The stereotyping of woman migrants and refugees as either passive wives or mothers can prove to hinder integration efforts, according to a study by the European Institute for Gender Equality.
The EIGE, an EU agency dedicated to gender equality issues, emphasised that the different needs of women and men needed to be better taken into account by EU member states seeking to integrate migrants and refugees from outside the EU.
At present around 7.5% of EU residents were born outside of the EU, translating to just under 40 million people. Only around 3 million of these are refugees and asylum seekers: however, they receive, by far, the greatest attention when it comes to migration policy and migrant integration measures.
While 10.2% of women and 9.7% of men aged 15-24 who were born in the EU were neither in school nor working, the proportion increased to 19.8% of women and 14.8% of men born outside of the EU. And foreign-born EU residents were more than twice as likely to have been early school leavers: 18.4% of women and 22.8% of men aged 18-24 born outside of the EU left school early, in contrast to 7.9% of women and 11.1% of men born in the EU.
However, statistics for Malta – and a number of other countries – were missing: the EIGE said that the lack of comparable data on third-country nationals was itself an issue, as it could impact the quality of policies aimed to integrate them into society.
Women not inherently vulnerable, but risks need to be recognised
The agency emphasised the need to support women who may find themselves in vulnerable situations, especially refugees and asylum seekers, but warned against reducing women solely to vulnerable individuals.
Immigration has long been a controversial topic in much of the EU, and the EIGE highlighted that debates were often strongly racialised and gendered. It observed that women migrants and refugees – especially, but not limited to, those of a Muslim background – are frequently stereotyped as vulnerable and passive victims of a patriarchal system. With the help of these stereotypes, it added, gender equality was often co-opted by anti-immigrant populist parties as a tool to make their arguments in favour of restrictive immigration policies.
Gender equality is one of the fundamental values of the EU, and member states are required to promote gender equality in all their activities.
But the EIGE found these efforts wanting when it came to the integration and education of migrants and refugees, and as the EU prepares for a new funding period – covering the years 2021 to 2027 – it notes that if anything, draft proposals were even less ambitious than the present funding period, while the proposed regulation governing the new Asylum and Migration Fund fails to include a specific reference to women in vulnerable situations.
Empowering women migrants through integration
The EIGE study also looked into educational and training programmes aimed at women migrants in Sweden, Greece, Germany, France and Italy, which mostly focused on refugees and asylum seekers.
Generally, EIGE found, these programmes focused on empowering women migrants. However, it highlighted that for many women, migration itself is an empowering process, especially if migration was a choice, not a constraint. And empowered migrant women could not only integrate well; they could also serve as drivers of integration for their families and their community.
“Effective integration of migrants can contribute to tackling the challenges of ageing societies and labour market shortages in the European Union,” EIGE director Virginija Langbakk said.
“The practices from France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Sweden show what works and how governments can adjust policies and measures to target the different needs of women and men migrants and enable their contribution to their host country and society.”
EIGE also noted that grassroots NGOs and local authorities may be better positioned to recognise the needs of migrants than central authorities, but also recognised that NGOs, including women’s and migrants’ organisations, were facing increasing challenges in the light of a backlash against both gender equality and migrants in Europe. Apart from increased difficulty in securing funding, EIGE observed, NGOs may experience increasing harassment, threats, and even criminal sanctions in several member states.
“Not only are funds for women migrants particularly lacking, public space and the recognition of women migrants’ agency, including their organisation into groups and association, has also significantly been affected,” EIGE notes, adding that it was crucial to ensure that NGOs continue to receive support and dedicated funding.