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Preventing violence against migrant and refugee women

3 minutes

Migrant and refugee women are impacted not only by sexism and gender discrimination, but also by racism and other forms of discrimination at individual, community and structural levels.  

Women who face multiple forms of discrimination may experience violence more frequently, or of greater severity. 

Addressing all forms of structural inequality and discrimination is necessary to effectively prevent violence against migrant and refugee women.  

Understand the issues

Structural inequality and discrimination intersect with gender inequality to exacerbate violence against migrant and refugee women.  

This happens in a range of ways. For example, migrant and refugee women experience barriers to leaving domestic or family violence, such as:

  • reluctance to seek support for violence due to fear of racist assumptions about their culture, religion or ethnic background, or fear about jeopardising visa or protection applications.
  • financial dependence on violent partners. Asylum seeker women living in the community on temporary visas, as well as migrant women on student and working visas, are not entitled to social security payments. Migrant women also experience other kinds of financial insecurity, including discrimination and racism in the labour market. 
  • social isolation, due to a lack of family or social supports and language barriers. Migrant women are also more likely to live in outer suburbs or regionally, where access to transport is difficult. 

Migrant and refugee women also might experience other forms of racist and gender-based violence, including: 

  • public abuse of women wearing hijabs 
  • underpayment of migrant women domestic helpers 
  • racially derogatory sexual harassment. 

Things you can do

  • Support migrant and refugee women to be champions and leaders in their own communities and to play a lead role in planning, implementing and evaluating prevention activities.  
  • Ensure work is done in partnership with relevant community-based organisations, including women’s health services and migrant services. If you are engaging migrant and refugee communities you are not already part of, you are unlikely to understand the specific local dynamics, histories and social connections between people. 
  • Consult women leaders about the most effective settings to engage men. Men’s engagement should support women’s leadership and empowerment within the community or setting.  
  • Ensure that prevention strategies are accessible and culturally appropriate for men and women from diverse backgrounds. For example, you may require bilingual facilitators and resources in different languages to make sure the key messages can be understood by your intended audiences.  
  • Ensure you have allowed adequate time and resources to tailor your activities to migrant and refugee communities. This requires planning, flexibility and consultation.  
  • Be clear about the focus of your prevention activity. There is no single ‘migrant and refugee community’ and that in planning your activity, it’s important to be clear about who you intend to work with and why. For example, do you intend to work with an ‘ethno-specific’ group (for example, the Vietnamese community), a specific language-based group or a group connected through visa status or immigration pathway (for example, international students). 
  • Consider why you want to work with a particular migrant and refugee group rather than another. For example, is it because local community leaders have raised the issue? Because you or your partners have good relationships with that community and you think there will be support for the project? Or because you assume this group is more violent or is less supportive of gender equality than other groups? Make sure that your decisions are evidence informed and based on consultation with a range of stakeholders. Be aware of your assumptions. 
  • Be realistic. Understand that there may be multiple critical issues affecting that community or individuals. Work with them to identify the priorities. 
  • If you are not a member of the community, undertake regular self-reflection on your own unconscious biases and what assumptions, experiences and privilege you might be bringing to the work.  
  • As well as your prevention activity being inclusive, diverse and equitable, it’s also important that your organisation is also working towards the same goals. Achieving diversity, inclusivity and equity will look different in practice depending on your organisation 

Resources about working with migrant and refugee groups