by Ilaria Boiano, research fellow at University of Roma Tre
The CONSULTING EUTH project, co-funded by the European Commission’s AMIF programme, brings together thirteen partners who will work together until December 2023 with the aim of improving the level of social inclusion of young migrants and refugees by co-designing policies through the creation of consultative bodies at local and European level.
During the on-going desk research, which is a preliminary activity for the creation of consultative bodies of young migrants, it emerges an important corpus of studies and reports concerning the political participation of young migrant and refugee women, who still face a serious exclusion both in formal and informal political participative spaces at all European levels.
Exact figures are difficult (or impossible) to obtain, owing on one hand to the lack of systematic gender-disaggregated statistics produced by national governments and international organizations, and on the other hand to the phenomenon of undocumented migration, which is in its nature impossible to measure.
However, it is a long time since scholars, grassroot organizations and policy makers took recognition of a progressive increasing number of women and girls among migrations flows, both regular and irregular, so that since the end of the 1990s we can read about the “feminization” of migrant and refugee population.
The latest survey on international immigration registered 1.9 million immigrants entering the EU from non-EU countries in 2020, there were slightly more men than women (55 % compared with 45 %), but the maritime arrivals in Italy, Spain, Greece and Cyprus include increasingly women and girls, and the highest share of female immigrants was reported in Cyprus (54 %).
Half of immigrants were aged under 30: Immigrants into EU Member States in 2020 were, on average, much younger than the total population already resident in their country of destination. On 1 January 2021, the median age of the total population of the EU stood at 44.1 years, while it was 30.3 years for immigrants in 2020.
The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) reaffirms the equal rights of women and men in all spheres, notably in political and public life, yet women and particularly young migrant and refugee women continue to face exclusion in formal and informal political participative spaces at all European levels. Certainly, this must be read into the broader problem of women’s limited political participation in general, yet the specificities of migrant and refugee women’s experiences contribute to precluding them from access to public space even more severely than European female citizens.
To measure such access to public space, but also the impact of local practices and policies on migrant youth political participation and recognition, partners of the Consulting EUth Project engaged themselves in a reflection about what it should be intended as “political participation”. First collection of experiences of young migrants, including migrant women and girls, encourage to overcome the assumption that political participation is restricted to the exercise of conventional electoral rights.
The right of meaningfully participating in decision-making processes should implies the freedom to speak out, build support networks, take part in participatory mechanisms, raise awareness, and produce impact on political decisions; and the ability to access information, build capacity and develop leadership skills in pursuit of priorities and outcomes.
In general migrant’s opportunities for collective action and political activism are limited for various reasons, such us the increasingly restrictive immigration and asylum legal regimes of European States, which prevent the access to a regular residence permit in the host countries and endanger migrants who would like to gain a visible place in the public. Even for those migrants who do have residence permits, it could be difficult to benefit from full political rights because of the linkage between citizenship status and electoral rights. Furthermore, it should be noted that migrants and refugees’ political activism about labour rights and immigration rights is under a progressive criminalization in European States.
For migrant and refugee women, also unequal gender relations and gender-based discrimination shall be added as barriers to their political participation and activism: as recognized by Jane Freedman, women have always migrated alone, however dominant narratives and policies describe women migrants as predominantly dependent on their male partners for both legal and economic rights. Policies and immigration practices reinforce this position of dependency and the public/private divide which traditionally maintain women and girls out of the political arena. Women’s isolation within the domestic arena may find as an additional push factor the sectorization of the migrant women employability towards jobs in the domestic and care services sector.
Despite all these obstacles, migrant and refugee women have become active in political activity and collective actions within European States gaining greater visibility in the public sphere. This activism acted both transforming gender relations within migrant communities and impacting hosting societies.
The first collections and interviews show that vibrant spaces of radical political activism are to be found precisely in the contexts that produce the obstacles are described: more and more foreign women are rebelling against gender-based violence in family relationships, also through the courage that young daughters pass on to their mothers, reporting the limits of a protection system which often may exposed them to secondary victimization; women organize themselves at work by rebelling against exploitation and harassment, demanding better conditions and building informal mutual aid networks; they unite to demand stable, autonomous and lasting residence rights, against the closure of regular migration routes and the repatriation system; they are an integral part of movements demanding the recognition of citizenship by residence and creatively and radically contest the dominant narrative and demand visibility and space for their voices.
These radical voices can really contribute to change in European society as a whole.
The consultative bodies that will be built locally and at European level within the Consulting Euth project can offer a concrete space for amplifying them by producing an impact on local and European policies from the experiences of migrant and refugee women and girls.
 See for example, Castles, Stephen and Miller, Mark, The Age of Migration, London, Macmillan, 1998; Kofman, Eleonore, Gender and International Migration: A Critique of Theoretical Reductionism, in Gender, Work and Migration in Europe, Hersent, Madeleine and Zaidman, Claude (Eds), Paris, Cedref, 2003.
 EUROSTAT, Migration and migrant population statistics, 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php?title=Migration_and_migrant_population_statistics#Migration_flows:_Immigration_to_the_EU_from_non-member_countries_was_1.9_million_in_2020
 United Nations, Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, 2018 Marrakech, Morocco: United Nations. http://undocs.org/en/A/CONF.231/3.
 Freedman, Women, Migration and Activism in Europe, in Amnis-Revue d’études des sociétés et cultures contemporaines Europe/Amérique, n.8, 2008.