The first and only European face to face meeting for the WIDE+ project “Strengthening Innovative Solutions to Protect Female Migrant and Refugee Rights” was held on 6 March 2018, in Brussels, Belgium. The national coordinators, European management team and project experts came together to share plans, expectations, analysis of problems and expertise and to reflect on all other project activities.
The partners reflected on the context migrant and refugee women face in their countries of work and came to find common problems. Integration programmes, including asylum procedures and provisions, are not responsive to the needs and circumstances of female migrant and refugees, and they insufficiently take into account that women migrants represent a diversity of communities, life experiences and herstories. There should be more dialogue between the different stakeholders that include female migrant and other women’s rights associations and groups. Furthermore, there is a lack of visibility of powerful migrant women in the public sphere. Public opinion has strong stereotypes of migrant women and there is an anti-migrant discourse expressed, also among politicians. Migrant women are either absent or portrayed as victims.
During the meeting two issues came up that need to be urgently addressed, according to the project partners, to protect the rights of female migrants and refugees: policies and laws need to better incorporate measures to counter violence against migrant women -including broader concepts of Gender Based Violence (GBV)- and migrant women organizing and networking need to be acknowledged and supported.
Violence against migrant women should be addressed in integration and GBV policies that should be inclusive of different forms of violence, thus incorporating institutional violence against migrant women, and such policies should be fully implemented. Also it is not uncommon for asylum procedures to be blind for gender-based violence, not recognizing women as refugees whom flee from different kinds of violence, or lacking in action to punish the ones violently attacking women in shelters and camps.
One other common experience, and something mentioned by all project partners present, is that women migrants face a context in which spaces for civil society to contribute and give voice are shrinking. There is an increasing lack of funds and of public spaces (including acceptance and recognition) for female refugee and migrant agency, including their organizing into groups and associations. An erosion of women’s self-organizing is damaging. Female migrant and refugee association face a more difficult situation to raise funds, compared to other women’s rights
Women’s agency can offer solutions
During the meeting the project partners reflected on their plans, since as associations we have collective power to advocate, promote and contribute to changing problems we face. In several project activities we will work towards change, with four national workshops that bring together different stakeholders, several webinars and sharing at European level of experiences and knowledge (email list, newsletter and educational tools).
A part of the planned follow up actions to the workshops are very concrete such as trying to increase funding for women’s rights organizing and advocating for a more inclusive concept of Gender Based Violence. Secondly, a red thread is the objective (which is the objective of the whole project) to strengthen networking and networks. Thirdly, the international aspect of collaboration –working at European level- is important for our agency, including raising awareness and building collective knowledge such as methodologies that make innovative practices useful learning avenues for groups in other countries.
The associations represented at the meeting were: (from Spain) Mujeres con voz and Red de Mujeres Latinoamericanas y del Caribe en Espana, (from Serbia) Atina, (from Denmark) Kulu, (from Sweden) GADIP and Fisofa and (from Poland) Karat Coalition and the Social Communication Center of the City of Warsaw.
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