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Gender-based violence: why migrant women are especially at stake

November 25th marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The AIW wanted to reflect on this global issue through the lens of migrant women in hopes creating awareness around why they can be especially at stake; and how you can make a difference.

The Shadow Pandemic: this is how UN Women qualified pervasive gender-based violence (GBV) as it intensified with lockdowns and isolations during the Covid Pandemic. GBV is defined as violence directed towards a person on the basis of gender, including acts, threats, or coercion that can lead to physical, mental, or sexual suffering. Despite the fact that it hasn’t made headlines like COVID, the shadow pandemic, rooted in gender inequality, may be just as dangerous: 1 out of 3 women worldwide declare that they have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner during their lives. In Italy alone in 2020, 1 woman was killed every 3 days [1].

The difficulty we face in overcoming gender-based violence is in part because of the many ways it manifests itself - physical, psychological, economic, symbolic, to name just a few, making it large-scale and complex to tackle. Making it more difficult is that it typically is intensified by other "intersecting" forms of oppression and discrimination that have deep cultural and societal roots.

GBV presents itself across societies and cultures, but some circumstances such as forced displacement can increase both its frequency and the brutality. Some minorities (ethnic minorities, migrants, LGBTQI+ minority…) find themselves at greater risk than they usually do .The oppressions they face intersect, creating a unique one-of-a-kind experience of violence [2].

3 Key reasons why migrant women are particularly at stake

The experiences and motivations of migrant women differ greatly. Being a migrant woman could mean that you are an asylum seeker or an economic migrant, some women will benefit from positive outcomes of migration, while others might be confronted to negative outcomes. Every migrant woman is thus experiencing GBV differently, depending on a lot of factors, and depending on their migrant journey. Nonetheless, there are common factors and realities related to their migrant status that contribute to creating vulnerabilities for violence.

1) Migrant women often experience social isolation in the host society

Because of migrating to a new community, society, and culture, migrant women have to rebuild their support networks. It can take time and makes it more difficult to find strong community support, something that is fundamental when you face violence. In societies that lack strong support programs for migrant women, they are more likely to be isolated from society, making it harder for them to fight against GBV.

2) Migrant women often lack an in-depth cultural and legal knowledge about the host society

Arriving in a new country means facing new ways of life, new norms, values, laws, ways of communication and many other standards you are not used to. To overcome this gap generally takes time and a strong network of support. This gap can reduce migrant women's capacity to detect, prevent and defend themselves from GBV. (For example, the lack of language skills in their destination country can prevent them from identifying sexism) and limited knowledge of their rights can also, for example, discourage them from reporting the violence they endure.

3) Migrant women are more likely perform jobs that grant them little financial security, and few protections

Because of a lack of skills and education recognition for migrants, migrant women living in high-income countries are more likely to perform low-paid, and sometimes irregular jobs in an effort to accept any opportunity to provide for their family. These jobs can provide little legal protection to workers, have low or irregular pay, and sometimes expose women to poor working conditions (ILO, 2020). Poor employment outcomes lead to a vicious cycle of household financial insecurity and gender inequality.

Integration programs as a tool to combat violence

Strong social programs effectively creating integration can make migrant women less-likely to experience GBV, breaking a cycle of violence and disempowerment. By building inclusive communities with strong and trustful networks that have free and open listening spaces, a society can build resilience, encourage empowerment and reduce risk. At AIW, we work as one actor in the Modenese community to create economic resources, social networks, and long-term job support in order to help the women we work with face intersecting challenges in today’s society.

Collective knowledge is power, collective action is change

Citizens of Modena, and the world, can get involved in a number of ways to take your first step in knowing more about GBV and how to support those who are at risk in your community:

  1. Follow the comprehensive & thoughtful recommendations of UN Women website here

  2. Get involved at the local level, as a volunteer and/or donor of a local association working daily towards ensuring women's rights and the building of strong and inclusive communities.

  3. Take part in the initiatives by women-focused organizations of Modena, from conferences and books discussions to exhibitions, plays and self-defense workshops, there are still a lot of activities going on for the rest of month : check out the full calendar here.

Follow our Journey:

--->Follow our social media channels Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin.

---> To help providing work opportunities to migrant women so that they can establish and flourish, support our project ROOTS by making a donation at our GoFundMe page here !

Footnotes and Sources

[1 ] ISTAT data (2014)

[2 ]This way of understanding was first coined by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw with her conception of intersectionality, an analytical framework created to better tackle social oppressions. Through this approach, we better understand why migrant women, as women and as migrants, are more vulnerable to gender-based violence. This approach also delivers more adapted solutions to tackle the issue, as declared in a recent IMKAAN report for UN Women ‘The value of intersectionality in understanding violence against women and girls’ (2019)

-IOM UN Migration, Report:Taking Action against Violence and Discrimination Affecting Migrant Women and Girls, Switzerland, 2015

-IMKAAN for UN Women, Report: the value of intersectionality in understanding violence against women and girls, London(2019)

-ILO, Report: the migrant pay gap: Understanding wage differences between migrants and nationals, Switzerland, 2020

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