In the collective imagination, international immigration is mainly composed of men. However, the statistics show a completely different reality. Nearly half of the immigrant population in Belgium are women.
UNDERESTIMATION OF FEMALE MIGRATION
This false perception of the proportion of migrant women is the result of various factors that are hard to distinguish from each other. One of the possible reasons for this stereotype is that in the aftermath of World War Two, migrants were heavily recruited form mining and steel industries and they were exclusively men.
Another possibility is that the proportion of migrant men has slightly increased over the past two decades following the accession of several countries such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union in 2004. Also, the arrival of mostly male refugees seeking international protection (72% in 2015). This overrepresentation of men may be explained by the fact that many of them decide to go to Europe alone and bring the rest of their family later via family reunification. The statistics for family reunification confirm that it is an essential pathway for women; 65% of the family reunification visa applications concern women.
The story of 49-year-old Marwane and his family illustrates this reality. He risked his life to flee Syria and come to Europe in the hope that he could then bring his wife and two sons. In 2018, his dream came true.
>> ALSO READ: Marwane’s story in its entirety.
WHY DO THEY MIGRATE?
The reasons why men and women leave also vary. According to the reason for the first residence permit, women represent 72% of the migrants who arrived in Belgium for family reasons, 50% for reasons related to education, and 34% for professional reasons.
Women who are in need of international protection may have specific reasons for migrating. These include violence against women in the event of an armed conflict as they have a systematically higher risk of being harmed. Another reason may be structural discrimination, some of which can lead to situations of violence such as forced marriages, genital mutilation, domestic violence etc. Globally, one in two refugees are women (48% in 2018).
MIGRANT WOMEN IN THE WORK FORCE?
Employment opportunities for immigrants in Belgium are among the worst in the EU. The employment rate for 20 to 64-year old’s is 53.9%, compared with 72% for natives. Migrant women experience an even lower employment rate than their male counterparts (14.9% difference). There is also a difference of 15.1% for women who are born in Belgium. The employment rate is even lower if you only analyzed migrant women born outside the EU. emploi est encore plus bas si l’on analyse uniquement les femmes migrant-e-s nées en dehors de l’UE.
There are different reasons that may explain the difference in the employment rate between men and women. Globally women participate less than men in the labor market, this could be due to private family choices or pragmatic aspects. It is sometimes more financially attractive for women to stay at home because childcare is expensive and the wages that women receive are generally lower. Differences in education may explain these wage and employments gaps, but they are insufficient. In fact, one in three migrant women (33.8%) are overqualified for their position compared to one in four migrant men (28.6%). In the case of people born in Belgium, one woman in four is overqualified (21.3%) compared to one man in six (17.9%).
These lower levels of women’s employment and skills are the result of their three identities: migrant, women… and a migrant woman. Similar to their male counterparts, migrant women face administrative difficulties (recognition of diploma and skills etc.), language acquisition and discrimination. In addition, there are often specific barriers that women face such as childcare, gender inequality, stereotypes etc.
>> ALSO READ: Chapter 3 of the report, “Designing a common home: migration and development in Belgium”
SHE SHARES HER EXPERIENCE…
To conclude, let’s give the floor to Ruchika who is originally from India but she moved to Belgium five years ago:
This article is written within the framework of the MIND project, which receives financial support from the European Union’s Development Education and Awareness Programme (DEAR). The contents are the responsibility of Caritas International and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.