10 ways to make integration gender-sensitive

28 June 2021

Media images of migrants are overwhelmingly male, however about half of all migrants in the EU are women. These women often have a harder time finding a job, are more likely than their male counterparts to end up in work for which they are over-qualified and tend to bear a greater burden of unpaid domestic work. Policies that do not account for these differences at best sustain and at worst exacerbate the gender divide. Here are ten cities that have put policies and programmes in place to improve opportunities for female migrants, collected through our EU funded project CONNECTION and our cities’ Working Group on Migration and Integration.


1.     Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, the K!X project gives migrant women job-focused language training and mentoring. The intensive language courses are designed for women that arrived in Amsterdam as refugees and hold a right to work in the city. Women enrolled in the year-long courses learn Dutch at the same time as picking up skills in communication, giving presentations and networking. They are trained by professionals and by volunteers who themselves once arrived in the Netherlands as refugees, and given mentorship by business professionals who help them to expand their professional networks.

The women also visit local employers with whom they discuss the world of work and the specificities of the local labour market. “At the end of the training we noticed a huge boost in confidence with these women,” remarks Niels Tubbing, Amsterdam’s Senior Policy Advisor on Civic Integration of Migrants and Refugees, and Chair of the Eurocities Working Group Migration and Integration. Though the programme was designed for women, male migrants are also eligible to join, and its success has already seen its methods brought over into other integration programmes such as K!X Spotlight which is now being run in seven other Dutch municipalities.


2.     Berlin

In Berlin, support is by women, for women. As one part of the Bridge project, multilingual events are organised for refugee women in which other women can give them quick and clear answers to questions about working in Germany. As women often have to deal with extra domestic work like childcare, which can make long trips difficult, these events were offered at locations that are close to their accommodation. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the events have been made available online via video conference. The project also offers courses to prepare women for work in the healthcare or social sector. So far, the courses have been offered to about 40 women per year, more than 24 of whom typically go on to find vocational training or work in the industry.

The Bridge project, which is paid for by the European Social Fund, has supported more than 3000 refugees in finding employment since 2015, a third of whom are women. It doesn’t only offer support to refugees – it also provides free training courses for job centres and employment agencies on how to better help refugees get into employment.


3.     Birmingham

One of the reasons that Polish women living in Britain have a higher fertility rate than those that remain in Poland is that they feel more financially secure. This was one of the findings of the interdisciplinary research project Immigrant Mothers as Agents of Change. The project focused on intra-European migration, seeking to understand the experiences of Polish mothers who had recently moved to Birmingham. This multi-method research included one-on-one interviews, group interviews, and even techniques like asking women to draw images in response to questions about their experiences.

Woman with child
Mothers are agents of change

Having a clear picture of the conditions of migrant women is essential to improving those conditions. The study, funded by the European Research Council, provided many interesting insights, from how the clothes that people working with migrants wear may affect the engagements that they have, to the aforementioned fertility rate question.


4.     Gothenburg

At the Recycling House in Gothenburg, people who have been unemployed for a long time can come together and take steps towards their future through sustainability-themed activities. They work at gardening, bicycle repair, cooking and upcycling crafts while occupational therapists assess their progress and help them define the way forward. This could be to a work placement, education, or to appropriate medical care. This service is open to migrants and people of a Swedish background, though it is located in an area in which many migrants live.


The Recycling House, which is run and funded by Gothenburg’s Department of Social and Welfare, has recently achieved gender parity in terms of the number of participants. The programme was evaluated to improve its approach to gender. They began by looking at how women were represented in the organisation and how resources were distributed between men and women. They then had to consider the reasons behind this representation and distribution, and whether this was appropriate, finally settling on new goals and measures to improve gender equality.

One result of this process was that the organisation expanded the kinds of work clothes it was offering people from jeans and a short-sleeved t-shirt to also include longer-sleeved and less close-fitting garments in which some women felt more comfortable. Another finding was that despite generally having higher Swedish language skills, women were less likely to use these than men. On the basis of this, work is being done to encourage women to speak more. You can read more about Gothenburg’s gender-sensitive approach to migrant integration through our CONNECTION project here.


5.     Leipzig

In Leipzig, the city has supported migrant women entering the workforce since 2015, with a committee working to improve this support since 2019. The support includes special accommodation where migrant women can live together, and an advice centre exclusively for women, training in work-related skills. The city wants to make sure that its own staff are well attuned to the needs of migrant women, so they provide training for social workers to better understand this demographic. The training includes better recognising the work-related skills that these women may have and what kind of assistance and advice are most appropriate.

Smiling woman
Different aspirations

Leipzig has found that there are often big differences between the aspirations of daughters in migrant families and those of their parents. To accommodate these differences, the city facilitates a women-only group for younger migrant women to meet and discuss their lives, ambitions, interests and issues.


6.     Milan


Milan’s CELAV – Centre for Labour Inclusion – helps vulnerable people, many of them refugees, to find work in the city. The centre is very attuned to the nuances of vulnerable people’s discrete situations. Help can range from information provided at the front desk to counselling and three-month work placements. The companies that take migrant women for work placements range from NGOs and social enterprises to private companies, a series of partnerships that require a high level of commitment on both sides. The city does a lot of work, from finding the appropriate vacancy to supporting employers on legislative and bureaucratic procedures and fully covering the work grants paid to the trainees. The city has ties to social cooperatives and the hospitality industry as the key sectors of employment for refugee women.

Ilaria, the Chief Financial Officer of a Milanese company that provides CELAV work placements is glad to be part of the programme, despite the challenges: “At the beginning it was not easy… With this experience, we got to know different cultures and it helped us develop an open-minded approach, also in relation to ourselves and our own problems and vulnerabilities.”


7.     Munich

Munich works with the German network ‘Integration through Qualification’ to support migrant women in getting past barriers to employment. The difficulties they tackle include discrimination, re-entering employment after parental leave and finding a part-time position. Besides help with building a professional network, the group helps migrant women connect with family-friendly companies. In the last five years, more than half of the people receiving mentorship through the network were women, almost 80% of whom found a job that suited their qualifications within six months.

As mentioned above, migrant women are much more likely than men to end up in jobs for which they are over-qualified. Finding a job that is a good fit for their skill set means that they can perform at their peak, provide the maximum benefit for the local economy and experience much higher job satisfaction. A big part of making this work is the effort the network makes to find a way to get official recognition of existing qualifications that these women may have.


8.     Oslo

In Oslo, the MiRA Centre runs ‘Mother’s Tutors,’ a project which trains migrant mothers who have been in the city for a long time to become guides for newly arrived migrant mothers. Over one year the tutors are trained in communication between parents and children, empowerment and physical and mental health, digital skills, and network building. The freshly-trained tutors then contact women in mosques and schools, and organise events and activities with them, participate in collaborative projects and help schools to communicate with the parents.

Women holding certificates from the MiRA Centre
MiRA Centre

These women have a high level of trust within their community, and act as a link between the social services and isolated women. They are also well placed to carry messages that are potentially more sensitive, such as the expectations in Norwegian society about styles of parenting and especially the level of autonomy that should be extended to daughters as well as sons.

The training is not a one-way street; the mothers that take part also propose and develop new activities and themes for future iterations of the course. The project is funded by the city and powered by 50 volunteer tutors, together speaking more than 25 different languages. You can read more about this idea in our VALUES toolkit for integration through volunteering.


9.     Utrecht


Utrecht’s Neighbourhood Academy Stromend Overvecht is a group of migrant women half of whom are refugees from countries like Syria, Palestine, Azerbaijan, and Iraqi Kurdistan, and half of whom are long-time residents mostly of Moroccan origin. There are just over 20 in the core group, but they involve around 200 other residents each year. The women in the group meet every two weeks to enact the motto of the academy: ‘Learning from each other’. They talk about their experiences, support each other, explore the neighbourhood, discover talents, and decide on important themes to address.

They also develop creative programmes involving theatre, games, special newspapers and exhibitions. These programmes invite people of different backgrounds and ages to contribute to the neighbourhood in accordance with their abilities and interests. The aim of the academy is to support people in discovering their talents and formulating their thoughts and ambitions, bring together groups that often do not meet each other, and develop plans for the neighbourhood which give all residents an opportunity to take part.


10. Your city

There are lots of stories, tools and ideas for developing the gender element of migrant integration if you’re looking for inspiration for the city you live or work in, check out what’s on offer through our Integrating Cities movement, or contact us to share your story.