International Women's Day | Western Australian doctor a voice for all women

Dr. Carol Kaplanian will be the key note speaker at the Zonta Club of Dunsborough's International Women's Day breakfast. Image supplied.
Dr. Carol Kaplanian will be the key note speaker at the Zonta Club of Dunsborough's International Women's Day breakfast. Image supplied.

Dr. Carol Kaplanian works at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth and is Western Australia's state coordinator for female genital mutilation.

She specialises in torture and trauma. Her work has taken her to refugee camps in the Middle East to work with victims of sexual abuse and orphaned children who have been used as sex slaves.

"Originally I am from the Middle East I was born in Jordan, and my parents are refugees, so there is significant history in my family, who are Armenian, of genocide and refugees," she said.

"With all that family history I still find myself so grateful to be a woman who has a voice and has had access to education.

"To be able to come to Australia and study to the level of a PhD, sadly I can use my voice in Australia and influence change much more than if I was to go back to my country of birth.

"This is one of the main motivators that allows me to continue to do the work that I do."

Dr. Kaplanian will be the key note speaker at this year's International Women's Day Breakfast hosted by the Zonta Club of Dunsborough.

She wrote her PhD on honour killings in the Middle East investigating cases over a 23 year period.

"My PhD was on a form of violence against women called honour killings, it is the most extreme form of violence against women that occurs by a male family member against a female family member who has perceived that she has been dishonourable," she said.

"Dishonour could include the female family member being sexually assaulted, raped, and still being the victim of a murder. It could be falling in love or having extramarital intercourse with someone out of wedlock.

"In Australia, it is not called honour killings and it shouldn't be, it is murder," she said.

"If I was to dissect the case loads I could assure you that we have these forms of murder happening in Australia.

"I am also very much involved in working with forced marriage and child forced marriage, which is also happening here in Australia.

"I feel very lucky that I an still work in this area which is why I am now the state coordinator for female genital mutilation project in Western Australia."

Dr Kaplanian said while she could not give a figure on the number of women in Australia who have experienced female genital mutilation it did occur.

It was usually detected when women presented to hospital during the anti-natal period.

"It does happen we see a lot of women in the hospital who are affected by it, possibly prior to them coming to Australia," she said.

"We have just launched a flip chart that we hope will give us a better understanding of the issue outside of the anti-natal period.

"At the moment we do not have a way to detect these numbers, which is a problem of its own, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done in this area."

Last year, Dr Kaplanian was one of 112 Australians to be awarded a Churchill Fellowship which will see her investigate models of care used by six other countries for victims of domestic violence who are refugees or migrant women.

"One of my other areas that I am heavily involved in is trying to educate people that domestic violence does not always look the same," she said.

"A lot of our services and systems that we have in place treats domestic violence as a uniform entity from a very Western approach.

"What we really need to understand is that people that come from different cultures have a very different perception and understanding of their own experience of violence.

"Some countries have specific models of care that recognise this and implement when working with women from those countries.

"I am really hoping that I will be able to bring this back to Australia.

"Mine was the only Fellowship in Australia that was sponsored by the Department of Communities, which is a real recognition by the department that they are willing to invest in something that is very badly needed.

"I feel very honoured to be a recipient of this award and the foundation has been extremely flexible with the COVID-19 restrictions.

"Churchill is about people in Australia travelling abroad to bring knowledge back to Australia about something we are not doing very well here."

Dr Kaplanian will be talking at the Zonta Club of Dunsborough breakfast about her own experience as a woman and using her voice to implement change.

"I will be talking about my personal experience and professional work and where that has gotten me, and the adversities I have been through," she said.

"I will talk about domestic violence in general terms, from a migrant and refugee community background."

Dr Kaplanian's parents first came to Australia in the 1970's before she was born, they lived in Sydney for five years, and were fortunate to get citizenship.

"I was born in Jordan, my parents separated when I was 11 years old, my father went to Perth," she said.

"When I finished my schooling in Jordan I decided to come to Perth to be with my dad and continue my university education in Perth.

"At first I had the notion to go back home one day but the more I realised where my passion lied, I realised that it would be more beneficial to make a change in the world from here than go back to my country."

If you would like to purchase tickets to the breakfast with Dr Kaplanian on March 7 at Black Brewing Co please visit events.humanitix.com/zonta-club-of-dunsborough-international-womens-day-breakfast.

If someone you know needs help with a violent partner or family member, speak out. And if you are experiencing family or domestic violence, the following services can assist:

Waratah: waratah@waratah.asn.au; 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732; Crisis Care Helpline: 1800 199 008; Women's Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 007 339.