Domestic violence against migrant women in Europe: a discussion with three African women
Three women from Cameroon and Nigeria living in Malta give their own perspective regarding domestic violence and the double discrimination that migrant women experience in Europe.
From the discussions, it emerged that those who experience domestic abuse in Europe by their partners face very difficult situations, as they receive less support at a social and legal level.
Their different backgrounds and experiences added vital information and ideas to the debate, from which the main elements related to domestic violence were any kind of physical, psychological, verbal, economical abuse and blackmail.
Precious Atigolo is a young lady, mother and a wife from Nigeria, seeking asylum in Malta.
Lorraine Fotso is a lady from Cameroon, former student in France, currently established in Malta and working as an engineer.
Regine Psaila, from Cameroon, is a wife, journalist and manager of African Media Association Malta, an organization that aims to empower migrants in many different ways. She is well aware of the issues of female migration in Europe.
Abuse exists in so many ways and sometimes even more within a marriage. Many men both in Europe and in Africa think that just because they do not beat up their wives, they do not abuse them, but it is not the case. Speaking about Africa, in many cases the mentality goes around the idea that a woman has to accept anything from her partner, because a marriage should be kept no matter what.
Although domestic violence is something that happens a lot, there are many reasons why women do not report the incidents. For example, it is not easy for an African woman in Europe who has kids, works and takes care of the house to report domestic abuse. To the question: “Why don’t you report your husband?” we should understand that it takes courage to speak up. Some women are scared or others do not have any external support. A way of helping is that people who witness these cases can speak up and support the victim.
No form of violence is justifiable. Violence can be physical but at the same time, psychological, verbal or even financial. However, although there are many cases of domestic violence against migrant women in Europe, women tend not to report the abusers. A study in Sweden shows that 33% of women that are abused are migrants. This figure takes into account only the numbers of those who reported the incidents.
An important factor that prevents women from exposing their abusive partners is that they are usually ashamed of what happened, although they are the victims and the abusers are the ones that should be ashamed. On the other hand, there is also the traditional idea of not revealing what happens within the marriage. This makes it even harder for an external person to find out that there is a problem, studies show.
I believe that the numbers are so high because migrant women here in Europe are more alone and isolated. They do not have their family and social circle as in Africa to help them escape. This means that they receive little help. The fact that domestic violence is illegal in most EU countries does not change the reality that migrant women are still more hit than European women. One reason for example, is the amount of racism in the police and in the justice system. Misuses and exploitation against migrants in police stations and court halls is a reality in many EU countries.
Spain came up with a solution to tackle this by creating special courts for domestic abuse with lawyers and advocates that are especially trained for this. Moreover, there are homes that welcome migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse.
Domestic violence has its roots in traditions, cultural and patriarcal mentalities. But this must stop. Society cannot tell a woman that her achievement in life is only marriage and that in order to have a husband and children she should accept anything.
In Malta and in general in Europe, there are housing programs hosting women who were victims of domestic abuse. But the other problem they face is documentation. A woman who is undocumented and at the same time abused by her partner is double discriminated. She is afraid to report the incident or seek healthcare, because she might be arrested or even deported back to her country of origin. Additionally, if a woman has come to Europe through the family reunification legislation, or using her marriage certificate, by divorcing she might be deported back or separated from her kids as she will not carry her husband’s name anymore.
This is also a way of abuse by both the husbands and the system since these migrant women are trapped and they might accept any kind of abuse in order to stay in Europe. Another issue is the language barrier. Many migrant women do not speak the language of their host country and without a translator it is impossible to know how to report domestic violence or where to go in case something happens. On many occasions, abuse victims are not aware of the existence of organizations that can offer help, because this information never reached them.
Consequently, migrant women are twice discriminated against when it comes to domestic violence as they have to fight against both their partners and the system.