Next month is the month of international women’s day. Organisations, academics, charities and activists will come together to celebrate the social, political, economic and cultural achievement of women. They will also call for the advancement of women who still face barriers in political, economic and cultural areas.
Refugee women in the women’s movement are often overlooked in popular feminist discourse. In the recent celebration of the vote last month, it was often forgotten that many refugee and migrant women still don’t have the ability to vote. Many are even too fearful to speak to their local representatives about policies affecting them, due to their insecure immigration status.
Women for Refugee Women are using International Women’s Day to address this. They are launching the #AllWomenCount campaign in Parliament on 8th March. This campaign aims to elevate the voices of refugee women. To empower refugee women to take the stand and to speak to their representatives. It’s a campaign centering the voices of refugee women.
Last week we met with Women for Refugee Women to discuss our Lost Voices project – a project aimed at understanding the impact of digital campaigning on those with lived experience. Our research has found that digital campaigning has damaged relationships between decision makers, charities and those with lived experience.
Women for Refugee Women work with people who often feel most alienated by the political system. Campaigning tactics asking people to ‘just send an email to an MP’ often don’t take into account the type of (or lack thereof) relationship people have with their representatives – and how their disadvantages in society may lead to a task such as sending an email to an MP being impossible.
I caught up with Samantha Hudson, Communications Executive at Women for Refugee Women about the #AllWomenCount campaign and its impact on the Lost Voices.
Tell me a bit about the campaign
SH: This International Women’s Day, refugee and migrant women are calling for the same rights to safety, dignity and liberty as all women. Last year we held two National Refugee Women’s Conferences, one in London and one in Manchester, where refugee women from around the country really voiced their desire to share their stories and have their voices heard by policy makers in the UK. Too often, their experiences and their struggles are not really heard.
SCA: Women for Refugee Women have recognised the importance in centering the voices of refugee women into the heart of their #AllWomenCount campaign. It was these voices that expressed their desire to be listened to, and it’s these voices that will be elevated throughout the campaign. Developing a campaign in tandem with those that are living through the issues at hand is key in running a successful and responsible campaign.
What will the event entail?
SH: The event will take place in the House of Commons and is kindly hosted by MPs Kate Osamor and Stella Creasy. Migrant women and their supporters from over 40 partner organisations are coming together to say it’s about time that refugee women’s voices are heard. We have an amazing programme of individuals and grassroots groups who will speak powerfully about their experiences and share moving performances of poetry and song. We’re asking MPs to pledge to ‘listen to refugee and migrant women and support their rights to safety, dignity and liberty.’
SCA: Women for Refugee Women have tapped into another key element that is required to make any type of campaign successful: collaboration. Collaborating across teams, across organisations, and across sectors is crucial if a campaign is to gather momentum. And it’s difficult. It requires constant communication and negotiation. But the result is a sharing of skills across sectors, a development of those with lived experience into leadership positions, and a stronger third sector.
Why is now so important to have these conversations?
SH: Now is a key moment in the women’s movement – women have come forward and said #MeToo, we have mass momentum from the Women’s March and we’re celebrating the centenary of some women’s suffrage. But for this moment to trigger real and meaningful change, women who are too often at the margins need opportunities to move to the centre of calls for women’s rights and equality. There are some very important Bills coming up in Parliament, including the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill and the post-Brexit Immigration Bill. These Bills are a great opportunity to improve the lives of refugee and migrant women and so it is essential that our policy makers are informed of their stories right now.
SCA: The work that Women for Refugee Women are doing here has a solid public affairs element. Building on the strong (mainly) digital campaigns of #MeToo and #TimesUp, Women for Refugee Women are providing the physical route for marginalised women to meet with their representatives. A successful campaign takes advantage of both online and offline routes to speak to power.
What are the issues facing refugee women at the moment?
SH: The wider feminist movement has often focused on inequalities that privileged women are facing. Refugee women in our network are facing these inequalities too, and often on a much more harsh level. Many of the women in our network have personal experience of being locked up in detention centres. Our research has shown that most of these women have experienced sexual violence and this indefinite deprivation of liberty has disastrous consequences to their mental health. Refugee and migrant women are frequently unsafe. For example, the asylum process systematically pushes women into positions where they are destitute, homeless and at risk of exploitation. Women with insecure immigration status may feel they can’t report crimes against them because of fear that they’ll be arrested themselves by immigration enforcement if they go to the police.
What are you hoping the outcomes of this event will be?
SH: We want to open up the lines of communication between refugee women and their local MPs. Refugee women can play an active role in the political process in the UK and we hope that the lobby will be a space for them to have their voices heard. As this year is a landmark in both the women’s movement and in politics surrounding migration, it is essential that refugee women have a platform to speak out and shape this moment. All of the speakers are refugee and migrant women and we believe that people with lived experience should be at the forefront of all calls for change in policy.
SCA: Right here is an obvious centring of the experiences, desires and demands of those with lived experience. Women for Refugee Women have undertaken research, have provided support and have had conversations with those who very much experience these issues. And it’s with this in-depth understanding of the multiple layers of disadvantage that many refugee women experience that the #AllWomenCount campaign has been created.
How can we help?
It would be great if you could invite your local MPs to attend the lobby and listen to what the refugee and migrant women speakers have to say.
There’s a template letter on the #AllWomenCount website and details of how to book a place if you’d like to come! And if you can’t make it, follow #AllWomenCount on social media on 8 March for live streams and to see what women are saying.
To learn more about #AllWomenCount and the partner organisations with Women For Refugee Womne, take a look at their site here: www.allwomencount.co.uk
To learn more about the Lost Voices project and the role of lived experience in digital campaigning, come along to the report launch on 26 March. You can sign up here: www.lostvoices.eventbrite.co.uk