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IWSA Chairperson Report 2001-2002

Chairperson: Caroline Alcorso


We've come to the end of another year in the life of the Immigrant Women's Speakout Association. It is an important time in which to remember our history and to reflect on our past, present and future - our 20th anniversary year.

The first thing to say about this anniversary is that - we're still here! We made it to 20 years of service, and we remain a solid and active organisation representing immigrant and refugee women in NSW. Considering the declining government commitment to ethnic community programs and policies, and listening to the voices of immigrant women, our survival represents an achievement, which I would like to acknowledge. It reflects the trust and support immigrant and refugee women have given us over the years; it is the fact that they value the organisation that encourages and educates us on a daily basis. It also reflects the efforts, dedication and talent of the many women that have worked in and around Speakout during its history, and who have built and rebuilt the organisation over the years.

This past year has involved some dedicated rebuilding, most critically by the women who have taken on the responsibilities of the Executive Officer position during a difficult period of change. I would like to thank Gricel Mendez, Upekha Nadarajah and Jane Corpuz-Brock for their work and willingness to take on this rewarding but challenging position. Contributing most to their challenges was the fact that several central IWSA staff moved on during the past year, having made magnificent contributions to the organisation during their years of service. April Pham, Clorinda Lee and Kim Neville all took up new and interesting opportunities where we know they will still be advocating hard for immigrant and refugee women.

As a result of these regretted departures, and new projects funded, we have had several new faces at IWSA, and the efforts of all to weld together a strong new team have been impressive. You will find their names and faces in this Annual Report and hopefully get to know them when you visit the organisation. The Management Committee recognises the challenges for new staff who are faced with speedily getting on top of difficult projects in order to demonstrate project outcomes in accordance with government deadlines.

The role of the administrative staff - Emina Kovac, Samia Ahmed and Rajini Surendran - deserves special mention as they have provided the solid bedrock that has allowed other staff to fit in and develop momentum with their projects. I hope the new premises will provide all staff with a healthier and more enjoyable work environment in the future.

I would also like to note the enormous contribution made by Management Committee members, an extremely talented, knowledgeable and energetic bunch. This year's Management Committee has played what by any standards has been an extraordinary role, in areas like recruitment, newsletter production, staff and project management and policy advocacy. If uneven staffing has intensified the work of staff at times, it has also intensified the work of the Management Committee!

For those of you becoming involved, or continuing your involvement in IWSA over the next few years, there are some continuing challenges. First, the eternal shortages of non-project specific funding hamper our effectiveness. Project-based funds do not substitute for adequate core funding that would allow us to respond to client needs, rather than adopting the priorities set by funding bodies. Second, there is the perennial issue of peak status - what does it mean to be the state representative body for immigrant and refugee women, and how can we realistically fulfil this charter?

Thirdly, there is the huge task of working with other organisations to set and advocate for a new multicultural agenda. 'Productive diversity' does not address the needs of ordinary migrants and refugees, and is not an effective substitute for the access and equity policies of the 1980s and early 1990s. But there is another dimension. In the current hysterical political climate, entire communities are being turned into targets by the media and even government leaders, and multicultural policy needs to be concerned with building community understanding and promoting peace. Ironically, it is the media and racist Australians who are eliminating the separation between 'national' and 'international' issues with their shameful linkage of Australian Muslims, refugees seeking sanctuary here and terrorists operating in countries overseas. In the last year, IWSA has sought to support those suffering in Australia as a result of international events, and during 2003 we will continue to do so.