We Should Listen to The Women Who Came to Europe

Foto:Who needs support? In this picture: a demonstration at International Women's Day (2014) Photo: Sigfrid Lundberg (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In the debate on migration after the events of Cologne, women are too often only objects. For Alisa Trojansky it is time to recognize that sexism is no foreign invention, and to speak up against women being used as symbols or justifications for racism...

A post by Alisa Trojansky

It’s International Women’s day and I have never seen so many promoters of women’s rights in any year before. Living in Cologne for the last two months, I have been approached by journalists asking whether I had been at the train station at New Year’s Eve about three times. Why? Because while, until now, we had been used to being treated with respect and pure honour by European men at the same time living in a paradise of perfectly equal opportunities and in safe surroundings, we had clearly been overwhelmed by a huge bunch of migrants from Muslim or not specified other backgrounds that had invented a sexual harassment not known in the Western World before. Cologne, in this context, has become the proof of the upcoming breakdown of women's public safety.

The narrative above is wrong, of course, and yet it is powerful. Two months after the events of Cologne, we are still talking about teaching refugee men about how to treat white women.

Make no mistake: violence against women has to be condemned without restrictions, no matter who committed it. But the clue is that in the current situation, under the current narrative, women are again only the objects, not the subjects in the discussion - the latter carrying a racist undertone. It also totally ignores the fact that women’s rights are not only for women from the West. On International Women’s day, I wonder whether we should not seize the opportunity to speak up not only for European women, but also for those who have been living in Europe for only a few days, months or years.

It might be time to discuss what “European values” mean for refugee women and how we can contribute to empowering every woman to be strong and brave enough to raise her voice, to ensure her physical and psychological integrity. Focusing on refugees as men, connected with adjectives such as dangerous, criminal and sexist is not only unfair to them; Regarding the fact that men make up only 40% of asylum seekers in total (2015), leaving 60% who are women and children, refugee women should get at least as much attention.

International Women’s day might be the perfect time to listen to the women who came to Europe as asylum seekers and refugees; to learn about their impressions when entering for the first time an over-sexualised society in which advertisement treats women as some naked extra object to raise profits. It would be valuable to learn about how they feel living in a refugee camp, living in a cramped space with men and other people whom they had never met before. And, last but not least, how it feels to be prejudged by a society that claims that you are invisible, without any rights, qualification or self-esteem next to your husband or brother - who must be one of those sexist, dangerous migrants for sure.

Do not get me wrong. I know it’s not my right to speak for refugee women and to tell them that they should claim their rights and become feminists. But since International Women’s day is about solidarity, it is my aim to speak out against women being used as symbols or justifications for racism, instrumentalised for power. Women’s rights are not contradictory to refugee’s rights; promoting women’s rights is promoting refugees’ rights. There is no way around it.

How do you see it? Comment right here and start a discussion

Related discussions (in German)


  • well I totally Agree with that when "designed" sexual attacks happened in Köln, the only focus was about EU Woman as object, should be protected from those "Migrants". Everyday a lot of women here in Germany get groped and harassed by "pure German men", and I saw it in front of my eyes last week in the Tram in Berlin. What I want to add also is the "refugee woman" have no presence on the Media! where is her rights? she lives in those Notunterkünften where she have to face many difficulties like: having no privacy, having no rights for her or for her kids. I've heard that a few refugee women slip into prostitution way, or like having a boyfriend from the security staff in her shelter, in order to survive the difficulties and the expenses of life. and the Question is when The refugee women will be treated equally?

    • You raise a really important point. Sexual harassment is no invention by Muslim men, it happens in Germany all the time.

      That, however, can never be an excuse for sexual harassment of women. In how far do you think that the current debate, coupled with German men's treatment of women, undermines our own "Western" values of equal treatment of men and women?

  • We should not only listen, we should also try to offer them protection. In the Moment 22% of refugees arriving in Greece illegally are women while 40% are men. If we come to a solution as suggested on Monday, which helps to substitute irregular migration for a legal mechanism, we are able to offer protection especially to them who need (for example wounded men or women, the orphans or the widow with 3 kids).

    • If I understand you correctly you are referring to Monday's refugee summit. I fully agree with you that we need a legal mechanism in place that is accepted by all EU member states. However, I do not think that this general protection in the form of asylum should discriminate on gender. We should not send people back into war-torn regions just because they are men, though the wounded, orphans or the widow with 3 kids may undoubtedly count to the most vulnerable who need special protection.

      But how do we deal with refugees' situations here in Germany. If what Khaled Ghazi writes is true and women are systematically exposed to situations that deeply violate their privacy, then we should try changing that situation. The first step would be to listen, as @alisa says, in order to even learn about their situation in the first place. This is not something that's widely talked about in the German media, and that should change.

      So in essence I agree with you: offering real protection must be the ultimate goal.

      • Sure, we have to listen what refugees tell us, the men and the women. Perhaps life in refugee camps is easier for women, because some of them are used to sit at home and care about the family. But the men perhaps have more problems, as they are used to go to work and earn the money for the family. So listening is good, to see their needs, for example special protection for women in the refugee camps or possibilities to work for the men.

        But my main point is another. The refugees coming to Germany are the stronger part of refugees. The really weak won’t arrive here. And just to look on the strong refugees in Germany now could make blind for the weak in the refugee camps for example in Turkey.

        My wish is, not to make a difference between men and women, but to look who is weak and needs protection.

  • Thank you for this really important post, Alisa.