Morwell making movement inclusive

Inclusive: Morwell Leisure Centre's Movement for Multicultural Women program breaks down the accessibility barriers to diverse communities' health and fitness. Photograph: File



A LOCAL venue is making a start in breaking the barriers for multicultural women’s participation in physical activity.

Latrobe Leisure Centre in Morwell has completed an eight-week program called Movement for Multicultural Women.

The program was made in consultation with Arfa Sarfaraz from Gippsland Multicultural Service and the United Muslim Sisters of the Latrobe Valley (UMSLV).

Ms Safaraz’s insights and suggestions have helped the leisure centre create a movement-based program that aims to support access and participation of multicultural women.

The program began on September 12, focusing on gentle movement, strength and flexibility.

As an advocate for Muslim and multicultural women, Arfa Sarfaraz was eager to work with Latrobe City Council to construct a program with cultural diverse needs in mind.

“A conversation started regarding Muslim women and giving them that life skill of swimming,” she said.

“I work in the region and I work with other communities and I’m aware of the sensitivities and cultural requirements – there’s more multicultural women not comfortable swimming in front of men … so I thought we would change the conversation from Muslim women to all multicultural women.”

With programs such as Movement for Multicultural Women, Ms Sarfaraz said it was a step in the right direction for inclusion as “everyone deserves to feel belonging and feel connected”.

“People feel like Muslim women can’t do this and ignore them … it’s not that they’re not allowed, they don’t have that kind of environment or circumstance for them to allow them to participate in these sort of activities,” she said.

The class is not just for multicultural or Muslim women; it’s a welcoming space, inclusive of people from all backgrounds and ages.

When it comes to cultural differences and nuances, Ms Sarfaraz said people of diverse backgrounds “need their needs to be supported and (the general communities) need an understanding of their culture”.

“In 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures showed that people born in Australia are more likely to participate in sport and physical recreation than those born in non-English speaking countries, with women from non-English speaking backgrounds having the lowest levels of participation,” she said.

“(With) so many communities – everyone has their issues but I don’t think we’re on a radar, they don’t think our issues are genuine.”

Though Latrobe City Council does much work with Ms Sarfaraz in its cultural diversity group, she said diverse communities had traditionally felt neglected and excluded in general.

Working toward cultural diversity and acceptance in the regional community, the Latrobe Valley still had a long way to go, according to Ms Sarfaraz.

“We live with these issues everyday … and I think we don’t service the needs of those diverse communities. We’re little in number and it’s very difficult for those multicultural communities and Muslims as well,” she added.

The Movement for Multicultural Women program is in its last few weeks at the Morwell Leisure Centre.

“All these programs come with some funding and support from council, so at the moment they wanted to give it a trial and see how women respond to it,” she said.

While the program is approaching its end, Ms Sarfaraz hopes the inspiration behind the program of inclusion and diversity will continue on.

Data from the 2021 AusPlay survey found that adults and children from homes where a language other than English is spoken at home are less likely to participate in sport or physical activity than those who speak exclusively English.

In the ‘Engaging Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities in Physical Activity’ discussion paper, the then chief executive of Vichealth, Rob Moodie, said physical activity was a very important contributor to health and well being, but there were many barriers that make physical activity difficult.

“We know that culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities have been under-represented in physical activity programs for a variety of reasons,” he said.

The key findings of the report found that gender plays an important factor, with a need to avoid generalised approaches and adopt programs that reflect our diverse communities.

The program fits within Latrobe City Council’s 2020-2024 Cultural Diversity Action Plan goals. The unique leisure centre class ensures those from culturally diverse backgrounds have equal opportunities to access culturally appropriate services.