Dr Ruth DeSouza is a nurse, educator, facilitator, mentor, researcher and writer who migrated to Boon Wurrung/ Bunurong country from Aotearoa, New Zealand. She has wide-ranging expertise in cross-cultural engagement, having family origins in Goa, being born in Tanzania, and being raised in Kenya, The Kingdom of Tonga and Aotearoa New Zealand. For over twenty years, Ruth’s research and practice have involved advancing social justice in health through critical analysis of gender and power relations with a focus on cultural safety and intersectionality, for which she was recognised as a Fellow of the Australian College of Nursing.
Ruth’s work is concerned with equity, justice, and Cultural Safety in both health and creative arts settings. Cultural safety, emphasises the need for systems, structures, and institutions to be transformed to address power imbalances. Ruth is committed to supporting the intentions of this work which are an Indigenous response to colonisation and its enduring impacts on Māori health. She has extensive experience in establishing culturally safe spaces, being trained in nursing where the concept of Kawa Whakaruruhau was first developed by Māori nurses, in particular whaea Irihapeti Ramsden.
Ruth has taught Cultural Safety in the nursing curriculum in Aotearoa long before the uptake of the term in the broader cultural sphere. Despite nursing literature having a rich record of using critical and anticolonial pedagogies there are still barriers to teaching Cultural Safety. In a recent book chapter (2022): Using Arts-Based Participatory Methods to Teach Cultural Safety in the book Nursing a Radical Imagination. Ruth shared her reflections on using arts-based participatory methods to facilitate the teaching of Cultural Safety in an undergraduate nursing program. Her aim in sharing the lessons learned from collaboration with First Nations and Refugee and migrant background artists to implement innovative teaching methods is to help activate the transformative potential of nursing education and prepare nursing students for social justice.
Writing and research
Ruth’s research has also explored the tensions between Cultural Safety and cultural competence as well as how the concept of Cultural Safety applies to Diasporic communities in two editions of the book Cultural Safety. In the second edition of the edited book, Ruth explores the intersections of Cultural Safety and Ethics. A third Edition is to be published this year. As an uninvited guest on Boonwurrung/Bunurong country for the last ten years, Ruth continues to explore what cultural safety means in so called Australia. Ruth responded to the backlash against the Codes of Conduct for Nurses and Midwives which included Cultural Safety and came into effect in March 2018. Developing an infograph with Croakey and a powerful response: Busting five myths about cultural safety. Ruth is a highly regarded Nursing professional who has been awarded the distinguished status of Fellow of the Australian College of Nursing (ACN). Fellowship of ACN is a prestigious member status awarded to nurses in recognition of significant professional achievement. Ruth has been interviewed many times by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. Ruth has written extensively about Cultural Safety in both health and arts contexts, including an essay with Robyn Higginson in The Relationship is the Project, a non-academic, practitioner-led volume oriented to artists. This essay has also been reprinted in Arts Hub as Taking action for Cultural Safety and by The Arts Wellbeing Collective an industry-led workplace mental health initiative by Arts Centre Melbourne. You can read more about Ruth’s research here.
Speaking and training
Ruth has recorded and produced four series of her podcast Birthing and Justice which centers the experiences of First Nations and Diasporic communities in a conversation on Cultural Safety in birthing.
Ruth has worked with Diversity Arts Australia (DARTS), facilitating Cultural Safety workshops with a range of arts organizations including The Australian Ballet, Art Gallery of New South Wales, screen-based companies, regional arts organizations, and many more. Ruth has also created and presented Cultural Safety sessions for an Accessible Arts-led program: The CaLD/Disability Internship program which supported eight Disabled and CaLD/POC emerging arts workers to undertake paid internships with eight arts organizations. You can read more about Ruth’s faciliating, keynoting and invited talks here.
Cultural Safety strategy
Ruth has in-depth experience of codesigning creative and participatory approaches to complex issues. In 2019, she partnered with strategic design consultancy Paper Giant and Emma Blomkamp to co-create a Cultural Safety strategy for cohealth, a large not-for-profit community health organization with over 900 staff spread over 48 sites in Melbourne, designing and facilitating extensive board and staff engagement on the Cultural Safety strategy through an exhibition model. A Cultural Safety project was undertaken in late 2019 with Our Watch, a national leader in the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia.
Ruth believes in partnering with consumers, families, and communities in order to create more generative collective alternatives through participatory and co-design methods. In 2020 Ruth and colleagues Leah Heiss, Olivia Hamilton, Marius Foley, and Olga Kokshagina at RMIT University delivered a co-design workshop to understand the future practices and ideal spaces for a university health education and research precinct at QUT. The project had four phases, first, to develop a participatory toolkit; second, to engage an interdisciplinary facilitation team; third, to engage participants in envisioning future practices to take place in the precinct; and finally, to link the translation of future practices and values to spatial principles to drive architectural planning processes. Ruth also collaborated with Leah Heiss, Marius Foley and Larissa Hjorth to codesign a Future Visioning workshop for Melbourne Ageing Research Collaboration (MARC) a unique collaboration of health, research, aged care and advocacy organizations working together to improve the lives of older people. Using persona case studies to mobilize the MARC community to create a vision statement that was both aspirational and pragmatic. Ruth has been a Guest Lecturer for The Master of Design Futures at RMIT University.