Speaking of the Women’s Empowerment Program (WEP) at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), Coordinator Veronica Kurufher says, ‘It’s all about building women’s skills and capacities, and empowering them while they are here seeking asylum so that no time is a wasted time.’
A pioneer member and former volunteer with the program, Veronica herself has wasted no time since the establishment of the program in 2015. Housed within the ASRC’s Innovation Hub, the WEP has, to date, assisted more than 430 women seeking asylum to improve their employability and achieve greater independence.
Veronica brings to the coordinator’s role both lived experience as a woman seeking asylum and a background in community development and social work. Arriving in Australia in 2012, she has a Masters in International Development and has worked with rural women in her home country of Papua New Guinea.
‘I am able to connect with the women. I have that understanding and empathy,’ she explains. ‘I’m not running the program not knowing what these women want. I’m in it with them and we are doing the program together.’
Underpinning this collaborative approach, Veronica has asked women what empowerment means to them and how they would rate themselves as being empowered. ‘So they came up with their own definition,’ she says. ‘They said, I should be working, I should be having a small business, I should be in charge of my own finance.’ Veronica goes on to explain, ‘Most of these women seeking asylum from third world countries don’t have a voice. We are not heard. Most of us are in the background and it’s the men – our husbands and sons – that are the ones that are seen and heard in front.’
Consequently, the WEP accords a place for women that is front and centre. In so doing, it also acknowledges the multiple barriers that women seeking asylum face. In addition to language, which can be a tangible difficulty across the sexes, there are barriers particular to women in the context of the asylum and refugee space. As Veronica says,
‘Women are the primary care givers and they stay most of the time at home taking care of children and families. That limits their participation in other things that men get to do. Secondly, women don’t get to learn or do things together where men are, so it is important to have a women-only space here where they are able to be themselves.’
Another barrier Veronica identifies is access to education. ‘We know that not every person seeking asylum is at the same educational level. They are at different levels. There are those who have very little English language skill, or a very little level of education, or their education qualification is not recognised here. So I create these activities to upskill them and build their capacity. Then when they feel they are ready, I refer them to our employment program or our education program. It acts like an alternate training path.’
Accordingly, the WEP has had a strong emphasis on training, organising activities in a range of fields including hospitality (food safety handling, the responsible service of alcohol, and barista accredited courses); small business (start-ups); and information technology (Microsoft Word and Excel training). It also offers life skills with its focus on topics like women’s health and parenting. Next year the program will diversify and broaden its offers even further to include information or training in community policing, road safety, and gardening.
Indeed, the WEP is on the cusp of a new era insofar as renovations to the Hub’s women’s room will offer the program new possibilities in 2018. Once reconfigured, the room will include kitchen facilities, data projection capabilities, enhanced storage, and a workbench to allow for the introduction of sewing classes. The new multi-purpose women’s room will not only offer training and information sessions, but act as a safe space for women to relax in and, where applicable, tend to the needs of their children and babies.
‘As long and uncertain as it is to wait for their visas to be processed, we are hoping that women coming through the program will be able to find a job or start a business, speak the language, fit into the culture here, and live a normal life like an Australian,’ Veronica says.
The Women’s Empowerment Program is part of the ASRC’s commitment to empowering all people seeking asylum. Gandel Philanthropy provided the essential establishment funding for the program from the planning stage in 2014 through to December 2017. Our thanks to them for supporting the women. Learn more about other ASRC Empowerment Programs here.Leave a reply →