Inspired Migrant Women in Ireland is the brainchild of Carol Azams, a successful business woman, community organiser and author who has been living in Ireland for more than 15 years.
Conceived as a platform to showcase the “personalities” of migrant women from different backgrounds, the book is both a chance for contributors to share opinions on life in Ireland and an opportunity to express “viewpoints about some of the hot topics that are causes of concern for Irish residents”.
It’s set out as a series of questions and responses. The women discuss areas such as the gender pay gap, women’s rights and the government’s “Project Ireland 2040” plan, while introducing us to many of the challenges faced by migrant women, such as racism, cultural differences, crises of identity, access to jobs and a general lack of information available for people when they arrive.
Some issues are common across contributors. But what is soon evident is how challenges can depend on where somebody is migrating from, with non-EU citizens restrained by restrictions on entitlements and regulations, especially when it comes to applying for work visas, where processes can often be complicated and change from year to year.
One of the biggest challenges for many is the language barrier, which can force migrant women into typical migrant-worker jobs. Anna Stanuch writes that people assume she is incompetent because she’s not a native English speaker.
Stanuch doesn’t consider herself an “immigrant woman”, but rather an EU citizen who chose to live in Ireland. She describes Ireland as “a country abundant in opportunities”. That’s a theme that stands out in many of the personal stories throughout the book – the sense of opportunity and hope, the belief that if a person works hard enough and has self-belief there’s little they can’t achieve.
It stands to reason that education plays a vital role in this, and a number of contributors highlight the availability of courses and the need to empower through continued learning. Ava Collopy, originally from Oregon, reminds us that college courses in Ireland are “drastically less expensive than in the U.S.” But for some, the bridge between former and current education isn’t always seamless. Erika Pena points out that educational degrees and experiences from a home country can be “worth nothing when you arrive here”. The move can be like starting from scratch.
Anca Lupu advises new migrants to actively educate themselves on aspects of Irish life and to “get involved with their community”. The importance of community is a common thread throughout. The impact these women have on their communities is apparent. They are often leaders and organisers, with roles in charities, teaching, or faith. Some even actively seek out ways to share their experiences, like Claudia O’Riordan, co-host of YouTube channel Travel Tips Ireland, who is also involved with Casa Brasil Ireland, a Brazilian and Irish community network.
Monica Manzzi Barlocco believes it is important to integrate in a new culture, but it’s also important to “never forget where we are coming from”. She says migrants should be “ambassadors” of their own countries and cultures. The book acknowledges events dedicated to a variety of migrant groups, Facebook pages, articles, and the constant expansion of networks to include other migrants of similar backgrounds. You can’t help but feel these communities are not only living and breathing entities. They are healthy. And they are thriving.
One question posed in the book centres around “Project Ireland 2040”, the overarching government policy that aims, it says, to build “a republic of opportunity for all”, with a particular emphasis on putting social outcomes and values ahead of economic targets. If the government really is serious about this claim, there are a number of areas that need to be tackled head-on, a crucial one being the gender pay gap.
Yemi Adenuga tells us that although the pay gap in Ireland is currently less than the EU average, the average in Europe has actually increased, a worrying trend, especially considering the work that is being done to highlight this inequality. Franca Oliveira McManus says the modern world is a stressful, with the constant juggling of career and family. The gender pay gap is particularly upsetting to women as they “make sacrifices men don’t have to just to be at work”, and “it’s like a slap in the face when we receive less compensation for it”.
Another significant problem is domestic violence. Recent figures from Women’s Aid show that one in five women experience some form of domestic violence in Ireland and that almost 9 in 10 women murdered in Ireland are killed by a man known to them. One contributor makes reference to new domestic violence legislation as proof that Ireland is trying to protect the rights of women, but a number of domestic violence supports still rely on charity. “The authorities are not exactly folding their arms but more can be done to prevent women who have been physically, sexually and emotionally abused,” one says.
Expensive childcare is a particular issue for migrant mothers, as so often they are lacking an extended family network, which can often help reduce the burden. In relation to “Project Ireland 2040”, Anna Stanuch says “it’s easy to say that a state will aim for an equal access to childcare, but there are no plans for subsidizing it”. This lack of a family network can often lead to isolation for a lot of migrant women and in part explains why the issue of healthcare is so relevant, the cost and the availability of it for all with a particular focus on mental-health issues, which can be exasperated by pressures such as cultural differences and racism.
Ada Christine Eloji believes there can be an “anti-feminist climate” among some groups of migrant women “due to religious beliefs and family structure”. Princess Pamela Olutoyin Akinjobi, a writer who uses her work to “break the commonly held stereotypical assumptions about African Women”, touches on how some migrant women face the problem of dual racism, racism from both the “wider society and rejection from their own communities if they report abuse”.
For Annie Waithira Burke and her young children, racism and physical assaults were problems they faced first-hand. Believing that the root of the problem lay in ignorance and misinformation, Waithira Burke created a multicultural, diversity and integration day in her community. Not only did her courage help to educate young people in her community, but it also gave confidence and pride to her own children. The project has grown, branching into other areas such as music and the arts. It’s programmes just like this that need to be resourced and promoted if the government is serious about fulfilling its “Project Ireland 2040” aims.
No doubt the contributions in Inspired Migrant Women in Ireland will not only influence other migrant women, but will inspire the communities that so many of these women are an integral part of, as well as Irish society as a whole. It’s refreshing to hear so many stories of success and courage from women who have overcome a multitude of obstacles, not just to succeed, but to flourish in this new multicultural Ireland.