Immigration and Minority Women: presentation outline

Research questions:

What political, social and economic obstacles do minority women face in the process of immigration and integration in contemporary Western Europe?

Is gender a differentiating factor in minority women’s experience of immigration and integration?

Presentation outline:

  1. Intro
  2. Primary agent of exclusion: the economic market
  3. Constructed conceptions of womanhood: inclusion or assimilation?
  4. Political treatment of minority women: differentiated path to citizenship
  5. Conclusion

1. Intro

  • Immigration, Asylum seeking: how general analyses of immigration / asylum seeking do not take into account the gendered differentiations. How policies based on such analysis turn out to damage women.
  • The unjustified generalisations of migrant women
  • Discrimination of minority women: multi-layered identities make them more vulnerable to discrimination, violence and violation of their rights.
  • Defining key terms: conception of immigrant v. refugee, integration, assimilation.


2. Primary agent of exclusion: the economic market

  • Complexity of the diversity of experiences in terms of economic well-being according to gender, ethnicity and intra-ethnicity identity.
  • Experience of specific minority migrants (and their descendents): Quantitative (hard statistical data) / Qualitative research (personal experience and perception)
  • Neoliberalism: free market model turns out to be exclusive and harmful towards minorities.
  • Institutionalised racism.


3. Constructed conceptions of womanhood: inclusion or assimilation?

  • Integration of Immigrants: Personal – Family – State 
  • Immigrants are perceived as a homogenous group, with no differentiation between men and women in the process of immigration/integration
  • The fear of integrating: the image of women is linked to an idealised notion of home, thus connected with the fundamental structures of society.
  • The image of women is forced into dichotomies: ‘minority women becoming visible and audible only as domestic violence victims or rendered invisible if they do not conform to this identity.’


4. Political treatment of minority women: differentiated path to citizenship

  • Immigration and social integration are gendered issues. (Kofman 1999, Sinke 2006)
  • Political effects of austerity: Ghettoization: isolation within communities, which intensify minority women’s exposure to patriarchal oppression (gang rape, crime, forced marriage etc.)
  • Securitisation of immigration: migrant women are put under explicit scrutiny.
  • Secular policies disproportionately impact minority religious women: 2004 ban on the headscarf, 2010 ban of the burqa.
  • Explicit discrimination again an infinitely marginal part of the national population: at the time of the law, roughly 1900 women wore the burqa in France, thereby representing no more than 0.04% of the French Muslim population, and less than 0.003% of the french population.

Restrictive access to citizenship rights

  • Sexual democracy: refers to the way in which democracy seeks to accommodate and appropriate sexuality. In this model, sexuality is seen as a vital aspect of democracy, citizenship, etc. Discrimination occurs at the ‘private’ level, pervading areas such as sexuality, body image, one’s choice of partner, children’s rights, etc.
  • Strong emphasis on Muslim women’s relation to their bodies and the way they dress. Muslim women’s dress-code is constructed as a threat to public order, and associated with oppression, terrorism and extreme religious belief: securitisation theory.
  • PM Manuel Valls ‘The headscarf, which prevents women from being who they are, remains for me, and must remain for the Republic an essential fight.’ (Europe 1, Feb. 2013)



Sexual Democracy

National Identities and Transnational Intimacies: Sexual Democracy and the Politics of Immigration in Europe. Éric Fassin.

The management of immigration and integration at an intimate, private level of the individual.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

  • Somali-born immigrant turned Dutch politician, hard-line against immigration. Irony: fighting to be the exception that confirms the rule?
  • Fierce critique of Islam’s brutal oppression of women through her film Submission, lead to intense controversies following the assassination of the co-director Theo van Gogh.
  • Made a plea for French citizenship: even though she did not announce an intention to live in France, nor does she speak the language.
  • Bernard-Henry Lévy: ‘Ayaan Hirsi Ali is already French (…) in her heart, her values and her mind.’ => Ayaan’s defence of Western-style secularism makes her de facto worthy of citizenship.
  • Ayaan illustrates a ‘Sexual clash of civilisation’, in which the fault lines lie along gender equality and sexual liberalisation.

Sexual Democracy: key to the new politics of national identity, defined at the expense of immigrants.

  • Sarkozy: ‘In France, women are free, just as men are, free to circulate, free to marry, free to get a divorce. The right to abortion, equality between men and women, that too is part of our identity.’
  • our women are free, theirs are not – hence our anti-immigrant policies and politics.’
  • Series of polemics surrounding gender and sex issues:
  • New awareness of gang rapes identified with youths characterised by their ‘foreign origin’
  • Ni Putes Ni Soumises (NPNS): equating violence against women with the underprivileged banlieues (outskirts of Paris, areas associated with immigrant communities)
  • Debate on the Islamic veil: reformulating an issue of cultural difference and multiculturalism into sexual terms => Sarkozy, June 2009 speech before Congress: ‘The burkha problem is not a religious one; it is the problem of a woman’s dignity and freedom. It is not a religious sigh, but a sign of servitude and degradation => recuperation of feminist concerns?
  • ‘The instrumentalisation of sexual politics against immigrants has now become a European reality’.


  • Reshaping of citizenship tests, with the incorporation of questions pertaining to sexual democracy: In Baden-Württemberg, one of the German Länder, introduced in 2006 with questions such as:
    Do you regard the perpetrators of 9/11 as freedom fighters or terrorists?
    What do you think of a man in Germany who is simultaneously married to two women?
    How would you feel about an openly gay politician?
  • Questions based on xenophobia stereotypes, targeting Muslim homophobia specifically. Ironic, as equal rights for gay citizens, or full gender equality is often far from achieved within Western societies.
  • Netherlands: homosexuality is part of the rhetoric of sexual democracy, being the first country to open marriage to same-sex couples in 2001.
  • Non-Western migrants are required by law to take a test to prepare for the civic integration examination abroad. Training includes a viewing of a pedagogical film called Coming to the Netherlands, which includes explicits shots of nudist women sunbathing, or gay couples kissing in a field => defining sexual freedom against Islam.
  • The list of countries exempted from the test is a pure reflection of geopolitics: EU states, US, Canada, Australia, Japan and the Vatican.


  • Contradictions of the politics of Sexual Democracy: the application of its principles geared towards the exclusion of others leads to the racialization of sexual discriminations.
  • ex: families and couples whose ‘privacy’ is undermined in the fight against immigration.
  • Fall of 2007: tougher laws against family immigration: includes an amendment on DNA testing as proof of filiation for immigrants and their children
  • November 2009, campaign against Grey Marriage. Variation of the White Marriage concept: fake unions in order to gain access to citizenship and the benefits associated with it.
  • Grey marriage: idea that only one person is faking, whilst the other partner is being fooled. The suspicion of fraud is always levelled against the foreign spouse.
  • Reflection of systematic suspicion towards binational couples.

‘In France, women are free – provided they love a man, who happens to be French.’

Week 3 meeting notes


This week we have narrowed our focus towards a study of the politics of immigration in contemporary Europe, through a gendered perspective. We aim to challenge the orthodoxy within mainstream discourses on immigration/integration, by adopting an intersectional outlook that is sensitive to not only experiences of women as being qualitatively different, but that is also attuned to the differences within the community of women. Indeed, there is a gap between a white christian West European woman’s experience of immigration, in comparison with that of a black muslim Non-European woman.


We ground our analysis in the concept of otherness and aim to begin the conversation by deconstructing contested terms such as Immigration, Integration and Multiculturalism.


Deconstruction of experiences of immigration and the varying gendered differentiation:

  • Refugees, forced displacement: women facing gender specific challenges (vulnerability, difficulty of seeking refuge, leaving home country, domestic oppression etc.)
  • Legal immigration: gender specific challenges to integration into host country


Gender differentiation:

‘migrant women and men have distinct experiences of membership in the country of immigration, as well as embodying different experiences of citizenship in their countries of origin” (Al-Ali, 2003) → Both the attitude of their orignial cultural background and the receiving societiies have influence to the stereotype and discrimination female immigrants face.


Sub-division within women immigrants: Women as a sub-group within the community of ‘Other’, ‘foreigners’ .

  • Different modes of integration
  • Gendered difference in the experience of migration and refugee seeking
  • Intersection: religious women, poor women, women of colour etc.


Guiding questions:

  • Who is seen as ‘other’?
  • Who’s involved in the process of integration?
  • How are they going to be integrated into the community?
  • To what extent should the ‘integration’ be? (Assimilation or Acceptance?)
  • Does the refugee status enhance one’s ‘otherness’ ?


  • Differences bt. migrant women who enter European countries in previous immigration flow (being accepted by labour market with relative ease) and new female migrants (facing closed labour market with limited places offered)
  • The diverse way they enter the countries affects the opportunities they have



A Film by HO Chao-ti, Class 303 Trailer

‘Human Flow’ Trailer: Ai Weiwei’s Documentary About The Refugee Crisis

A Question of Culture and Belonging: Identity and Integration in Denmark