“We Need to Break the Silos”

Women all over the world are affected by discrimination, often in multiple ways. The Women in Migration Network specifically advocates for the rights and interests of women who have left their home countries to start new lives elsewhere. These women find themselves in a particularly vulnerable situation. By taking an intersectional approach, project director Paola Cyment wants to make visible the various forms of multiple discrimination experienced by female migrants, in order to provide them with a platform and help them to find justice.

Eva Wolfangel | March 2021
Group of African Women
Women in Migration Network

The Women in Migration Network positions women’s human rights at the center of migration and development politics. In doing so, the network specifically aims to make visible multiple forms of discrimination that arise due to the ascribed categories of gender, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, migrant status, disability, and national background.

Paola Cyment is a feminist activist and an advocate for migrant women. However, these areas of interest have for her often felt like two different worlds, she says. The network is one of the partner organizations in the Robert Bosch Stiftung’s support program Reducing Inequalities Through Intersectional Practice. “Many feminists don‘t work on the issue of migration. But with a feminist perspective, the problems of migrant women can be addressed much better”, she explains.

This intersectional perspective is also relevant to organizations working in the field of migration, because the multiple challenges faced by migrant women can only be properly understood and tackled by taking patriarchy and gendered inequality into account. However, other factors in addition to gender also need to be considered, says Cyment. Social background, for example: “It is not the same for a European middle class woman with a university degree to migrate as for a woman from Guatemala from a rural place.”

We want the voices of migrant women to be heard.

The Women in Migration Network began in 2012 as a network of various organizations focusing on feminist issues, but equally on aspects of class and background, in order to strengthen the voices of migrant women. The multiple forms of discrimination experienced by women make it difficult for them to stand up for their own rights and to advocate for improved living conditions. Additionally, politically relevant decisions are often negotiated within UN committees, where it can be difficult for migrant women to participate and be acknowledged. “In these global spaces we wanted to strengthen the intersection of gender and migration and to make the voices of women migrant leaders heard.” With success: the network was already active on a number of UN committees addressing migration issues, and has influenced key policy positions. 

A systemic approach to the intersection of gender and migration 

In the past, feminist movements and NGOs dealing with migration had little to do with one another. This is now set to change with the Robert Bosch Stiftung’s new support program. The program brings together organizations from a variety of regional and thematic contexts, all aiming to enact structural change in fundamental patterns of discrimination via an intersectional approach – meaning the recognition of multiple forms of discrimination, for example due to gender, background, social class or religion.

Paola Cyment emphasizes that although the topic of intersectionality is not new and many of her fellow activists are familiar with it, “it was hard for us to be included in feminist spaces”. Following the motto “together we are strong”, the Women in Migration Network is now deliberately looking for partner organizations in order to tackle the intersection of gender and migration in a systemic way. “If you only talk about gender really abstractly, like an add on, like checking a box, it does not take into consideration the reality of women on the ground.”

Feminism is important, but it’s not enough.

Moreover, Cyment emphasizes that many perspectives are routinely overlooked due to the historical prevalence of the voices of white, middle-class women from rich countries in the shaping of feminist debates. It is therefore important to draw attention to other forms of oppression as well, such as racism and colonialism: “The intersections have an impact on their reality, on the pathways they have to migrate.” For example, many women from South America or Asia living in the US or Europe do not have access to an official working visa, and often end up in situations where their precarity can be exploited by an employer.

Women from the Philippines and from Bangladesh often migrate to the Gulf States, where they are offered very restrictive visas to work as household maids. “They have no rights, they are totally dependent [on their employers], and some of them suffer sexual abuse” – and because their residency status depends on their place of employment, they are completely helpless. Cyment therefore warns against focusing only on the intersection of gender and migration, because “feminism alone is not enough; it’s important, but it doesn’t go far enough.”

Woman in front of a planter with soil
Global Greengrants Fund

Women around the globe are at the forefront of addressing the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. With the support of Global Greengrants Fund, the Lokiaka Women Community Development Centre in Nigeria works with local women from Ogoni coastal communities whose livelihoods have been destroyed by oil pollution to cultivate tree and mangrove conservation, restore the environment and their income sources.

Through their project, Cyment and her fellow-campaigners plan to approach grassroots groups from around the world for a series of dialogues, in order to better understand the effects of intersectional discrimination. “We need to work across sectors, to build up resilience.” Collaborations are more effective, and will ultimately lead faster to change for all: “We need to break the silos.”

Global warming often affects women more than men

Paola Cyment identifies a silo mentality playing out in social movements related to other issues as well; technology or the environment, for example. “Climate change, too, is impacting women and human mobility.” This is why the Women in Migration Network also wants to collaborate with other projects funded by the support program, in order to deepen intersectional work.

Take the intersecting impacts of climate change and women’s gendered disadvantage as an example: the Global Greengrants Fund UK is working to show that global warming often affects women more than men. In many countries, women must walk further to get water when creeks dry up, and they often take on the arduous work in the fields – all tasks that will become more strenuous and also offer less yield as global warming increases.

Chayn Panel 1 1200
End Cyber Abuse

The initiatives Chayn and End Cyber Abuse aim to foster an understanding of the wide spectrum of technology-facilitated gender violence – from image-based sexual abuse to cyberstalking. This violence disproportionately harms those who are discriminated against based on their gender identities. This includes women, as well as racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ communities, women from marginalized castes and religions, and young girls.

New technologies also represent a field that requires an intersectional approach, as women often experience the possibilities and effects of technological change differently than men. Technology-facilitated, gender-based violence does not receive enough attention, according to the founders of the organizations Chayn and End Cyber Abuse, both of which are also funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. They point out that especially in the context of the pandemic, digital violence against women on the internet has significantly increased. Similarly to migration or climate change, here too women are affected disproportionately, but are less likely to be heard. Therefore, they are also less able to contribute to the process of forming public opinion and thus to shaping policies to their advantage.

“When we collaborate, there will be more visibility”, says Cyment. “Ultimately, there are no parallel realities, even if this sometimes seems to be the case – we all live in the same reality.”