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We're the peak body for gender equity, gender equal health and wellbeing in Victoria.

WOMHEn: Workforce of Multilingual Health Educators

About the WOMHEn Project.

We’ve employed 50 migrant and refugee women to form a rapid response health workforce. Funded by the Working for Victoria initiative, we’re training these health educators to disseminate COVID-19 information and deliver multilingual health education in over 20 languages to migrant and refugee women.

Phase I of the WOMHEn project began in 2021 using in-language health education to address the barriers experienced by migrant and refugee women in accessing health education and information on COVID-19. In over 6 months, multilingual health educators and outreach workers provided in-language education and communication about COVID-19. They also interviewed 75 migrant and refugee women from diverse cultural backgrounds and lived experiences. The data that was gathered and documented builds a picture of a deeply affected community, with shared experiences, including resilience and strength in the face of the pandemic.

Phase II of the WOMHEn project aimed to address barriers to vaccine literacy and uptake, vaccine hesitancy, and service navigation of migrant and refugee women, including those who are carers, of child bearing age or pregnant, and living in rural and regional Victoria. By the end of the project, 3,231 migrant and refugee women had accessed a health education session of whom 1,313 women reported their understanding about the health benefits of accessing COVID-19 vaccines was increased. Approximately 50% of participants reported that they had increased their awareness of the health benefits of accessing COVID-19 vaccines after attending a health education session.

Click below to find insightful information about each phase of the project.

As the result of 12 months of work by multilingual health educators, employed by the WOMHEn project (funded by Jobs Victoria), we were able to undertake over 70 interviews with migrant and refugee women to understand the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. The experiences shared in these interviews follow a key theme: migrant and refugee women felt left behind in pandemic response and support. With increased financial insecurity, care responsibilities and emotional strain, the pandemic had a profound impact on the mental, physical and financial wellbeing of migrant and refugee women. In their own words, this report tells the story of a community who felt forgotten and were ultimately reliant on each other for support and information.

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Click here to download the pdf.

In the Media

As Victoria nears its vaccination target there are fears migrant women could be left behind - from ABC News, Ashleigh Barraclough: "As Victoria edges closer to its 80 per cent vaccination target, multicultural groups have called on the state government to continue a key outreach program that's been helping hard-to-reach communities get vaccinated. Funding for the Workforce of Multilingual Health Educators project ran out this month. The initiative by Gender Equity Victoria, the Multicultural Centre for Women's Health, and Women's Health Services has so far helped more than 1,800 migrant and refugee women in Victoria access health education and the COVID-19 vaccine."

Extreme impacts of COVID on migrant, refugee women - from Broad Agenda, Adele Murdolo: "Migrant and refugee women, particularly those who live in disadvantaged areas, make up one of these groups of concern. Over-represented in essential services such as aged care, cleaning, retail and manufacturing, migrant and refugee women are at greater risk of COVID-19 infection. Sadly, people born overseas make up more than half of all cases in Victoria, and women are well represented in those numbers."

We are proud to announce an extension of WOMHEn project – Phase 2. For another six months these key health educators will be able to continue outreach to migrant and refugee communities. During this phase, the project will mainly focus on COVID-19 vaccine take-up in Multilingual communities.

We collaborated with 40 health educators to identify community barriers and confidence in accessing COVID-19 vaccination, COVID-19 boosters and vaccination for children. After attending training, health educators engaged community members through community engagement surveys, IWD celebrations, interview workshops and the collection of stories from migrant and refugee women about their experiences with COVID-19 vaccination and the reasons for associated hesitancy.
So far, 170 C0VID-19 vaccinations have been booked or received by migrant and refugee women involved in this program.

We have reached 1117 Migrant and Refugee women through 75 vaccine health education sessions. They were delivered as peer-to-peer in language model sessions to remove the language barriers.

An image with a purple gradient background explaining the impact of WOMHEn project and it's outreach.

Identifying Barriers

Phase II of WOMHEn project was successful in identifying some of the key barriers to COVID-19 vaccinations in migrant and refugee women and finding effective solutions to combat the problem.

Difficulty in comprehending the COVID-19 vaccine related information, fear of getting vaccinated, problems with easy access to booking the vaccination slots and myths and misinformation related to vaccinations were some of the major barriers in getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Low receptiveness of migrant and refugee women to COVID-19 vaccination for children - Uncertainty and concerns about the side effects of COVID-19 vaccinations in children prevented the women to get their children vaccinated. They were fearful that the COVID-19 vaccine would be too painful for their children.

The road ahead 

Boosting women's health and well-being should be a top priority in the recovery and resilience from the COVID-19 pandemic. Voices of gender equity should be effectively reflected in COVID-19 policy by investing sufficiently in Women's health and welfare sector.

The peer-to-peer in-language model for delivering health education is effective and should be incorporated into how we provide health services to migrant and refugee women.

We hope our final report will reflect genuine voices and a remarkable step towards change to our stakeholder and to our community.

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