When I first came to Australia, I couldn’t speak English and simply couldn’t afford to pay for an English course at a TAFE or University. I learnt English in outer suburb community centres where there was a high concentration of new migrants like myself. Although I couldn’t articulate properly, I received all the support needed to progress quickly. It was a safe environment where I slowly felt confident to ask questions of my teachers and develop my language. I quickly became obsessed with wanting to be fluent in English, meet new people and immerse myself in the Australia culture. I so desperately wanted to have a job and engage in my new society that afforded me the opportunity to start again. As it worked out, local libraries with free Wi-Fi, books and technology were the perfect way for me to learn.
My story is only one of many around us. Unlike me, many of the women in my classroom had difficulties adopting the English language so organically, despite having lived in Australia for many years. This made me question my processes around learning. Why was it that I was able to grasp the language quicker than most? Simply put, our social backgrounds were different.
Over the past 6 years at SisterWorks, working hundreds of migrant and refugee women from more that 50 countries, we have established that in order to support newly arrived or long-term unemployed women, we need to consider not just their backgrounds but their present social challenges too. These significant challenges may include:
- Illiterate women with little or no formal education in their OWN language, let alone a second, foreign language
- Mothers and wives whose priority is to take care of their family first and foremost
- Women who have little-to-no work experience outside the home
- Women who have come from rural and remote locations and are unfamiliar with Western culture
Irrespective of their immigration status, these women are trapped in poverty and can often be found struggling in disadvantaged situations like domestic violence, homelessness, discrimination, modern slavery or social isolation. This in combination with understanding how to access support for themselves, to develop pathways into economic participation in their new country can be overwhelming and daunting. It is a wonder they struggle to pick up the English language when most are dealing with other significate social issues such as these.
Yes, supporting the economic empowerment of migrant and refugee women is key. However, as a society we need to collectively bridge the gap and find alternatives to the traditional education and employment pathways to support these women. By building their confidence and skills in speaking the language, it is one step closer to providing individual empowerment allowing them to explore opportunities to improve their environment.
There is currently a lack of suitable services to transition these women into work where, in most instances, they do not have Western backgrounds of work experience or vocational training. This is why our SisterWorks Model delivers. What we have recognised is that women in these situations have a greater ability to ‘learn by doing’. What does this mean? By watching how others before you work, then attempting to replicate their method, you can ‘learn by doing’. We have created a supportive environment with a strong collective that supports women in a child friendly surrounding.
This model does not pretend that everyone becomes entrepreneurs straight away, but simply provides a hub where women learn, share, support and grow together enabling them to learn from each other.
Some of us just need this space to rebuild our confidence and belief in our capabilities, moving into meaningful employment or identifying educations pathways. Others need this safe space to leave home, to explore solutions to their challenging present environments. Starting this journey, many women begin to enjoy the process to make a product and learn to sell it. This is only the beginning of empowerment enabling them to connect and think about their own ways to develop a business that suits them and their environment.
As a refugee woman myself, I understand that people facing long-term unemployment need support tailored to their individual requirements.
Ultimately our goal is to progress these women through a journey, that is to:
- Become a role model for 2ndgeneration family members, reversing the poverty cycle and the intergenerational transfer of disadvantage
- Earn discretionary income, empowerment, and autonomy
- Decrease dependence from the welfare system
- Develop overall financial literacy and increase economic participation
SisterWorks is proud to provide this opportunity to support the economic empowerment of migrant and refugee women allowing them to develop the skills they need to lead their own social change.
How can you help? Keep SisterWorks alive. Today more than ever before we need your support. Please buy our products, donate before the end of this financial year, talk to people about us and share this article with your network.
Published by Luz, SisterWorks’ CEO