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Cultural safety and accommodation of religious practices

Julian Alban, Senior Advisor Policy and Research, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
10 OCT 2017

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission presented a webinar on 16 July 2017 describing its work to deliver recommendation 141 from the Royal Commission into Family Violence. This involved developing an Equal Opportunity Act practice guideline for family violence service and accommodation providers about inclusive and non-discriminatory service delivery.

As described in the Commission’s presentation, the guideline responds to findings from the Royal Commission into Family Violence about experiences of family violence for diverse communities including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, older people, people with disability and people from LGBTI communities (Volume V of the Royal Commission’s report).

The Commission’s guideline includes additional information about barriers these communities can experience when seeking to access services following experiences of family violence, framed against grounds of discrimination in Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

In its presentation, the Commission also described the ‘positive duty’ in the Equal Opportunity Act that requires organisations to take proactive steps to prevent discrimination from occurring. This positive duty provides wide scope for organisations to take a range of measures to think about how they can remove potentially discriminatory barriers for diverse communities experiencing family violence.

To complement the guideline, the Commission prepared a resource providing case studies to give services examples of the kinds of steps they can take to meet their obligations under the Equal Opportunity Act and deliver inclusive, non-discriminatory services.

Below is one case study example of a service taking steps to be more inclusive by making changes to better meet the needs of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Additional case studies are available in the Commission’s family violence services guidelines and fact sheet, available from their website.

Case study example

Amal – Cultural safety and accommodation of religious practices

Amal attends a local community housing organisation for women escaping family violence. The intake worker notes that Amal speaks English as a second language and asks if she needs an interpreter or information in another language. Amal confirms she is happy to receive information in English as long as it is easy to read. The intake worker asks some follow up questions to ensure Amal comprehends and to ensure an interpreter isn’t needed. The intake worker also asks whether Amal has any religious or cultural requirements. Amal says she is Muslim but doesn’t feel comfortable requesting any changes to the house.

The intake worker gives Amal a copy of their Easy English Service Charter, which includes a statement that the provider will not discriminate against her and how to make a complaint. However, it does not include specific information about cultural safety and accommodation of religious practices, or address discrimination and rights relating to co-tenants.

Later, Amal is in the kitchen when a co-tenant threatens her because she wears a hijab. Amal doesn’t feel safe enough to lodge a formal complaint because she thinks it falls outside of the Service Charter. As a result, she spends a lot of time in her room and doesn’t use the shared kitchen.

The positive duty

The service notices Amal’s behaviour and takes action to address the situation even though she has not made a formal complaint. After checking in with Amal to see if she is happy with the approach, the service leaders speak with the co-tenants about behaviour standards and the consequences of poor behaviour, harassment and discrimination.

Amal is encouraged, with engagement of the local Muslim women’s service, to talk through her religious needs with the housing service. The service realises there are a number of things that Amal needs, including a designated area of the kitchen to prepare food in accordance with her religious beliefs and assistance to connect with other Muslim women in a safe and supportive environment. The service arranges this in cooperation with the Muslim women’s service. The service checks in regularly with Amal to ensure she feels culturally safe and supported.

Thinking about the big picture

The service sees an opportunity to consider how it addresses cultural safety and religious practices more generally, and works with the local Muslim women’s organisation to help review its policies and procedures. It reviews and updates its Service Charter to include information on complaints about other tenants and specific examples of discrimination, including discrimination based on religious belief. The service ensures all new tenants are verbally advised about their rights, including how to make a complaint, at their induction.