Four Master’s students work on increasing the participation of young migrant and refugee women in global decision making processes: an interview
by Sciences Po
During the 2020-2021 academic year, Carolina, Faty, Gabrielle, and Jillian, Master’s students at the Sciences Po’s Paris School of International Affairs, are joining the Women Forward International platform. They conduct a research-action project for and with the European Network of Migrant Women on the participation of young migrant and refugee women in international political processes.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COMMIT YOURSELVES TO THIS PROJECT?
Carolina: As a Colombian young-woman who has lived most of her life in a context of conflict, the question of women's rights, its junction with the migratory phenomenon, and the effects these grim settings have on our lives have always concerned me. During my education, I took courses related to human rights, gender, and migration, and I also gained field experience working with refugees, migrant and vulnerable populations in France, Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil. This project brings a unique mix of theory and fieldwork related to the subjects that I am passionate about and want to keep digging into.
Faty: For my part, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the socio-economic and political status of Guinean and Senegalese women, which led me to comprehend that the political inclusion of women and their participation - or lack thereof - in decision making processes has a direct impact on their socio-economic status, and is therefore essential. This echoes directly with this project: I was curious to see what these barriers look like in the context of migration in Europe. Additionally, being the child of a migrant woman myself, I have seen firsthand the challenges and the discrimination they face in terms of integration, access to rights, and getting their voice heard. I understand the complexities of navigating the West as a migrant woman and how their realities often prevent them from becoming fully aware of their rights and participating in decision-making processes.
Gabrielle: This mission is a passion project for me. Having lived in Lebanon for most of my life, I have been a first-hand observer of some of the worst aspects of migration. I was in contact with Palestinian and Syrian refugees, Eastern European prostitutes, domestic workers on a daily basis: because of this experience, the topic of migration has been central in my academic and volunteering undertakings, which explains involving myself in this mission.
Jillian: Alongside my studies at Sciences Po, I volunteer with a Paris-based NGO that offers support to migrant women and their children. I saw in this project exactly this: a bridge between theory-centered academia and action-based, grassroots advocacy. On a more personal note, having grown up first-generation Filipino-American, I know how difficult it can be to advocate for oneself in a community begging for your silent compliance. Through spoken word poetry, I discovered a way to speak up and be heard. I saw an opportunity to contribute an arts component to the community toolkits produced by our partners at Radical Girlsss. I committed myself to this project because including the voices of young women, especially young migrant women, are essential to building a more equal society.
YOU ARE CONDUCTING RESEARCH ON THE PARTICIPATION OF YOUNG MIGRANT AND REFUGEE WOMEN IN POLITICAL PROCESSES. CAN YOU TELL US MORE?
Gabrielle: Yes, the goal of our research is to contribute to the increase and improvement of the participation of migrant women in the European Union. This project is all the more relevant in the context of the sanitary crisis in Europe and its global scope: it exacerbates the hardships and obstacles that face vulnerable groups such as young migrant women. Additionally, I am hopeful that our project will participate in laying the foundation for policy-making and advocacy that recognises intersectionality in general and the interconnected nature of crises to come.
Carolina: Of course, when we are talking about migration, we have to take into account that this experience is crossed by different markers of diversity, including gender, age, and ethnicity. The intersection of these dimensions puts young migrant and refugee women in situations of exclusion and high risk. In order words: because of their particular status, young migrant and refugee women experience disproportional and exacerbated forms of violence throughout every stage of their lives. We aim to analyse the major barriers that hinder their participation in Europe; hear and amplify their voices, their needs, and vital concerns, both in camps and rural settings; and come up with applicable and replicable human rights-oriented and gender-sensitive solutions.
Jillian: Increasing the general public’s awareness of the hardships faced by young migrant and refugee women is essential. Further, enhancing young migrant and refugee women’s access to political processes is not only important in virtue, but is critical in making democracies that are materially responsive to everyone’s needs, not just those who have long-held monopoly over the narrative.
Faty: And I believe it is also important to remember that we are talking about real human lives, whose voices and opinions matter, and should be heard. Enhancing their participation in international political processes does not only do that, because in order to do so, there are many other factors which have to be addressed first, such as financial stability, physical and mental health state, or education. This project is a comprehensive one which aims to contribute to the betterment of young migrant and refugee women’s overall lives, at least in Europe.
HOW ARE YOU PROGRESSING SINCE THE LAUNCH OF THE PROJECT?
Gabrielle: We are still in the academic research phase of the project. Since the first days of October, we have been communicating with the European Network of Migrant Women and Radical Girlsss, its movement of young women, to substantiate the outline of the report, which includes defining the scope and the focus of our research. We are currently reading as much as we possibly can on the subject and trying to be in contact with a wide variety of sources and subjects.
Carolina: As Gabrielle said, we’ve been conducting a desk review that grounds our study in a conceptual and practical framework on women and girls’ participation in decision-making processes and pulls out promising and meaningful practices. We are also preparing to start combining our work with other qualitative research methods such as interviews with key agents.
Jillian: Yes, we’re currently compiling a list of women researchers, advocates, decision-makers, and community organisers to interview as part of our report. It’s exciting to have access to the European Network of Migrant Women’s robust network of experts. We hope their interviews can add an on-the-ground dimension to our desk research and help direct our report’s recommendations! We are also collaborating on adding a spoken word arts component to Radical Girlsss’ workshops and community toolkits.
HOW DO YOU ADAPT TO THE COVID-19 SITUATION AND THE CHANGING WAYS OF WORK?
Gabrielle: We have been teleworking since the project started. Some of us have met in person but the bulk of our group work is done via Zoom, the Google Suite and Zotero. We are trying to be as efficient as possible: this means dividing the work and, each week, setting up different time slots to meet to discuss each other’s progress. It has been relatively straightforward for now, since, even before COVID-19 hit, Sciences Po students were already used to preparing group projects via the Google Suite. Additionally, the European Network of Migrant Women, Radical Girlsss and the PRESAGE coordinators have been a great help at keeping us accountable and guiding us through the process!
Carolina: I second everything Gabrielle just said. Despite the time differences and our personal commitments, we have found a good balance between individual and team work, getting the most out of all the digital instruments we have at our disposal.
Jillian: Working over several time zones, under new lockdowns, and on undependable data hotspots has been a lesson in accountability and adaptability, but it’s not all just grinding through international legal frameworks and case law by yourself. As trying as these current working circumstances have proven to be, it’s forged a solidarity among the women on the team. With such different thematic, technical, and regional expertises, Carolina, Faty, Gabrielle and I probably wouldn’t have ever been brought together on a team but this project and the opportunity presented by teleworking made it possible. The diversity of our experiences and the conviction of our beliefs have produced a force to be reckoned!