Print Friendly and PDF
only search openDemocracy.net

Women of the world: work

This week, meet 16 women who are first generation immigrants living in Barcelona. Part Four: Here, they reveal the many impediments to access to the workplace that they have. (Español, English translation)

Women of Barcelona

A key shift in the global migration of women that has taken place over the last few decades is the increasing presence of immigrant women in the labour market. These women often contribute to both their host and home countries through their work, by sending remittances that tend to form a larger percentage of their earnings than the remittances sent by immigrant men. This is so despite the fact that they may often be relegated to the less secure, less recognized and less skilled sectors of the labour market. Many women, especially immigrant women, work in the informal sector, with all its perils in terms of security and professional development. There are many impediments to the access that women have to the workplace: stereotypes and (mis)perceptions of gender, limitations of language, the lack of recognition across international borders for degrees and diplomas, the global tendency to offer girls less formal education than boys. Even when highly qualified, women can find themselves stumbling up against the expectations of gender that are imposed on them by family or society. Yet the migratory experience can be a liberating one, where women, at times through sheer necessity and at other times through sheer mettle, match or outshine their male counterparts, often revealing high degrees of ingenuity, determination and creativity. Immigrant women often develop plural and simultaneous routes to the workplace, multi-tasking, as entrepreneurs, teachers, translators, and networkers.

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.)

Deepti

Image of Deepti, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition"Financial independence is very important, even if it’s a small amount, because when you earn something, it gives you confidence and makes you feel independent and worthwhile. You realise gradually. You do a job, one after another, and it’s like a chain as things happen and give you confidence. I always say that I wasn’t worth anything back then, or I would look at a person and say: “She managed, so can I.” But no, not in my surroundings, nowhere.

"All I remember is that my mother... I always recalled my mother’s courage. She never went to school, could neither read nor write, although she always wanted to... She used to say: “My daughters have to study and have a career.” She would write me recipes with her handwriting. I used to say: “It must have taken my mother three hours to write that recipe,” so if she dedicated so much time to me, I’m going to do something and dedicate all this to her.

"It was a process. When I wrote my CV, I only had experience in India, nothing more. Okay, and my studies. Now you see my CV and think it’s complete, but it was all those years of hard work, asking for work, doing projects, constant study, looking for new ideas, as I said looking for a cooking course, doing everything. I’ve always had that idea that you have to do something different. You have to stand out, ever since I was little, because I have two sisters and a brother. I’m the youngest. My two sisters are not far apart in age, then my brother, and then me. So it was always like that at home. I had to stand out to get some attention. God gave me a good noggin, so I got very good marks and was always first in class. My father would be very happy. I’d see his face before he looked at my report card, before he looked at my brother’s. There were two years between us, so it was a triumph for me.

"I was always trying to stand out in something ever since I was little and I think that I’ve tried to do something different in my work, just like everyone else, with the times we’re in, everybody offering things. So they do something to be chosen... thousands of engineers graduate, thousands of people in India get top marks, so how do you choose? You have to do something different, that little extra. So because it’s in me I’ve always tried to do this, offer something different. Sometimes I’ve been able to, sometimes I haven’t. But a lot of failures too."

I always recalled my mother’s courage. She used to say: “My daughters have to study and have a career.”

Image of Deepti, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition

Edna

Image of Edna, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition"Okay, let’s see. I was studying English philology when I was in the Philippines and working as a waitress at night, but like in Pizza Hut. I didn’t wait on the public, but worked nights, then studied and then came to Barcelona. I was 20 years old. I was 19 when I got the offer to come here. At first I wanted to go to America, because I have aunts and it’s easier for me to marry an American there. But then this offer came. A Filipina asked me if I wanted to come to Spain. And I asked what it was. They asked me if I wanted to go. I asked about the job and they told me it was domestic work. So I said okay, organised my papers and was rejected. So I had to fix things and do it all again and came to Barcelona on 21 August 1999, when I was 20.

"I started working in a private home, with a permanent contract and one day off on Sunday. Only one day off. So I thought, I have accommodation, not many costs and I was sending money to the Philippines and I worked there three years. But I even had to carry my papers to church, because I couldn’t speak Spanish, and every time I went to church… I was a practising Catholic before, but not now because things have changed. I’ve been here in the west for many years, so I thought: “I’ll either stay at home working or do my best to learn Spanish,” or else I’ll never leave. I worked there for three years, making an effort to speak Spanish, practising alone in my room, watching TV with English subtitles and also writing. I bought an English-Spanish dictionary to learn and that was it."

I started working in a private home, with a permanent contract and one day off on Sunday. Only one day off.

Image of Edna, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition

Lidia

Image of Lidia, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition"Let’s see, when I met… When my brother taught me to walk, to take the subway, he’d say I wouldn’t be able to learn that. I had opportunities and quite a few open doors, because I saw the chance to use the computer knowledge I had then to help my family. So it was like that. I decided to set myself up here and since I could go back to Cuba for holidays, I didn’t have that prohibition. I knew that when I got my first wage I’d be able to go see my mother, my two brothers and that’s what happened. My holidays were straight to Cuba and only Cuba. And that’s it. But I’ve been very lucky here because I’ve always had work, and I integrated very well.

"I started studying Catalan, and English to follow on from Cuba, because I really like English. It was more difficult for me to combine it all with my restaurant hours, but I integrated. It wasn’t difficult. I’m happy.

"For me, it’s like I said to my current partner. It’s about being open, not closing yourself off like in a ghetto. Be open, express your things, your customs, but also accept the place where you are and some of their customs and take the positive, of course. You’re not forced to speak Catalan, but if you integrate and study it you’ll be able to express yourself more, gain some knowledge, become one of them, right? It’s always good to have another certificate in your pocket, and share in some customs of the people around you. I’ve always had work really because of that, because I’ve integrated a lot in everything, with the food, which is very similar to that of Cuba, a lot of it is based from here. Spanish has helped us to understand each other, which is a good thing. And from there I studied Catalan, computing, a course to work with the elderly, as a masseuse and so on, to expand my knowledge."

It’s about being open, not closing yourself off like in a ghetto.

Image of Lidia, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition

Serenella

Image of Serenella, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition"I’ve had opportunities here that perhaps I wouldn’t have had in Italy, like contacts with people, because I’ve made some friendships here that wouldn’t have been possible in Italy. From how I see where I come from in Italy, you have your inner circle and have to protect it from outsiders. But it’s not like that here, it’s constant discovery… also the fact that I’m doing a job that isn’t great, but it’s quite normal and I want to learn things.

"I do quite simple computer support work. I would have needed prior experience and studies in Italy for that, but not here. For example, my company is British, but because it’s here in Barcelona it gives you the opportunity to learn things if you want. Something like that isn’t possible in Italy, for example. I think it’s easier to move in the job market here.

"I love the squares of Barcelona. In fact, Plaça Osca is near where I live. It’s like a meeting point. It’s a very special square for me and every time I have to meet someone, I do it there. I don’t know why, but it’s direct, it’s special. It relaxes me and generally I like the fact there are parks close to home, the beach, the sea, of course. I like the fact it’s a city of art, and apart from cultural events it’s also nice just to stroll and observe."

I love the squares of Barcelona. In fact, Plaça Osca is near where I live. It’s like a meeting point.

Image of Serenella, a woman featured in the Women of the World exhibition


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the
oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.