Migrant women’s health in migrant women’s hands

Much has changed since MCWH conducted its very first in-language education sessions on contraception in factories around in Melbourne in 1978. Who would have known then that by 2021 we would be live streaming Facebook sessions on fertility and reproductive decision making?

Over the years, our understanding of how we advance health equity has been shaped by intersectional feminist movements that work to eliminate deeply embedded structural inequalities including racism, sexism and classism. Advancing health equity for migrant and refugee women has always been our goal, and we’ve always believed that migrant and refugee women need to be central to the conversations about how systems of power operate in their lives, and subsequently how these systems impact their health and wellbeing.

We’re excited to have contributed to the shift in conversations about what is needed to transform health services and systems, so that migrant and refugee women have access to safe, affordable and quality health care. However, if one thing our recently launched Sexual and Reproductive Health Data Report and ‘Act Now’ paper makes clear, it’s that despite the many changes, there is much more work to be done.

Bringing together the latest available data across a range of areas that impact on the sexual and reproductive health of migrant and refugee women in Australia, the Data Report shows that migrant and refugee women continue to have lower levels of access to sexual and reproductive health services and are at greater risk of suffering poorer maternal and child health outcomes than non-First Nations women born in Australia.

Worryingly, the data tells us that migrant and refugee women experience higher rates of pregnancy-related complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and stillbirth and are more likely to have interventions such as caesarean-section. Migrant and refugee women also experience higher rates of perinatal mental health issues, and are more likely to face barriers to accessing support.

These inequities in the health system and in health outcomes are unacceptable, and it’s time to turn things around so that they don’t become even more entrenched. Our ‘Act Now’ paper draws attention to the intersecting social, political and economic factors that impact migrant and refugee women’s sexual and reproductive health, and offers key recommendations for action in policy, research and service delivery. These ideas were explored further at our online launch and webinar, where our brilliant panellists spoke about their understanding of culturally responsive practice and health equity. There were lots of mic drop moments, and we encourage you to witness them for yourself.

Overwhelmingly, our panellists agreed that in order for us to build more equitable health systems for migrant and refugee women, targeted and sustainable investment is needed across a range of key areas. Furthermore, this support needs to be geared towards community-led and community-based programs and organisations. In other words, in order to advance health equity, we need to put migrant women’s health in migrant women’s hands.