The impact of fundamentalism and neoliberalism on migrant women

"Migrant and minority women are falling between the cracks in laws, social support and analysis" says Anna Zobnina

News / 29.8.18

To quote radical feminist Nawal El Saadawi, “the ‘trilogy’ composed of politics, religion and sex is the most sensitive of all issues in society”.

Understanding the relationship between forms of Other-ing like racism, nativism, and religious conservatism, as well as patriarchal power, is vital for our organisation, the European Network of Migrant Women.

Our work with migrant, refugee, and ethnic minority women derives from our experiential knowledge. With members from all around the world, we tackle cross-cutting issues like integration, cultural awareness, language learning and legal support, but violence against women sits at the core of all our members.

We confront this violence, be it physical, psychological or economic, from the principles of feminism, human rights and solidarity.

The importance of solidarity

Unfortunately, a lot of people still do not understand the premises of intersectionality. Most have not read Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work or studied the analysis behind the concept. We have a lot of white privileged men using the term in their own interest.

But for us, how can we work if not intersectionality? We work with migrant and minority women who are not discriminated solely on one ground, because they are women. They are discriminated against because of their legal status, ethnicity, age, economic vulnerability, religious affiliation or background, etc.

What we often lose in mainstream intersectional analysis is solidarity. How do we see each other? How do we identify with each other despite our differences?

As a network we follow the principle of secularism. This was not originally written in our statutes, because we took it for granted. We only quite recently realised that we do need to speak about secularism as it is being taken away from us.

Secularism is a crucial principle for us as a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious and areligious organisation. It allows us to come together. We also need to practice it so that we can be open to criticising religion itself, especially in the way that it treats women.

This principle of secularism allows us to protect women who exercise religion so that they are not discriminated against on the ground of their religious identity and to protect women who originally come from non-secular states.

So, what do we mean by fundamentalism?

Fundamentalism is a set of irreducible beliefs. You could call me a fundamentalist because I strongly believe in feminism. However, I am not interpreting things in a literal way. I analyse phenomena openly and pull out different contextual meanings.

Another important aspect of fundamentalism is a strong tendency to maintain in-group and out-group distinctions. To maintain a group, you need to maintain its purity. When you transgress a boundary, you are punished for it.

This is what is being done to migrant and minority women. We are being pulled apart based on our different identities, such as race, place of origin, religious affiliation and numerous other distinctions.

Because of the actual racism, discrimination and hatred that exists in our societies, women are disempowered, and a sense of identity becomes very important. It becomes more important than the sense of solidarity among women.

In this context of rising fundamentalism and neoliberalism, migrant women are falling between the cracks, in terms of laws, social support and analysis.

We see a rise in fundamentalism and neoliberalism where women’s bodies are commercialised and sexualised for profit. In this context, migrant women are falling between the cracks, legally and in terms of social support and analysis.

There is almost no language that we have that we can use to support migrant women.

Let’s build this movement, let’s build this solidarity and let’s have this difficult conversation about fundamentalism and neoliberalism.

This is an abridged speech delivered by Anna Zobnina, the Strategy Coordinator of ENOMW, at our event on “Collusion of fundamentalism and neoliberalism: Its impact on women and minority rights“.

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This conference is a joint initiative of the European Network of Migrant Women, the Culture Project, and Coppieters Foundation.

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This conference is financially supported by the European Parliament. The European Parliament is not liable for the content of the conference or the opinions of the speakers.

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