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“Gender-based Violence Against Women of Foreign Origin”

by Edythe L. Mangindin,
Registered Nurse, Student Midwife and Board Member of W.O.M.E.N.

Gender-based violence takes different forms, like physical, sexual or psychological or emotional violence. The causes are multidimensional including social, economic, cultural, political and religious. Some examples of gender-based violence are domestic violence, wife abuse, violence during pregnancy, sexual abuse, cultural gender-based violence, economical gender-based violence and child sexual abuse. According to the World Health Organization, gender-based violence can have long-lasting effects on the health of women as well as their families. Intimate partner violence and sexual violence can lead to unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynecological problems, and sexually transmitted infections. Intimate partner violence in pregnancy also increases the likelihood of miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-term delivery and low birth weight babies. Women who have experienced violence report feelings of hopelessness, numbness, endangerment, loneliness, depression, tiredness and weakness.
Women of foreign origin are considered a vulnerable population when it comes to gender violence. In 2016, women from 39 countries received support and services from the women’s shelter (ísl.: Kvennaathvarfið). Thirty percent of women using these services are of foreign origin which is a much higher than the 11% of immigrants in the Icelandic population. In comparison to their Icelandic-born counterparts, foreign women are less likely to have a support network of family and friends. Because of this lack of support, they have more difficulty finding a safe place to stay if they experience abuse in their own homes. In 2009, a report on foreign women receiving services from Kvennaathvarfið shed light on the differences in conditions and experiences of foreign women depending on their country of origin because of the free movement of goods, persons, services, and capital among the European Economic Area (EEA). In some instances, women from countries who did not belong to the EEA were dependent on their spouses in regards to maintaining Icelandic residency permits. This situation makes them more vulnerable to domestic violence. The unfamiliarity of the systems and language barriers also contribute to making these women more vulnerable to abuse and social isolation. It is also known that more than one woman have stayed at Kvennaathvarfið because of the same man which shows us that there are certain individuals who systematically target women from countries outside of the EEA because they would be easier victims of violence due to their status in Icelandic society.

Due to language barriers, prejudice and financial difficulties, women of foreign origin have limited access to social and health care services and housing. Many immigrant women work in low-paying jobs or are unemployed despite their educational accomplishments in their homeland. It can be difficult getting their education and qualifications approved and recognized in Iceland which can result in not being able to find work in accordance with their talents and capabilities. Structural violence is marked by deeply unequal access to the determinants of health (e.g., housing, good quality health care, and unemployment), which then create conditions where interpersonal violence can happen and which shape gendered forms of violence for women in vulnerable social positions. Structural factors can have negative impacts on the social determinants of health and increase the risk for interpersonal violence among women. Public health policy responses to violence against women should move beyond individual-level approaches to violence, to consider what is causing this violence and how we can prevent it. To achieve lasting change, it is important to enact legislation and develop policies that address discrimination against women, promote gender equality and support all women.

Women of Multiethnic Network (W.O.M.E.N.) in Iceland feel that it is important to increase support and inform women of foreign origin about Icelandic society. It is necessary that these women obtain information about all available services. Peer counselling is a free service which involves women who have received training in peer counselling welcome all women, listen to their problems and assist them in finding the best solution. Peer counselling is held every other Tuesday from 20:00 until 22:00 at our office on Tungata 14, 2nd floor. The peer counsellors are women of foreign origin who speak many languages, such as Icelandic, English, Polish, German, Russian, Spanish, and Thai among other languages. Amazing things happen when women support each other. Let’s begin with creating peace in our homes, and only then can we spread peace throughout the world.