The WRAP #89: Listening to migrant women

The second wave of COVID-19 hit Melbourne suddenly and brutally this month, and this time, it is starkly apparent that migrant women and their communities have been one of the groups hardest hit. The second wave has been concentrated in suburbs with large proportions of migrant and refugee people, in public housing, food processing and in aged care settings, all settings where migrant women live and work.

Not only have migrant women lost their jobs in high numbers during the pandemic, and those on temporary visas been left out of government support, they have also borne the brunt of the triple load, responsible for home, children and paid work, often in jobs that cannot be worked at home. A recent mapping exercise has shown that Melbourne suburbs with higher transmission rates are more likely to have more residents in jobs that can’t be worked from home.

Now, more than ever, we need to listen to migrant women. Over the last two weeks, our health educators, have spoken with migrant women living in public housing about COVID-19 in over fifteen languages. They have told us that they have much on their plates – guiding their families in how to prevent transmission, dealing with the logistics of isolation and quarantining for themselves, children and partners, tempering anxiety, managing chronic conditions and disability, educating children, and working out how to deal with their own and family healthcare needs in the current context. These are not small challenges in life, and we were honoured to hear the stories of how migrant women are facing them.

Not only do we need to hear migrant women’s voices to effectively respond, but also to recover. As Hawai’i’s Feminist Economic Recovery Plan has stated, echoing the words of Donna Rushin’s Bridge Poem, we must build bridges to an equitable and just future, keeping in mind that the bridges cannot be built on the backs of the marginalised. The Hawai’i Plan recommends a transition to an economy with women at the centre, that values essential caring work and that considers social well-being as paramount.

We must learn from these wise words. We must act on  the inequities laid bare by the pandemic. It’s time to listen to migrant women, understand and centre their lives and hear about the strategies they propose to move forward, to respond to the crisis, and to move beyond it.