Supporting Refugee Women through Education, Employment and Empowerment (3Es)

Empowering women of refugee backgrounds

Overview of Impact

The 3Es to Freedom program, delivered by Anglicare North Coast, empowered refugee and migrant women to successfully navigate their futures by developing confidence, building knowledge and skills, and broadening their experiences to become stronger, through their connections to community. The ultimate aim of the program was to support program participants to secure sustainable employment of their choice.

SCU researchers Louise Whitaker, Mandy Hughes and Barbara Rugendyke collaborated with Anglicare North Coast from 2016-2021 to develop and document the program. This funded collaboration included participation on the Steering Committee, facilitation of staff reflections, documentation of program outputs in films, a book, reports and academic publications. In 2019, community exhibitions were staged at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, the Lismore Regional Gallery and Helensvale Cultural Centre (subsequently replicated across all SCU campuses) to disseminate detail of participants’ lived experiences. This promoted social inclusion and a just society which values and respects diversity through recognising the significant contributions of women from refugee and migrant backgrounds.

The contribution of the SCU team over time, including reflective practice, program design and program outcomes with a social justice focus, were described by Anglicare as ‘gold’ which ‘greatly enriches the program’. This partnership continued in 2021 as the SCU team documented the model of practice through the development of an online toolkit to support replication of the program in new ways and communities. The team, together with web developer Micah Clifford, completed the online toolkit for Anglicare North Coast. Called Empowering Practices, the learning resource will be used widely within Anglicare nationally and with other organisations.

The research team received the 2019 SCU Impact Award for Social Justice. The 3Es to Freedom program was a finalist in the Australian Migration and Settlement Awards in 2019. The online toolkit Empowering Practices was awarded Anglicare’s national award for excellence at its 2021 annual conference.

Positive outcomes, directly attributable to this participatory research, benefitted a range of stakeholders, including:

  • 3Es to Freedom participants benefitted from input into program design and were supported to share their stories publicly, building greater acceptance in their communities.
  • Anglicare North Coast was supported to deliver and document a successful program for women from refugee and migrant background.
  • Members of the public have learnt more about diversity and social inclusion in their own communities, building understanding and acceptance.
  • SCU students have, and continue to, benefit from learning about the research process, findings and program outcomes, and
  • The online toolkit enables staff in Anglicare nationally and across other organisations to learn from the practice wisdom documented throughout the five-year long research relationship.

The reflective practice component of the research was disseminated in academic publications and at national and international conferences. In the most recent phase of the research, this practice is being captured in an interactive online toolkit which is designed to facilitate replication of learnings from the program to other programs and in diverse settings.

The SCU team’s input into program design via the Steering Committee allowed the program to become more tailored to individual and community needs. Research documentation prepared by the team was used to apply for additional funding for the program. This supported extension of the program for more than four years, along with geographical expansion to operate in three non-metropolitan communities. The dissemination of the learnings documented in the online toolkit will support staff in Anglicare nationally and in other social service organisation in their ongoing work and contribute to improved professional practice.

SCU students benefitted from the team’s collaboration on the 3Es to Freedom program by attending the Stories to Freedom exhibitions on each campus. Creative resources (films and book) produced by the SCU team were used as educational resources in sociology and community welfare classes. Some 3Es participants enrolled in SCU classes. Through their in-class contributions, the students were able to hear directly about the lived experiences of women from refugee backgrounds. SCU postgraduate students also gained employment in the 3Es program and were able to complete field placements associated with the research. SCU students are also able to use and learn from the practice wisdom presented in the toolkit Empowering Practices, contributing to development of their professional skills.

Communities at each site were able to learn more about the women through the exhibitions. Impact is evidenced in the way that the broader community appreciated and embraced learning more about, and interacting with, the women participants.  This is demonstrated through quotes from exhibitions visitors as follows:

‘We are glad you are part of our community JWelcome’

‘What brave and strong women. Thank you for your stories’

‘So many smiles, so much happiness and everyone so welcome. Thank you’

‘I love seeing this exhibition, it fills my heart with joy!’

‘As an Aussie, I say welcome! Your strength and beautiful spirit enlighten our world’

‘Thank you for sharing your stories. Thank you for adding your beautiful soul to Australia. Peace and Love’

‘Thank you for your memories, you are one of us – enjoy your new life’

The exhibitions attracted more than 1,000 visitors across three sites and press coverage on ABC radio, local TV News and newspapers. The creative outputs supported successful award applications including the Australian Migration and Settlement Awards (2019) and the SCU Impact Award for Social Justice (2019).  The researchers were invited to facilitate additional exhibitions. The funding body, Anglicare North Coast, wrote: ‘Thank you for your creative vision … a wonderful record and resource depicting the 3E’s work and women’s Stories to Freedom’.

The participatory action research, conducted throughout 2016-2021, included:

  • documentation of pilot program process and outcomes, using a range of qualitative research methodologies over time, and provision of support to apply for additional funding/program expansion
  • participation in Steering Committee deliberations
  • facilitation and documentation of staff reflections over three sites, over one year
  • films, exhibitions, Stories to Freedom book (1,000 copies) and preparation of reports presenting research outcomes,
  • three academic journal articles
  • extensive funding from Anglicare North Coast, contracted as part of their deliverables in relation to grants from the Department of Social Services
  • presentation of research outcomes at numerous national and international conferences
  • development of the on-line resource which disseminates research findings to staff in Anglicare and within other social service organisations
  • further dissemination of research findings in publication of an article in The Conversation.