In a health crisis, disadvantage and discrimination don’t disappear. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that social, economic and health inequities intensify and deepen.
For migrant women, these inequities present in many ways.
Direct acts of racism have surged at a time when social cohesion is needed most. Accurate, clear, multilingual information on COVID-19 is hard to come by. Despite being a gendered issue, there is no information on COVID-19 and its impacts on migrant women’s sexual and reproductive health, pregnancy, caring roles, family violence, mental health, discrimination and workplace rights, not to mention the impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their families.
In addition, migrant women in casual or precarious employment don’t have the option to work from home or practice physical distancing. Migrant women are heavily or over-represented in many work forces that not only bear an increased risk of transmission, but provide indispensable (yet poorly paid and precarious) services for groups that are seriously at risk during the pandemic: cleaning, aged care, child care and disability care. For example, within aged care 82 percent of personal care attendants are women and 52 percent are born overseas.
As our sisters at Asian Women at Work have pointed out, these circumstances are forcing many migrant women to make difficult and sometimes impossible choices between their health and their job. For those on temporary working visas, loss of employment spells breach of visa requirements and possibly deportation for migrant women, partners and families, without government intervention.
Finally, many migrant women on visas will face further challenges in accessing healthcare during COVID-19. Even, before the pandemic, many migrant women were locked out of public healthcare due to their temporary visa conditions. Migrant women on working and student visas have long been required to pay out of pocket for their reproductive health care in the first 12 months, because of the limitations of their health insurance.
These restrictions and cost barriers to healthcare, compounded by the lack of multilingual information, precarious work status and increased occupational risk, put them at increased risk of transmission, as well as late testing and diagnosis. Migrant women and their families will bear the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis.
In order to avoid this public health failure, it’s time to address the gendered and racialised discrimination entrenched in the Australian community and health system. We need to lift the barriers to equitable healthcare, and regardless of gender and visa category, institute true, universal access to health and wellbeing.