Resisting Silence; Voices of New Women in the Digital Age: A space for female migrants and refugees in a modern society

“A space for women’s voices” is required, as female refugees and migrants are overlooked and not represented in the modern, digital age. That is how speaker Anila Noor, founder of New Women Connectors, opened the debate on ‘Resisting Silence; Voices of New Women in the Digital Age’. As put forward by the participants of the event, refugee and migrant women face particular challenges. These challenges include technological discrimination, stereotyped perceptions and sexual violence. Therefore, many of the participants argued that the issues of female refugees and migrants must be addressed through an intersectional approach, explaining that female refugees and migrants meet various forms of discrimination.

Refugee and migrant women in the digital age

One of the challenges that the debate touched upon was female refugees and migrants in technology and digitisation, where women remain underrepresented. According to Kristina Vayda, founder of FAIRE, an organisation that funds refugee entrepreneurs, female refugees and migrants are often discussed at conferences, but they are hardly ever present, leaving a clear gap for more women to be heard. Vayda explained at the event that many female refugees and migrants want to start a business, but are disadvantaged in many areas, for example in not being able to open a bank account.

Speaker, Gail Rego, who works as a tech inclusion activist, further explained that technology is implicitly contributing to stereotyping and gatekeeping; for example, Google will sometimes present better job opportunities for men than for women.

“Do not bring migrants and women into conferences as tokens, but ask them as experts” 

Many female refugees and migrants, when coming to Europe, also meet a stereotyped perception, hindering them from working within their abilities and competences. Speaker from European Network Against Racism, Juliana Wahlgren, explained how it became easier for her to get a job when she took her (ex)husband’s Swedish name. Another speaker, Noura Bittar from Amnesty International, had done the same and further stated that she does not put her picture on her resume, as this also increases her chances in getting a job.

Andriya Ayala, who spoke as a  refugee and an expert, explained that in her home country, she worked as an international lawyer, but here in Brussels she is expected to drive a bus; despite her degree and extensive knowledge. This issue was further acknowledged by Wahlgren, who said that female refugees and migrants are “not listened to or viewed as real professionals.”

“Do not bring migrants and women into conferences as tokens, but ask them as experts”, stated Gail Rego. She finds that female migrants and refugees are often only asked about gender and race, and not their fields of expertise, suggesting that female refugees and migrants do not get to showcase their full potential. This was further highlighted by psychology specialist on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), Barbara Romero, who said that “women’s talents can be used in their new realities and countries, every woman is an expert.”

Subjected to sexual violence

Female refugees and migrants are disproportionally subjected to sexual violence. Romero explains that there is a clear division in how women are treated when it comes to sexual violence. Many refugee and migrant women are known to be taking contraceptive pills in order to avoid a pregnancy, because they know that they will be raped on the journey. This issue is further addressed in new research by Mixed Migration Centre that states that 19% of the female respondents had been subjected to sexual violence in Libya. Real numbers might be higher, as victims may not want to admit to it, even in a confidential setting, due to trauma and stigmatisation.

Romero further highlights that SGBV occurs in many camps and centres, where women are forced to give sexual offers in order to get medical attention or help in the camps, which she argues, shows a clear division in how migrant and refugee women and men are treated.

Addressed intersectionality

The speakers at the event accentuated that the issues that female refugees and migrants endure must be understood through intersectionality. Female refugees and migrants encounter various forms of discrimination towards them. Therefore, “a space for women voices” is necessary in order to address the discrimination that female refugees and migrants face.