Building a healthy future for migrant women in Victoria forum


Picture of Huong Truong, Claire Vissenga, Mary Wooldridge and Adele Murdolo standing together at the forum.
Huong Truong, Claire Vissenga, Mary Wooldridge and Adele Murdolo.


Making links between research, practice and policy is always satisfying. That’s exactly what we achieved at the MCWH ‘Building a healthy future for migrant women in Victoria’ forum yesterday. Facilitated by award-winning journalist and filmmaker, Santilla Chingaipe, the forum brought together key members of government, health organisations and community leaders to discuss how we can create a healthy future for migrant and refugee women.

Our first panel focused on the state of migrant women’s health, featuring Family Planning Victoria CEO Claire Vissenga, Mercy Health social worker Jane Middleton and MCWH health educator Manasi Wagh-Nikam.

Our second panel looked to the future and asked how Victorian policy would be implemented in the future to include migrant women’s needs. Greens’ Huong Truong, Labour’s Jennifer Kanis and Mary Wooldridge, the Shadow Minister for Health were generous in giving their positions and their time in listening to issues raised by an audience of more than 60 service providers and community leaders.

Here’s our top 5 takeaways from the event:

1. There is a lack of data on migrant and refugee women’s health but from what we do know, the evidence-base is strong, clear and worrying.

Migrant and refugee women experience barriers to accessing the health system, have poorer health outcomes and deteriorating health.  While there is much more research needed to understand the specific healthcare needs of all women, the forum highlighted the need to act now on what we already know.

2. Migrant women’s health is more than sexual and reproductive health.

It is holistic and the solution needs to also include the provision of services in other sectors, such as education, housing and employment.  as well as anti-discrimination and anti-racism measures.

3. Women on certain visa categories cannot access Medicare.

This situation is not only costly and unjust for women, it also puts pressure on services to provide an equitable service with little resources.  International students and women on other temporary visas are also migrants and they pay taxes. The issues we keep being told are complex, but like all difficult tasks, many small steps have been known to reach mountains. There is a lot that State governments can do to lobby Commonwealth government on its Medicare rules.

4. We need to keep our eyes on the funding.

Although it was noted that over 6 million dollars in funding has been allocated to support the Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy, which was still in its infancy, there was still concern that the policy needs to be better funded, and that funding doesn’t go backwards, particularly in addressing the needs of multicultural communities. Several organisations, including MCWH, discussed the fact that funding wasn’t keeping up with inflation, wage increases or the significant increase in the numbers of migrant women in Victoria. Other audience members raised the way that funding was linked to the length of health consultation visits discriminated against women who needed interpreters.

5. Sexual and reproductive health is a key issue in Victoria and there’s a lot more to say and do about it!

Over sixty health providers, advocates, policy makers and community leaders attended our forum and it was clear that even three hours was not enought time to cover all the issues. It was gratifying to hear how much recognition there was from all the panelists and audience of the importance of the sexual and reproductive health policy and future directions for migrant and refugee women. Thank you to everyone who attended, we’d love to hear your feedback on ways to continue the conversation.