Women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds face a range of complex issues that result from and at the same time reinforce their social, cultural and economic marginalisation. These women have diverse cultural heritages, differing life experiences, including for recent migrants who have various experiences of and reasons for migrating to Australia, and varied experiences of discrimination and marginalisation within Australia. In spite of their differences, women from culturally and linguistically diverse communities experience commonalities in terms of the barriers they face in accessing support services when facing violence.
The lack of consistent and disaggregated data in relation to family violence in culturally and linguistically diverse communities is problematics, as it restricts our capacity to ensure services are meeting community demands and to assess the adequacy of targeted funding. What is known is that the settlement challenges facing newly arrived families places strain on relationships, increasing family breakdown and the need for legal and family support services. In addition, visa status plays a crucial role in the ability to receive sufficient support.
In 2016, the Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity produced a report on the experiences of migrant and refugee women in courts. This report recognised that women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are far more likely to enter the legal system at a point of extreme vulnerability, often as a result of family violence or family breakdown. While the evidence was mixed on the prevalence of family violence in migrant and refugee communities, the report’s authors noted that the stresses caused by moving to Australia could increase the risk of family violence. Further, migrant and refugee women were more likely to experience particular forms of family violence, including abuse by extended family members, abuse related to their immigration status, dowry demands and forced marriage.
Another related and critical area is child protection. Children from culturally and linguistically backgrounds are represented in the child protection in high numbers. There is an overall consensus across academic research and practitioners that the need for culturally sensitive approach and training of child protection agencies is present.
Despite the high rates of violence and the service demand, there are not enough specialist services who will be able to provide culturally appropriate support. For some services like housing, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds may be ineligible due to their visa status.
For women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds there are a range of barriers that prevent or restrict their disclosing of violence and their access to services. Cultural beliefs and stigma can inhibit women’s ability to access appropriate services, particularly when these interact with social exclusion and language/cultural barriers, and these dynamics can contribute to violence and resulting homelessness being ‘hidden.’ These barriers include:
- Lack of awareness of their rights under Australian law;
- Lack of knowledge of services that are designed to support women experiencing family violence;
- Lack of access to linguistically diverse and culturally sensitive services;
- Lack of support within their community and social stigma associated with divorce and separation;
- Limited employment opportunities and reliance on partner for financial security; and
- Fear that reporting family violence will impact on their visa status.
Women from culturally diverse communities face additional barriers to education and employment as a result of language barriers; racism and discrimination; lack of culturally responsive services; lack of access to information about their rights, the legal system and the support systems available in their languages; separation from family and other support networks; and insecure visa status. In particular, migrant and refugee women are overrepresented in insecure and low paid work.
A number of measures are required to be undertaken in both policy and practice to address particular vulnerability of women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to family violence and to increase their access to support services. These include ensuring that translation services are available for women who have a limited understanding of English, increasing cross-sector partnerships to ensure that women who do not have access to family violence services or legal services be referred to appropriate support systems, and addressing intersecting inequalities including increased risk of housing stress, lower access to education and employment and higher risk of financial insecurity.There is a great need to ensure that all necessary services in situations of family violence are available regardless of visa status.
Harmony Alliance: Migrant and Refugee Women for Change https://www.harmonyalliance.org.au/
InTouch – Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence http://www.intouch.org.au/
Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity http://jccd.org.au/
 Family Law Council, Improving the Family Law System for Clients from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds (Commonwealth: 2012), 3.
 Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity, The Path to Justice: Migrant and Refugee Women’s Experience of the Courts (2016).
 See AWAVA (2017) Resource on family violence, child protection and family law http://localhost/awava/2017/07/11/research/family-violence-child-protection-family-law-resource
 See AWAVA (2017) Submission to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection on Visa Simplification http://localhost/awava/2017/10/12/submissions/submission-department-immigration-border-protection-visa-simplification
 Safe And Strong A Victorian Gender Equality Strategy, The State of Victoria, available at http://www.vic.gov.au/system/user_files/Documents/women/161108_Victorian_Gender_Equality_Strategy_ONLINE.pdf