Race, ethnicity and religion play a role in minority women’s experiences of discrimination and violence. As a result, women with multi-layered identities are more vulnerable, but this reality is rarely acknowledged, let alone tackled effectively, writes Amel Yacef.
Amel Yacef is chair of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).
On International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ahead of the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, the compound and disproportionate effects of violence on ethnic minority women need to be made more visible and addressed in measures to end violence against women. In particular, intersectionality should be part of an EU strategy to prevent and combat of all forms of violence against women and girls in Europe, called for by a coalition of more than 25 organisations.
Race, ethnicity and religion play a role in minority women’s experiences of discrimination and violence. As a result, women with multi-layered identities are more vulnerable, but this reality is rarely acknowledged, let alone tackled effectively.
Numerous female migrant domestic workers in Europe face indecent working hours and wages, but also physical and psychological abuse by their employers. In the UK, 51% of the domestic workers registered with the organisation Kalayaan, which works with migrant domestic workers (the majority of which are women), denounced physiological abuse and 20% physical abuse.
In Cyprus, women of African descent are predominately employed in the field of domestic work and fall victim to racial and gender discrimination as they are restricted to work in the lowest echelons of employment while finding themselves at risk of exploitation when their residence status or work status is irregular.
These women are all the more likely to continue enduring this violence because of a number of factors, including fear of deportation, language barriers, discrimination practiced by police officers, and difficulties in accessing support and services.
ENAR research on the impact of Islamophobia on Muslim women in eight European countries showed that Muslim women are more likely to be victims of hate crime and speech than Muslim men, especially if they wear a headscarf, highlighting the intersection of religion, gender and ethnicity in these incidents of violence.
For example, in the Netherlands, over 90% of the victims of Islamophobic incidents reported to the organisation Meld Islamofobie in 2015 were Muslim women. 71% of the perpetrators were men, unknown to the victims. In Italy, Suad Omar, an Italian-Somali activist and cultural mediator, was verbally and physically abused by a man on a bus, with insults that ranged from the colour of her skin, to her body, to the clothes she was wearing. In Sweden, Muslim women describe stories of being called “witch” and “oppressed”.
Roma women face attacks on their physical integrity such as forced sterilisation, which continues to occur in countries like Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Violence against Roma women often goes unreported due to a number of factors.
Roma women also fear further victimisation by the police and in some cases may not be able to access protection and support services due to their residence status. In Ireland, the abortion ban hinders women’s bodily autonomy, but the situation is worse for migrant women – especially undocumented – who are unable to travel abroad for an abortion.
The structural violence faced by migrant and ethnic minority women also means that they have no safe spaces to address issues of violence against women within communities, as the focus is then put on those issues and results in added stigmatisation.
Although increasing attention has been given in recent years to violence against women in EU laws and policies, women are often considered as a homogenous category. Too little attention is given to the specific situation of women of migrant or ethnic/religious minority background and to the multiple and intersecting violence and discrimination they face. Both policies and laws against racism, discrimination and hate crime, and those tackling violence against women, must include and specifically address this dimension.
In addition, services to support victims of violence should be equally accessible to all ethnic minority and migrant women, irrespective of their legal status, and service providers should receive gender and culturally sensitive trainings. Specialist organisations working with migrant and ethnic and religious minority women must be supported and receive adequate funding so that services respond to their specific needs.
Data collection on violence against migrant and ethnic minority women is also necessary to design and implement targeted and efficient prevention policies.
Not taking into account the intersection of gender, race and religion when tackling violence against women will result in millions of marginalised women in Europe falling through the net and being invisible and unheard victims.