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Beijing Mannen on Migrant Women 16 Sep 1995

THE EARTH TIMES

SEPTEMBER  16, 1995

Netherlands delegate voices concern over migrant plight

By Ashali Varma

Beijing, China–As an official NGO representative in the delegation of the Netherlands to the Fourth World Conference on Women, Ann Mannen, a soft-spoken 37-year-old, is especially concerned about the rights of migrant women of color, and of refugees in Europe. Born in Surinam, she came to Holland when she was 9 years old with her mother.

We have 17national NGOs in the Netherlands, who represent women migrants and refugees from Indonesia, China, Turkey Morocco, Somalia, Iran and as many as 36 nationalities,” Mannen said in an interview with The Earth Times.” In 15 years 50 percent of the children in Netherlands will be of migrant and refugee background.

The problems that migrant families face in Europe are exclusion, unemployment and racism.

 “Black migrant and refugee women face daily social and economic exclusion,” said Mannen.  

As a teacher and trainer in Transcultural Communication and Intercultural Management at the polytechnic of Leeuwarden, Mannen said she teaches social workers and managers of not-for-profit organizations, on how to deal with cultural and ethnic diversity.  She also works with groups on the empowerment of women.

“It is amazing to see the wonderful strategies that migrant women have thought of for their own empowerment.  We share our experiences with them and learn a lot from each other,” said Mannen.

All of us women whether we are migrants or refugees face some form of racism.  Society has always thought of us as being weak, uneducated and dependent, but we are strong because we come from difficult circumstances, we are flexible and we want to build bridges between different cultures,” said Mannen.  “It is also important that if we want to be integrated in the society, we have to try and understand how the exclusion mechanism works.  We have to be able to get out of the feeling that as people from former colonies the world owes us a living,” said Mannen, “we must be strong and responsible ourselves and we have to prove to our communities that we are someone in our own right.”

Speaking about the Platform for Action, Mannen was happy that paragraph 9 states that “it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

In the previous conferences on women, she said, migrant women were referred to as weak and disadvantaged. InCopenhagen in 1980, the Netherlands was one of the first country’s to ask for special attention to be paid in the document on migrant women and refugees. Mannen said that although there are now laws and Conventions that require governments to protect migrant women, in many European countries, there is still an “invisible” form of racism.

“At this Conference we wanted inclusion. Not to be spoken about, but to be a part of.  We wanted our strength and qualities to be appreciated. And most of all we wanted an end to all forms of discrimination against us,” said Mannen.

“It is also important, that women should be granted asylum when their human rights are being violated.”

 On a more optimistic note Mannen said that despite the problems, migrant women are getting more decision making jobs and are contributing to society in the fields of education, science and technology. “

“I hope that in the future, all the women in the world, with all our diversity, are able to achieve our full potential and contribute to peace, development and equality,” she said.