Over 1 million people arrived in Europe by sea in 2015. According to the UNHCR, nearly 60% of this number are women and girls. A little know but significant problem is that many female refugees face hardship, sexual harassment, violence and receiving states are poorly prepared to meet these challenges facing women and girls.
On the last weekend in February, the International Conference of Refugees and Migrants in Hamburg brought together more than 1500 refugee activists from different camps across Germany and some European countries. The conference was, however, not without controversy and became a focus for numerous activist groups entering the conference and demanding “women’s space is everywhere!”
Of course, Germany (like many other European countries) has protection measures for women who are affected by gender-based violence: a national hotline that works in several languages, as well as free shelters. By law asylum-seekers are entitled to those services just as much as any German citizen. The problem is that refugee women do not know about them, administration staff at camps are simply not giving them adequate information, and the language barriers.
But an alliance of feminist organisations in Hamburg, deciding that the state simply takes too long in responding to the risks for refugee women, recently took action. With a seed grant from the German women’s foundation filia (die frauenstiftung) have bought a multi-purpose van and calling it the “EmpowerVan for Girls and Women”. From April 2016 onwards, the EmpowerVan will drive to the camps and accommodations to meet refugee women right where they are. Many of the social workers involved in this initiative have a migrant background themselves and know about the human rights violations on the intersection of sexism and racism in Germany, from their own experience. The EmpowerVan will empower refugee women with basic knowledge about their rights.
In Germany, the political will for this innovation is already there—the local government in Hamburg has expressed its willingness to support the operating costs for the EmpowerVan plus one social worker for two years.
Photo credit: “iStock.com”. Material used in the preparation of this article has been drawn from OpenDemocracy.