The Agency of Migrant Women & Integration

Women, Migration and Activism in EU

  •  The unjustified generalisations of migrant women >> the integrative approaches which ignores the experiences of skilled migrants

>> contextualisation of the experience of different women without creating essentialist assumptions on the basis of a common female id.

– How does the relations of gender interact with class, race and ethnicity?

– immigration with/without legal residence status: the label of ‘illegality’ on immigrants

  • The affect of the framing of the place of women to migrant women: women are considered as dependent on their male partners for both legal and economic rights. >> migrant women are forced into positions of dependency and vulnerability, thus stop them from engaging in activism in public sphere

the underlying assumption constructs a primarily domestic role for them

  •  gender inequalities in their country of origin(within their own community) + host countries >> isolate women in a domestic arena


Integration and Multiculturalism

the concept of Ethnocultural groups vs minorities

  • ethnocultural groups trying to carry out their lives through negotiation and compromise with each other

>> this does not represent the way of life of the mainstream, which is typically preferred by the dominant group and the public institution they created. (the cultures each groups possess are weighted equally, regardless of their sizes or power)

>> in this sense, non of the groups are assumed to be assimilated by the others

–> a multidimensional concept

Psychological view:

  1. There is a desire to maintain the group’s culture and identity
  2. There is a desire to engage in daily interaction with other ethnocultural groups in the larger society, including the dominant one
  • However, not all groups seek to engage in intercultural relations in the same way (i.e. various alternatives, assumption of eventual assimilation –> from attitudes to strategies

Freedman, J. (2008). Women, Migration and Activism in Europe. Amnis, (8).

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)



Minority Women, Austerity and Activism, Akwugo Emejulu Leah Bassel

(Qualitative) study of minority women’s experience (socio-economic status and activism) in the face of austerity (neoliberal) policies in Scotland, England and France.

→ Highlighting idea: minority women are the first and main victims of economic hardships.

  • “ Apart from being disproportionately affected by the cuts, minority women are also undermined by dominant discourses which can (mis)represent them as either ‘victims’ or ‘enterprising actors.”
  • “Regardless of educational outcomes, minority groups were disproportionately more likely to be unemployed or underemployed”
  • “ unemployment and poverty are defined as the private problem of the racialised poor”
  • Rationalisation of minority groups’ disadvantage “combined with the construction of some racial, ethnic and gender intersections as problematic tends to exclude minority groups, and in particular minority women, from the European public sphere and undermine how they are included in wider social movements and struggles.”
  • “ austerity measures clearly increase minority women’s unemployment whilst simultaneously reducing the scope, coverage and access to public services.”
  • cuts have a detrimental effect on minority women’s activism
    • Janet Newman (2013: 217): difficult for women activists to find time or resources for ‘creative political work’ because ‘cuts in public and welfare services are intensifying the time pressures …making it more difficult to reconcile care work, paid employment, casual work, study, voluntary or charitable contributions and political activity.’
    • “ Scottish Asian worker at a minority women’s organisation in Edinburgh observed, it was only around issues of victimhood that her organisation was consulted by policymakers”
  • Neoliberalism is presented by some (may be white ‘feminists’) as an empowering system for minority women, therefore justifying non-intervention from the state to deal with issues specific to minority women.
    • However: “Several minority women activists … expressed deep scepticism of this approach because they were unconvinced that micro-level enterprising work could have a meaningful impact on the inequalities they experienced such as discrimination within the asylum system, everyday racism in their neighbourhoods and labour market discrimination.”
  • Authors’ suggestion: “Pluralist democratic societies purporting to generate social and political solidarity should have real and meaningful spaces for the politics of minority women who choose to articulate intersectional social justice claims”

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 1 & 2 Meeting

In week 1 and week 2, we discussed about our subjects of interest, and decided to work on topics in relation to feminism, immigration, integration, multiculturalism and national identity, and decided to focus on female immigrants and refugees. Especially focusing on how are the immigrant families integrated into local communities, and how the government  policy have influence on this. We found out that some of the phrases in this topic are problematic and need further definition. For instance: what does ‘integration’ mean? Does it mean assimilate the immigrants, or embracing different cultures that are brought into the countries by them? Also in terms of immigrant families (especially women who enter the countries through marriage), we questions why the private sphere/lives as a family will be doubted and discussed as an issue in public, and being interfered by the government. As for refugees, it is noticeable that the voice of female refugees are usually not heard, yet they face many dangers that male refugees are less possible to encounter with, such as sexual abuse etc.

The potential research questions we comes up in the first two meeting are:

  • What are the gendered differences in the experience of seeking refuge- , immigrating or integrating? Gender based violence that targets women exclusively
  • Feminist critique of state institutions that perpetrate discrimination in regard to immigrant women specifically.
  • Lack of labour market integration of migrant women, gender differences in societal integration
  • Challenging mainstream immigration policies, which often focus on the male migrant worker, reinforcing a model of migrant women as unskilled, economically financially dependent, fulfilling the role of caretaker and assistance to the husband.

Normative aspects, ethics of immigration

Start with debate on contested terms: integration, nations

National community – Otherness. How do national community reinvent themselves in relation to what is considered Other and foreign?

Sources: documentaries, policy, discourse.

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

The definition of ‘integration’ from Migration Policy Institute

The definition of ‘integration’ from Migration Policy Institute:

The three levels of integration of immigrants: individual immigrants(housing, employment, education etc.), collective level of immigrants group(organisation of immigrants as the expression of mobilized resources), institution


  • 1. public institutions of receiving societies
  • 2. institutions of the immigrants (a specific group, cultural base institution)
  • → a visible conflict between the different idea of integration: accepting the value of receiving society or keeping & enhancing immigrants’ identity

Between Integration and Exclusion: Migrant Women in European Labor Markets

Here is an article published by Migration Policy Institute demonstrating the situation of migrant women in labour market, in which the author Maria Kontos points out the differences between migrant women who enter European countries in previous immigration flow, and are accepted by labour market with relative ease, and the new female migrants who face closed labour market with limited places offered. Kontos also indicates that the diverse way they enter the countries affect the opportunities they have as well.

Between Integration and Exclusion

Emejulu and Bassel: ‘Minority Women, Austerity and Activism’

Here is an article on ‘Minority Women, Austerity and Activism’ written by Akwugo Emejulu and Leah Bassel:

This article provides us with a good understanding of certain issues specific to ethnic minority women in the face of government economic policies.