider nursing and non-nursing community who subscribe to it.). Cite as: DeSouza, R. (2016). Wearable devices and the potential for community health improvement. Nurse Click, August, 14-15 (download pdf 643KB nurseclick_august_2016_final)

TV Glasses (1964)
TV Glasses (1964)

“Wearable technology“, “wearable devices“, and “wearables” all refer to electronic technologies or computers that are incorporated into items of clothing and accessories which can comfortably be worn on the body. These wearable devices can perform many of the same computing tasks as mobile phones and laptop computers; however, in some cases, wearable technology can outperform these hand-held devices through their integration into bodily movements and functions through inbuilt sensory and scanning features, for example. Wearables include: smart watches, fitness trackers, head mounted displays, smart clothing and jewellery. There are also more invasive varieties including implanted devices such as micro-chips or even smart tattoos, insulin pumps, or for contraception. The purpose of wearable technology is to create constant, seamless and hands-free access to electronics and computers.

Wearables are all about data. Thanks to recent advancements in sensors, we’re able to collect more information about ourselves than ever and use that data to make healthcare personal and tailored to our needs. Traditionally, qualitative health research and much clinical interaction relies on self-reporting by consumers, which is then interpreted by researchers and published for incorporation into practice by health practitioners. Along the way, much important information is “lost in translation”. New consumer healthcare technologies are brokering a shared informational interface between caregivers, clinicians, communities and researchers, allowing practitioners to access richer and more detailed empirical data on health consumer activity and their participation in health-seeking activities.

Consumer health technologies offer potential for care to be more equitable and patient-centred. The technological promise also brings concerns, including the impact on the patient-provider relationship and the appropriate use and validation of technologies. Technologies are also developed with particular service-users in mind, and rarely designed with the participation of people from structurally and culturally marginalised communities. In turn, the impacts of these technologies on health service education, planning and policy are far reaching. It is important that technology is not demographically blind, from a public health and community health perspective it must not reinforce the structural inequalities that exist between those who have access to health and those who haven’t.

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, recently organised a seminar and stakeholder consultation in Melbourne on July 28th with the aim of shaping a research agenda on wearable health technologies and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. Typically wearables have been marketed toward the ‘wealthy worried and well’ demographic and the purpose of the seminar was to discuss both the generic issues that emerging wearable technologies present, as well as the unique issues for people from diverse backgrounds. The three hour event brought together clinicians, academics, developers, community organisations, and policymakers to consider the future issues with these technologies.

Seminar. Photo credit Jared Kuvent
Seminar. Photo credit Jared Kuvent

The first speaker was University of Melbourne researcher and lecturer Suneel Jethani who expressed scepticism about what wearable health technologies really may deliver for health, particularly for CALD communities. Suneel explored the growth of wearable health technologies through the notion of the pharmakon, the notion that every medicine is also poison, with the devices having capacity to be both beneficial and harmful. Janette Gogler, a Nurse Informatician from Melbourne’s Eastern Health described a randomised control trial of emerging technologies for remote patients with chronic heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In this trial patients took a number of their own physiological measurements including electrocardiography (ECG) monitoring, blood pressure, and spirometry. While the trial led many patients to feel more in control of their health through a better understanding of their physiology, there were also challenges, including having to manage their expectations of the technology, where patients who became suddenly unwell were upset that the system had not given them forewarning, even though the issues were outside the scope of the devices. Janette also raised the issue of research excluding speakers of additional languages. The final speaker was Deloitte Digital partner Sean McClowry, who noted that the uptake of wearable health technologies has been slower to reach ‘digital disruption’ compared to the smart phones, but saw the likelihood of exponential growth through a new model of care. Sean raised questions about the unprecedented nature of data: how to make it high quality and its analysis meaningful. The session by the three panellists was followed by two youth respondents and a question and answer session and then break out groups which developed further questions and issues for an emerging research program.

In the stakeholder consultation a number of critical themes emerged from many participants: the need to carefully manage privacy; the lack of accuracy of much consumer information; certification of apps; Western models of individual health hard-wired into the platform; the potential of peer support from new technologies; challenges for existing workforces and roles; and the potential of research to stigmatise as well as assist CALD communities. What was agreed was that consumer health technologies were only going to continue to grow and that no part of the health system would be undisrupted by the changes ahead, both intimidating and exciting!

Sensing horizontality: I bought a wearable device to monitor my sleep

Are you a  night owl or an early bird? Or do you fall in between? I succumbed and bought a wearable device because I thought it could be useful to track my sleep. I spend a few nights in the city every week and I notice that I feel less rested than when I am ‘home’. It seems the right time to buy a wearable device, I am co-organising a Wearables seminar on July 28th 2016 at the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health. I’ve also been invited by Croakey to guest tweet on @WePublicHealth and I want to explore how the concepts of consumer participation, health literacy and cultural competence are changing with technologisation in health care. Check out this interview with Marie McInerney editor at Croakey on Youtube if you are interested in the seminar). I’ve also just started a course at QUT on Social media and data analytics as an entry point into beginning to understand what kinds of data are being generated and what can be done with that.

Jawbone from the Harvey Norman catalogue
Jawbone from the Harvey Norman catalogue

 

Wearable health technologies are growing in social acceptance and use, especially for people interested in fitness and health monitoring as a form of preventative medicine. As sensors become cheaper and smaller, many kinds of health-related data that previously relied upon clinical equipment are becoming available for continuous self-monitoring by patients and consumers. In effect, these technologies are turning the body into media, so that a health consumer can become their own twenty four hour news channel focused entirely on the realtime representation of wellbeing.

Wearable technology platforms have been dominated by the English-speaking middle-classes, (“the wealthy, worried and well” as Michael Paasche-Orlow suggests), limiting the community benefits of enhanced participation and health. Barbara Feder Ostrov notes:

But Fitbits aren’t particularly useful if you’re homeless, and the nutrition app won’t mean much to someone who struggles to pay for groceries. Same for emailing your doctor if you don’t have a doctor or reliable Internet access.

The diffusion of mobile phones (that can also be used as health monitoring devices) indicates that these technologies will only expand to a wider range of users. 

IMG_5187

What are wearables?

Wearable devices or “wearable technology” and “wearables”  refer to electronic technologies or computers that are incorporated into clothing and accessories and worn on the body. They can include smart watches
fitness trackers, head mounted displays, smart clothing and jewellery. They do many things that mobile phones and laptop computers do, but some also have features not seen in mobile and laptop devices. Sensory and scanning features can provide biofeedback and track physiological function. There are also more invasive devices which can implanted such as micro-chips, smart tattoos, pumps.

Why is everyone talking about wearables now?

The world of health information is undergoing significant transformation in the digital era. New media channels such as the Internet allow access to on-demand health information outside of authoritative channels; and new technologies such as fitness trackers and wearables produce a wide range of personal health information. Several trends have increased attention on technologies in health including the democratising role of the internet, leading to the emergence of more intensively informed health consumers who expect more precise and individualised care; the ubiquity and mobility of network communications, allowing the immediate bidirectional transfer of information between individuals and systems; the role of social media in providing networks for sharing both personal data and health experiences; and the increasing cost of health care and the potential for technology to make health management more efficient.

What are the benefits?

Traditionally, much clinical interaction relies on self-reporting by consumers, which is then interpreted by researchers and published for incorporation into practice by health practitioners. Along the way, much important information is “lost in translation”. New consumer healthcare technologies are brokering a shared informational interface between caregivers, clinicians, communities and researchers, allowing practitioners to access richer and more detailed empirical data on health consumer activity and their participation in health-seeking activities. Consumer health technologies offer potential for care to be more equitable and patient-centred. In turn, the impacts of these technologies on health service education, planning and policy are far reaching. More about benefits.

Could wearables enhance independence and participation?

Advances in health mean that residents of industrialized countries live longer, but with multiple, often complex, health conditions. Health technologies can expand the capabilities of the health care system by extending its range into the community, improving diagnostics and monitoring, and maximizing the independence and participation of individuals (Patel, Park, Bonato, Chan and Rodgers, 2012). The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) is giving millions of patients free health apps & connected health devices in a bid to promote self-management of chronic diseases. Wearable sensors also have diagnostic and monitoring applications, which can sense physiological, biochemical and motion changes. Monitoring could help with the diagnosis and ongoing treatment of people with neurological, cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases including seizures, hypertension, dysrhythmias, and asthma. Home-based motion sensing might assist in falls prevention and help maximize an individual’s independence and community participation.

What are the concerns about wearables?

The technological promise also brings concerns, including the impact on the patient-provider relationship; and the appropriate use and validation of technologies. Technologies are also developed with particular service-users in mind, and rarely designed with the participation of people from structurally and culturally marginalised communities. Despite the ubiquity and access to apps, wearables and websites, the lack of science might preclude behaviour change (e.g. no set of standards) and the “average person” could struggle to choose an app that is effective at changing health behaviour. People are anxious about whether their health data can be used against them. Workplace surveillance and tracking employees has become a health and safety issue. There’s concern about whether we can trust the scientific rigor of the apps we are using, for example the accuracy of the heart rate tracker of the Fitbit and concerns about security.

What impact will technologies have on health professional roles?

Health professionals will have to consider how they work with clients in the context of these technologies. The capacity to review and share healthcare experiences is already available. Technologies will require changes in rules, business models, workflow and roles. The advent of authoritative websites like the Better Health Channel, means that health professionals may no longer be the ultimate gate-keepers of knowledge, their role might shift to being health coaches who empower clients to monitor and improve their health by using their own data. They might have a larger role in care coordination and managing care transitions through the use of mobile health apps. They could play a greater role in research at the point of care through data gathering in research projects. They could play a greater role in evaluating the quality and appropriateness of particular apps. Technology could also free up time to care. Nurses often spend more time collecting information rather than looking after patients. One study showed 60 % of the nurse’s/midwife’s time was spent collecting information and only 15% caring for their patients. ePrescription systems in Sweden, the US and Denmark increased health provider productivity per prescription by over 50%.5. eReferrals in Europe reduced the average time spent on referrals by 97%.6. So, there is potential for the enhancement of health system design: workflow and the coordination of care. There will also need to be better support for innovation as this post from The Medical Startup notes:

How can you innovate where your environment is slow to respond to change, and, despite best intentions, has trouble understanding the few (or many) employees who want to do more, but can’t articulate their feelings? How can you innovate when you risk being penalised or even kicked out of a specialty college that you’ve worked so hard to enter?

Health professionals will also need data management or data analytic skills in order to best use the data wearable health technologies generate. The data will range from public health intelligence (for example tracking outbreaks); using data as a diagnostic tool; to follow up treatment plans; to provide access to the personas, problems, goals and preferences which can then improve the care plan through tailored information and also improve engagement and activation. Health professionals will also need to find ways to prepare patients better for their appointments so that the time they spend is better used.

What kinds of workforce preparation will be necessary for using technologies effectively?

The Digital Skills for Health Professionals Committee of the European Health Parliament surveyed over 200 health professionals about their experience with digital health solutions, and a large majority reported to have received no training, or insufficient training, in digital health technology. The committee recommended continuous education of health professionals in the knowledge, use and application of digital health technology. Curricula will need to be updated to prepare health professionals for using mobile apps/diagnostic and data monitoring tools to the nurses’ repertoire of skills and competencies and larger focus on patient-centered care and consumer engagement in health promotion and maintenance activities. Will there be new roles for ‘informaticians’ whose job is to help download apps, set it up, teach patients how to use it to make health messages more understandable? Educators will need to consider how they teach students to use technology and integrate the use of mobile technology into learning experiences and clinical practice. They’ll need to consider how to use technology such as texts, mobile telephones, or video for health promotion and disease prevention. They will also need an understanding of informatics and how health data are stored, transmitted, and used, as well as the use of the electronic health record in patient-centered care planning (Kennedy, Androwich, Mannone, & Mercier, 2014).

Could benefits be realised for people from CALD backgrounds?

As one of the most culturally diverse communities in the world which accounts for around one-third of migrant settlement in Australia, Victorians born overseas as a percentage of the population have grown by 29 per cent from 2001 to 2011—from just below 1.1 million people to 1.4 million (VARG, 2014). The Auditor General notes in the VARG report (2014) that:

Migrants, particularly those with low English proficiency or poor literacy in their own language, and refugees and asylum seekers are among our most vulnerable members of the community. This is because they often have complex needs, particularly in relation to health, welfare and language services. A whole-of-government approach to the broader area of multicultural affairs should improve integration, reduce duplication and better identify gaps in services.

Evidence is growing that the the greater the health literacy of an individual, the greater the likelihood of health maintenance and promotion. Low health literacy is associated with more adverse health outcomes (people with low levels of individual health literacy are between 1.5 and 3 times more likely to experience an adverse health outcome (DeWalt et al. 2004 cited in ACSQHC 2013c). People from refugee and migrant backgrounds may be disadvantaged in the health system because they are in the process of developing their health literacy and capital. Access to and through health care is a significant aspect of feeling a sense of belonging and worth, so improvements in health participation will also have a significant impact on broader social inclusion.  We need to explore how low health literacy/data literacy affect the use of health information, merely having access to information in apps is no guarantee that you can use the information.

Last night's sleep
Last night’s sleep

It’s going to be interesting seeing what data comes out of the Jawbone app. Having had it for two days I can see that it provides useful data about the type of sleep I’ve had. What I do with the information will be one of the questions I grapple with next.

Refs

Health Literacy and Consumer-Facing Technology: Workshop Summary
By Roundtable on Health Literacy, Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice, Institute of Medicine, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

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.

Providing Culturally Safe Maternal and Child Healthcare

Cite as: DeSouza, R. (2016, June 1st). Keynote address-Providing Culturally Safe Maternal and Child Healthcare, Multicultural Health Research to Practice Forum: Early Interventions in Maternal and Child Health, Program, Organised by the Multicultural Health Service, South Eastern Sydney, Local Health District, Australia. Retrieved fromhttp://www.ruthdesouza.com/2016/06/11/cultural-safety-in-maternity/

 

Image from the film, the Namesake
Image from the film, the Namesake

A paragraph haunts me in The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri’s fictional account of the Indian immigrant experience. Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli migrate from Calcutta to Cambridge, Massachusetts after their arranged wedding. While pregnant, Ashima reflects:

Nothing feels normal. it’s not so much the pain which she knows she will survive. It’s the consequence: motherhood in a foreign land. For it was one thing to be pregnant to suffer the queasy mornings in bed, the sleepless nights, the dull throbbing in her back, the countless visits to the bathroom. Throughout the experience, in spite of her growing discomfort, she’s been astonished by her body’s ability to make life, exactly as her and grandmother and all her great grandmothers had done. That it was happening so far from home, unmonitored and unobserved by those she loved, had made it more miraculous still. But she is terrified to raise a child in a country where she is related to no one, where she knows so little, where life seems so tentative and spare. The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri

Ashima’s account beautifully captures the universality of the physical, embodied changes of maternity, the swelling, the nausea and other changes. But what Lahiri poignantly conveys is the singular emotional and cultural upheaval of these changes, the losses they give rise to. The absence of loving, knowledgeable, nurturing witnesses, the absence of a soft place to fall.

Arrival of baby girl in Prato, Tuscany. Credit DeSouza (2006).
Arrival of baby girl in Prato, Tuscany. Credit DeSouza (2006).

In 1994 I worked on a post-natal ward where I was struck by the limits of universality and how treating everybody the same was problematic. For example, ostensibly beneficial practices like the routine administration of an icepack for soothing the perineum postnatally, or the imperative to mobilise quickly or to “room in” have potentially damaging effects on women whose knowledge frameworks differed from the dominant Pakeha culture of healthcare. These practices combined with a system designed for an imagined white middle class user, where professionals had knowledge deficits and monocultural and assimilatory attitudes, led to unsafe practices such as using family members and children as interpreters (my horror when a boy child was asked to ask his mother about the amount of lochia on her pad). The sanctity of birth, requiring the special, nurturing treatment of new mothers and a welcome from a community was superseded by the factory culture of maximum efficiency. Not all mothers were created equal, not young mothers, not older mothers, not single mothers, not substance using mothers, not indigenous mothers, not culturally different mothers. The sense that I was a cog in a big machine that was inattentive to the needs of “other” mothers led me to critique the effectiveness of cultural safety in the curriculum. How was it possible that a powerful indigenous pedagogical tool for addressing health inequity was not evident in clinical practice?

Photo of me as a staff nurse back in the day.
Photo of me as a staff nurse back in the day.

Leaving the post-natal ward, I took up a role helping to develop a new maternal mental health service in Auckland. There too I began to question the limitations of our model of care which privileged talking therapies rather than providing practical help and support. I was also staggered at the time at the raced and classed profile of our clients who were predominantly white middle class career women. Interestingly, the longer I was involved in the service the greater the number of ethnic women accessed the service. For my Master’s thesis, I interviewed Goan women about their maternity experiences in New Zealand, where the importance of social support and rituals in the perinatal period was noted by participants.

As much as it was important to register and legitimate cultural difference, I was also aware of the importance of not falling into the cultural awareness chasm. As Gregory Philips notes in his stunning PhD, it was assumed that through teaching about other cultures, needs would be better understood as “complex, equal and valid” (Philips, 2015). However, it didn’t challenge privilege, class and power. As Joan Scott points out:

There is nothing wrong, on the face of it, with teaching individuals about how to behave decently in relation to others and about how to empathize with each other’s pain. The problem is that difficult analyses of how history and social standing, privilege, and subordination are involved in personal behavior entirely drop out (Scott, 1992, p.9).

The problem with culturalism is that the notion of “learning about” groups of people with a common ethnicity assumes that groups of people are homogenous, unchanging and can be known. Their cultural differences are then viewed as the problem, juxtaposed against an implicit dominant white middle class cultural norm. This became evident in my PhD analysis of interviews with Korean mothers who’d birthed in New Zealand. In Australia and the US, cultural competence has superseded cultural awareness as a mechanism for correcting the limitations of universalism, by drawing attention to organisational and systemic mechanisms that can be measured but as a strategy for individual and interpersonal action, several authors draw attention to competence as being part of the “problem”:

The concept of multicultural competence is flawed… I question the notion that one could become “competent” at the culture of another. I would instead propose a model in which maintaining an awareness of one’s lack of competence is the goal rather than the establishment of competence. With “lack of competence” as the focus, a different view of practicing across cultures emerges. The client is the “expert” and the clinician is in a position of seeking knowledge and trying to understand what life is like for the client. There is no thought of competence—instead one thinks of gaining understanding (always partial) of a phenomenon that is evolving and changing (Dean, 2001, p.624).

In Wellness for all: the possibilities of cultural safety and cultural competence in New Zealand, I advocated for a combination of cultural competence and cultural safety. Cultural safety was developed by Indigenous nurses in Aotearoa New Zealand as a mechanism for considering and equalizing power relationships between client and practitioner. It is an ethical framework for practice derived from postcolonial and critical theory. Cultural safety proposes that practitioners reflect on how their status as culture bearers impacts on care, with care being deemed culturally safe by the consumer or recipient of care. In my PhD I wrote about the inadequacy of the liberal foundations of nursing and midwifery discourses for meeting the health needs of diverse maternal groups. My thesis advocated for the extension of the theory and practice of cultural safety to critique nursing’s Anglo-European knowledge base in order to extend the discipline’s intellectual and political mandate with the aim of providing effective support to diverse groups of mothers. In Australia, cultural responsiveness, cultural security and cultural respect are also used, you can read more about this on my post on Minding the Gap.

So let’s look at culturally safe maternity care. My experience as a clinician and researcher reveal a gap between how birth is viewed. In contemporary settler nations like New Zealand, midwifery discourses position birth as natural and the maternal subject as physically capable of caring for her baby from the moment it is born, requiring minimal intervention and protection. The maternal body is represented as strong and capable for taking on the tasks of motherhood. In contrast, many cultures view birth as a process that makes the body vulnerable, requiring careful surveillance and monitoring and a period of rest and nurturing before the new mother can take on new or additional responsibilities. The maternal body is seen as a body at risk (Mahjouri, 2008), and vulnerable requiring special care through rituals and support. Therefore, practices based on a dominant discourse of birth as a normal physiological event and neoliberal discourses of productive subjectivity create a gap between what migrant  women expect in the care they expect from maternal services. These practices also constitute modes of governing which are intended to be empowering and normalizing, but are experienced  as disempowering because they don’t take into account other views of birth. Consequently there is no recognition on the part of maternity services that for a short time, there is a temporary role change, where the new mother transitions into a caregiver by being cared for. This social transition where the mother is mothered is sanctioned in order to safeguard the new mother, a demonstration to value and protect both future capacity for mothering and long term well being, in contrast with dominant discourses of responsibilisation and intensive motherhood. Thus, instead of a few days of celebration or a baby shower, extended post-partum practices are enacted which can include the following (Note that these will vary depending on in group differences, urbanisation, working mothers, migration):

  • Organised support- where family members (eg mother, mother-in-law, and other female relatives) care for the new mother and infant. Other women may also be involved eg birth attendants.
  • Rest period and restricted practices- where women have a prescribed rest periods of between 21 days and five weeks, sometimes called “Doing the month”. Activities including sexual activity, physical and intellectual work are reduced.
  • Diet- Special foods are prepared that promote healing/restore health or have a rebalancing function for example because the postpartum period is seen as a time when the body is cold, hot food (protein rich) chicken soup, ginger and seaweed, milk, ghee, nuts, jaggery might be consumed. Special soups and tonics with a cleansing or activating function are consumed eg to help the body expel lochia, to increase breastmilk. These foods might be consumed at different stages of the perinatal period and some food might be prohibited while breastfeeding.
  • Hygiene and warmth- particular practices might be adhered to including purification/bathing practices eg warm baths, immersion. Others might include not washing hair.
  • Infant care and breastfeeding- Diverse beliefs about colostrum, other members of family may take more responsibility while mother recovers and has a temporarily peripheral role. Breastfeeding instigation and duration may differ.
  • Other practices include: binding, infant massage, maternal massage, care of the placenta.

If women are confronted with an unfamiliar health system with little support and understanding, they can experience stress, insecurity, loneliness, isolation, powerlessness, hopelessness. This combined with communication gaps and isolation, poor information provision, different norms, feeling misunderstood and feeling stigmatized. What could be a special time is perceived as a lack of care. Fortunately in Australia there are some excellent resources, for example this research based chapter on Cultural dimensions of pregnancy, birth and post-natal care produced by Victoria Team, Katie Vasey and Lenore Manderson, proposes useful questions for perinatal assessment which I have summarised below:

  • Are you comfortable with both male and female health care providers?
  • Are there any cultural practices that we need to be aware of in caring for you during your pregnancy, giving birth and postnatal period? – For example, requirements with the placenta, female circumcision or infant feeding method.
  • In your culture, do fathers usually attend births? Does your partner want to attend the birth of his child? If not, is there another close family member you would like to be present? Would you like us to speak to them about your care?
  • Are there any foods that are appropriate or inappropriate for you according to your religion or customs during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period?
  • Are there any beliefs or customs prohibiting physical activity during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period? Do you plan to observe these? – For example, a confinement period.
  • What is the culturally acceptable way for you to express pain during childbirth? – For example, screaming or trying to keep silent.
  • Are there any precautions with infant care?
  • How many visitors do you expect while you are in the hospital?
  • Do you have anyone in your family or community who can help you in practical ways when you get home?

Negotiating between cultural practices, values and norms, religious beliefs and views, beliefs about perinatal care is a starting point. It is also important to consider language proficiency, health literacy, quality of written materials, and level of acculturation. For further information on health literacy see the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity & Health (CEH) resources including: What is health literacy?, Social determinants of health and health literacy.  Using professional interpreters improves communication, clinical outcomes, patient satisfaction and quality of care, and reduces medical testing, errors, costs and risk of hospitalisation. Lack of appropriate interpreter service use is associated with adverse health outcomes. Centre for Culture,Ethnicity & Health (CEH) has excellent resources in this regard: Interpreters: an introduction, Assessing the need for an interpreter, Booking and briefing an interpreter, Communicating via an interpreter, Debriefing with an interpreter, Developing a comprehensive language services response, Language services guide Managing bilingual staffPlanning for translation, Recruiting bilingual staff.

Assessment should also consider:

  • Genetics and pregnancy: women’s age, parity, planning and acceptance of pregnancy, pregnancy related health behaviour and perceived health during pregnancy. 
  • Migration: women’s knowledge of/familiarity with the prenatal care services/system, experiences and expectations with prenatal care use in their country of origin, pregnancy status on arrival in the new industrialized western country.
  • Culture: women’s cultural practices, values and norms, acculturation, religious beliefs and views, language proficiency, beliefs about pregnancy and prenatal care.
  • Position in the host country: women’s education level, women’s pregnancy-related knowledge, household arrangement, financial resources and income.
  • Social network: size and degree of contact with social network, information and support from social network.
  • Accessibility: transport, opening hours, booking appointments, direct and indirect discrimination by the prenatal care providers.
  • Expertise: prenatal care tailored to patients’ needs and preferences.
  • Treatment and communication: communication from prenatal care providers to women, personal treatment of women by prenatal care providers, availability of health promotion/information material, use of alternative means of communication.
  • Professionally defined need: referral by general practitioners and other healthcare providers to prenatal care providers

A review by Small, Roth et al., (2014) found that what immigrant and non-immigrant women want from maternity care is similar: safe, high quality, attentive and individualised care, with adequate information and support. Generally immigrant women were less positive about care than non-immigrant women, in part due to communication issues, lack of familiarity with care systems, perceptions of discriminatory care which was not kind or respectful. The challenge for health systems is to address the barriers immigrant women face by improving communication, increasing women’s understanding of care provision and reducing discrimination. Clinical skills including—introspection, self-awareness, respectful questioning, attentive listening, curiosity, interest, and caring.

Also:

  • Facilitating trust, control
  • Delivering quality, safe care, communicating, being caring, providing choices
  • Facilitating access to interpreters and choice of gender of care provider,
  • Considering cultural practices, preferences and needs/different expectations for care
  • Engendering positive interactions, being empathetic, kind, caring and supportive.
  • Taking concerns seriously
  • Preserving dignity and privacy
  • Seeing a person both as an individual, a family member and a community member
  • Developing composure managing verbal and non-verbal expressions of disgust and surprise
  • Paradoxical combination of two ideas— being “informed” and “not knowing” simultaneously.

In that sense, our knowledge is always partial and we are always operating from a position of incompletion or lack of competence. Our goal is not so much to achieve competence but to participate in the ongoing processes of seeking understanding and building relationships. This understanding needs to be directed toward ourselves and not just our clients. As we question ourselves we gradually wear away our own resistance and bias. It is not that we need to agree with our clients’ practices and beliefs; we need to understand them and under-stand the contexts and history in which they develop (Dean, 2001, p.628).

Conclusion

In this presentation I have invited you to examine your own values and beliefs about the perinatal period and how they might impact on the care you might provide. I have asked you to consider both the similarities and differences between how women from culturally diverse communities experience maternity and those from the dominant culture. Together, we have scrutinised a range of strategies for enhancing trust, engagement and perinatal outcomes for all women. Drawing on my own clinical practice and research, I have asked you to consider an alternative conceptualisation of the maternal body when caring for some women, that is the maternal body as vulnerable, which requires a period of rest and nurturing. This framing requires a temporary role change for the new mother to transition into being a caregiver, by being cared for, so that her future capacity for mothering and long term well being are enhanced. I have asked you to reflect on how supposedly empowering practices can be experienced as disempowering because they don’t take into account this view of birth. In the context of differing conceptualisations of birth and the maternal body I have drawn special attention to: negotiating between health beliefs; having cultural humility; considering ways in which your own knowledge is always partial; and recommended a range of resources that can be utilised to ensure positive outcomes for women and their families. As health services in Australia grapple with changing societal demographics including cultural diversity, changing consumer demands and expectations; resource constraints; the limitations in traditional health care delivery; greater emphasis on transparency, accountability, evidence- based practice (EBP) and clinical governance (Davidson et al., 2006), questions of how to provide effective universal health care can be enhanced by considering how differing views can be incorporated as they hold potential benefits for all.

Selected references

  • Boerleider, A. W., Wiegers, T. A., Manniën, J., Francke, A. L., & Devillé, W. L. (2013). Factors affecting the use of prenatal care by non-western women in industrialized western countries: A systematic review. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 13(1), 8.
  • Dennis, C. L., Fung, K., Grigoriadis, S., Robinson, G. E., Romans, S., & Ross, L. (2007). Traditional postpartum practices and rituals: A qualitative systematic review. Women’s Health (London, England), 3(4), 487-502. doi:10.2217/17455057.3.4.487.
  • Mander, S., & Miller, Y. D. (2016). Perceived safety, quality and cultural competency of maternity care for culturally and linguistically diverse women in queensland. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 3(1), 83-98. doi:10.1007/s40615-015-0118.
  • Small, R., Roth, C., Raval, M., Shafiei, T., Korfker, D., Heaman, M. Gagnon, A. (2014). Immigrant and non-immigrant women’s experiences of maternity care: A systematic and comparative review of studies in five countries. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 14(1).

Additional web resources

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