Once every few months, men from diverse African backgrounds meet to share a difficult conversation about family and domestic violence.
When Andre Ntibesha was growing up in Burundi, families typically followed traditional gender roles.
“The man is the top, the head of the family,” he tells SBS News.
“He’s the decision-maker, which generates gender inequality in Africa.”
And although it has never happened in his house, Mr Ntibesha says such inequality could sometimes lead to conflict, including family and domestic violence.
“When you hear they are fighting in this house, they are fighting in that house, that was the mode of life. They said, ‘Oh, that lady might have done something wrong’.”
Mr Ntibesha is one of a small group of men from diverse African backgrounds who have gathered on a Friday night in Adelaide for a conversation that can, at times, be uncomfortable.
Around the table are men from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia and South Sudan.
The group, brought together by Relationships Australia, meets every few months to discuss family and domestic violence and how to reduce it in their communities.
“Those are taboo topics,” says the evening’s facilitator Buol Juuk.
“It is very hard, even for the mainstream community, to engage in all this.”
Mr Juuk is a community liaison practitioner with Relationships Australia and originally from South Sudan.
"It is always good for a man to be able to understand the context of the 21st Century, that it is no longer ok to tell your wife what to do," he says.
Starting a conversation
Mabok Deng Mabok Mariel, chairman of the African Communities Council in South Australia, says it’s an important conversation to be having.
“It is a difficult conversation to have because a lot more people will say, ‘But why are we discussing this?'”
“[But] since the nation is really trying to address domestic violence, we as Africans also need to.”
“The African community should not be left behind.”
Here in Australia, he says, many of those communities are without their elders – and consequently, without the social structure that was once used to deal with conflict within families.
“Back home it is an elder's job, if there is an issue, the partner will go and complain to the elders, and the elders will call a meeting and then that issue is addressed there and then.”
Mr Juuk started the forum five years ago. He wants to build awareness and increase support for families who need help.
“It is always good if you empower women, and also empower men, so they have equal understanding of the issues."
“There is no community that I came across that thinks it is a man's right to discipline their wife,” he said.
“But what I normally get is, people who say ‘oh, I was angry, I was disappointed’.”
Part of the purpose is to help identify particular issues that can put stress on families.
Risks for some migrant women
Sumbo Ndi, a community leader originally from Nigeria and one of the few women at the table, says many in the community see domestic violence through the narrow lens of physical harm. She’d like to see greater awareness around different forms of abuse.
“People are aware of domestic violence only relating to physical abuse, they [are] not, most likely, aware of the emotional, the psychological, or even the financial abuse that is also still classified as domestic violence.”
She says the change in gender roles as families settle in Australia can be a source of conflict.
“One thing that’s very common that we hear is around finances; lack of it, or how it’s managed actually has a very, very big impact on the relationship.”
While there is little data available on domestic violence prevalence rates for culturally and linguistically diverse women living in Australia, federal government research indicates violence can be exacerbated for women from these groups, with migrant women less likely to report violence, less likely to access support services, and less likely to leave a violent situation than other Australian women.
White Ribbon Ambassador Patrick Soosay says it’s important men take part in the conversation.
“It’s paramount that men get involved because the roles of men in the year 2019 has evolved and changed,” he said.
“Gender roles have evolved. There is the need for both men and women to share roles at home, and it’s not only a women’s role.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic or family violence and abuse, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.