Discrimination and racism come on a massive scale costs to the Australian economy and society, as Indigenous Australians and people of color bear the brunt, especially when it comes to their mental health.
In response, those hardest hit by the ongoing problem have built a digital platform to support each other.
Maya cares is a community and information platform developed by The Creative Cooperative (CCO), Women of Color’s first fully owned, managed and operated fully migratory startup.
The CCO was also part of Catalysr’s Migrapreneurs fellowship program.
The platform is designed for women to report and heal racism.
CCO founder Priyanka Ashraf was out shopping in mid-2020 when she was confronted by someone who told her to go back to where she came from and take the COVID-19 virus with you.
“When it happened, I didn’t know who to talk to, where to go, what to do, to try and process the violence and trauma of that confrontation,” Ashraf said.
“Later a friend also asked why I hadn’t reported it. First, I didn’t know. And as an ex-lawyer – if I didn’t know, people who have less access than me would be even less aware of their rights. Second, telling your story again to someone who doesn’t understand or believe you is traumatizing again, so many women don’t report it.
Maya Cares draws on the community’s lived experiences to address these issues.
DBorn from the input of more than 250 people who have experienced racismthe platform provides a safe and supportive community for victims to make their voices heard and experiences validated.
This community has a chatbot powered by Josephwith which users can get direct support when experiencing racism.
The chatbot is designed to be friendly and understanding so that people feel comfortable talking to it.
It walks users through the process of reporting racism or finding culturally appropriate mental health support.
Users also gain access to a library of over 100 culturally appropriate resources and services, including lists of counselors for overcoming shame and self-doubt.
According to Ashraf, the lasting impact of racism on mental health is grossly underestimated and undermined as people regularly think they are imagining things when faced with racism.
The main reasons for not reporting experiences of racism were fear of backlash, shame and self-doubt.
“We asked people in our communities what they needed to heal from racial trauma, whether it was in the workplace, in education, or even socially. We heard loud and clear the great need for access to mental health services specifically aimed at support the experiences of racial trauma from FNBWoC‘ said Asraf.
Of the more than 150 First Nations and black people and women of color surveyed, about 80% doubted themselves when identifying incidents of racism.
Ashraf expects to see more data on racism through Maya Cares.
“There are huge gaps around this at the moment and doesn’t paint a good picture of the extent of racism in Australia – we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. We hope we can flip the switch on this and inform policy makers and decision makers to respond appropriately,” she said.
The CCO held an online launch event for Maya Cares on March 21.
Ashraf says this is the first time there has been a digital platform of this size, designed and run by women experiencing racism.
“Through Maya Cares, we now have a safe space to respond to, report on, and heal from racism and raise awareness of rights.
“The platform has two components; Maya, who provides in time support users to respond to racism in a psychologically safe space, and; a resource library, which connects FNBWoC with the right mental health professionals and resources, plus an accessible reporting tool.”
Income generated by the CCO is redistributed to support community projects or fundraisers to raise awareness and/or address systemic racism.
The digital “Big Sister“Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Black and women of color is an essential step in recognizing the impact of racism on mental health and providing access to culturally appropriate resources and services.
Maya Cares is supported by the Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, Josef Legal and Humanitech – an Australian Red Cross initiative dedicated to harnessing the power of technology for good by putting humanity first.