Title : Assessing sexual and reproductive health literacy and engagement among refugee and immigrant women in Massachusetts: A qualitative community-based study
Introduction: Immigrant and refugee women experience disparities in sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes, partially as a result of barriers to SRH literacy and to regular healthcare access and engagement. Despite the existing data highlighting growing needs for culturally relevant and structurally competent care, interventions are scarce and not well-documented.
Methods: In this IRB-approved study, we used a community-based participatory research approach, with the assistance of a community advisory board, to conduct a qualitative needs assessment of SRH knowledge and service engagement with immigrant and refugee women from Africa or the Middle East and currently residing in Boston. We conducted a total of nine focus group discussions (FGDs) in partnership with medical, community, and religious centers, in six languages: Arabic, English, French, Somali, Pashtu, and Dari. A total of 44 individuals participated. We explored migrant and refugee women’s current and evolving SRH care needs and gaps, specifically related to the development of interventions and clinical best practices targeting SRH literacy, healthcare engagement, and informed decision-making. Recordings of the FGDs were transcribed verbatim and translated by interpreter services. We used open coding with multiple coders who resolved discrepancies through consensus and iteratively refined our codebook while coding data in batches using Dedoose software.
Results: Participants reported immigrant adaptation experiences, discrimination, and feelings of trust, autonomy, privacy, and connectedness to family, community, and the healthcare system as factors surrounding SRH knowledge and needs. The context of previously learned SRH knowledge was commonly noted to be in schools, at menstruation, before marriage, from family members, partners, friends, and online search engines. Common themes included empowering strength drawn from religious and cultural communities, difficulties bridging educational gaps with their US-born daughters, and a desire for more SRH education from multiple sources including family, health care providers, and religious experts & communities. Regarding further SRH education, participants’ preferences varied regarding ideal platform (virtual vs. in-person), location (in religious and community centers or not), smaller group sizes, and the involvement of men.
Conclusions: Based on these results, empowering SRH initiatives should include both community and religious center-based, as well as clinic-based, interventions. Interventions should be composed of frequent educational workshops in small groups involving age-grouped women, daughters, and (sometimes) men, tailored SRH messaging, and the promotion of culturally, religiously, and linguistically competent care.
Audience Take Away:
The audience will learn common experiences faced by immigrant and refugee women living in a state in the U.S., and the existing gaps in their Sexual and Reproductive Health needs. Armed with that, providers will be able to deliver more culturally competent care to their diverse patient populations. Providers can also incorporate suggested initiatives of educational focus group discussions in their local clinics and community centers to meet these needs.