WIDE+ Migration and Gender Working Group Gathering in Berlin, Germany, 25-27 November 2021
25 November marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. On this occasion, the Migration and Gender Working Group (WG) of WIDE+, in collaboration with International Women Space (IWS), organised a feminist gathering in Berlin, Germany, to discuss migrant women’s resistance against violence. This meeting was held as part of the WG’s project, “Expanding Spaces for Capacity Building and Exchange to Strengthen Migrant Women Movement Building across Europe”, which focuses on supporting the movement-building of migrant women through raising the visibility of migrant women activism, and promoting transnational collaboration of migrant women groups in Europe.
The WG members, which are organisations led by migrant women or working closely with migrant women, came to the events that spanned three days, from Thursday 25 November to Saturday 27 November. Organisations that participated in the meeting included Red Latinas (Spain), NGO Atina (Serbia), GADIP (Sweden), International Women Space (Germany), KULU (Denmark), ADRI Association (Italy), and Voice of All Women (the Netherlands). The meeting was also attended by invited organisations like Women Migrants (Denmark), Gabriela and Ban Ying (Germany), and members of Marche Mondiale des Femmes Belgique (Belgium).
Migrant women, regardless of their residence status, are more exposed to all forms of gender-based violence that stem from overarching forces of oppression, particularly racism, sexism, and capitalism. These systems of domination intersect to create the vulnerabilisation of migrant women, and the pandemic has worsened the situation of migrant women in Europe. This meeting was held in this context, to discuss the different forms of violence migrant women face, and how they resist these forces of violence thrusted upon them.
The meeting commenced on 25 November, in which the WG participated in the demonstration, “We Take The Power”, organised by the Alliance of Internationalist Feminists, a network of organizations and feminists who come together to fight feminicide and other forms of violence against women. The demonstration, which was largely peaceful, was held at Marzahn, an ultra-conservative district outside of Berlin city centre. This is where gender-based violence crimes have occurred, and justice has yet to be achieved for the migrant women victims.
Jennifer Kamau, the co-founder of IWS, gave a rousing speech during the demonstration, “Social and physical isolation is the daily routine for refugee women who have been intentionally and violently trapped by the German ‘lager’ system. As long as we, migrant women, are living in this country, in this Fortress Europe, we demand to be part of any politics that affect us. We demand an abolishment of the asylum system; we demand for an end to the violence of the fascist and colonial Frontex system.”
On 26 November, the WG had a full day of activities to build the capacity and reflect on the work of the Working Group. The day started with a workshop in the morning, on the Istanbul Convention, and how it can be an advocacy tool to fight violence against migrant women. The session was conducted by Laura Albu, the president of the Romanian Women’s Lobby, who gave a comprehensive overview of the convention, gaps in its implementation and how it can apply to the work of the WG members.
The WG continued the day with a visit to Oranienplatz, where the refugee movement, or “OPlatz movement” started in Berlin in 2012 to oppose the Dublin Regulation. During this time, refugees peacefully rallied together and demanded for their rights to work, study, and stay in Germany, and to protest the disenfranchisement of refugees. IWS is part of this movement which remains active until today. The WG also visited the office of IWS. The day concluded with a reflection on the WG’s work and mapping out plans.
On the final day of this international exchange, on 27 November, the WG held a public event to meet other Berlin-based feminist and migrant women organisations like LAFI Berlin and OWEN. Lorena Aragón, a Colombian artist, kicked off the event with a powerful dance performance on violence against mothers. After her inspiring introduction, a panel dialogue session that discussed the impact of the pandemic on violence against migrant women began. The discussants included Elena Floriani from Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) Network, Silvina Monteros Obelar from Red Latinas, Marija Pantelić from NGO Atina and Jennifer Kamau from IWS. It was moderated by Laura Albu.
Silvina Monteros Obelar presented a report, “Pull the Thread: Violence Against Migrant Women in Spain” which revealed that in Spain, migrant women are more often victims of gender-based violence compared to non-migrant women but they receive less protection from the state, including the police. The report synthesises findings from national-level data sets from 2015-2020 and from qualitative interviews with migrant women.
Based on WAVE’s recent research on the impact of COVID-19 on women’s specialist support
services, Elena Floriani explained that, “COVID-19 has exacerbated the chronic ‘shadow’ pandemic of violence against women. Rates of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and other manifestations of violence against women have escalated. Marginalised and racialised women face more precarity and vulnerability. Women’s specialist support services had to rapidly respond, but faced many challenges, especially funding.” She also provided a list of recommendations for European governments, notably the urgent need to include adequate provision of GBV services, protection, and prevention measures in all recovery plans.
In her presentation, Marija Pantelić elaborated further on how the pandemic has given rise to new forms of violence where the violence has now moved into the digital sphere, where abuse is used to exploit and recruit women and girls for the purpose of trafficking. She concluded that: “We are seeing a worrying trend during the pandemic where it has increased gender inequalities in Serbia, and this ultimately leads to more gender-based violence. We must invest in all efforts to stop the different forces of violence.”
Jennifer Kamau explained how during the pandemic, IWS collected “Corona lager reports” which are audio reports from women living in refugee accommodation centres (or known as “lagers”) in Germany and their experiences throughout the pandemic, especially during the lockdowns. The pandemic has worsened the psychological and physical health of women living in these centres.
After the panel discussion, members of the WG, Silvia Dumitrache from ADRI Association and Martha Salazar representing KULU and Wo-Mi, made presentations. Silvia Dumitrache talked about the impact of labour migration on families, especially children, through the example of Romania. The pandemic has accentuated the degree of exclusion and vulnerability of children left behind.
In her presentation on migration and feminist climate justice, Martha Salazar demonstrated the interconnectedness of different global political processes like COP26 and highlighted that no crisis or policy is gender-neutral.
During the afternoon, everyone participated in a World Café Session on migrant women’s resistance against violence to collectively gather ideas on ways to strategize against violence. The day ended with a recording at the “We are Born Free” radio station, with IWS for their IWS Radio podcast, a session that reflected on the WG’s work with migrant women and plans for the future.
The gathering showed the importance of the work of the WG during the pandemic, which has increased due to the urgencies of issues that impact migrant women and the failing responses of states. The feminist gathering in Berlin has deepened the connections, bonds, and commitments of the members and partners of WIDE+ in working together to raise the visibility of migrant women activism. It was energising and empowering, and we look forward to working closely with each other in 2022 and beyond!
Text by Nurhidayah Hassan
Edited by Gea Meijers