Challenges and obstacles for women* in the course of migration
48% of international migrants worldwide are female*. Accordingly, women* make up a significant part of migration processes. Nevertheless, their migration experiences and the resulting challenges have been widely neglected in research for a long time and women* have only been considered as part of their husband’s migration process. Gender-related issues were thus ignored almost completely. However, it is undisputable that female* migrants’ vulnerability is often particularly high and that women* and girls* face many gender-specific challenges during their migration processes – starting with the decision to migrate to living in the destination country. There is great need to address this to bring about necessary changes and to support migrating women* all over the world in a way that fits their individual situation.
Nila is one of many migrants who would have benefited from improved circumstances regarding the migration process and who could have been spared a lot. Speaking to her, I asked about the problems during her journey from Iran to Germany and what difficulties she faced after her arrival. In 2015, she first set off towards Europe with her then husband and her children. During the journey she was separated from them and had to get through the remaining way completely on her own. She described the long walks through tough terrain, some of which took days and nights, as terrible. To a similar extent, she mentioned the boat trip from Turkey to Greece, where she was cramped in a really small boat with about 50 strangers. Nila emphasized that the long foot walks are often more difficult for women* than for men*, especially for women* who have always been housewives, have hardly ever been outside and have not experienced much in their lives. Being on the run is not easy for them, both physically and mentally, and they are often more vulnerable. During one stage of Nila’s flight that was supposed to be done by car, the situation arose in which several men* claimed that there was no more space left for her and that they would bring her home and get her on another car the next day. Nila was lucky – only because other people stood up for her, the men* couldn’t take her with them. One could only guess what might have happened. Such situations are not an exception and that’s not the only thing female migrants have to face. Furthermore, the hygienic conditions for menstruating people and health care in general are often problematic during forced migration – especially for pregnant women*.
But women* not only have to face specific challenges during their flight. Usually it already starts to get difficult for them in their home country. The results of my research show that the greatest challenges in the country of origin are related to bureaucratic aspects, the separation of families and the whole process of family reunification, which can be a long and complicated one. Often, women* are still in their home country, while their husbands are already in the country of destination, waiting for their asylum status to get approved. This situation is very stressful, especially if children are involved.
Once women* have arrived in the country of destination, there are new challenges to face. Those challenges are again related to bureaucracy, but also language barriers, health issues – which are often intertwined with those language barriers – limited educational and professional opportunities and the search for accommodation can pose a challenge. According to one of the interviewed experts, who works for a charity which supports refugees in a range of areas, one of the particular challenges for women* upon arrival is that the image of women in the social system of their origin differs more from the image of women in the social system of the host communities than it does for men. They have to clarify for themselves to what extent they want to adapt to the new culture and what they want to keep from their culture. While often facing pressure from other people of their community to stick to the traditions of their country of origin, they have to decide where to position themselves between their own socialization and the new social context they are embedded in during and after their migration.
Intersectionality plays a big role for women* when it comes to job opportunities. Zeinab, a female and Muslim migrant from Iran happened to apply for the same job as her male, German colleague. Even though she had the same qualifications as him and even more work experience, she didn’t get an invitation to a job interview, but he did. Especially women with a headscarf or with other external characteristics suffer from discrimination.
Another great challenge that comes with migrating to another country are language barriers. The additional challenge for some women* is due to the patriarchal role models that still exist, in which women* are more likely to take care of the children and do the housework. Thus, for women* with children, access to German courses is explicitly more difficult, since there are not enough German courses with integrated childcare. As a result, women* have to wait for a long time to attend one of those courses. In addition, private childcare is often not affordable for those affected. Therefore, the educational opportunities for women* with children are often restricted.
The specific needs of migrant women must be taken into account in order to make their migration process easier and to increase their opportunities in the country of destination. The results of my work show that it is primarily a matter of creating safe refugee routes and removing bureaucratic hurdles. Any support offered must be low-threshold, so that there is easy access to it. Furthermore, the compatibility of family, work and integration must be ensured by creating more childcare offers. In addition to performance-oriented offers, such as language courses – which are mandatory in some cases – there should also be more possibilities to participate in socializing events to build a social network in the new country. Thus more offers like women’s cafés and so-called buddy systems must be established. Moreover, an expansion of offers supported by an interpreter is of great importance and access to the local society must be promoted, also to help reduce prejudice and racism in society. In order for these necessary changes to be implemented, increased funding is required from a political side.
Names have been changed
„The so-called gender star […] is used to make gender diversity visible beyond a binary gender model. Symbolically, the rays of the star pointing in different directions represent different gender identities.”
„Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that different forms of discrimination can’t be considered in isolation and therefore can’t simply be added together. Different forms of discrimination influence each other and thus new forms of discrimination can arise.”
Germaine Pötgen is currently studying for her Master’s Degree in Cartography and Geographic information science at the University of Vienna after completing her Bachelor’s Degrees in Economics (University Ruhr West) and Geography (University of Innsbruck). Her major fields of interest include migration and feminist geography.
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