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The Migrant Women’s Emergency Support Service Inc. (MWESS Inc.) is an incorporated, not-for profit community organisation funded by the Department of Communities to provide a Sexual Assault Service and a Domestic Violence Service; and the Department of Social Services to provide an Emergency Relief Service.

Our services combine to operate as the Immigrant Women’s Support Service (IWSS), a specialist service response for immigrant and refugee women from non-English speaking background and their children who have experienced domestic and/or sexual violence.

Dark blue starry sky and a white mandala pattern over the right.

Our Vision

In Queensland, women from non-English speaking backgrounds and their children are safe, independent and hopeful about their future.

Our Mission

To provide timely and high quality services to women from non-English speaking backgrounds and their children who experience domestic and/or sexual violence. 

Our Values

Feminist Ethos            Client-centred             Ethical Practice            Equality           Collaboration

A brief history of the Migrant Women’s Emergency Support Service Inc.

The Migrant Women’s Emergency Support Service (MWSS) was established in the 1980s when the staff at two key services in Brisbane, Windana and Chisholm Women’s Refuges, recognised the barriers and disadvantages faced by immigrant and refugee women and their children and took action to address that gap in service delivery.   Supported by the Combined Women’s Refuge Group, funding was obtained, under the Department of Immigration’s Grant-in-Aid Scheme, to enable Windana to employ one worker whose role was to:

  • establish links with non-English speaking background communities in Brisbane;
  • support individual women and children from those communities who were experiencing domestic violence ; and
  • assist women’s refuges with the delivery of linguistically and culturally inclusive services.

When the grant from the Department of Immigration ended in 1986, Chisholm Women’s Shelter obtained alternative funding (1.9 positions) under the Commonwealth-State Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) to auspice a new and independent service – the Migrant Women’s Emergency Support Service (MWESS).  With this funding Chisholm employed a full-time coordinator and several part-time bilingual support workers from Filipino, Turkish, German and Spanish speaking backgrounds.  At that time MWESS was housed by the Women’s Community Aid Association (Women’s House) in West End.

A key issue identified by staff at that time was the isolation of women of non-English speaking backgrounds.  Accordingly, the dissemination of multi-lingual information was an integral part of the strategic plan of MWESS.  Staff spoke on various language programs at ethnic radio 4EB, wrote articles for ethnic community newspapers, spoke with women’s groups, distributed leaflets to a diverse range of key organisations including mosques, churches, temples, ethnic community sporting clubs and neighbourhood centres, as well as medical centres and Asian supermarkets.  Raising community awareness of the law and services relevant to domestic violence gradually saw an increase in demand for assistance and support from MWESS and eventually, an increase in funding enabled the service to expand and employ more staff.

After many years of sponsorship by Chisholm Inc., MWESS became independently incorporated in 1993 and continued to provide a domestic violence service response to the Greater Brisbane area as well as providing telephone support and/or  resources to other areas of Queensland.  In the 1990s MWESS changed its operating name to Immigrant Women’s Support Service (IWSS).

In 1995 IWSS received funding from Queensland Health to provide a Sexual Assault Service.  From then on IWSS has focused on providing crisis and ongoing case management support, counselling and advocacy services to women of non-English speaking backgrounds and their children who have experienced domestic and/or sexual violence in their lives.

A change to IWSS’ model of service delivery coincided with the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the organisation. Since June 2012 IWSS has been operating under an integrated model of service – combining the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence programs to deliver an improved and more effective, holistic service to women and their children.

IWSS has learnt a lot from the many thousands of women who have courageously come to IWSS seeking support to achieve a life free of domestic and sexual violence.  As an organisation, IWSS attempts to reflect our understanding of their experiences in our everyday work and advocacy efforts for systemic change to eliminate the many barriers women have to confront throughout the process of trying to live a life free from violence.  Although some improvements have resulted from ongoing advocacy and lobbying, issues such as lack of income, limited crisis accommodation and very limited safe and affordable housing options for women and their children are still barriers to safety.


Lesley Hunt
Heather Nancarrow


Violence against women is a human rights violation.

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