It’s been nearly two years since Emily Singh, ASRC Human Rights Lawyer launched Australia’s only Women’s Clinic to assist vulnerable females suffering from gender-based persecution, including political, religious, race and nationality-based claims.
Women are an especially vulnerable group within the asylum seeker community as gender based claims aren’t explicitly enshrined in the UN Refugee Convention. It’s especially difficult to advocate for women who suffer from domestic violence issues because they are affected by the culture of our country, where there is still stigma around an already politicized issue.” Emily comments.
No other specialised service exists in Australia that assists vulnerable women in their protection visa applications. At 27 and in her first year as a lawyer, Emily established the first Woman’s Clinic that would offer expert advice and representation for women with gender related protection claims. Since then she has worked nearly exclusively with vulnerable women clients around issues including domestic violence, human trafficking/sexual servitude, Female Genital Mutilation, forced marriage, rape, bisexual and gay identification.
Each Thursday, Emily and her team of 12 all-female legal volunteers offer a safe, day-time space that is suitable for children. This year, the clinic assisted 134 clients from Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, Pakistan and China. Many client’s cases have involved claims for Offshore Women at Risk visas.
I hope for a similar onshore visa to help women who are at risk of persecution in they are returned to their country of origin. In reality, over 95% of vulnerable women clients that I have worked with gender related claims have experiences either with sexual assault, abuse, rape or all of these things. It can often take months and years for the asylum seeker to disclose these instances to someone because a relationship of trust needs to be created and nurtured between the client and the lawyer/legal volunteer.
Under current law, all relevant information must be disclosed in the initial application and a negative inference can be drawn if the applicant fails to do this. This is despite the overwhelming evidence that women who experience sexual assault often find it difficult to discuss and often face stigma if they do, making them less likely to reveal sexual abuse in the first instance.”
Alongside the clinics, the team works with the ASRC counselling, casework and health services to provide holistic to support to clients.
We frequently engage with ASRC counselling and ASRC health in the context of women’s health for both physical and mental health reports, referrals to the Royal Women’s Hospital and support in facilitating disclosure and attending hearings.”
Emily also runs training sessions for the ASRC and external groups and advocates for advancing policy law reform to improve outcomes for women making gender based claims.
Maybe the biggest impact the clinic has had has been giving its clients a voice, sometimes for the first time in their life.
A woman from Papua New Guinea said,
“The clinic helped me as a mother as it gave my children a chance to be heard. It also gave me confidence… so I could speak openly at the Tribunal. It gave me a voice.’
Another woman, Manita* expressed that this is the first time that she felt like she had people advocating for her, and that she has some hope again that she won’t be sent back to face harm/death at the hands of her husband.
The Women’s Clinic is grateful for the continued support of the Victorian Government and Mim and Mike Bartlett which who’s contribution has made it possible for hundreds of women to receive protection and legal support for their gender based claims.
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