Happy International Women's Day 2017

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This International Women's Day, Rachel Hamada asks some brilliant women for their reflections on the barriers refugee women face in the workplace in the UK.  

International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women's achievements, but also to acknowledge the challenges we continue to face. Refugee women in particular, once they have been granted formal refugee status, can struggle to find work that fits their skills and aspirations, especially after an often long asylum process has excluded them from the world of work for years.

We work with many brilliant women every day at Scottish Refugee Council, so today we decided to ask, what are some of the greatest challenges refugee women face in the workplace and how can we challenge these?

Angeline Mwafulirwa, human rights student:

“I think the challenges can include an erosion of self confidence from the process of seeking asylum. A lack of awareness of systems and structures can also result in women missing out on opportunities. Discrimination, both direct and indirect, continues to affect women, as do language barriers, again resulting in missed opportunities. Refugee women's existing qualifications are not always acknowledged by employers.

 “The real opportunity here is the diversity that comes with coming from different backgrounds and the different flavour and experiences women bring to the workplace.”

 Roza Salih, Glasgow Girl and political candidate:

 “First of all, refugee women are less likely to be employed. Especially as their qualifications or oversees work experiences are not recognised. There is also a lack of support for refugee women to settle in workplaces, even though they have the merit and capability to do so. 

“They also face the challenge of adapting to a new environment, and forgetting the traumatic experiences in their past. In the workplace the memory of the past can be triggered by discrimination that most women can go through. They can be discriminated against for the colour of their skin or because their pronunciation of the English language might be slightly different. 

“We have a long way to go for equality for refugee women. The UK Government and employers need to create a strategy to recognise refugee women’s qualifications and ability to carry out work equal to other workers. Their background should not matter but rather should be accepted as a strength to bring to our workplaces.” 

Catriona Macsween, Scottish Guardianship Service:

“Many refugees come from countries where traditionally women don’t go out to work. This cultural barrier can make it harder for them to do so when they come to Scotland. There’s also the added challenge of finding suitable childcare arrangements to support them to work, as refugee mums won’t have the same access to an extended family network as a woman who was born in Scotland has.

“Of course, refugee women bring lots of skills and value too – such as access to native speakers of other languages, and insight into different cultures and communities that bring lots of diversity to the workplace.”

Gabby Cluness, Milk Café, Glasgow:

“I would say that one of the biggest challenges for newly arrived refugees is learning how to navigate the various cultural and social differences, particularly if someone doesn't have the language skills to feel confident enough to ask questions. I do however think that Scotland has a warm and welcoming community once you find your feet.” 

 Milk Café is a social enterprise that works with asylum seeking and refugee women in the city to help empower them and offer employability support.

Alys Mumford, Communications and Engagement Officer at Engender Scotland:

“Women face more barriers to employment than men, ethnic minority women face more barriers to employment than the white women, and refugee women face still more barriers. Concerted action is needed to address these barriers, which include discrimination, lack of flexible working and childcare arrangements, and failure to provide tailored employability programmes which address the specific barriers to employment facing refugee women.

“On top of removing these barriers, we urgently need to rethink our inhumane asylum process which prevents women from seeking employment, leading to erosion of skills and confidence.”

Jenny Kemp, EIS National Officer for Education and Equality:

“One of the biggest workplace challenges facing some refugee women in Scotland is getting into the workplace in the first place. Refugees arrive in Scotland with few possessions, but many skills, often including a background in teaching.

“It is essential that people who have sought refuge in Scotland are properly supported to play a full and active part in the educational community. More could be done to recognise refugee women’s prior qualifications and to support them into the teaching profession.”

 What can you do? You can write to your MP calling for people in the asylum process to be allowed to work, helping to keep their skills up to date and earn for themselves.

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