Gender based violence against women and the role of national policies

The second morning workshop on the 4 of June was about violence against migrant women. Violence against women is in accordance to the UN-Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993): “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” (http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/48/a48r104.htm).

The major issue of debate concerned the question of how migration leads to different forms of violence against women and reinforces existing oppressive practices against migrant women in different spheres. The workshop was co-facilitated by Katherine Ronderos from CAWN (Central American Women´s Network), and Myriam Bell from LAWRS (Latin American Women’s Rights Service), both based in the UK.

Katherine Ronderos gave us a short introduction on the main topic of the workshop, gender-based violence. She stressed the fact that when we talk about migration and violence against women we have to consider different types of situations women find themselves trapped depending on the specific reasons for their migration and their legal status in the receiving countries. Therefore we have to differentiate between forced and voluntary migration as well as between legal and illegal migration as it have different impacts on the observation of women’s human rights.

Gender based violence in Latin America and CAWN

In the case of Latin America the border regions of Mexico with the U.S. have the highest rates on sexual violence against women. An extreme form of gender-based violence can be detected in many Central American Countries, the feminicides. These brutal crimes and other acts of violence against women are not legally persecuted by the legal authorities. They treat them rather as passionate crimes and private issues than violations of women’s human rights. That tolerance and impunity leads to the perpetuation of violence against women. The Central American Women’s Network (CAWN) with its base in the UK aims to improve the women rights situation and works closely in cooperation with Latin American Women’s Organisations. One main objective for CAWN is advocating on the protection of women´s rights inside the trade agreements between the European Union and Latin American Countries.

The “Latin American Women’s Rights Service” and the case of the UK

The co-facilitator of this workshop was Myriam Bell, a Chilean refugee who works for LAWRS which is also based in London and was funded in 1983. The overall objective of this community based organisation is to address the needs of Latin American migrant women in the UK in order to allow them a more independent and autonomous life. Women who migrate to the UK get often dependant from their husbands as they arrive with a spouse via. Moreover they have to face a restrictive access to public funds.  Thereby the legal system is perpetuating gender-based violence on women. LAWRS assists those women through information as well as capacitation.

The migration to the UK has diminished in the recent years due to more restrictive immigration laws. At the same time the undocumented migration has increased. Migrants are entering the country with false passports or through marrying a UK Citizen. The migration of Latin Americans from Spain with an EU Citizenship passport has increased as well because of the economic crises in Spain. These women often find employment in unskilled professions due to the language barrier they encounter. This means entering a vicious circle because as they do not can progress in their jobs they do not learn the language and can not find a more skilful job. That makes it more difficult to get out of abusive situations.

The differing legal situations in Spain and the UK of migrant women

After the introduction given by Ronderos and Bell the space for discussion were opened. The main topic of debate was about the different legal situations for migrant women in Spain and in the UK. Dora Aguirre Hidalgo form the National Assembly of Ecuador reported on the legal situation of migrant women with an irregular status in Spain who suffer from violence at home or at their workspace. Due to the lack of proper legislation that could protect illegally working women from violence the affected women often do not report on experienced violence because that could lead to a process of deportation. These women become invisible and as they do no get legal support they often get killed before have reported on the experienced violence. Dora Aguirre Hidalgo stressed the importance of legal support for migrant women with an irregular status and their family. This psychological support should start before reporting the crime and should be kept on during the process of reporting.

The case of UK legislation is quite different. Since 2004 migrant women living in the UK with a spouse visa can report on gender-based violence without running the risk to be deported from the country. As Patel Pragna from Southall Black Sisters reported to us, the legislation was changed in 2004 in accordance to women’s humans rights due to 20 years of campaigning and lobbying of migrant women. Instead of using the migration discourse to change the legislation women´s groups used the discourse of violence against women to bring a change. They referred also to arguments of anti-discrimination and the fact that the UK has signed the CEDAW convention and have the duty to secure human rights for all women regardless their legal status in the country. Hence if you enter the UK as married women and you suffer from violence you can report on that crime without getting departed from the country. Still there are several problems with the legislation as Patel Pragna told us. Being a migrant woman you have to proof the experienced domestic violence on a very high level and have access to state housing and state security. Otherwise you can not leave the oppressive situation. Women also have to struggle with language barriers, with the lack of knowledge on their rights and the difficult access to support and proper advocacy.

The discussion showed very well the different policies in different countries on the same issue and the importance of appropriate legislation for the observation of women’s human rights. As one participant emphasized at the end of that interesting workshop session: in the struggle for more autonomy and independence in women’s lives we have to keep up lobbying, women’s organisations have to stick together and use different spaces and media to get the message across and change the attitudes of the public und raise their awareness.

For further information and reading:

CAWN: http://www.cawn.org/

LAWRS: http://www.lawrs.org.uk/

No more killings! Women respond to femicides in Central America
Written by Marina Prieto-Carro´n, Marilyn Thomson, and Mandy Macdonald
http://www.cawn.org/publications/documentation/other-publications/article-by-Marina-Marilyn-and-Mandy.pdf

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