• The Beautiful Shawl Project offers free cultural shawls for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to wear during breast screening. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
A new initiative in Victoria is helping more Indigenous women to undergo potentially lifesaving breast screening.
Delia Bell

11 Oct 2020 - 11:01 AM  UPDATED 11 Oct 2020 - 11:01 AM

A collaboration between eight Victorian Aboriginal health organisations and BreastScreen Victoria has produced a range of shawls featuring stunning local artwork to promote screening among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

The Beautiful Shawl Project offers the complimentary shawls for women to wear during breast screening to provide an empowering, positive experience that includes a feeling of cultural safety.

Artwork on the original shawl used in the project trial was the work of respected Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta artist Lynette Briggs. Her work was inspired by the stories of women and their personal journeys which they shared in yarning circles.

Other local artists were then asked to design shawl artwork representing each of their communities.

Susan Forrester, the manager of public health and research at the peak body, Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), told NITV News the project was the culmination of 18-months of hard work.

“The shawls have made a very strong impact both locally and regionally” said Ms Forrester.

“It’s something that’s vibrant, culturally driven with incredible artwork, and amazing stories.”

BreastScreen Victoria’s two mobile screening vans, Marjorie and Nina, travelled to eight Aboriginal community health hubs in the State late last year and another four this year with the hope that they will receive the funding to continue the initiative.

Chief executive of BreastScreen Victoria, Terri Smith, said reducing barriers to screening wherever possible was an important part of early detection and saving lives.

“Aboriginal women have told us the shawls provide a culturally inclusive and a positive breast screening experience," she said. 

More than 160 woman have been screened through the project so far with 80 per cent of those women screened for the first time or overdue for their regular check-up, VACCHO said in a written statement.

Eighty-two per cent of the women agreed that the shawl made them feel culturally safe and 95 per cent of women agreed they felt more comfortable screening because the mobile service was located at their local Aboriginal health service.

The project was captured in a powerful mini-documentary that has been released to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  

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