This report presents the findings of a study undertaken by the Ethnic Council Shepparton and District on the issues impacting Shepparton’s Afghan community before and after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Year 2020. The study was conducted via community consultation with 84 Afghan community members in Shepparton through several Focus Group Discussions and an online survey. The Key Findings are presented below, and the full report is provided.
The consultation highlighted many common issues across all the consultation cohorts and those unique to respective cohorts. It is worth noting that in the past, similar work on the identification of problems and issues of Shepparton’s Afghan community was mainly based on the feedback and perspectives of the Afghan community’s male leadership. However, the current study endeavoured to incorporate an inclusive community consultation process with the Afghan community. This ensured the voices and perspectives of Afghan women and youth were included and heard during the consultation.
Overall, this report is a point in time snapshot of issues impacting the Afghan community, based in Shepparton. The community consultation also aimed to explore the participants’ experiences on locally available programs and services to address the identified issues. In addition, the Focus Group Discussion participants were invited to suggest ideas on addressing the issues impacting the Afghan community in Shepparton, whether before or after the beginning of COVID-19. These discussions provided valuable insights into the gaps in the current services and programs from the perspective of Shepparton’s Afghan community; their suggested solutions helped form the basis of recommendations included in this report. It is hoped that the key stakeholders and government agencies will benefit from these recommendations in providing programs, policies, and services that are more inclusive and culturally and linguistically appropriate to cater to the needs of Afghan and other ethnic communities in the Shepparton region.
Summary of key findings
The consultation reaffirmed that for Shepparton’s Afghan community, the language barrier across all the four cohorts was the biggest issue, whether before or after the beginning of COVID-19. This issue has ramifications in all areas of their daily lives, in various settings and roles. For young people, it presents barriers to employment, social connections, positive school outcomes and experiences, etc. For adult men and women, the language barrier hinders their interactions with the mainstream communities, schools, employers, service delivery organisations and agencies, etc. For Afghan elders separated from their families overseas, the language barrier adds to their social isolation, depression and inability to navigate local systems and services, e.g. legal, mental health, well-being, etc. The consultation identified a strong need for bilingual workers and language translations in all forms of service delivery and information dissemination in Shepparton.
Mental Health was another prominent topic during the consultation with all cohorts. Across all cohorts, i.e. youth, adult men and women and elders, the consultation explicitly and implicitly highlighted experiences of stress, sadness, loneliness, helplessness, distress, low self-esteem, anger, etc. It was evident that COVID-19 undoubtedly accentuated the mental health issues in the Afghan community due to many challenges following the pandemic, e.g. job losses, work from home, especially for women, online learning, travel restrictions, and social isolation, etc. The consultation also recognised that the stigma attached to acknowledging mental health-related issues in the Afghan community hinders the Afghan community from seeking necessary mental health support. Moreover, lack of ethno-specific mental health services in Shepparton, accessibility, affordability, lack of awareness of locally available programs and support, etc., also play a role in leaving these issues largely unattended.
Another issue recognised as critical by three out of four consultation cohorts (Youth, Afghan men and Afghan women) was the lack of support networks and guidance to Afghan youth in school, education, and career. The report discusses various aspects of this issue and points towards a lack of targeted and consistent support for Afghan parents and children in deciding study pathways, employment, career options, and social networks and opportunities for Afghan youth. This issue existed before COVID-19 and intensified due to challenges of COVID-19, e.g. lockdown restrictions, lack of in-person contact, etc.
The challenges of intergenerational conflict between youth and parents were apparent during discussions with majority cohorts (i.e. youth, Afghan men, and women). Afghan parents’ cultural and social beliefs conflicting with their children’s adaptability to the Australian way of life impacts family relationships and the overall mental and emotional well-being of parents and their children. The consultation identified the need for culturally and linguistically appropriate parenting support programs tailored to the Afghan community’s needs. A need for cultural and religious awareness/education programs for young people was also identified as an essential step towards addressing this conflict and promoting positive cultural identity.
The consultation also identified the issue of gender equality in Shepparton’s Afghan community and shed light on significant inhibitors of women’s social, educational, and economic participation. Examples of these barriers include (i) gender-based socio-cultural beliefs and stereotypes inherent within the Afghan community (ii) lack of culturally and socially safe/women-only spaces for women’s participation in leisure, recreation, and sports, etc. opportunities (iii) local employers’ biases towards Afghan women’s modest dressing (iii) lack of affordable child care (iv) lack of adequate public transport system that hinders women’s mobility (iv) lack of formal qualification/certification and language proficiency despite having skills and talent, e.g. cooking, sewing, etc.
During the consultation with Afghan men and elders, it was apparent that the plight of those who are on Temporary Protection/Bridging visas is agonising and a concern for the whole community. Many Afghan men in Shepparton had arrived in Australia as asylum seekers/refugees and, owing to their visa status, have been unable to reunite with their families overseas; many of them have lived here for the past several years. Also, some of these men who now have a permanent residence visa cannot reunite with their families in Australia due to a very lengthy visa application processing time. COVID-19 has impacted the living conditions of these Afghan men due to added social isolation caused by the lockdown restrictions. The report suggests two main points. Firstly, any effort to lessen their distress will be incomplete unless the Australian Government allows their families to reunite with them in Australia. Secondly, a solid humanitarian lens and advocacy are needed to alleviate the sufferings of these Afghan men separated from families overseas.
The consultation also touched on Family Violence in Shepparton’s Afghan community. Key insights on these issues were gained during a consultation with Afghan male leaders and a survey response from one Afghan woman respondent. The remaining participants of the consultation skimmed through the issue and chose to provide brief comments and opinions. The focus group discussion with Afghan men (community leaders) was effective in (i) their candid acknowledgement of the Family Violence issue within the community (ii) highlighting the social-cultural factors contributing toward Family Violence (iii) recognising the need for early intervention and prevention (iv) offering their services as community leaders to work together with the relevant agencies and authorities, e.g. police, for early intervention and resolution. The report recognises that Family Violence is a sensitive topic that needs to be dealt with specialised knowledge and expertise and is currently not within the domain of this project.
Young participants, both male and female, brought up various nuances of biases, prejudices, and racism/casual racism during the focus group discussions. The participants quoted examples of their lived experiences in Shepparton of being marginalised, discriminated against in schools and during an employment search. The consultation identified that many young people accept racism/casual racism as a part of life. The consultation with the Afghan men’s cohort did not raise any particular concerns around racism. Instead, there was an appreciation for the welcoming and accepting nature of the mainstream community in Shepparton.
Overall, what has worked well for the Afghan community (before and after the beginning of COVID-19)
- Support to Afghan community from the Ethnic Council Shepparton and District
- COVID-19 information and messages from the local Council and other agencies
- COVID-19 financial support e.g. Job Keeper
- Mentoring support received by some Shepparton youth from Centre for Multicultural Youth during COVID-19.
- Understanding and empathy of employers like Shepparton English Language Centre in easing off the work from home pressure for women during COVID-19
- Support from some school teachers and student leaders to Afghan students manage language difficulties.
- Community Hub, St. Georges Road Primary School, providing support to Afghan parents in creating awareness on local services
- Public toilets in Fraser Street (in the CBD) allow breastfeeding for women in a culturally safe space.
Key recommendations for issues impacting each of the cohorts of the community consultation are outlined in their respective sections in the report. It is to be noted that for the common problems across all cohorts, there are some recommendations that apply to all cohorts and others that are unique to each cohort.
Download the full Report of the Afghan Community Consultation: Issues Impacting Shepparton’s Afghan Community Before and After the Beginning of COVID-19
© Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District