Resourcing Migrant Women’s Activism in Europe: Online Dialogue Wrap-Up

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Illustration by Marga RH

As women’s human rights defenders, migrant women activists work tirelessly to combat intersecting forms of discrimination. Despite being experts in the field of human rights, migrant women are still not gaining enough support from grantmakers, governments and the EU. WIDE+ and members of its Migration and Gender Working Group call on grantmakers and policymakers to include women in decision-making spaces and to increase funding for migrant women associations. Supporting migrant women activism will lead to long-term transformative social change.
by Nurhidayah Hassan

Recently, WIDE+ conducted a review of EU funds channeled to migrant women-led projects. This review paper titled “Marginalizing Migrant Women’s Associations in EU Policies: Tracking EU Funds”, concludes that groups working at intersecting forms of marginalization, like migrant women, are not considered as relevant stakeholders in EU’s programmes. WIDE+ made this review as the issue of access to funding for women’s organizations, particularly for migrant women associations, is a recurring topic amongst members of the network. While there is available EU-level funding to advance gender equality, the financial flows simply do not reach civil society, women’s organizations, and migrant women associations.

Given this context of the lack of policy focus on migrant women and their needs, WIDE+ organised an online dialogue with migrant women activists and private foundations on how migrant women’s activism in Europe can be better resourced. It was held in May 2022, and is now available to watch here in English and Spanish: “Resourcing Migrant Women’s Activism in Europe”. This exchange is also relevant in context of the rising backlash against women’s rights, increase of gender-based violence during the pandemic, and systemic ignorance of human rights for migrants, especially women migrants, in Europe.

The dialogue was organized through the network’s Migration and Gender working group, an active group comprising 15 associations which are either grassroots organizations that are led by migrant and refugee women, feminist NGOs that provide support for migrant women through training and shelters, or national networks that work on development, migration and gender topics. These associations are based across Europe in countries like Serbia, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands, and more.

The speakers include Jennifer Kamau from International Women Space; Marcela de la Peña Valdivia, the coordinator for La Marche Mondiale des Femmes Belgique; Vanina Serra, senior programme officer at Mama Cash and Sophie Ngo-Diep, from the European Programme for Integration and Migration (EPIM). It was moderated by Paula Riedemann, programme manager at Calala Women’s Fund.

In this exchange, both migrant women leaders, Kamau and de la Peña Valdivia, raised issues around the immense complexities of fundraising for migrant women associations. Complex application processes prevent migrant women groups from fundraising as it takes precious time away from the much-needed work on the ground. When and where funding is available, it is rarely, almost never, earmarked for core funding, which in turn sorely limits the vital work of migrant women in supporting their communities. Additionally, de la Peña Valdivia noted that certain funding applications have approached intersectionality as a tick-box exercise. She said, “there is a lack of positive action which is practical and does not translate to work on the ground. Intersectionality remains as a discourse.”

The power imbalance between funders and grassroots groups is also another deterrent factor. Instead of considering migrant women as experts in the field, they are often framed as the “beneficiary” where migrant women are implicitly required to work harder to prove that they can deliver project results. As Kamau pointed out, “As migrants, we have to prove that we can implement our projects…we work 40 hours a week and face constant exploitation in many ways.”

Serra highlighted the work of Mama Cash in supporting small and unregistered groups but acknowledged that more can be done in making flexible funds available to support migrant women’s activism. Women’s funds, unlike other grantmaking organizations, are closer to feminist movements and act as a bridge between smaller grassroots groups and EU-level organizations. But the funding landscape needs to take more steps to address deep-rooted systemic issues. She said, “There needs to be a political commitment to advancing the rights of migrant women and understand what migrant women need. Global funders need to step out of this ‘white saviour’ approach.”

Ngo-Diep concurred and offered ideas that can improve the representation of migrant women in grantmaking spaces where currently migrant women are under-represented. This is the first step to shifting the power structures. Mechanisms like expert committees or advisory boards is one way of including migrant women into such spaces. She also noted that there needs to be a paradigm shift in the funding landscape, moving from crisis support to funding systemic change. She expressed that there is a tendency from grantmakers to “put band-aids on issues rather than having the space to think about the vision of systemic change.”

Kamau and de la Peña Valdivia emphasized the importance of alliances, not just within the feminist movement, but also with other social movements in order to increase the visibility of migrant women activism. This has not always been an easy nor effective strategy. In the past, the feminist movement had not been an inclusive space that was willing to represent the demands of migrant women. This has begun to change over the years – for example, both of them have collaborated with different associations and movements in fundraising and advocacy campaigns on various issues.

During the pandemic, migrants, especially migrant women, have been applauded for their contributions to European societies in their caregiving and frontline roles. However, this recognition does not translate to resources for migrant women’s work. The lack of access to funding is a significant issue for smaller grassroots groups that advocate tirelessly for their rights to lead decent lives in European societies. Employment, housing, and healthcare are basic needs that European governments have failed to provide for migrants and refugees. On top of these myriad challenges, migrant women face intersecting discriminations of xenophobia, racism and sexism that often increase their risk of facing gender-based violence. Despite being systematically marginalized, migrant women-led associations have often demonstrated strong leadership, especially in building solidarity networks and safe spaces for their communities. Given that migrant women are pivotal to social justice and are consistent advocates of gender equality and human rights, they need to be active stakeholders in grantmaking and policymaking spaces.

The discussion also reflected on the current crisis in Ukraine and the displacement of many Ukrainians, mostly women, to other European countries. This situation has raised the question of who is the “deserving” migrant where we see public funds and sentiments being positive and generous towards Ukraine refugees, versus the persistent racism, xenophobia and sexism that migrant and refugee women from other countries have been struggling with. WIDE+ stands by the network’s core principles of intersectional feminism, social justice and human rights, where everyone can lead dignified, empowered lives without leaving anyone behind.

This is a crucial moment in time where we, feminists, activists, grantmakers and policymakers, need to reaffirm and deepen our understanding of the challenges that migrant women face, speak up on these key issues and find creative and strategic ways to build the momentum in resourcing migrant women’s activism in Europe.

For this online dialogue, Margarita Rebolledo Hernández (Marga RH), a Latin American feminist activist and illustrator based in the UK, made a set of illustrations that captures the important insights shared by the speakers. We hope the infographics below will shed light on the multi-faceted struggles faced by migrant women groups in Europe, and provide impetus on how we can collectively build an ecosystem that ensures the sustainability of migrant women activism. Click on the links to enlarge the images.