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The refugee and migrant crisis is a women’s issue

UK-Refugee week (baytree) 19 (5)

The experience of women must be considered and incorporated in order to combat the social barriers to migrant integration.

Refugee Week is undoubtedly an important time to reflect on the crisis of displacement facing our world today. However, it is not enough to confine every refugee to the same category. In reality, the lived experience of refugees and migrants is profoundly shaped by their gender, race, nationality, and economic status – alongside many other differentiating factors. This intersectional understanding forms the basis of the FATIMA project.

Through the FATIMA project, WONDER aimed to empower 210 migrant women living in Poland, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom. From 2017 to 2019, the project delivered a personalised and holistic approach to supporting the integration of these women into their new communities.

The project focused on 4 strategic areas: language, mentorship, work placement, and civic engagement. The culmination of this important project has revealed a series of lessons that we at WONDER believe should be shared as part of our wider mission to empower women to overcome the social barriers predetermined in their lives by their gender.

The double shift

The recurring trend of women having to undertake unpaid domestic labour in addition to their formal employment has come to be known as the double shift. This is only exacerbated in the case of refugee and migrant women.

The FATIMA project was instrumental in combatting this phenomenon, but it also revealed the gravity of the situation. Being both a mother of young children and the primary caretaker of the household was a common characteristic among the FATIMA participants, and this was highly visible in the language learning process.

Language training was repeatedly cited as the most crucial support that the FATIMA project provided – the beneficiaries unanimously considered language to be the single most important factor for integration and employment. The solution to this, then, may appear simple. However, many participants in the project found themselves struggling to find the time to attend language classes due to their many other commitments.

This meant that weekend classes were held as an immediate remedy, though this is not a permanent solution. The double shift is not sustainable, and its damaging effect on language learning and meaningful integration cannot continue.

The data deficit

The wealth of new data that has been generated as a result of the FATIMA project has contributed to greater understandings of the specific experience of female refugees and migrants. This is an important step in mitigating the concerning lack of research surrounding women in the refugee crisis.

Relatively little data exists relating to the arrival of refugee women in their host countries, and this means that the gendered dimension is statistically ignored.

The FATIMA project revealed that the most frequent reason for migration within the group of beneficiaries was related to a family reunion. In tandem with the double shift explanation, this is indicative of an urgent need to re-evaluate the international response to the refugee crisis which meaningfully incorporates the unique needs of women in this complex dynamic.

Looking to the future

WONDER operates in line with its Theory of Change, which is geared towards securing improved wellbeing and long-term exit from poverty for beneficiaries and their families. WONDER projects are ongoing – even past their official dates of completion, the aim is always to maintain the immediate positive impacts and facilitate their permanent integration into the lives of women and girls.

In the case of the FATIMA project, it is too early to assess what the long-term effects will be. However, it is clear that migrant integration must be recognised as multi-faceted and personal – a whole-person approach is necessary for true progress. Access to language learning, mentoring, local cultural activities and opportunities to become active citizens are all components of a successful integration programme.

WONDER hopes to draw on the lessons of projects like FATIMA in order to look into the future of international development. Currently, we are working to deliver the new MIRIAM project, which aims to empower 420 migrant and refugee women through one-to-one mentoring and supporting the development of language skills, employability, and financial literacy.

To support this project, you can make a donation to the MIRIAM project fund. The experience of women must be considered and incorporated in order to combat the social barriers to migrant integration – this is just the start!

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