Supporting in-language engagement for migrant and refugee women

  • WOMHEn Project team

WOMHEn Project team

How we are supported to navigate the health system will significantly influence our access to timely, appropriate health-related information and treatment. A lack of tailored support for people from migrant and refugee backgrounds, particularly in rural areas, can lead to negative experiences and poor outcomes. The WOMHEn project (which stands for ‘workforce of multilingual health educators network’), aims to address the barriers faced by migrant and refugee women when accessing health related information, aided by in-language health educators in communities across Victoria. This project is a collaboration between the wider Victorian Women’s Health Services, spearheaded by Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH), with funding from the Department of Health.

Commencing in 2021 and now in its third iteration, Women’s Health Goulburn North East (WHGNE) partners locally with Uniting Vic Tas in Shepparton and Gateway Health in Wodonga to work closely with the culturally diverse communities in these areas. Initially focused on the need to ensure women received accurate and supportive information around the COVID-19 pandemic and related responses, women told us that other health information was also a priority and the seeds were sown for the next project iterations.

The Health Educators are fluent in the languages of the multicultural communities in their locality and collaborate with women in those communities to understand the health topics that are a priority for them. With key in-language resources from MCWH, they then facilitate culturally appropriate health sessions in women’s first language. Sessions might include information and education on accessing local health services, sexual and reproductive health and associated screening, diabetes, cancer, mental health needs and support, family violence, maternal and child health, for example. The health educators also work closely with local health services, migrant and refugee services, and culturally and linguistically diverse services to enable relevant up to date information and education to be shared and discussed.

The value of this resource for the community is tremendous. Women from culturally diverse backgrounds tell us that they can feel really isolated, marginalised, helpless and unheard when it comes to health matters. They can be unnecessarily unwell. The WOMHEn project enables their voices to be heard, key connections to be made with health and other supportive services, and of course ultimately better health outcomes for the women. When working with the Health Educators women also access other enablers such as how to navigate local transport, online telehealth options, female health practitioners and how to advocate for interpreters. The collaborating services also get to hear and understand the women’s needs firsthand and can influence health and other service provision for better health service outcomes.

One woman said that due to uncertainty about accessing a female GP for sexual and reproductive health concerns that she delayed seeking help for several years. Some other women shared that they did not understand the letter from Breast Screen Victoria and so did not follow up for breast screening. Other women felt the GP did not understand their mental health concerns and therefore felt unheard.

As well as oral information, women can also avail written first language information and digital resources developed by MCWH and others through the health educators.

Following the sessions women told us this structure of health information sharing provided a safe and welcome space to talk about women’s issues and built their confidence to have a go at accessing the services.  They felt more confident to consult their family doctors and get medical support without fear. The WOMHEn project highlights the importance of place based, community specific structures and systems to enable more just and equitable healthcare in rural CALD communities.

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