Engaging Arabic Speaking Men

Young Iraqi man

Some of the issues and challenges faced by men of Arabic speaking backgrounds stem from factors related to their experience of:

  • dislocation
  • migration
  • settlement
  • biculturalism

All of these impact their traditionally defined role as men in Arab cultures.

The issues we outline below will have greater significance for some men and less for others, but this is for you to explore as you engage with your client and identify his concerns and strategies for support.

Issues to Consider

  • Role as father Open or Close
    Father and daughter

    For most men of Arabic speaking backgrounds, their role is defined as the head of the family who has the key responsibility to provide for his family’s material needs and to provide guidance, discipline and direction to the rearing of his children. Often, this requires that he has an authoritative voice in the family and that he can exercise discipline measures which may be unacceptable in Australia, as children in Australian society are encouraged to be autonomous and to develop as independent individuals. He is challenged by new ways of parenting and new ways of child disciplining and child development. Your supportive education can provide him with insights and strategies on child development and disciplining that can sustain his authority as a father in the new society.

  • Role as husband Open or Close

    For many men of Arabic speaking backgrounds, their traditional, culturally embedded understandings of male and female roles and the authority of the male in the family are challenged. As women in Australia are afforded increased rights and opportunities for education and employment, women of Arabic speaking backgrounds may seek greater independence.

    Although some men may welcome this shift, many men are left questioning traditional gender roles and questioning their own role as husband and father. This is particularly difficult for those men whose wives may have secured employment, but they themselves have not been able to enter the employment market. Marital relationships and poor family relationships are not uncommon to men who feel that they lose their authority and capacity to fulfil their role as husband and provider to their wife and children.

  • Role as provider Open or Close

    The role of Arabic speaking men as father and husband is inextricably defined by their role as provider for the material needs of their family. After migrating to Australia, many men struggle to secure employment due to a range of barriers:

    • Poor English language skills
    • Poor relevant employment history
    • Lack of support and systemic pathways to gain recognition for pre-migration competencies, skills and qualifications
    • Poor knowledge of Australian employment support services
    • Poor knowledge of Australian workplace culture
    • Age barriers
    • Physical and mental health problems caused by war, trauma and dislocation

    For many men their inability to fulfil roles of provider can result in feelings of anxiety, depression, worthlessness and shame.

  • Role as protector of family Open or Close

    Men of Arabic speaking backgrounds have been raised with the expectation that in adulthood they will fulfil the role of protector of their family members. This role extends to his wife and children, but also to his extended family members, including his parents, parents-in-law, and other vulnerable family members. In circumstances where his sister or the wife of his brother is widowed, it is his duty to protect her and her children and often this implies that he will provide for their material needs. For younger men, even if they have not reached adulthood, if their father passes away, they are expected to step into the role of protector of the family, and undertake roles of provider and parenting duties to younger siblings.

  • Safeguarding culture Open or Close

    A major concern for many men of Arabic speaking backgrounds is their ability to maintain their culture in the new society and to ensure that their children continue to speak the language of their parents and uphold traditional customs and practices.

    Although they are acutely aware of the shifts in their children’s lives from a traditional collectivist culture to a highly individualist culture, they see themselves as keepers of tradition and place great importance on their role in protecting and transmitting cultural values, beliefs and customs.

  • Experience of war and trauma Open or Close

    Given that the cause of migration for many migrants and refugees of Arabic speaking backgrounds has been dislocation as a result of war, it is not surprising that some men have been at the forefront in conflict across the Middle East's war zones.

    It is important for you to seek information from your client on his pre-arrival experiences and, with sensitivity, identify his experiences of war, trauma, loss of home, loss of family, survival through war zones, protection of his family, long term displacement and the accumulative stress associated with these experiences. The mental health problems of many men with such experiences may result in self-medication with a variety of substances and specialist supports and interventions are required, as are approaches with cultural sensitivity for the most effective outcomes.

  • Elders and community networks Open or Close

    Across diverse Arabic speaking communities, men traditionally defer to elders in their families and communities for support and direction in the resolution of problems. The extended family supports and networks, readily accessible in the home country, are lost or fragmented in the Australian context.

    Where a man would consult with his father, grandfather, uncles or older male leaders to work through his problems (even marital relationship problems), in their absence, he may now find himself helpless and powerless in managing his problems.

    His options for seeking help are more limited and less familiar to him – he can consult with religious leaders or professional counsellors. But accessing these supports, present him with perceived challenges of loss of family privacy, loss of ‘family honour’ and shame in his inability to manage his problems and in his need for external support. Care and sensitivity needs to be demonstrated in supporting men to utilise new sources for support and the building of trust is critical in this process.

  • Role as leader Open or Close

    Although many men of Arabic speaking backgrounds no longer have their family elders with them in Australia to offer them guidance and support, they often find themselves undertaking the role of community leader or elder for other men and families who are more recently arrived in Australia and have less experience in overcoming settlement issues in their new homeland.

    Roles and responsibilities of leaders in the community may not necessarily be undertaken by older men (as would be the case in the home country), but younger men in the community who may have better English language skills, stronger understandings of mainstream Australian culture and greater confidence in working with Australian systems and support services. Young men in this position may face pressures from competing community demands and expectations for support, which is further heightened by collectivist cultural values of duty and obligation to community members.

    Occasionally, frictions may arise when a younger man’s advice or viewpoint carries greater weight and is valued more by community members than that of an older man. Given the traditional view that ‘wisdom comes with age’, it would be useful for service providers who work with community groups to consult both younger male leaders and elders, in order have representative views and consensus approaches in community engagement.

  • Young men Open or Close

    The issues faced by young men of Arabic speaking backgrounds stem from their experience of biculturalism, intergenerational conflict and culturally embedded definitions of their gender role. Common to all young men, irrespective of culture, is the important role of their father and the influences of other significant male figures in the family.

    In working with these young men, it is important for you to seek information and gain insights on the young man’s family dynamics, his father (keeping in mind that his father may not have survived war or may have remained in the home country), other male relatives, family expectations for his education, employment and earning capacity and family expectations for him to marry.

    Where a son is the eldest in an Arabic speaking family, he is expected to behave in ways that present him as a role model for his younger siblings, in particular for his younger brothers; in this way he has a duty to be exemplary in his behaviour and to demonstrate to his younger siblings, especially his brothers, how to behave appropriately and with respect to his parents and elders in the family and the broader community. His capacity as a role model can be instrumental in parental guidance and rearing of younger children, but presents the eldest son with additional pressure to meet parental expectations.

    There are many young men of Arabic speaking backgrounds who are Australian born and face a number of challenges and issues. Although fluent in English and raised in the Australian education system, their issues stem from their own experience of biculturalism and intergenerational conflict, as well as from their parents’ experience of disadvantage through the migration and settlement process.

Guide for Service Providers

Guide cover

As a service provider, you will provide effective and useful services with increased background knowledge of the clients’ language, history, religion, ethnicity, migration and settlement history, and their involvement in their community groups and networks.

By strengthening your cultural knowledge of the diverse groups of people of Arabic speaking backgrounds you will have a stronger understanding of the cultural factors which may be important in your clients' lives and in the way you and your clients will work together.

Arabic Welfare has created a guide that includes an outline of issues to consider, and useful hints and strategies as part of a best practice checklist, to ensure effective engagement with men and appropriate service provision to support their needs.

Please contact us to obtain a copy of this guide.