#womensvoices – refugee and migrant women activists across Europe

WIDE+ is celebrating International Migrant’s Day that took place on 18 December with publishing this video that highlights the importance of the voices, challenges and experiences of female refugees and migrants.

The video offers a reflection on the WIDE+ open space that was part of an Advocacy and Strategy workshop 14-15 November in Brussels, Belgium, organized by WIDE+ and EWL. The meeting has build capacity on possible cross-national advocacy and was a space to exchange views on burning issues between activists of women’s rights and refugee and migrant associations.

One of the key conclusions was that the voices, expertise and participation of female migrants and refugees are central in claiming and implementing their rights in the migration and asylum process. Stella Ismail, coordinator of African Sky, in the Netherlands concluded: [female refugees and migrants] have to be part of decision-making in Europe on all levels”. Lamya Hennache, co-coordinator of Café Marhaba in Switzerland added: “Refugee, asylum seekers or migrant women must be seen as partners to work with in the migration and/or asylum process. One cannot make adequately decisions without [them]; women have different needs, circumstance and inquiries compared to male migrants and refugees”. 

Making visible and including female migrants and refugees also means that it is vital for women’s rights associations to build equal partnerships with female migrant and refugee associations and activists. Collaborations should be geared towards sharing of resources, information, etc. and building each other’s capacity, since female migrant/refugee voices are not only highly relevant for policy discussions around migration and asylum, but also a vital part of the struggle for the promotion and protection of women’s rights. Marijana Savic, director of Atina in Serbia urged feminist organizations: “to be more [actively committed] to supporting female refugees”. According to Mina Jaf, of Women Refugee Route in Denmark: “cooperation between [female migrant/refugee] grassroots groups and other civil society organizations need to be stronger”.

Another key message was that discourses and policies that impact directly female migrants and refugees should be governed by the (women’s) human rights paradigm, and the implementation of these rights should be ensured and monitored.

Catherine Briddick, co-chair of the Migrants Resource Centre in the UK made the point clearly that: “[policy and law in Europe] needs to replace dual standards with comparable standards for refugee women. Certain rights only apply to EU citizens and should be extended”. Trifa Shakely, writer and counselor at the Red Cross in Sweden added: ”when you are not documented, it means you don’t have that human rights that you actually need”.

The call for engendering the migration and asylum policies and practices was another key message. Women in particular face gender based violence such as sexual violence. Unfortunately many asylum processes in European state are not yet gender sensitive enough. 

One important concrete action is encouraging states and the EU to adopt the Istanbul convention that sets minimum standards for the protection to violence against female refugees. The open space suggested many other concrete actions that are needed to make policy gender sensitive. For example, Grusa Matevzic, legal officer of the Helsinki Committee Hungary detailed what is needed to address the particular problems that single women traveling and arriving in Europe face: “they need special shelters or at minimum safe houses within refugee camps. They would need services like counseling if they encounter gender based violence”. As another example, Marchu Girma, grassroots coordinator at Women for Refugee Women, UK pointed out: “refugee women are experiencing sexual violence, in their home country and in their journey to European countries such as the UK. We have to do more to make sure that this is recognized as a form of torture”.

For further information about the project and open space, please contact Cristina Reyna and Gea Meijers at: info[at]wide-network.org.