23 November 2020

“Being a woman through COVID-19” with the Diversity, Migration and Integration Thematic Network and Gender Equality Network

The EFC Diversity, Migration and Integration Thematic Network and Gender Equality Network came together to hold a joint meeting online on 9-10 November to explore the multifaceted topic of “Being a woman through COVID-19: race, gender and migration.”

The meeting offered an opportunity for members of both networks to come together, discuss and frame the impact of COVID-19 through the lens of women, and to hear from foundations working in this area on the disproportionate impact that the pandemic is having upon women, especially migrants and people from ethnic backgrounds.

Following the initial introductions and opening remarks, the first discussion of the meeting saw Sara Llewellin, Barrow Cadbury Trust, moderate a lively discussion between Pinar Uyan Semerci, Bilgi University of Istanbul and Denis Garcia Bergt, International Women Space on “Framing the impact of COVID on gender and migration: challenges and new opportunities”.

Denise speaking from the perspective of an organisation who works only with women and girls, highlighted how migrant women have been living in Berlin, and how COVID has severely complicated things. “The atmosphere is not safe for women at all, and COVID has made it even more unsafe” attendees heard, as Denise went on to explain how the International Women Space is seeking to bringing the voices of the women out of the shelters they are in, by interviewing women of colour and trying to bring them out of their isolation. Pinar spoke from a somewhat different perspective, similarly of vulnerability and issues of access, but also of Turkey and the importance of intersectionality. “When we talk about vulnerable groups, they do not exist alone, overlapping identities create different kinds and degrees of discrimination” explained Pinar, and these areas where they intersect create overlapping vulnerabilities, a difficult issue to try and properly identify, let alone work on.

The opening discussion was followed by an open Q&A for both the speakers and the audience to dive deeper into the preluding discussions and points raised by both Denise and Pinar. The questions covered a number of different points, from the contrasting situations between Turkey and Germany, the proliferation of anti-migrant attitudes, especially with a gender focus and on the potential positive opportunities offered by crisis, especially related to the rapid valorisation of care work in both countries, and the widespread closure of schools.

A virtual coffee break followed the first session, offering an opportunity for members of the networks to get reacquainted before heading into a World Café session where participants will be divided into small groups, to discuss, address and share knowledge on a variety of topics through a moderated conversation

The second day of the meeting was begun with the session “Addressing the impact of data’s use on gender and migration: a reflection on online hate, digital freedom, rights and inclusion” that saw Imran Ahmed, Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and Cori Crider, Foxglove speaking, and moderation provided by Sahar Yadegari, VHTO. Both speakers introduced themselves and the work their organisations do, Imran explaining how CCDH had been busy in the aftermath of the US Presidential elections to shut down the “Stop the steal” Facebook group that was fast becoming a safe space for conspiracy theories and digital hate, while Cori shared details on Foxglove’s short but impressive history as a force for making technology fair.

Bringing the discussions back to philanthropy an early question from the audience asked “Where do we focus our energy then? Do we look at trying to address what’s happening in the real world or do we pivot to what’s happening in the digital space?” “I am not convinced that the offline world is the one driving the online world solely” answered Imran, raising that there is a complex reflective process between the online and offline worlds, online cultures are rapidly evolving and the “toleration of the formation, existence, radicalisation and outreach of these cultures is causing some of the very problems that we see in the offline world.” Cori agreed with the key points raised by Imran but added that “it’s important not to fall into the trap of assuming that is technology” and from her work has come to realise that “The racism was always there, but the actual problem is a human problem.”

Further questions touched upon the rise of digital harassment during lockdown and how to force the social media and tech companies to actually work on these problems, before Sahar in wrapping up the session brought the discussion back to the very first question of what funders can do? Cori highlighted funding networks and the importance of “allowing us to talk with their grantees and to connect with them, so we could share our experiences and learn from them as well” whereas Imran referenced communications and helping grantees to ensure they do not sabotage their own work with poor communications.

The meeting was closed with another World Café session, providing participants with the opportunity to reflect upon what they had heard and discuss how to build on these new learnings and insights.

For more information on the event or the work of Diversity, Migration and Integration Thematic Network or Gender Equality Network contact Letizia Manzoni.