Report available of #WomensVoices, European Open Space with female refugee and migrant activists, 14 November 2016


This report reflects the rich discussion of 50 representatives from national and regional women’s rights associations, grassroots women refugee associations and organizations working with women migrants and refugees based in 35 countries in Europe and beyond. It provides concrete recommendations for policy makers, human rights activists and women’s rights associations to improve the asylum and integration process for female refugees, undocumented and migrants.


The publication is a report on the Open Space Session: “to analyze, strategize, and (re)claim rights of female Refugees and Migrants” that Women In Development Europe+ (WIDE+) prepared with the support of Open Society Foundations. The Session was part of a two day capacity building event WIDE+ co-organized with the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) on 14 and 15 November 2016, in Amazone, Brussels, Belgium.

The Open Space stressed the need for three key actions: the importance of creating and enhancing equal partnerships between women’s rights and migrant/refugee associations, making migration and asylum policy gender sensitive, and the need to promote and advocate for protecting the human rights of women refugees and migrants. 

Equal partnerships between Civil Society

Women’s rights associations should work with associations that represent women refugees, diaspora, migrants, undocumented women or work with these groups of women. There should be also alliances sought with other civil society and stakeholders such as decision makers. Collaborations should be geared towards sharing of resources, information, 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 in general.

Joint campaigning, increasing visibility and creating publicity are key activities to undertake together. Not only is it necessary to make heard the stories and experiences of female migrants and refugees, including their journeys, like sexual violence or abuse women face on their routes through Europe; they should also be made visible with their capacities and knowledge they have to contribute to societies. We should counter the stigmatization of migrant and refugee women and re-conceptualise a (female) migrant/refugee issue into a women’s issue and show how it is part of structural discriminations women face. 

Making migration and asylum policy gender sensitive

Policy makers and practicioners should improve the migration and asylum policies and implementation through engendering it. It is very important that migrant and refugee women are involved in the decision making of hosting them and integrating them into society.

Migration and asylum officers should receive ‘gender sensitive’ training. This should among others raise their awareness and knowledge on occurrences of violence against female refugees and migrants, and teach them how to effectively offer support in such situations. Professionals should be thought how to care for each refugee child and woman, how to understand individual situation, needs and aspirations. And policy makers need to do more to overcome information and language barriers and should ensure stability and continuity in hosting refugees: 1 person should accompany a refugee for atleast 6 months, so that bonds of trust can be created that can hugely benefit the refugee/asylum seeker. Refugee women should be empowered through various forms of expression.

Policy makers should ensure there are safe houses on the route through Europe and specific support for women in camps and detention centres. Such spaces should be gender sensitive, which means they should be safe and accessible for women, including single women, and provide child care support. Policy makers should pay particular attention to single and non-accompanied women in reception centres.

Another important point to address is the need to learn from each other’s experiences within the EU countries. To know what is working for women in some countries in asylum processes and to know what conditions make it a success in that context will enable stakeholders to translate successful policy measures to other regions in the EU.

Protect the human rights of female refugees and migrants

Laws, 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. The legal rights of female refugees, undocumented women, migrants and Diaspora should be equal accross Europe to that of European nationals and protected through binding national and European law. The following changes in the laws should be made:

  • Refugee women that are held in detentions should be set free and detention centres should be abolished. In places where detention centres are still operating, female refugees should have access to (gender sensitive) inspectors or rapporteurs that should be allowed to play a role as ombudsperson.
  • All governments should ratify the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and its Additional Protocol (1967) and the UN Convention on Migrants’ Rights (2003). They should immediately enact appropriate domestic legislation and internal policies to ensure legal protection of the persons of concern.
  • We call for the ratification of the Istanbul convention by the EU and all European Governments without reservations, and for the implementation of its gender specific provisions and asylum procedures that are sensitive towards violence against women regardless of their legal status.
  • Female refugees should have the right to an individual claim for asylum with the right to choose a female interpreter and should have the legal right to work and live where they want.
  • In deciding on granting asylum or not, states need to move beyond the concept of a ‘safe country’. Instead, the criteria for a visa need to be interpreted from a gender perspective. The reasons for asylum should include (threat) of sexual violence and gender based violence.
  • The European countries should harmonise their laws in Europe to include and refer to the term ‘single woman’ (with a definition of single) instead of non-accompanied women.


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