Discrimination and racism come at a massive cost to the Australian economy and society, as Indigenous Australians and people of colour 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 resource platform developed by The Creative Co-Operative (CCO), the nation’s first fully migrant Women of Colour-owned, led, and operated startup.
The CCO was also part of Catalysr’s Migrapreneurs fellowship program.
The platform is designed for women to report and heal from racism.
CCO founder Priyanka Ashraf was grocery shopping in mid-2020 when she was confronted with by someone who told her to go back to where she came from and take the COVID-19 virus with her.
“When it happened, I didn’t know who to talk to, where to go, what to do, to try to process the violence and trauma of that confrontation,” Ashraf said.
“Later a friend also asked why I hadn’t reported it. Firstly, I didn’t know. And as an ex lawyer – if I didn’t know, people with less access than me would have even less awareness of rights. Secondly, re-telling your story to someone who doesn’t understand or believe you is re- traumatising, so many women don’t report it.”
Maya Cares draws from the lived experiences of the community to begin tackling these issues.
Designed from the input of over 250 people who’ve experienced racism, the platform provides a safe and supportive community for victims to have their voices heard and experiences validated.
This community has a chatbot powered by Josef, through which users can receive immediate support when experiencing racism.
The chatbot is designed to be friendly and understanding, so people feel comfortable talking to it.
It guides users through the process of reporting racism or finding culturally appropriate mental health support.
Users also get access to a library of 100+ culturally-appropriate resources and services, including lists of counselors to overcome shame and self-doubt.
According to Ashraf, the lasting impact of racism on mental health is grossly underestimated and undermined as people are regularly gaslit into thinking that they imagine things when faced with racism.
The top 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 in the workplace, education settings, or even socially. We heard loud and clear the dire need for access to mental health support services specifically catered to supporting the experiences of racial trauma of FNBWoC,” Ashraf said.
Of the 150-plus First Nations and black people and women of colour surveyed, around 80% experienced self-doubt in identifying incidents of racism.
Ashraf expects to see more racism-related data through Maya Cares.
“There are currently huge gaps around this and doesn’t paint the picture of the extent of racism in Australia – we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. We hope we can start to shift the dial on this and to inform policy makers, 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 scale, designed and run by women who experience racism.
“Through Maya Cares, we now have a safe space to respond to, report, and heal from racism and grow awareness of rights.
“The platform has two components; Maya, which provides in-time support to 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.”
Revenue generated by The CCO is re-distributed to support community projects or fundraisers to raise awareness of and/or address systemic racism.
The digital “Big Sis” supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Black, and women of colour is a vital step in recognising 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 focused on harnessing technology’s power for good by putting humanity first.