A move toward equity and wellbeing for migrant women

Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health applauds the Victorian 2020/21 budget, which provides substantial moves toward an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget provides many opportunities to ensure that Victorian migrant and refugee women, who have been so integrally impacted by COVID-19, are not further left behind.

Two key initiatives directly invest into equity and wellbeing for migrant women.

First, $16.9 million will be allocated over 4 years towards gender equality, to support organisations to deliver initiatives that build women’s participation, leadership and recognition in the community. An investment in women’s organisations is the most effective way to advance gender equality. These are funds well spent, especially if they are used to further strengthen migrant women-led organisations.

Second, it was great to see an investment of $9.7 million over 4 years to prevent family violence and provide early intervention responses in migrant and refugee communities. This new funding will be used to support women, children and other people in migrant communities who are at risk of gendered violence, to access services at an earlier point and to work with their communities to prevent family violence.

It has been widely acknowledged that women have been significantly impacted by COVID-19, in both health and economic terms.

Migrant women in particular have been at the forefront of the virus impact; more likely to work in those industries that could not shut down such as aged care, food manufacturing and cleaning, and in occupations that could not be worked from home. They are also less likely to have access to the in-language COVID-19 information they needed to protect themselves and their families from infection.

It is worrying that in Victoria, over half of COVID-19 infections were among women, and more than half were in people born overseas.

Migrant women are also over-represented in casualised and insecure employment, and like many other women, have experienced unprecedented job loss during the close-down. It is encouraging to see a $5 million investment into the development of a pilot program to provide sick pay for casual and insecure workers. The program is yet to be collaboratively designed – migrant women must be supported to participate in this design process. Likewise, the many excellent initiatives to support workers into employment, including those that specifically target women for economic recovery.

Health and wellbeing

Furthermore, the big-ticket budget items, such as the $5.3 billion investment in affordable housing, $2.9 billion to implement a COVID-19 health response, $869 million for mental health, and $2 million for the Breakthrough Victoria research fund, should make a big difference to the health and wellbeing of migrant women.

However, it needs to be said that the devil is in the detail. The housing, health, and research initiatives that arise from these investments must be specifically tailored to ensure that migrant women benefit from them, have access to new services and programs and have the opportunity to equally participate.

Overall, there is much to celebrate in this budget for women, and for migrant women in particular.

There is still more to do to fully realise equity for migrant women. But in the meantime, we look forward to seeing the 20/21 budget initiatives roll out and to seeing the boost to migrant women’s equity and wellbeing in Victoria.

Dr Adele Murdolo
Executive Director, Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health