Research

Evidence relating to migrant women's health in Australia

MCWH takes an evidence-based approach to migrant and refugee women's health. Many factors intersect with, and can influence the health and well-being of migrant and refugee women, including gender, class, indigeneity, ethnicity, geography, sexuality, age, migration and settlement history, faith, family situation, form of employment, level of education, visa status, identity and language.

Evidence about Australian migrant and refugee women's health is limited. This includes what we know about the best practices and strategies for supporting and promoting migrant women's health. Claims about cultural differences in migrant women's attitudes and behaviours in relation to health and wellbeing are often made without any evidence to support them.

Read our Research Statement below to learn more about our approach to research and key challenges that can arise for researchers in this field.

National Sexual and Reproductive Data Report

A summary of the latest available data relating to the sexual and reproductive health of immigrant and refugee women in Australia.

View the Data Report

Research Publications

MCWH is proud to have contributed to the evidence base for migrant and refugee women's health in Australia and internationally.

View a list of our publications

THE MUSES PROJECT: Multicultural and settlement services supporting women experiencing violence

New evidence to support migrant and refugee women’s health, safety and wellbeing MCWH is proud to share the findings of new research we conducted in three Australian states about the current and potential role of settlement and multicultural services in…

Research Statement

Please read on to learn about our approach to research. You can also download a PDF version of the statement.

About research at MCWH

The Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) conducts and contributes to influential research to strengthen the evidence base around immigrant and refugee women’s health and wellbeing. All MCWH research partnerships, programs and activities align with our values, vision and purpose.

Our research program recognises that the issues that impact on the health and wellbeing of migrant and refugee women are diverse and include broader social issues such as gender, class, ethnicity, discrimination, geography, family situation, employment, visa status, identity and language.

There is little research currently available about the health and wellbeing of immigrant and refugee women living in Australia or the best health care models and strategies to improve their health outcomes. However, claims about cultural differences in practices and attitudes to health and wellbeing are often made without evidence to support them.

MCWH research regularly involves reviewing, analysing and synthesising available data and information from academic, government, professional and community sources. MCWH also undertakes primary data collection and analysis, often in partnership with academic researchers.

If you are interested in working or collaborating with MCWH in a research capacity please complete this research form to help us understand your needs and email your request to reception@mcwh.com.au or contact (03) 9418 0999 for more information.

Our approach to research

MCWH fosters an ethical and collaborative research culture that aims to achieve transformative change in immigrant and refugee women’s lives. Our approach to research:

  • acknowledges and respects women’s experiences, values and knowledge;
  • values and creates opportunities to draw on women’s knowledge and wisdom;
  • promotes participatory processes;
  • respects and acknowledges the cultural distinctiveness of, and inter-cultural differences between, immigrant and refugee communities; and
  • fosters ethical and respectful relationships that affirm immigrant and refugee women’s right to have different values, norms and aspirations.

Our approach to immigrant women’s leadership in research

We regularly consult and work with immigrant and refugee women during the research process to ensure that:

  • the research is both culturally appropriate and relevant;
  • opportunities are provided whenever possible to develop immigrant women’s trust, agency and ownership over the research process;
  • the research impacts and outcomes will be meaningful for women;
  • respect for the dignity and wellbeing of participants takes precedence over the expected benefits to knowledge; and
  • immigrant and refugee women will ultimately benefit from, and not be disadvantaged by, the research.

Our bilingual health education team plays a central role in working with women as peers and co-researchers in the collection and evaluation of data, and not as dispassionate researchers who are doing research about them.

Our commitment to communicating research

MCWH is committed to ensuring that our health education program is at all times informed by a reliable and current evidence base and that research findings are communicated appropriately to immigrant and refugee communities and other relevant stakeholders. Our research is communicated in a variety of ways and disseminated through different channels to ensure the best possible uptake by communities, policymakers, practitioners and service providers. Research findings are communicated via:

  • research articles and publications;
  • training and information workshops, conference papers and presentations;
  • the WRAP monthly e-newsletter and MCWH website;
  • advocacy information sheets and resources;
  • the MCWH annual report; and
  • meetings with relevant policy makers and submissions to government.

Key research issues in immigrant and refugee women’s health

Culture of exclusion

The number and range of multicultural health research and evidence required for equity in policy and services is limited and uneven.  As result, there are communities and health issues that are essentially invisible or unrepresented in research.

In a study of over 4,000 articles published in four major academic health care publications over a 12 year period, only 90 (4%) of the articles were articles primarily based on multicultural issues (Garrett, Dickson et al 2010).  In stark contrast with the latest population statistics: one in four of Australia’s 22 million people are born overseas or have a parent who was and 4 million (18%) speak a language other than English

Research with immigrant and refugee communities is often cited as too difficult and/or expensive.  In research for population studies, exclusion of diverse groups should be stated: what were the reasons for exclusion?

Population diversity—including culture and gender—has to be at the core of policy and research, not at the margins.  The exclusion of considerations of culture then becomes part of the cumulative, practical effect of problems and issues.

The hierarchy of evidence (Qualitative and quantitative research)

What counts as evidence?  In the research field, there is an implicit hierarchy of evidence in research and within different types of research.

For example, although the criteria for judging quantitative studies are well known (e.g. the generation of data via randomised control trials (RCTs) usually implemented in biomedical/epidemiological approaches is regarded as the blue ribbon of evidence).  In contrast, the strength of evidence from qualitative research is less well-known and, as a result, more likely to be dismissed.

Qualitative research based on narrative argument and critique rather than measurement and control of variables can highlight health care practices and provide the basis for health policy decisions.  However, the relationship between policies and research evidence in not clear-cut.  An understanding of the political context can help to explain why some evidence may be more persuasive than other forms of evidence.

The biomedical model

The biomedical model of health continues to be the dominant scientific and political perspective on population health.  However, the biomedical model has a tendency to limit the political significance of health to the politics of healthcare services.

Population health

Most public-health initiatives focus on individual risk factors related to physical health thus neglecting mental health.  From a prevention perspective, population health also under-estimates the importance of social and environmental determinants.

The social determinants approach

Social determinants research focuses narrowly on socio-economic factors, notably inequality, to the neglect of cultural factors (and vice versa, see ‘The use of culture’ below).

The use of ‘culture’

Although there is now general acceptance of the importance of culture in research and policy, there is still a lack of understanding of what is required in the implementation of culturally appropriate and relevant programs in service delivery.

Culture is often conflated with ethnicity and race and/or equated with ‘cultural’ practices, which means that other important factors such as socio-economic factors are ignored.

Community-engagement in research

The purposes of community engagement and partnerships in research are generally to improve lives.  Yet, there is a lack of academic merit given to the findings of research using community engagement methods and practices.

This can be attributed to several factors:

  • There is very little research on evaluating or measuring process and impact, beyond an individual research project.
  • Within a scholarly framework, there is a lack of value placed on the findings as data derived from community-engaged research is not usually included in university quality frameworks.
  • Traditional measures such as research output in scholarly journals do not adequately take into account the broader context and contribution of community engagement, partnerships and research into policy and practice.

Research involving communities, services and policy is often funded by different branches of government and there is an increasing interest on the impact of research funding on national priorities such as health.

Cross-cultural research and using bilingual interviewers

The complexity of language and cultural differences continue to be challenges in cross-cultural research, especially in relation to the added cost and extended time required to design and implement culturally appropriate and quality methods.

Quality assurance methods in cross-cultural research need to include:

  • Translation strategies which go beyond simple forward and back translations should be applied to all research instruments such as interview schedules/questions
  • The use of various bilingual mechanisms during each stage of the research including the use of bilingual group reviews/content experts/interviewers/researchers.

Ethics

There are no national guidelines as to the ethical conduct of (health) research with immigrant and refugee women.