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New program seeks to improve employment outcomes for refugee women

Media release

A new Curtin University-led program aims to help refugee and migrant women identify the strengths and skills they need to overcome common employment barriers when resettling in Australia.

female warehouse worker with helmet and safety vest

The EMPOWER program will be led by Professor Jaya Dantas from the School of Public Health at Curtin University, in partnership with Ishar Multicultural Women’s Health Centre based in Perth.

The peer mentoring intervention program, which will be culturally informed, will help to build resilience, confidence, and self-esteem, improve health and wellbeing, job seeking and entrepreneur skills, and knowledge of work rights amongst refugee and migrant women.

Professor Dantas, a Professor of International Health from Curtin University, said migrant and refugee women faced unique struggles and a lack of opportunities when resettling in Australia, which may result in poor mental health outcomes, loneliness and difficulties seeking employment.

“Common barriers that refugee and migrant women face include language barriers, racism, poor education, non-recognition of skills and qualifications, social isolation and an absence of social and community networks, making life and employment an overwhelming challenge compared to their male counterparts,” Professor Dantas said.

“Employment-focused interventions need to explore the specific barriers faced by refugees, especially those with conflict-related trauma and transition experiences. Interventions that increase their knowledge of employment law, workplace rights and employer obligations will help women navigate these conditions and seek more secure and fulfilling employment.

“EMPOWER hopes to identify gaps in the skills and knowledge of refugee women in relation to economic empowerment, livelihoods, and health and wellbeing, while also helping them improve their capacity to be better settled and more economically independent.”

Professor Dantas explained that EMPOWER could be used by other organisations, both nationally and internationally, that work closely with vulnerable and marginalised groups.

“Through launching EMPOWER, we hope to see a reduction in social isolation, improvements in psychosocial wellbeing, increased self-esteem and confidence, and improved knowledge of work rights and entitlements amongst refugee and migrant women,” Professor Dantas said.

“This program may be of interest to government and industry representatives who play a key role in the resettlement of refugees in Australia. It also might help to develop a framework for other peer mentoring programs that aim to support the outcomes of refugee and migrant women around the world.”

The three-year intervention will be delivered by 10 peer mentors to an estimated 70 refugee women in Western Australia. The program also involved Shelley Gower, Zakia Jeemi and Dr David Forbes from Curtin University.

The EMPOWER project is supported by an intervention grant from Healthway. Further information on the EMPOWER project can be found online here.