On 26 January 2023, WIDE+, together with Latin America Bureau (LAB) organised a webinar on “Gender-Based Violence and Resistance of Migrant Women in Europe”. The goal of the webinar is to reflect on the ways migrant women resist this violence and the European legal and policy frameworks around GBV. You can watch the recording here in English or in Spanish.
The webinar’s speakers were Marilyn Thomson from LAB (UK), Silvina Monteros Obelar from Red Latinas (Spain), Jennifer Kamau from International Women Space (Germany) and Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez from Latin American Women’s Rights Service (UK). It was moderated by Cristina Reyna, WIDE+ member and gender equality expert.
Marilyn Thomson shared trends on gender-based violence in Latin America and in the UK, where there is growing hostility against migrant women and LGBTQIA persons, along with an increase in femicides. These trends are reflected in LAB’s book, “Women Resisting Violence: Voices and Experiences from Latin America”.
In the UK, domestic work promotes informalization of migrants, especially women, as it does not allow for formal recognition. In her research, she interviewed 300 women in the UK and found that 40 % experienced sexual harassment and/or physical abuse. Additionally, international research found that 80 % of domestic workers had experienced some form of abuse of power, including verbal abuse or limitation to their freedom.
The ILO convention 189 on Domestic Workers is a milestone convention for migrant women that is still only ratified by 35 countries of which most are in Latin America. More advocacy is needed for ILO Convention 189 on Domestic Workers and the recently adopted 190 on Violence and Harassment in the Workplace. There needs to be more international collaboration between the many initiatives, of which a lot are by migrant women and domestic workers themselves.
Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez echoed Marilyn Thomson’s observations and explains that the UK government prioritizes migration control above anything else, so migrant women that survive violence are intimidated and threatened into not reporting. In the past two years, there have been more than 400 migrant women victims of domestic abuse reported to the home office. Even if they have a permit the information is shared to check, for example, if they commit a migration offence. The home office is thus giving power to perpetrators of violence.
The UK has also not ratified the first two points of article 59 of the Istanbul Convention that would grant legal status to women surviving violence and whose permit is dependent on a spouse or partner. Plus, while data is important, but what is most important is the experiences of women and their voices. They are not part of the policies, they are not listened to by these policies and policymakers. Policies clash when it comes to protecting the rights of migrant women.
Similarly in Spain, migrant women in Spain are overrepresented in GBV statistics including femicides, Silvina Monteros Obelar explained. Many migrant women have multiple problems which place them in vulnerability. At the root of which is their lack of a secure legal status. The weak legal status creates a lot of problems and manifests itself in different ways. GBV is not so much of a cultural problem as many migrant women GBV survivors have Spanish partners; there are many vulnerabilities to consider. The factors exacerbating the experiences of migrant women facing GBV include the racist behaviour of service providers and operators. This means that there is a lack of understanding of the intersectional context (including its transnational nature) in which violence takes place, not believing the migrant women, or minimizing the violence.
Another important barrier to accessing protection is that a lack of a full residence permit bars migrant women from access to services, including shelters. This leads to a fear of reporting violence. Migrant women that are not recognized legally as GBV victims face the risk of expelling. On top of this, there is a problem of having proper legal representation in a case of GBV. The Spanish state does not comply with due diligence towards the migrant women victims.
Red Latinas and their members advocate for changes with policymakers, where the network does a lot of awareness-raising (videos, podcasts, etc.). Various members carry out GBV survivors accompanying programmes which are successful but lacking resources.
Jennifer Kamau sheds light on the experiences of her work in the German context where International Women Space works to make visible problematic and dehumanizing migration and asylum policies of Europe. She observes that migration policies are framed in a neo-colonial approach, which then leads to the displacement of people.
She reflects on the violent routes of migrant women to Europe. As a migrant woman on the move, when she reaches Europe, there are only two options for her – either to seek asylum or to stay undocumented. If she does not qualify for asylum, there is the threat of deportation which comes with a lot of violence. There is a lack of protections and access for undocumented and women who seek asylum. Women in asylum camps are in isolated places from WWII with limited facilities and in an area in which they are vulnerable to racist attacks. While migrants have very few rights, women who are undocumented or irregular have completely no rights.
She draws the parallel that for women in asylum procedures, it is akin to being in a prison because once the women are registered in a country as asylum seekers, they will not be able to move to another state. One cannot get a permit to stay other than seeking asylum, and this lack of options pushes women to either get married or have a child. This is another form of violence that leads women to enter relationships or have children.
Cristina Reyna sums up that more can be unpacked from these discussions around GBV faced by migrant women and other marginalised groups. In parallel, WIDE+ has sent a position statement to the MEPs working on the proposed EU Directive to Combat Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence.