Stitching up a safer future for refugee women

A sewing and alterations centre in Hobart is supporting women from migrant and refugee backgrounds by providing a pathway for paid employment and community connection.

Be Hers Sewing Centre was created as a social enterprise to support people at risk of labour trafficking and exploitation in the local community.

CatholicCare Multicultural Service Programs community engagement caseworker Kate Madden said partnering with local organisations like Be Hers, who are committed to increasing opportunities in a work environment for women from migrant and refugee background, was essential to increase women’s independence, confidence and wellbeing.

“Be Hers is a fantastic example of how social enterprises can support women into the workforce, develop their skills and increase their exposure to a workplace environment and roles,” she said.

“As many women from refugee backgrounds have come from places with low literacy levels it is vital that opportunities are created for women to enter the workforce in a supported environment. Be Hers’ recent development of the sewing and alterations centre has secured income for a family who are ineligible for many other benefits and financial supports so they can continue to live and thrive in the community.”

Be Hers founder Melody Towns said refugee women are often at risk of being exploited as they may not speak the language or understand fair work rights.

 “CatholicCare provided us with a start-up grant and the use of their sewing machines, and introduced us to our employees,” she said.

“From there, we created the Dream Free range – silk pillowcases and scrunchies made in the centre that give back 100% profits to the cause.”

Ms Towns said the focus of Be Hers has always been to fight against the oppression of women and children affected by exploitation.

“We run the sewing centre here in Hobart, but also fund multiple programs overseas in partnership with other organisations including a child advocacy centre that helps to rescue children who have been victimised, a shelter, schooling for the most at-risk children and medical assistance and food support for vulnerable families,” she said.

Ms Towns said the organisation has also rallied to support both its own employees in Hobart and their families in Afghanistan over the past month.

“It is critical because they fear for the safety of their family members,” she explained.

“Without the right support and assistance many refugee people fall between the gaps. They experience poverty, social isolation and trauma.”

Ms Towns said the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban meant time was critical to ensure permanent visas were granted and family members brought to safety.

“We want them to know that we care and that we will do all we can to help,” she said.

“We might not be able to help everyone but we can all help someone.”

Ms Madden said Be Hers’ work supporting their Afghan staff with visa and migration needs was essential at this difficult time.

“It is clear from our interactions with Melody and the team that Be Hers is not just an enterprise, it’s a family,” she said.

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