On the occasion of International Migrants Day and the final webinar on the EU-Canada migration platform dedicated to the integration challenges and opportunities faced by migrant women, Eurodiaconia takes a closer look at how the recently released Action plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027 seeks to address the integration challenges faced by women and support their integration in EU societies.
Research has shown that migrant women often face a ‘double disadvantage’ due to their status as women as well as immigrants. While there has been increasing attention paid to gender equality, as demonstrated by measures taken to promote the advancement of women and objectives for strategic engagement in the 2020-2025 EU Gender Equality Strategy, as well as an increasing recognition of the importance of taking a cross-cutting intersectional approach when it comes to the inclusion of women, migrant women continue to face particular barriers when it comes to their integration that needs to be considered when developing integration strategies and policy.
Migrant women compared to men usually confront more obstacles when it comes to access to employment, training, language courses, and settlement and integration services. Moreover, within the group of non-EU migrants, refugee women are confronted with additional challenges often related to their forced migration, including poor health, trauma, and lack of documentation of their education and work experience. In addition, migrant women often experience multiple forms of discrimination based on factors including gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion and immigration status, putting them at a higher risk of experiencing violence, poverty and social exclusion.
We have also seen that the COVID-19 pandemic has also disproportionately affected vulnerable communities, including migrants, and migrant women in particular. The impact includes physical and mental health, as well as economic consequences, possible increase in discrimination and racism, and the impact of school closures on migrant children and their parents.
Progress has however been made in recognizing and addressing the particular challenges that migrant women face in the EU. The Communication from the Commission on the new Action plan on Integration and Inclusion (2021-2027) states that while the areas targeted in the 2016 continue to be relevant, more concerted action is needed to strengthen the integration of migrant women. The new Action plan recognizes that individual characteristics, such as gender, may present specific challenges to people with a migrant background, and proposes some gender-specific objectives in areas such as health, equal participation, and labour market access. The plan also takes a more intersectional approach, taking into account the combination of personal characteristics in addition to gender and migrant background, such as a person’s racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation and disability which could pose specific challenges.
The communication also mentions mainstreaming gender as a key principle and value guiding the Action plan. In terms of the actions in the main sectoral areas, it proposes as a priority to have more women participating in the labour market and that the specific challenges faced by migrant women when accessing healthcare be considered. When it comes to social integration and participation, the plan also has as a priority to promote equal opportunities for participation of migrant women in society.
While this represents a key step forward in recognising the gender dimension in EU integration policies, the Action plan however falls short in terms of concrete actions it intends to take at the EU and national level to support these objectives. Besides offering support for inclusive entrepreneurship under InvestEU and promoting inclusive mentoring schemes for both women and men, the Action plan on Integration and Inclusion doesn’t mention any specific actions, directly targeting migrant women, that it plans to undertake to support the gender mainstreaming priorities in the Plan.
Furthermore, while the Action plan takes an integrated approach to the inclusion of migrants by trying to create linkages with existing and upcoming EU strategies such as the European Pillar of Social Rights, the EU’s Anti-racism action plan and the Gender equality strategy, it is not very specific in terms of how these synergies will be developed and what concrete actions will be put in place to ensure that the different EU initiatives complement each other and work together to strengthen the inclusion of migrants and migrant women and girls in particular.
Based on the analysis and experiences of Eurodiaconia and its members, we propose the following recommendations on how to strengthen the integration and inclusion of migrant women.
- Develop concrete actions at the EU and national level in all sectoral areas outlined in the Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion — including education and training, employment and skills development, health, and housing — that are aimed at supporting migrant women as a priority on their own
- Encourage MS, through funding and other instruments, to promote a gender-sensitive approach in migrant integration action plans and strategies at the national level and ensure that adequate funding is allocated to guarantee effective implementation of such policies
- Develop concrete actions in line with the EU’s anti-Racism action plan on how to tackle racism and discrimination towards migrant women at the local and community level
- Set a specific focus on reaching out to isolated migrant women, particularly those who arrive through family migration pathways, as they’re currently less likely to be targeted by integration programs and mainstream services
- Governments and the programs they fund should ensure flexibility in service access and eligibility: service delivery needs to recognise that migrant and refugee women’s needs vary at different points in time in their integration journey, for example they might not be able to partake in training or education when they first arrive due to family commitments, therefore ensuring flexibility in the uptake of services and eligibility in terms of legal status is key
- Provide specific attention to the needs of migrant women in introductory/orientation programs: research has shown that women migrants, particularly in the European context receive less integration and settlement support than men, particularly when it comes to the number of hours of language training and active labour market measures.[11
- Provide funding to develop programs that assist in the creation of professional and social networks for migrant women. Research has shown that there is often a strong link between a migrant’s social network and their ability to secure employment and feel socially integrated. Funding at the EU and national level for education and skills training programs targeted towards women, mentoring programs, and bridging programs that promote the creation of social bonds between migrant women and the local community are very important
- Provide funding and practical support for migrant, refugee and women-led organisations who speak the language of the different migrant groups in the society, who understand the community and cultural nuances, and who are often better equipped at reaching out to more socially isolated migrant women.
For a more detailed analysis look forward to Eurodiaconia’s forthcoming policy brief where we will go more in-depth at the specific challenges that migrant women face in their integration, how different EU initiatives have sought to address these challenges and provide further recommendations on what could be done at the EU and national level.
 Liebig, T. and K. Tronstad, Triple Disadvantage?: A first overview of the integration of refugee women, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 216, OECD Publishing, Paris, 2018, p. 8. https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/employment/triple-disadvantage_3f3a9612-en#page1
 EU Gender Equality Strategy, https://ec.europa.eu/info/policies/justice-and-fundamental-rights/gender-equality/gender-equality-strategy_en
 Mutual learning conference on “Innovative approaches to integration and inclusion of migrants”, thematic discussion paper: Gender perspectives in integration policy approaches, 26 November 2020.https://multimedia.getresponse360.pl/icf-zSG2y/documents/d63c5773-a33d-4d95-9d69-ef7d1164bba2.pdf
 Liebig, T. and K. Tronstad (2018). op. cit. note 1
 European Parliament, Report on the situation of women refugees and asylum seekers in the EU
(2015/2325(INI)), 2016, p.18. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+REPORT+A8-2016-0024+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN
 The European web site for integration continuously tracks the impact of COVID-19 on migrant communities in a number of key integration areas across the EU.
 OECD (2020) What is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on immigrants and their children?
 DG Migration and Home Affairs website. Action plan on Integration and inclusion. https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/legal-migration/integration/action-plan-integration-third-country-nationals_en
 Liebig, T. and K. Tronstad (2018). op. cit. note 1