By JOSEPHINE LIM
With better education, women in developing nations are less likely to marry early and can better care for their children.
This was the message, from a panel for the screening of I Am A Girl at University of South Australia on Tuesday.
Dr Melanie Baak, also a PhD student at University of South Australia, whose research focus is on South Sudanese women in Australia, said even though girls attend early to middle schooling, they often have to stop for family or economic reasons.
“They often told me how they regret giving up their education,” Dr Baak said.
The Office of UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan showed that a 15-year-old girl has a higher chance of dying in childbirth than completing school.
“With higher education, women can better identify illnesses and care for their children.”
But healthcare for their children is not the only concern for migrant women.
South Sudanese women who became refugees in Australia had lost their husbands in the civil conflict, leaving them to become single mothers in a new environment.
Dr Baak highlighted one of the issues for migrant women arriving in Australia is the lack of continuity in support for refugee programs caused by low government funding.
“While it doesn’t present as so to the migrant women, they often find a lack in the support, particularly education programs, in helping them resettle in Australia and find a job.
“There are other barriers for single mothers in skills, language, job opportunities, even driving lessons.”
According to Dr Baak migrant women can find better job prospects if they at least attended high school.
Anna, a 36-year-old single mother, said she did not know any English when first arriving in New South Wales as a refugee.
“It was a different culture, I didn’t know anyone. Everything was completely new, everything had to start from scratch,” she said.
“All my time in Australia, I only worked for one year. I quit because I had to take care of the kids.
“My needs were not all met. The government support is not enough for me to live to the best of my ability.”
Anna managed to enroll in Flinders University’s foundation course, seven years after she arrived in Australia.
“The journey from there to here is not easy,” Anna said.
Roshni Thattengat, another PhD student at UniSA, related strongly to Anna’s struggle.
“That could have been me,” she said.
Having parents from Singapore, Roshni found herself lucky to have opportunities given to her to reach her dreams of studying bio-technology.
“Imagine someone telling me I couldn’t do it because I was a girl,” Roshni said.
She found that having a choice strongly leads to the empowerment of girls.
Speaking about the film I Am A Girl Roshni said one story “really stuck out.
“It was this girl from Cambodia. She was forced into prostitution at a young age and had an abusive boyfriend.
“She had a child but it was taken away from her. That represents a lot of women’s stories.
“You wouldn’t have the choice to do what you want, because you’re someone’s wife or mum, you have to do what’s expected of you,” Roshni reflected.
“Having that choice really empowers you.”
Many migrant women have been given the opportunity to learn and start afresh in Australia, and they are beginning to empower others.
Now an International Studies student at Flinders University, Anna said the reason she attends university is to improve her knowledge and get a good job.
“I wish to work with women and encourage them. Not saying it’s easy but it gets better,” she said.
Dr Baak said the South Sudanese women who fled the first war showed great resilience.
“During my research I got this response from a South Sudanese woman: ‘Now we’ve seen the world and seen what women can do, it’s now our responsibility to help women back home’,” Dr Baak said.