Arabic mother and her children

The issues faced by women of Arabic speaking backgrounds who are mothers greatly depends on their length of settlement in Australia, their English language proficiency, the degree to which they subscribe to traditional family roles, values and beliefs, and the kind of family and community supports which they access.

Raising children in Australia requires mothers of Arabic speaking backgrounds to have the skills to work with their children who are navigating their identity as they grow between two cultures. Given the traditional cultural expectation that women are primarily responsible for the home and for raising children, it is more likely that the mother in the Arabic family will spend more time with children and she may be challenged in her role by a number of factors, which you will need to explore with her, in order to assess her needs and to determine the types of supports you could provide. These factors include:

  • Knowledge and familiarity with Australian systems, health care services, the education system and youth services: You need to determine your client’s level of knowledge, which will reflect her confidence in understanding the issues and opportunities facing her children, as well as her capacity to engage with programs and activities relevant to her children’s development.

  • English language proficiency: This may affect a woman’s level of participation in her own education, employment and other social activities.  Importantly, her English language proficiency will affect her level of engagement with her children’s schools, her capacity to support her children with homework and her capacity to supervise their use of technology.

  • Recognition of pre-arrival experiences: Women who have arrived as refugees may be experiencing the effects of trauma and fleeing from persecution in war torn countries of origin and may need additional counselling supports to work through emotions of post-traumatic stress.  Some women arrive in Australia through the “Women at Risk” category – these women have lost or been separated from their fathers or husbands and are at risk of sexual or physical violence in the country where they first sought asylum.  These women may require intensive support.

  • Parenting in a new culture: The dynamics of family relationships are affected by changing perceptions of parenting roles, of the roles/responsibilities of children and of traditional cultural expectations of mothers, which differ to those placed on mothers of mainstream Australian families.  It is important for you to ascertain your client’s understandings of her role as a mother in the new culture and her knowledge of child rearing practices in Australia.

  • Family and community supports: Where, traditionally, the source of support for mothers in Arab cultures has been other women in the family (their own mother, sisters, aunties, cousins) and other community members (eg members of faith communities), they may now find themselves living in a home without any other family members to support them with both practical and emotional needs. You will need to identify what support networks, if any, your client accesses for assistance on a range of issues.

  • Risk of family violence: Although there is no statistical evidence to indicate that women of Arabic speaking backgrounds experience higher rates of family violence, there is anecdotal evidence that highlights the barriers to accessing support for family violence amongst women of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities, in particular, refugee women.
New/young mothers
Young Arabic mother and baby

Mothers of infants and toddlers of diverse Arabic speaking backgrounds face particular challenges related to their migration experiences and cultural understandings of motherhood. Some of the issues faced by mothers of older children and all parents of Arabic speaking backgrounds are common to those faced by mothers of infants and toddlers, but their particular circumstances give rise to the following issues for your consideration as you engage with them in service provision:

  • Lack of social supports: Some young mothers have experienced separation from family members and their settlement in Australia may be one of isolation from family supports.  At the time of having a newborn, this may cause emotional distress, anxiety and depression for many young mothers.

  • Poor English language proficiency: This may cause further anxiety in understanding health care professionals during the perinatal and postnatal periods; importantly, access to professional interpreter services for maternal and child health care services is critical to supporting young mother’s care of infants and young children.

  • Mental health supports: Post natal depression may need to be clearly explained in ways that prevent shame and stigma for new mothers who face cultural expectations of womanhood and motherhood.  Additionally, support for post natal depression needs to be defined in ways that do not compromise any existing family supports and do not diminish the value of family member’s assistance.

  • Acknowledgement of cultural and religious practices: Depending on the religious affiliation of your client, there may be certain practices which your client follows.  It is important to acknowledge the values of her cultural/religious practices (eg for some young mothers of Arabic speaking backgrounds, she may be required to remain strictly indoors with her baby in the first 40 days from birth).