When an individual becomes displaced from their own country, not only do they lose their home and the life that they know, they also lose their jobs, their careers and all they have spent years working towards. Arriving in a new country means starting from scratch, a blank page that you need to learn to write on. This is made particularly difficult when you also face the obstacles of being female. Host countries are not doing enough to help integrate women into the labour market, but there are organisations and initiatives emerging who are starting to develop the conversation and ignite some change. Companies such as DLA Piper, are paving the way, developing programmes and systems that are making huge strides in assisting female refugees.
Elegant and charismatic, Dr Awmaima Amrayaf shared with the audience at The Conduit her own battles with overcoming the barriers to employment that she faced in the UK after being forced to leave her home in Libya. The event also marked the launch of a new report for DLA Piper on ‘Barriers to economic integration faced by refugee women’, with a particular focus on the exacerbating challenges that female refugees face post the Covid pandemic. The report includes personal testimonies from 15 female refugees in OECD countries. Awmaima described how difficult it is when, as a woman, there is a sheer lack of tailored support and little consideration of what it means to be displaced. The report shows that each individual has different circumstances that need to be accommodated for, and yet the system is not remotely sensitive to this. There are structural barriers and there is chronic under funding in the field, not to mention issues of cultural differences, intersectional discrimination,exploitation, and a lack of early measures to help women refugees integrate.
Policy, practice and values – three essential components to providing sustainable support for refugee women. Renae Mannis, Executive Director of Services at the Refugee Council, was forceful in her view that corporates need to make a long term commitment to ringfence roles for refugee women. Organisations have to consider cultural differences and be willing to provide the right networks, mentors and training that will ensure each individual is adequately supported through the intricate processes of the labour market. These women are highly skilled, highly ambitious individuals, but there needs to be an acknowledgement that displacement means you are not starting on the same footing as the rest of the field. Yet it does not mean that you don’t have potential. Skills are universal. What we need is an increased awareness and a flexibility on requirements. Let’s welcome cultural differences and embed them into our working values!
Increasing understanding amongst businesses is crucial, which DLA Piper’s new report goes a long way to doing. The report is backed up by the company’s own programmes. Their remote professional mentoring programme, Women in Law for Women Refugees (WLfWR) helps to boost the confidence of women, giving them the chance to be
navigate the labour market with additional support. Their legal education programme “ Know your Rights” seeks to empower asylum seekers and refugees be giving them the knowledge and skills that they need in order to pursue meaningful careers and feel empowered to advocate for themselves. It also fosters integration and individualism. Spearheaded by Awmaima it is a programme for refugees, led by refugees.
There are other organisations creating change, such as Talent Beyond Boundaries, RefuAid and the Refugee Council, that are showing us all how we can incorporate new policies within our own systems. It’s important to remember that female refugees are not a burden, they are a benefit. They can provide fresh sources of inspiration and creativity, nurture a hopeful and positive culture and bring new skills and expertise to the table. This is an ongoing discussion, and it was wonderful to find such an engaged audience at The Conduit, willing to help spread the message. Collaboration is key and by coming together to create connections and start new conversations we can begin to break down the barriers that female refugees face in the labour market and really generate lasting and positive change.