In search of the refugee woman’s voice

_DSC6014No matter our ethnicity, religion or background, we can always find things in common with others who we share this planet with. During the month of August, which is internationally celebrated as women’s month, there are men and women everywhere who are willing to leave their differences aside in pursuit of a common goal: the validation of women’s equality and empowerment. The month of August pays tribute to and celebrates the struggles women have had over decades by realizing their non-sexist, united, non-racial, democratic and discrimination-free place in society and the world at large.

With this in mind, women of ACTION, the Local Peace Committees and the South African Somali Women’s Network (SASOWNET) took to the streets of Mayfair, Johannesburg, on the 21st of August 2015, to engage with refugee and migrant women on the challenges they have encountered since living in the country. In a bid to empower women to drive initiatives that seek to better their lives, a lot of groundwork had to be done. United, we marched through the streets of the suburb, learning of the hardships women have to endure in their day-to-day lives. Some of the common challenges woman voiced were; not receiving documents to enable their legal residence in the country, others shared their experiences of not being given proper health care services, and the feeling of being marginalized in a land that belongs to all Africans. But amidst the reports of these challenges, there were also gems of hope; the men who were keen to stand against the oppression of women, the South African women who gave a platform to the Somali women to share what it means to be a migrant woman, and the ideas that came forth from people seeking to address these challenges.

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During the debrief, the women reflected on what they had learned and talked about their experiences. Thandi, one of the South African LPC women, shared her horror after talking to a Somali man who had told her about the domestic violence that occurs in some of the homes – where women and children are locked inside and not allowed to go out, and forbidden from receiving an education. She asked if this was indeed true, and the Somali women present confirmed that it does happen. This opened up the floor for a continued discussion, in which the Somali women shared some of their challenges, both as women and as migrants, and the LPC women offered their listening ears and sympathetic voices. As much as there are challenges unique to being a migrant woman, the women also found areas of shared strife, causes that they could join together on as women and co-inhabitants of South Africa. Indeed, domestic violence, reports of police violence and insufficient service delivery are not unique to migrant communities. This activity was a promising step in ongoing work to empower women, understand the particular challenges of migrants, and to integrate South Africans and migrants through relationship building, awareness raising and collaborative effort.

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