The Safety and Support in My Language Project delivered bilingual health education sessions in Arabic, Chinese and Hindi to 35 women on the topics of Gender Equality, Healthy Relationships and Family Violence between June 2020 and February 2022. Following each session, follow-up interviews and focus groups with participants were conducted.
Project findings showed that bilingual health education is an effective tool in multicultural communities to prevent family violence against women. Receiving information in languages other than English strengthened migrant and refugee women’s understanding of family violence and healthy relationships in a culturally safe and empowering way. Migrant and refugee women were better able to make the links between gender inequality and family violence as well as recognise the early signs of violent or abusive behaviour.
Why bilingual health education works
Health educators who speak the same language and share similar experiences of culture, gender and migration are more effective because they can draw on culturally relevant examples, understand cultural context and navigate nuanced group dynamics. Using a feminist approach to create a safe, non-judgmental and enabling environment encourages migrant and refugee women to speak openly about their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Bilingual health education creates a space for women to discuss gender equality in a culturally safe and meaningful way. In some languages there is no direct translation for terms such as gender equality, so health education in the preferred language of the participants enables discussion of key concepts within the context of their daily lives.
1. It makes information about family violence accessible
Bilingual health education makes information about family violence clearer and more meaningful for migrant and refugee women. Trained bilingual workers clarify key concepts, discuss issues within the context of women’s lives, and provide relevant and understandable information and resources.
Now I have learnt something about family violence in a whole and systematic way; I know how to protect myself. In the past, I would not know how to protect myself as there was no chance to learn what family violence is.
2. It effectively makes the links between family violence and gender inequality
Gendered inequality is a key driver of violence against women. Bilingual health educators can better explain the links between gendered inequality and family violence in the preferred language of participants. Learning that family violence is a shared social issue, rather than an isolated, individual experience is powerful. It is especially relevant to migrant and refugee women whose migration status can increase their isolation and dependence on male partners or extended family members.
I will tell my friends who didn’t have the opportunities to get help from relevant organisations. There are lots of people [who] are enduring family violence and are controlled by the violence. It was not clear to me how to get help in the past and where to get help.
3. It increases migrant and refugee women’s confidence identifying violence
Migrant and refugee women are less likely to access family violence services at an early stage, which can mean they face escalating abuse for longer with more severe outcomes. Participants in bilingual health education sessions reported increased confidence in identifying family violence and navigating support services.
4. It strengthens women’s leadership and advocacy capabilities
Bilingual health education empowers migrant and refugee women to advocate and raise awareness about family violence within their social networks. This is critical, as migrant and refugee women commonly seek health information and support through family and community. Almost all participants said they would now try and help other women, by sharing their new knowledge about the links between gender inequality and family violence and providing information and contacts of family violence services.
- Most Arabic and Hindi-speaking participants said they felt confident to share information from the education sessions with friends and family.
- Most participants stated feeling more “empowered” and “determined” to make changes and spread knowledge in their homes and communities.