According to a 2021 World Health Organization Report, https://www.who.int/news/item/09-03-2021-devastatingly-pervasive-1-in-3-women-globally-experience-violence, at least one in every three women and girls experience violence in their lifetime. In conflict and post-conflict settings, incidences of violence against women and girls (VAWG) are exacerbated, resulting in increased adverse social, economic, health and psycho-social effects. In an attempt to prevent and respond to the occurrence of VAWG in humanitarian settings, women and self-organized groups are working to create safe spaces for women and girls.
As commemorated by UN Women every year, this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women had the Theme ‚ ‘Orange the World-End violence against women now’. The 16 days of activism were observed from the 25th of November to the 10th of December 2021. During this time, UN Women urged the world to build on new actions and strengthen its commitments for a violence-free future against women.
In our monthly series of “Women Empowering Women “, the Migrant Media Network (#MMN) hosted its first edition of the diaspora meet-up in Berlin, Charlottenburg. The discussion that marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women centered on women in migration with a theme ‘Creating safe spaces for migrant women ‘.
The event featured two female activists; Isatou Barry, a trainer and FGM activist with Terre des Femmes and Jennifer Kamau, co-Founder and women rights activist of the International Women Space* Berlin. Both of whom are active speakers on violence against women and empowering women. The two-hour discussion centered around the causes and effects of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), violence against women and girls, women’s rights in migration and asylum policies.
A recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO) https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/about/en/ recognizes FGM as an international human rights violation and shows that female genital mutilation has no health benefits but harms girls and women in ways such as chronic genital infections, severe menstrual cramps, painful sexual intercourse and dysfunction, complications during childbirth as well as depression and trauma. Most – if not all – traditional circumcisers have no medical background. They apply old, traditional techniques, leading to the death of some girls/women during the procedure.
Refugees and migrants have not been able to achieve sufficient self-reliance. With this in mind, there is a need for refugees and migrant women to have access to jobs and educational opportunities to enable them to defend themselves against violence, sexism, racism, the violence of the asylum system and migration policies by documenting, making visible, and publishing their stories in their own words. This will also enable them to build their livelihoods.
“We are fed up with people speaking about us and not with us -women’s resistance is often oppressed, and women’s history hidden or ignored”, Jennifer Kamau of the International Women Space (IWS) elaborated, adding that IWS focuses more on asylum policies and what effects the policies in place have on migrant women.
According to a recent study conducted by Terre des Femmes approximately 70,000 girls (https://www.frauenrechte.de/rss/355-english/human-rights-for-women/news/4050-let-s-change-press-conference-70-000-women-in-germany-affected-by-female-genital-mutilation) and women in Germany have been genitally mutilated. Isatou Barry, a trainer with the organization- a violence-free women-led organization- says they focus on implementing measures on documented cases in Germany to end the harmful practice. They are doing this by conducting community engagements, especially on FGM literacy, by incorporating men in trainings to equip them better and help them understand the consequences of the harmful practice against women and girls.
Both speakers asked for more dialogues on women’s rights and violence against issues affecting women such as asylum policies, FGM, sexual harassment and rape, noting that violence against women and girls is a human rights violation that has been perpetuated for decades. They furtherurged a “stand against rape culture” each case, according to them, is unique to the cultural sensitivities and barriers of each community. Isatou Barry observed that; in many cultures, being shamed and stigmatized for standing up against abuse can isolate an individual from their community. For example, a non-circumcised girl is excluded in the societies of circumcised girls.
They also recommended teaching the younger generation and learning from them should serve as an example for them to shape the way they think about gender, respect and human rights. “Start conversations about gender roles early, and challenge the traditional features and characteristics assigned to men and women,” said Isatou Barry.
Jennifer Kamau emphasized the importance of listening and believing the survivors. “When a woman shares her story of violence, she takes the first step to breaking the cycle of abuse. It’s therefore, on all of us to give her the safe space she needs to speak up and be heard”. She added that women on the move need gender-sensitive migration and asylum policies. The specific needs of migrant women and girls can only be addressed through gender-sensitive migration and asylum policies, including specific protection and support mechanisms
In conclusion, Jennifer stressed that migrant and refugee women in Europe face particular challenges, including violence, difficulties in access to justice, a likelihood to fall into precarious situations, risks of abject poverty and social exclusion. Migrant refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls also often face double discrimination. They are sometimes restricted within their communities by cultural codes, customs, religion or tradition and by different stereotypes and institutional barriers in host countries. This is often challenging because they are perceived as different from European culture(s).
The Migrant Media Network (#MMN) monthly series of “Women Empowering Women “is an initiative by our Gambian/ diaspora community manager Nyima Jadama, our women and migration expert ‘coordinator. This blog aims to tell stories of women in migration, especially from The Gambia, focusing on irregular migration.