Perceptions and Experiences of Inequity for Women of Refugee Background Having a Baby during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Melbourne, Australia

Fran Hearn, Stephanie J. Brown, Josef Szwarc, Shadow Toke, May Alqas Alias, Maryaan Essa, Shogoufa Hydari, Ashay Baget, Elisha Riggs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Listening to What Matters is an exploratory descriptive qualitative study that aimed to (1) understand how women of refugee background in Melbourne, Australia experienced access to health information and maternity and/or early parenting care during the COVID-19 pandemic and (2) whether pandemic health directives had an impact on structural inequities for women of refugee background who received maternity and/or early parenting care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 41 participants including 17 women of refugee background, who identified as belonging to the Karen, Assyrian Chaldean, Iraqi, Syrian, Afghan, Sudanese, or South Sudanese communities and 24 health and social care professionals who identified as providing pregnancy or early parenting care during the pandemic in the north western suburbs of Melbourne. Interviews with women were conducted in preferred languages by community researchers. Interviews with professionals were conducted in English by researchers. Reflexive thematic data analysis included constructivist positionality and a trauma and violence informed approach. The results reported in this paper include three themes, with four accompanying subthemes, as follows: theme (1), ‘Structural inequities and the toll of the pandemic’; theme (2), ‘Supportive infrastructure’; and theme (3), ‘Cultural safety during the pandemic’. The results demonstrate that cumulative negative impacts such as unequal access to health information, family separation and isolation, inadequate household income, and mental and social health concerns had the potential to amplify pre-existing structural inequities for women of refugee background. Community engagement facilitated by bicultural workers, interpreters, and trusted care providers facilitated fast-paced, two-way communication that built capacity and health literacy for women who were unable to speak English and unfamiliar with the health care system and, improved experiences of care. More research is needed to understand how the intersectional cumulative impacts of structural inequities have affected maternal and neonatal health outcomes for women of refugee background during the pandemic, as well as any differences in maternal and neonatal health outcomes between Australian-born and refugee background women and babies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number481
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished or Issued - Apr 2024


  • COVID-19
  • health equity
  • maternal health
  • qualitative research
  • refugee

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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