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07 Sep 2021

Media releases

New research shines a spotlight on gender and refugees

The fate of refugee women and girls has been front of mind since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last month.

According to the UNHCR, 80 per cent of nearly a quarter of a million Afghans forced to flee since the end of May were women and children.

Women face distinct problems compared to men as they seek safety in other countries. Their circumstances can also be different if they are fortunate enough to be resettled in countries like Australia.

Foundations for Belonging 2021, new research to be launched this week, examines the settlement and integration trajectories of refugee women in Australia.

The research, produced by Settlement Services International and the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University, is the second phase of a series exploring newly arrived refugees’ sense of welcome and belonging and their social and civic participation. This year the research took a closer look at gender differences and digital inclusion.

Refugee women report strong support from their national, ethnic and religious communities.

Women are more likely than men to maintain bonds with friends and family in Australia and overseas. This is often enabled by digital technologies, particularly for younger women.

On the whole, the findings in Foundations for Belonging 2021 underscore the importance of social bonds as a basis for other forms of social connection for refugee women.

However women reported lower levels of social links – in engaging with institutions in Australian society such as government and non-government services and with accessing essential services.

In relation to digital inclusion, newly arrived refugee women and men by and large have access to the internet at home, especially households with pre-school aged children.

The gender gap, while small, was mostly in digital skills, with women reporting less internet use than men across all online activities (e.g., banking, education, health services).

Similarly, women were more likely to struggle with digital modes of support and online essential services. Younger women, and women with children under 18 living with them, reported fewer difficulties.

Finding assistance in using technology was a hot topic in discussions by women in focus groups, including assistance with access through borrowing laptops or assistance with use like having a friend fill out an online form.

Younger refugee women in focus groups often took on the role of “digital enablers” for older relatives, again highlighting the importance of social bonds.

Integration relies on whole-of-community approaches, and actions from refugees, receiving communities and government at all levels. This research points to a series of actions that governments, policymakers, service providers and civil society can pursue to strengthen their contributions to refugee settlement and integration.

The settlement and integration of refugees from Afghanistan announced by the Australian government will be shaped by the extent to which they can navigate digital technologies that are now part and parcel of life in Australia.

Overall, Foundations for Belonging 2021 finds that refugees:

  • demonstrate a high degree of confidence around independent living skills
  • express a very high level of trust in government and civil society institutions
  • want to contribute to Australia and fulfil social and civic responsibilities
  • have a strong sense of welcome, belonging and participation in Australia that held firm during the pandemic

The research will be launched at an online event on Thursday September 9, 12.30-2pm (AEST) as part of the ACOSS Policy Webinar Series.
Guest speakers include:

  • Shanthi Robertson, Western Sydney University, Senior Research Fellow (research co-author)
  • Alison Larkins, Department of Home Affairs, Commonwealth Coordinator-General for Migrant Services
  • Shabnam Safa, Chair, National Refugee-led Advisory and Advocacy Group (NRAAG)

The discussion will be preceded by a presentation of the research findings by the paper’s co-authors Tadgh McMahon, SSI’s Head of Research and Policy, and Shanthi Robertson, Western Sydney University.

Registration is free, but essential.

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