The immigrant, especially if racially or ethnically different, marks the figure of the other. Immigrant women face numerous clichés, stereotypes and prejudices. These often confront them alongside others they bring along from their home cultures. The stereotypes attached to immigrant women impact not merely on how they are perceived, but also on the opportunities that they encounter. Yet, the processes of migration and relocation can also change the perceptions that these women have of themselves, challenging the ideas they grew up with and leading them to discover new modes of life. The entry into a different cultural context can alter the familiar practices of gender, tap potential and lead, over time, to unexpected breakthroughs. Barcelona makes this more possible than many other cities, with projects such as the City Council’s anti-rumour campaign.Parvati Nair
(Parvati Nair has directed and worked on the Women of the World: Home and Work in Barcelona project for the United Nations University Institute on Globalization, Culture and Mobility.)Bombo
"I remember when I arrived here, the first workshop we did was on stereotypes. A Colombian woman told me she’d heard that we’d been stereotyped as thieves and drug dealers. They took away her suitcase when she landed at Barcelona airport.
"So she said: “I thought they didn’t steal in Europe, because they label us only as thieves.” African women are stereotyped as savages, with no knowledge or culture, very submissive, not independent. You can’t escape these stereotypes, not even in the workplace. When I look for work they don’t ask me what I can do, they just offer me jobs like cleaning or looking after children, although it’s been shown that many migrants arriving here have a high level of education.
"Those are the stereotypes, when they see me and don’t ask me what I can do, but instead ask why I’m wearing a veil, for example. Stereotypes that we’re ordered to do everything, that men make us and force us to wear a veil. But the veil in my race and culture shows if you’re married or not. So how do you know that my man forces me to do it? Right?
"If we are going to talk about men forcing us to wear the veil, what about those men forcing a girl to undress so they can see her body? Women should know the role we have, how important we are, and not accept these rules of the game. There are quite a few stereotypes against women and I became very aware of this when I coordinated a work project. The design of the methodology was clear, but none of the questions they asked included what you can do, although this was the main point. Ask the person! You think that migrant women in this project need to learn how to cook paella. Have you asked? First ask them and they’ll tell you they’ve been eating high-protein African food all their lives; they’ve grown up with it. But if you want to improve your life with food, first ask these women. That’s also another stereotype. Many migrant programmes don’t take into account the contribution that migrant women should have when preparing the project. That’s also a stereotype."
African women are stereotyped as savages, with no knowledge or culture, very submissive, not independent.
"Maybe they always think I’m a newcomer, especially because they always speak to me in English. They automatically think when I go somewhere that I won’t be able to understand Spanish, but apart from that, I don’t think so. If anything, I think the prejudice has helped. Since I’m from the north, people think well of the entire northern part of Europe. Its reputation, although it’s got nothing to do with what I’m like. In some ways it’s true, but I’m no better than anyone from here or somewhere else. Things have almost always gone really well for me and it’s been more of a help than a hindrance.
"I feel I’m from here and I sometimes feel like a foreigner when I go to Finland. And sometimes I feel that all the way of being and doing things are very much like: hang on, how can it be that I feel different from Finland? Also perhaps because of the language, because I go to Finland and obviously speak perfect Finnish. I don’t have an accent, but there are new words or new ways of saying things and I’m like: “what’s that?” I know that also here in Spain, even though I’ve been living here all my life, I’ll always say something wrong. I’ll never speak perfect Spanish. There will always be a small thing that gives me away as a foreigner, like not being able to speak a language perfectly."
If anything, I think the prejudice has helped. People think well of the entire northern part of Europe.
"We live in a society that is used to putting labels on people. It happens a lot every day, when you meet people on the street and they ask you where you’re from or when they notice your accent or even sometimes your appearance, they already put a label on you and treat you differently. And there are lots of stereotypes regarding migrant women.
"For a start, many people, but not everybody, think that migrant women have come here and can only do one type of work, as if we were programmed to not be able to do anything else. There are stereotypes about the personal relationships we have with men and also about sexuality. In the case of Colombia, there are also stereotypes about drug use and drug-related things. It’s very common when they find out you’re Colombian to mention something about cocaine or FARC. That happens a lot.
"There’s generally also a strong stereotype in terms of women’s relationships with men, as if we have to love all men or something like that. It’s happened to me. I’ve had experiences in which people think that because I’m a woman and Colombian, I think or have to act in a certain way. But that’s not true, because you can be from anywhere in the world and have very different views about everything."
We live in a society that is used to putting labels on people. And there are lots of stereotypes regarding migrant women.
"The stereotypes are that Muslim women are submissive and they obey and walk behind their husbands. They have no education, are poor, as in “poor woman”, right? I think that’s the stereotype, that she has to adapt, that she doesn’t remove her veil, that she doesn’t because she’s forced to wear it – all these are very common. Most people who come into contact with Arabs and Muslims have these stereotypes, but they’re very harmful and create barriers between people. Besides, if they look at me like that... I don’t know what to say! I’m tired of justifying myself or trying to explain otherwise.
"I don’t think there’s much difference, maybe in appearance because of wearing a veil, but apart from that, basically there isn’t much difference. I want the best for myself and women here want the same too. I also want the best for my daughters. You can see that I wear a veil, I’m covered, but basically, from my point of view, the fact that I’m covered shouldn’t limit mutual understanding. Once you get to know the real person, you forget about your prejudices and see that you have many things in common."
The stereotypes are that Muslim women are submissive. I’m tired of justifying myself.