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A Gender-Sensitive Perspective as a part of Integration Policy

In 2017, the EU was home to 21.6 million third-country nationals, 4.2% of the total population [i]. The increased diversity from migration brings great opportunity and potential to a country, however the gap between the outcomes of migrants and EU citizens in the areas of employment, education, social inclusion and active citizenship demonstrates multiple issues, with female migrants and refugees facing a double disadvantage.  Although a diverse, heterogeneous group, migrant female unemployment and social exclusion remains a great socioeconomic challenge for most European countries.  The gap between employment of non-EU born women versus native women is 8 percentage points larger than the gap among men [ii] and on average there is a 24% difference between male and female employment rates when it comes to non-EU citizens in the 28 EU-countries.  Analysts identify a number of factors linked to these statistics and it is clear that to realise the potential of migration, strong strategy and practice around integration, linked to these issues, is crucial.

European Union Level

Individual European countries have the primary responsibility for integrating new arrivals into their country.  However, in the last 20 years the EU has had a significant role supporting them, both financially and in developing frameworks and strategies around integration.  

Despite these directives, individual countries have scope to choose how they translate them into national law, with the consequence that individual member state countries have differing rules related to asylum and migration.  Most European countries have integration policies in place, sometimes within other policy frameworks. At the end of 2017, 25 Member States had a national/regional or local integration policy in place targeting migrants.  However, these policies vary, with differing definitions of integration and consequent gaps in factors being tackled.  Countries often do not address the heterogeneous nature of migrants with their varying needs.  For example, at the end of 2017 26 of 30 states surveyed did not have a policy relating to migrant women [iii].   An integration strategy, that has a gender sensitive approach, including recognising the particular needs of women needs to focus on a number of key areas at different levels of society.

National Level

The European Commission has highlighted the importance of a country having an overarching national approach to integration.  Amongst other effects this will help to ensure effective co-ordination of funding at EU and national level and to support country-wide parity and local comparability of service [iv].   A strong, workable national policy with related legislation and monies should necessarily contain a gender sensitive perspective, including targeted measures for migrant women such as; resources related to support for family and child care responsibilities, health systems with ring fenced funds for work related to gender-based violence, enforced marriage, trafficking, female genital mutilation [v],  housing policies that ensure a level of stability for new arrivals, with migrants neither segregated into disadvantaged areas or housed away from any known contacts or communities, which can lead particularly to isolation for women iv.

Entitlement to integration programmes with a variety of components including language training and social orientation are an important element of an integration strategy ii.  One of the biggest barriers for women in their integration is not understanding the local language which has multiple ramifications in most areas of their lives.  Language learning must be encouraged as early as possible, possibly linking attending classes to financial support.  Women refugees and migrants are more likely than men to suffer isolation in their new country and a focus on participation and networking is also important [vi].  A gender awareness and anti-discrimination focus can be integrated into all elements of these introductory programmes [vii].

The European Economic and Social Committee in 2015 concluded that 'participating in the labour market is one of the most effective and practical ways of integrating migrant women into society'.  However, having a level of stability in other areas of life eg status, family welfare and finance are prerequisites for women engaging with the task of gaining work.  Key to supporting all migrant women into work, (and education) are financial support for maternity, child and other caring obligations, legislation around flexible working, strategies for adequate and geographically appropriate childcare, and for flexible learning ii.

The importance of equivalency systems for qualifications from different countries was highlighted in the 2011 European Agenda for the integration of third-country nationals, but also important is the national development of educational skills testing to assess non-certificated skills and experience from informal settings, which are much more usual for women. Some analysis vi cites the main reason for high unemployment amongst migrant women as the inadequate mapping and validation of women's' prior knowledge, skills and experience and the lack of individual support for these women.

Local Level

The European Agenda for Integration 2011 highlighted the key role for local authorities in a successful integration policy.  These authorities tend to be responsible for the integration process and delivery of services for the refugee/migrants living in their area, being well placed to have a co-ordinating role, in terms of their understanding of local demographics and networks and having relationships with local organisations vii.

In this role, local authorities, as well as supporting projects that have a focus on gender awareness, can ring fence monies for projects and partnerships targeted at women in areas of support that can otherwise disadvantage them, for example language learning, social integration, employability skills amongst others iv

To make these projects and programmes accessible to female migrants, the authorities are well placed to encourage the involvement of schools, health centres and other places and organisations that women frequent ii.

As well as additional services for women, a gender sensitive approach needs to include an offer that focuses more generally at impacts in relation to our approach to gender, and puts measures in place that support a less gendered approach, including ring fencing monies for work with whole migrant communities and projects that focus on host country and migrant connections.

Professional Level

Women migrant and refugees are statistically a long distance from the labour market and often need long-term, ongoing support to fulfil their aspirations and potential.  This necessitates the existence of professional case managers offering targeted individual support within employment support services [viii, however these professional trainings and standards are currently not available in some European countries.

These careers counsellors, as well as other frontline staff working with migrants, such as immigration workers, lawyers and psychologists should automatically receive equal opportunities training as part of their professional qualification, to include understanding of gender-based violence, cultural gender stereotyping, self and host country prejudices and presumptions and the use of gender sensitive assessment tools v.


Integration strategies will obviously vary depending on the demographics and individual needs of a particular country or locality.  But there are important key elements that need to be included to address factors that prevent refugees and migrants from thriving within their new home country.  As discussed in this article, it is important that these elements are addressed at all levels of society.  Amongst other roles, the EU supports countries to share their best practice in relation to integration.  At a national level it is important that an integration policy is supported by strong equal opportunities and anti-discrimination legislation.  Monitoring and evaluation of what is happening locally should take place at a national level.  And the importance of well-trained professionals to support this client group has been high-lighted.  However, there is also a responsibility for each of us individually to reflect on our relationship to gender and difference and to be open to each other, respecting and valuing all our contributions.

Rebecca Glyn Jones works for Rinova Ltd, a social enterprise based in London.  For the full document 'EU-wide Guidelines for Inclusion of A Gender-Sensitive Perspective as a part of Migration/integration Policy' visit https://igmafemina.dimitra.gr/en/

[i] European Commission. (2018) Settling In 2018 - a joint EU-OECD report on integration of migrants. https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/news/settling-2018-joint-eu-oecd-report-integration-migrants_en (Accessed: 30/04/19)

[ii] Li, M. (2018) Integration of Migrant Women: A Key Challenge With Limited Policy Resources. https://ec.europa.eu/migrant-integration/feature/integration-of-migrant-women  (Accessed: 23/04/2019)

[iii] European Court of Auditors. (2018) The integration of migrants from outside the EU: Briefing Paper. Luxembourg: European Court of Auditors. https://www.eca.europa.eu/en/Pages/DocItem.aspx?did=45990

[iv] European Commission. (2016) Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, The Council, The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Action Plan on the integration of third country nationals. Strasbourg: European Commission https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM:2016:377:FIN

[v] Directorate-general for Internal Policies. (2016) Reception of female refugees and asylum seekers in the EU: Case study Belgium and Germany. Brussels: Policy Department for Citizen's Rights and Constitutional Affairs. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/571364/IPOL_STU%282016%29571364_EN.pdf

[vi] Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (2015) 'The situation of women refugees and asylum seekers in the EU' European Parliament http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/A-8-2016-0024_EN.html

[vii] European Commission. (2011a) Communication From The Commission To The European Parliament, The Council, The European Economic And Social Committee And The Committee Of The Regions: European Agenda For The Integration Of Third-Country Nationals. COM(2011) 455 final. Brussels: European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regdoc/rep/1/2011/EN/1-2011-455-EN-F1-1.Pdf

[viii] European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training. (2009) Professionalising career guidance: Practitioner competences and qualification routes in Europe. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/files/5193_en.pdf