EU project reaches out to female immigrants

Understanding the experiences and needs of female immigrants and the factors influencing their integration into the host population is the goal of the EU-funded FEMAGE (Needs for female
immigrants and their integration in ageing societies) project, which is currently drawing to a close.

‘We were aware that as European populations are ageing there is a need for more domestic service, and we were also aware that many female immigrants are not economically active,’ said project
coordinator Charlotte Höhn of the Federal Institute for Population Research, explaining the rationale behind the project. An additional
consideration was the fact that many female immigrants are not aware of what their own fate will be as they enter old age.

The project partners interviewed female immigrants from outside the EU about their experiences, interests, involvement in paid work and their thoughts on the future. They also looked at surveys
on the attitude of the local population towards immigrants, and held focus group discussions with NGOs.

According to Professor Höhn, the experiences of male and female immigrants are quite different, starting with the migration process itself.
‘Most women don’t come here on their own wishes,’ she told CORDIS News. ‘They usually come as children or as the wife of an immigrant.’ Women who migrate on their own are more likely to
integrate and enter the labour market than women who come with their husband.

Most immigrant women do not speak the local language, making integration into the local population more difficult. Furthermore, they may spend most of their time living within their own ethnic
community. Skilled women interviewed by the project reported that their talents and experience were rarely appreciated by the host country, leaving them trapped in low-skilled jobs. Women are
also less likely to have made provisions for old age.

So how can EU countries ensure that women arriving from elsewhere are able to play a full role in their adopted country? At the top of Professor
Höhn’s list is helping immigrants improve their language skills. In addition to this, she suggests sensitively raising their interest in
emancipation and boosting their self-esteem, to give them the courage to take part in activities beyond their own ethnic community.

Local populations can also help by making sure immigrants feel welcomed, and not rejected. ‘There is sometimes a misunderstanding, so immigrants feel more rejected than they actually are,’
explains Professor Höhn.

Looking to the future, Professor Höhn notes that there is a need for more research into the barriers to integration faced by female immigrants
to the EU. ‘They are a neglected part of the population,’ she commented.

FEMAGE is funded through the ‘Research for policy support’ activity of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).

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