How do Stereotypes Harm Migrant Women?

Stereotypes exist in all societies. They may seem harmless, but they can actually cause real damage to the lives of the people that they target. Simplistic and misleading ideas about migrant women have the potential to restrict the opportunities and services available to them.

What is a stereotype?

A stereotype refers to a commonly held but overly simple image or idea about a person or social category, such as race, ethnicity, gender or religion, among others. They are often used by one group to position themselves as more superior than another.

According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR):

A gender stereotype is a generalized view or preconception about attributes or characteristics, or the roles that are or ought to be possessed by or performed by women and men. A gender stereotype is harmful when it limits women’s and men’s capacity to develop their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers and make choices about their lives.

Many migrants suffer the negative effects of stereotypes, particularly when they face intersecting discrimination, as a result of both their gender and their migration status.

What is xenophobia and how is it linked to stereotypes?

Whilst there is no universally accepted definition of xenophobia, it is generally used to describe:

attitudes, prejudices and behaviour that reject, exclude and often vilify persons, based on the perception that they are outsiders or foreigners to the community, society or national identity.

Xenophobia is frequently perpetuated through stereotypes which reduce complex individuals to generalized and derogatory images. These ideas can be used to justify discrimination, violence, trafficking, and various other forms of mistreatment.

How can stereotypes impact migrant women?

In Mexico, stereotypes of Central American women as housekeepers or sex workers reduce their ability to access employment in other sectors. A study by El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) found that these stereotypes are ‘embodied’, that means that they are based on the ways that the women speak, walk and their physical appearances. These features are used to justify ideas that these women are less valuable. As these stereotypes are based on characteristics that may be impossible for an individual to change, it is difficult for these migrant women to evade or challenge them.

A 2018 study by University of Chicago explored how social perceptions of migrant illegality in the United States is influenced by national origin, social class and criminal background. It found that respondents were more likely to suspect migrants from Latin America, Africa and the Middle East to be undocumented, compared to migrants from other regions, such as Asia and Europe. In reality, undocumented migrants in the United States come from all regions around the world. However, the University of Chicago study suggests that these stereotypes of certain nationalities as ‘illegal’ could influence the decisions of law enforcement, hiring managers, landlords, teachers, and other members of the public to the detriment of these migrants.

During and after crises, previously dormant stereotypes can surface and result in the spread of hateful messages. In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, many examples of negative messages targeting Haitian migrants, relying solely on stereotypes, emerged in the Bahamas. This cumulated in protests and calls for the deportation of Haitian migrant workers.

We can all play a part in combatting stereotypes. We can start by becoming aware of our own biases and challenging them. In our daily interactions, we can share stories that challenge these negative perceptions and highlight individual differences over generalizations. We can speak up against prejudiced comments and jokes. Lastly, space must be given to migrant women to speak in public discussions, rather than others speaking on their behalf. These actions can have a ripple effect and reduce the spread of common stereotypes.

10 initiatives against xenophobia

Categoria: Communication & Migration
Autor: Jacinta Astles

To combat xenophobia, we must innovate and collaborate. IOM has implemented a number of successful initiatives to combat xenophobia in the region, particularly through Community Outreach and Communication Campaigns. Community outreach projects involve the creation of events and activities that strengthen bonds between migrants and host communities. Our communication campaigns have a wider reach but are also interactive; we collaborate with migrants to share their stories on our platforms. The list below outlines some of the initiatives carried out:

Working with Communities

IOM’s community outreach projects aim to engage migrants and nationals in shared experiences that promote acceptance and highlight the value of diversity.

1. Debating Championship

In Panama, the IOM Team created a Debating Championship to successfully raise awareness of xenophobia in 27 local schools.

Prior to the debates, students received workshops on key themes, including xenophobia, human trafficking, and gender equality. The teams then competed in a debating championship attended by community members as well as high level representatives from the Ministry of Security, the Ministry of Community, the Secretariat of Children, Adolescents and Family and the Faculty of Rights and Political Sciences of the Inter-American University of Panama.

2. Workshops and Events in Local Schools

In the Dominican Republic, 500 students attended a performance called “A heroine without borders”. The show follows the story of a Venezuelan girl and is aimed at generating empathy within the student population, which is made up of students from national and migrant backgrounds. It focuses on the importance of acceptance, peaceful coexistence and the harms caused by bullying.

3. The Global Migration Film Festival

The Global Migration Film Festival (GMFF), produced by IOM since 2016, has opened a space of reflection and discussion against xenophobia by sharing migrants’ stories through films and documentaries. In 2019, it brought more than 30 films to over 100 countries, including eight countries across Central America, North America and the Caribbean.

In Guatemala, for example, a screening of ‘The Power of Passport’, sparked a meaningful discussion of the barriers to migration faced by Indigenous peoples in the Mayan-Ixil region of western Guatemala. The event was attended by representatives of academia, civil society, media, the United Nations and human rights groups.

This event succeeded in raising awareness of how many migratory and consular services do not meet the needs of Indigenous peoples, such as due to the lack of information available in Indigenous languages and unequal access to immigration documentation. Creating spaces for visibility and raising awareness of the challenges faced by different groups can give rise to more equitable and open societies. 

(Photo taken at a 2019 Global Migration Film Festival Screening in the Bahamas)

4. Cross-Border Dialogues

Borders act at the frontline of migratory flows and are spaces in which government agencies, international organisations and civil society often operate collaboratively. Such a space therefore provides ample opportunities to share ideas, confront misconceptions and generate creative solutions. Our team is working at all the border points between Haiti and the Dominican Republic to make this happen. By establishing roundtables for cross-border dialogue between key stakeholders of both countries, this initiative aims to facilitate the identification of common interests and generate solutions that have benefits for all. In doing so, it serves as an avenue to dispel stereotypes and prejudices of migrants, thereby fostering mutual understandings.

The programme will officially be launched in the coming months. Whilst this project is still in its early stages, it demonstrates an example of how innovation can emerge in complex circumstances.

Acceptance through Communication

At national, regional and global levels, our communication campaigns have promoted dialogue and understanding. A central aspect is the empowerment of migrants by providing them with a platform to share their stories.

5. The UN Together Campaign

UN Together, launched in 2016, aims to counter the rise in xenophobia and discrimination by sharing events and stories of migrants and refugees. This platform also gave rise to the “I am a migrant” campaign.

 6. “I am a migrant” campaign

Through a collection of stories collated on an online library, “I am a migrant” provides first-hand insights into the triumphs and challenges of migrants of all backgrounds and at all phases of their migratory journeys. It gives a human face to the 270 million international migrants living around the world and raise awareness about their experiences.

7. Plural+ Awards

Young people around the world have the opportunity to express their creativity through multimedia production as part of Plural+. This joint initiative by United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and IOM brings together more than 50 partner organizations globally. It invites young people, between 12 and 25 years old, to submit original and creative short films focusing on the themes of migration, diversity, social inclusion, and the prevention of xenophobia.

8. #IamamigrantChallenge

We also challenged Youtubers from migrant backgrounds to share their stories, through a campaign called #IamaMigrant. To date, 21 Youtubers have been involved, generating almost 700,000 views and more than 5,000 comments collectively whilst reaching a broader and more diverse audience. By sharing their personal experiences of migration and their ties with two countries and cultures, the videos inspire discourses of acceptance and diversity.

9. Somos Lo Mismo Campaign

To bring together refugees, migrants, displaced persons and nationals through a message of solidarity and respect, the campaign Somos Lo Mismo was born in Panama in response to rising xenophobia in the country. The campaign, a joint project by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) and IOM, shares the stories of migrants and nationals. Its goal is to humanize through sharing how we are all made of experiences, feelings, learning, struggles and achievement.

10. The Podcast On The Move

Finally, to address more broadly the problems and opportunities of migrants, the IOM Regional Office in San Jose (Costa Rica) produces the Podcast On The Move every month. It brings together a mix of perspectives, involving both migrants and specialists who discuss economic, social and gender-based issues (as well as many more) and how they intersect in contexts of migration. In doing so, it aims to dispel common myths that often fuel xenophobic and discriminatory attitudes and promote an evidence-based understanding of migration phenomenon. 

Throughout the region and the world, individuals, communities and organizations are taking a stand against xenophobia. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it serves as a starting point to understanding existing best practices and as a springboard for future actions.

Countering xenophobia remains one of the most pressing issues of our time. Through a concerted effort that leverages the expertise of key stakeholders and meaningfully engages with communities, we can strengthen bonds and address the root causes of xenophobia.