Gender and Migration
In the European Parliament, gender issues are one of my main priorities and as a member of the Committee on Women's rights and gender equality and coordinator for my political group I pay particular attention to any initiative that has gender perspective impact.
In this respect, I know how important the role of research is, in order to ensure relevant policy environment and to come up with important findings towards improvement of our societies and benefits for the all European citizens.
It is a well known fact that the entry of immigrants into the European Union is a historical reality but is also bound to be a feature of the future. Our objectives of development and social cohesion are therefore directly related to the ability to manage migration flows, and to make use of immigrants and integrate them into our societies.
The social disorder apparent in many European cities is related to the failings of research, study and policy in this area. In particular, the situation and the problems of women immigrants have remained marginalised and overshadowed. Therefore I would like to highlight the various aspects of and opportunities afforded by women’s immigration together with the instruments of European policy which can protect the rights of women immigrants and help them make better use of their opportunities.
It must be noted that, women are a significant proportion of migrants worldwide. It is estimated that in 2010 they will constitute almost half or 49% of all international migrants. With its gender ratio of 114 men to every 100 women, the EU migrant population is in line with global trends. While in most Member States men slightly outnumber women among migrants, some countries as Cyprus, Portugal or Belgium, are exceptions.
I would also like to emphasise the fact that there are new trends in the migration of women to EU countries. In the past, most travelled to Europe with their partners, or to join them. Today, they often migrate alone in search of work. As workers sending remittances abroad, migrant women play an increasingly important socio-economic role in both sending and receiving countries.
In particular, despite the policies implemented by the EU, in some immigrant communities women experience marginalisation and social exclusion. Their access to public, political and economic life remains extremely limited and, according to Council of Europe data, women immigrants are victims of double discrimination on grounds of gender and ethnic origin. Such discrimination also takes place on two levels - in the host society and in the immigrant community in which they live.
Therefore it is crucial that an immigration policy takes account of gender and the differences between the immigrant communities because the problems and the discrimination are not the same or on the same scale across the board.
When considering these issues, we also have to recognize the fact that the unemployment rate in the European Union is higher for third-country migrant women than other women and men with a comparable education level.
Those who find employment tend to work in low-skilled, insecure and badly-remunerated jobs. In particular, they work in sectors experiencing a growing demand for, and permanent shortages of, labour: domestic care, cleaning and catering.
In this context we need to agree that successful integration of a migrant woman greatly depends on her adequate education, language skills and formal qualifications because education is intrinsically related to employment. The main problem facing women immigrants remains education, taking account of the fact that 50% of women immigrants do not go beyond compulsory education, while approximately 17% go through tertiary education. Most Member States open their education systems to all migrant women, regardless of their status. However there are exceptions: in Portugal, Greece and the Czech Republic it is open only to legal residents. This emphasises the need for vocational training. It is suggested, however, that professional and language courses tend to be 'gender blind', meaning they do not recognise the specific training needs of migrant women.
Furthermore, migrants in general and women in particular, appear to be in worse health than nationals. This is evidenced by a disproportionately high rate of pregnancy-related problems among migrant women throughout the European Union. The problem concerns inter alia African women in France, Germany and Spain, and Turkish women in Germany. At the same time, they are not as well protected as nationals, in terms of access to public healthcare, which may depend on the person's legal status and regular employment. As a medical doctor and public health specialist, I also believe that proper training of health professionals is a key element to properly address cultural and religious issues which may arise when dealing with migrant women.
In addition, we obviously need to mention that the promotion of fundamental rights, the absence of discrimination, and equal opportunities for all are basic features of integration policies. The situation of migrant women is addressed directly or indirectly by a whole variety of measures and policies:
- Measures protecting individual rights: non-discrimination and gender equality legislation, as well as immigration legislation, regulating inter alia the residence rights of third-country national;
- Integration and welfare policies: aimed at social inclusion and improving the socio-economic conditions of migrant women, including access to labour-market, social benefits, healthcare, education etc.
EU legislation lays down a rigorous framework of provisions for equal treatment and protection of individual rights trough anti-discrimination and gender equality instruments:
- Article 19 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, ex Article 13 of the EC Treaty, empowers the European Union to combat discrimination based on various grounds including sex and racial or ethnic origin,
- The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights stipulates the principle of non-discrimination in its Article 21,
- Anti-discrimination directives adopted on the basis of Article 13 of the EU Treaty as Race Equality Directive, Framework Employment Directive, Directive implementing the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to supply of goods and services and other gender equality directives.
These legal instruments are complemented by the case law of the European Court of Justice. The European Court of Justice has held on numerous occasions that the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sex or nationality is a fundamental right under European law. In addition I have to mention the Directives on the rights of third-country nationals, such as:
- Family Reunification Directive
- Directive on the residence permit issued to the victims of trafficking in human beings
The centre of the policies regarding the situation of migrant women is however at national level, where the particularities of national welfare systems and migration patterns of the diverse Member States policies are reflected. But in this particular case we should not consider separately the role of freedom, security and justice, more specifically, common EU immigration policy - not-existent as yet, but gradually emerging since the 1999 Tampere European Council, as well employment, social affairs and equal opportunity policy for the social inclusion of migrant women. We also need to highlight the recent commitment of the European Commission as laid down in the Roadmap for equality between women and men 2006-2010 to promote "gender equality in migration and integration policies in order to ensure women's rights and civic participation, to fully use their employment potential and to improve their access to education and lifelong learning."
Furthermore I would like to mention the efforts of the Committee of Women's rights and gender equality in this sphere within the 6th term of the European Parliament , which led to the adoption of:
- Resolution on minority groups in the European Union (2003) in which the European Parliament promoted gender mainstreaming in anti-discrimination legislation
- Resolution on women's immigration (2006) whereby the Parliament stressed the need for a coordinated EU immigration policy. Once again it pointed out that gender has not been systematically taken into account in integration policies.
Both resolutions give an overview of obstacles to integration and call on the Commission and the Member States to adopt adequate measures and policies.
This is also a core objective of my own-initiative report on Social integration of women belonging to ethnic minority groups which should be voted on the 22nd of June in the Committee of Women's rights and gender equality in the European Parliament. As rapporteur on this dossier I have tried to evaluate social integration policies in the European Union for women belonging to ethnic minority groups and to highlight where this works and where there are problems to help identify a solution. In order to consider the themes covers by the title of this report, I have outlined three key aspects dealing with:
- Role of integration policies in the European Union
- Role of women in ethnic minorities
- Gender equality policy
While considering this issue, I have taken into account that we live in a multicultural society, which includes several distinct cultural, ethnic and religious communities. Therefore, it is crucial to identify different needs and demands, sometimes even conflicting with each other and to reconcile them in order to satisfy legal aspirations of women belonging to ethnic minorities without losing the unity and continuity of their ethic group and so achieve effective integration.
In the report I examine if there should be a specific action necessary to be taken at the EU level in order to enable better integration of women belonging to ethnic minorities and if yes, in what form should this action be taken. Another possibility for the European Union which I pay particular attention to in my report is that the Union should clarify and better frame the integration policies by means of drafting EU guidelines to help Member States to enable women from ethnic minorities to have access to:
- education system
- healthcare system
- long term care system
- social benefits
- employment and/or financial assistance
In this regard the report will focus on identifying existing problems related to ethnic minorities and female migrants, examining their situation in the sphere of citizen's rights, access to public services as education, social services, healthcare and to the labour market, which have a great impact on integrating women belonging to ethnic minorities.
In view of the aim of this report, it is important to consider the integration dilemma within the European Union and to stress on the fact that to be a woman of a particular ethnic group is not a handicap in a democratic society but it plays an increasingly important socio-economic role in the European Union.
It is essential to take a number of measures to improve immigrants’ knowledge and acceptance of the fundamental values and rules of the host societies and to encourage them to learn the language of the country of destination in cooperation with the European countries.
The main priority at EU level is access to the labour market and vocational training for women immigrants, with equal labour rights (pay, insurance, pension) factors which ensure their autonomy and independence.
Another key area where the European Union should look at very carefully is the development of a specifically European or EU anti-trafficking policy, paying particular attention to female migrants. Trafficking, which primarily (if not exclusively) affects non-EU women, is instead regarded as a matter of organised crime and irregular migration. This goes hand in hand with a very limited approach to anti-trafficking action. Therefore I proposed in the Resolution on preventing trafficking of human beings the establishment of EU anti-trafficking coordinator responsible for the coordination of EU action and policies in this field, including the activities of a network of national rapporteurs. This proposal was voted in plenary in February this year and is now reflected in the European Commission's proposal for a new Directive on trafficking of human beings, as this legal instrument aims at further approximating legislation and penalties, ensuring successful prosecution of perpetrators, better protection of and assistance to victims, and prevention of trafficking. It is our opinion that these policies, which should be framed on gender equality objectives and perspectives, must be developed, implemented and evaluated accompanied by a strong political will to address the phenomenon of trafficking in women, which remains the most prevalent form of trafficking in human beings.
Moreover, we have to ask for stronger EU policies addressing the increased trafficking in human beings in the context of the financial and economic crisis, by means of exploiting the need of potential victims to find a decent job and escape poverty.
Greater action, awareness-raising, and supervision are needed at the workplace in order to create and to guarantee equal access to resources, rights, and power, implying a need to bring about structural and cultural change, eliminate stereotypes, and promote equality with a view to achieving it in a context of progress as opposed to retrogression.
In this respect I would like to emphasize the responsibility and the role of the Member States in encouraging women’s access to the labour market and respect for their labour rights, the role of the social partners and the role of the Commission in monitoring the application of the Community acquis.
In the framework of gender equality and equal opportunities policy environment great emphasis should be placed on strengthening the participation of women immigrants in all forms of social life. This will extricate them from their sense of isolation and alienation from the host society. The promotion of participation in public life at all levels is essential considering all the opportunities afforded by national legislation. In addition, an improvement in dialogue between the various groups of third-country nationals and the authorities, the social partners and NGOs in the host societies is an important aspect in aiding their social integration.
In order to achieve our goals a positive attitude and cooperation on the part of the host society is required. Measures to raise the awareness among the peoples of Europe of the importance of immigration, the role of women immigrants, their particular problems and ways of dealing with them should therefore be promoted.
In the Member States of the EU, there are various experiences and policies in the field of immigration. In the endeavour to implement a European immigration policy based on common objectives and challenges, the EU should promote the exchange of good practices and issues for consideration, which also includes the gender dimension.
To make the gender dimension in all European policies reality, we need to establish a regular dialogue with policymakers and civil society organisations for promoting policies related to research and innovation results.
Finally, the support of research and innovation are crucial if we want to come up with prompt and efficient outcomes. Additionally, I welcome the GEMMA project and the efforts of all of you in order to address this phenomenon efficiently and make sure we deliver significant recommendations for policy-makers and all stakeholders involved for the benefit of all European citizens.