The Embassy of Canada and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation hosted a panel discussion titled ‘Women in Displacement’ to mark the International Women’s Day in Bern, Switzerland.
The panelists made up of two women and one man are:
* Gina Bylang, specialist of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid in Child Protection and Sexual Gender Based Violence.
* Yvonne-Apiyo Brändle-Amolo, Intercultural Mediator / Founder of NGO 1+1=3 for empowerment of women.
* Prof. François Crépeau, McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism.
*And the moderator is Ursula Keller, Senior Gender Policy Advsior, SDC.
The panelists looked into how to strengthen the protection of women and their rights through the migration process, and the great potential that could be realized if the rights and dignity of women migrants and refugees were assured.
The Ambassador of Canada to Switzerland Her Excellency Susan Bincoletto in her opening remark highlighted the bold steps her country took on gender equality through which they noted that much of the country’s strength depends on its diversity and inclusion.
From then on, everything they do is based “on integrating a gender based analysis.” she explained, adding that they employ this strategy not “only because gender equality and women’s empowerment is the right or nice thing to do, but also it is a smart thing to do.”
“We know that greater diversity in the workforce boosts productivity and profitability,” as evident in an increase in the number of women in Canadian workforce accounted for a third of the country’s real GDP per capita growth.
The Ambassador says women migrants are proactive actors in the changing dynamics of migration with their innovative capacity, thus she feels if they are given opportunity they will make positive contributions to the societies in many ways including in the economic growth of their host countries.
She noted that the barriers against them are governments’ policies, societal attitudes toward them, stereotypes and fear. These have to change to benefit from the potential of women migrants, adding: “Fear is the constant companion of women in displacement.”
In his own opening remark, Ambassador Pietro Mona, Swiss Ambassador for Development, Displacement and Migration pointed out how society in general has failed to recognize the plights and potentials of displaced women. He suggested three points that should be addressed to help the women in displacement.
The first is Preventive measure. He says it is essential to address the reason for their leaving home, so as to find how it could be prevented.
The second is their Protection at their destinations. They need a safeguard to protect them from falling into the hands of human traffickers and other exploiters.
And the third is that effort should be made to Promote them with social-economic lifeline that will enable them fend for their children.
The panelists suggest a new approach to handle women in displacement.
Gina Bylang, one of the panelists, wonders how the society can protect and empower women in refugee space when they are ignorant of their state of mind, their ambition and qualification. She urges the societies to come closer to them in order to understand them better. “People should talk with them and not talk to them.”
The local should be aware that they can benefit from the services women migrants and refugee render, and should not feel they come to take their jobs.
Yvonne-Apiyo Brändle-Amolo in her contribution submitted how she underestimated language barrier when she came to Switzerland, but did not take her long to realize how important it is.
She recalled how people looked at her and tried to place in a category but unable to talk with them. She was a subject of stereotype and racial profiling – like believing that she belonged to the red light area.
She urges people in authorities, employers and society at large to avoid stereotype, and racial profiling of migrant women, and try to understand them and their culture to promote mutual understanding for mutual benefit.
She encourages the migrants, especially women, to put more effort on learning the local language, without which it will not be easy to communicate, understand culture of the land and build excellent relationship.
She explained how culture shock almost made her to return to her country, but after mastering the language she was able to overcome the shock and even took yodeling lesson. She later entered Swiss politics and was fielded to contest in a district council election this year. [The election has been held and she won]
Prof. François Crépeauin in his contribution said women refugees and migrants are always overwhelmed by ‘fear factor’. It is their big problem. He illustrated this by saying: if refugee and migrant women have a case to report to police, they prefer to keep quiet fearing they may be locked up. Same thing they fearing not only loss of job but also deportation.
It is known that women are not only exploited but also abused by employers, and threatened to terminate their contract if they complain.
“We construct precarious situation for these migrants yet we turn blind eyes to them when facing precarious situation,” he felt.
Existing policies and regulations need to be updated to curb abuse and exploitation of migrant, he suggests, after all “they pay tax, and we profit immensely from the cheap labour they provide.”
He hopes for a change in immigration policies when the Global Compact for migration is in place which will correct the anomalies and open wider doors for inclusion, equality and rights of women migrants of all categories, including refugees.