FES: Recently, your department has been focussing on the target group “women” and the question of how they can be integrated successfully into the job market. Have refugee women been ignored so far in the discussion on “integrating refugees into the job market”?
Ildikó Pallman: Maybe not ignored per se, but they have barely been present in the discussion. The public image of forced migration in the last few years has been dominated by young men; women played a very minor role, if they even played one at all. At the same time, the number of women filing initial applications for asylum has risen continuously since 2015. Today, according to the current BAMF statistics, 43% of applicants are women. More than half of these are over 16 years old and so potentially available to job training and labour markets. But still, the most relevant job market players do not view refugee women as target group.
This is even more surprising as the majority of women is highly motivated to participate in the German job market. Many are in possession of higher eduction degrees and have several years of job experience in their countries of origin; even though, regarding the latter, the percentage of men is higher. In addition, during their journey, many women worked in so-called transit states. And even among the group of women who have not worked yet or whose access to education was restricted so far, there are many who want to build a professional future for themselves in Germany.
However, the current numbers collected by the Federal Labour Office (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) do not reflect this situation. In comparison with their male counterparts, refugee women only make up a small percentage (13 %) of employees subject to social security deductions. So far, there are hardly any findings about the reasons for this. A commonly used explanation is that many refugee women have small children and therefore cannot or do not want to go to work. However, in our opinion this explanation falls short, even though it might apply to a percentage of the women.
What are the specific obstacles refugee women need to overcome in order to find their way into the job market?
First, it needs to be said that refugee women are a very heterogenous group and therefore not all are confronted with the same kind of obstacles, just because they have the shared common factor of being refugees. For example, women who were working as engineers in their countries of origin and who want to work in the same capacity here are facing different obstacles than women who have no work experience and only a basic education and who would like to learn a profession here in Germany. Women with small children have different issues than single women without children. Other relevant factors are the resident permit status, age and place of residence (urban versus rural).
The challenges refugee women face in order to establish themselves on the job market are an accumulation of various factors. Some of these are: The kind and duration of work experience in the country of origin, the access to language and integration offers, the process of getting professional qualifications from countries of origin accredited, insufficient knowledge of the structure and functioning of the German job market, an insecure residence perspective or family obligations.
Another factor is the multiple discrimination refugee women are often facing in Germany and other European countries. For example, in addition to being discriminated against as women, they might also be discriminated against for being a migrant and/or a refugee . This interlinking of various challenges results in refugee women being a particularly vulnerable group on the job market.
In your opinion, in what way are resource centers that aim at helping refugees enter the job market prepared for the additional challenges many women face?
All in all, most resource centers and the corresponding set of regulations that aim to support refugees on their way into the job market are not really focusing on refugee women. The general consensus is that it is hard to reach them – unlike male refugees. This can also be seen in regard to the IQ support program. So, the number of persons with refugee background both in the areas of accreditation and qualification consulting, as well as in the area of qualification measures, has risen continuously in the last three years. However, the quota of women has stayed low overall.
For this and other reasons, some regional IQ networks have created specific offers for refugee women that also use different approaches in order to reach the target group better. For example, they went out and offered their services in mass accommodations and women's cafés. In addition, they closely worked together with other local actors who already had access to this target group. In order to enable women with children to make use of these offers, child care was offered when possible.
The practical experiences gained from these projects show that specific offers for women are a necessity. This does not mean, however, that purely gender-specific offers should be made available in order to reach the target group. Rather, it should be ensured that women as target group are generally included in all projects and offers. The decisive factor is that refugee women are seen and made visible as a target audience both for project funding and on the job market. In order to improve their participation of the job market, their individual life situations, needs and abilities need to be evaluated and taken into account more.
So far, we have spoken a lot about the problems and special challenges refugee women have to face in regard to integrating into the job market. But does this group maybe also have some advantages over refugee men, when it comes to finding a job?
In our view, there is no universal answer to this question, as the affected persons' situations differ too much. Generally speaking, the high degree of motivation and openness of refugee women in regard to finding a job and going in a new direction for this is a factor in their favor. In contrast to men with a refugee background, earning money as fast as possible seems to be less important in general. Many women are focusing rather on a career that matches their qualifications and interests. In the long term, these are very good prerequisites for a sustainable integration into the job market under fair conditions. But such a process takes time and it cannot be shaped according to the same pattern for everyone.
 Castellà, H., 2017: The situation of refugee women in Europe, the Spanish state and Catalonia. Brussels.
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