„Just what any heart, soul and mind needed”
A Networking Weekend in the Empowerment Program for Refugee Women*
filia’s Empowerment Program for Refugee Women* has been running since 2020. There have been two public calls for proposals, through which ultimately 22 groups and organizations were funded. We asked all applicants what topics or areas they could use further training or support in. Networking was named particularly often, in one form the other – as something that is incredibly important, but for which resources are often lacking.
This is how the idea of a networking meeting for the program’s grantee partners emerged.
Eleven grantee partners coming together
This summer it was finally time! From July 8-10, 19 people from a total of eleven groups and organizations that have been funded by in the program met at Gleisdreieck in Hannover:
What all participants have in common is that they use their strength not to endure existing discrimination silently, but to get involved in a group and become visible. That takes strength. Daily. But it can also give energy. For these experiences and the exchange about them, a good framework is needed. During the six-month preparation process, program coordinator Lea Rzadtki and process facilitator and moderator Sam Schulz developed a program taking this into account. During the weekend, Svenja Genthe from filia and moderator Lina Westermann also took part, two women organized a great childcare and there was a wonderful cook.
Safety – Networking – Skillsharing – Socializing
The three days moved through the four basic goals of the meeting: safety – networking – socializing – skillsharing. As a basis for the success of this weekend, everything was planned with enough time and methods. An empowering meeting can only succeed if the space offers protection from injuries and trust can be established that an opening is empowering. And last but not least, when a breezy schedule counteracts an often-experienced overload.
With the women* and some children, there also arrived various languages at the seminar house. We had agreed with the participants in advance that the seminar would be hold bilingually in English and German. To give room to all other languages, those were collected at check-in: a total of 16 silent languages were gathered in the room. This impressive diversity was also shown by the colorful dots on the name tags and accompanied the days.
Needs, expectations and empowerment
Getting to know each other also meant learning about each other’s needs, expectations, concerns, and trusting that everyone was looking out for each other. In the form of a sun with clouds we visualized this in pairs with each other.
During the weekend, there were many forms of empowerment that emerged, here are just a few exemplary ones:
- Movement is empowering.
- Not standing alone in front of issues is empowering.
- Having time together and being well cared for is empowering (space, sleep, good food, dedicated childcare).
Many participants expressed the wish that this weekend and the hope and energy in it would have a long-term networking effect.
- Poster sessions to mutually get to know each other
- Knowledge exchange in peer-to-peer mini workshops
- Open Space format for further interests in the room
For the poster sessions, participating organizations had 30 minutes to create posters from basic elements, using glue, scissors and collage materials – the goal was to visually represent the development and goals of their own organization.
Without hesitation, the task was tackled and the room was engulfed in creative noise. We presented the interesting results to each other in three small groups, each with ten minutes of presentation and ten minutes of time for questions. A clear and uncomplicated way to present one’s own work – here are all the participating groups and organizations (which are also presented in more detail here):
ADNA for Agreement & Empowerment e.V., Aachen
BIWOC* Rising e.V., Berlin
Break Isolation Group/ International Women’s Space, Berlin & Eisenhüttenstadt
Bunte Frauen bei PLUS e.V., Mannheim
Lüneburger Initiative für Vielfalt & Teilhabe (LIVT), Lüneburg
Verein MeineWelt e.V./ PLACE for Africa, Lampertheim
Migrant Mom‘s Mic, Essen
Refugees Emancipation e.V., Potsdam
Spanischsprechende Frauen in Baden-Württemberg e.V., Stuttgart
Utamara e.V., Kasbach-Ohlenberg
Women in Exile e.V., Potsdam
Networking was not the only topic that was reported back to us as a need. In preparation, the many topics mentioned were sorted so that a somewhat clearer collection of needs emerged. In planning the networking weekend, we selected four overarching blocks of topics that came up particularly often.
For three of the four thematic blocks, we asked two grantee partners each to prepare a mini workshop. The knowledge and expertise on many of these topics is in the communities themselves – the goal of the weekend and the format was to make this visible and share it with each other. We at filia wanted to offer the topic of fundraising, but unfortunately, due to illness, this has to be cancelled at short notice.
Intersectional Feminism I: Empowerment and dealing with racism and discrimination
Input by Women in Exile
Intersectional Feminism II: Empowerment and dealing with racism and discrimination
Older Migrant Women
Input von Cecilia, Spanischsprechende Frauen in Baden-Württemberg
In the first years here in Germany I felt lonely and undervalued because I felt that I had to wait until I could speak German properly before I could work in my profession. One day Mujeres Hispanohablantes/ Spanish Speaking Women asked if I […] wanted to start and lead this group [Older Migrant Women], to which I gladly responded because I knew very well what I could offer them: what I had always wanted and didn’t have.
I know how it feels to receive this kind of support, and I realize that it was a success for me because now I feel useful, I have a much better self-esteem and I am more confident in dealing with others here in Germany. My goal is to achieve the same with the older migrant women.
Insights from the group Older Migrant Women that were shared in the workshop:
- After two years of continuous meetings, it was surprising how much we integrated as a group. We have become friends, a very important issue for any migrant. Moreover, almost everyone always attends the meetings and is absent only on rare occasions.
- The conversations of the group have evolved from talking about how we feel, what worries us, how to solve something, through our successes, to deep philosophical topics that interest everyone very much.
- A lot of creativity came out when everyone was asked to turn an episode from their life into a story full of magic, creating some beautiful stories.
- The fact that there was an additional meeting each month to give everyone the opportunity to present a talk or activity they had mastered meant a lot to everyone. The intention was to strengthen them, and it did.
Self-organization I: Professionalization and project management
Self-organization of project management and the intersection of community-building
Input by Cérise, BIWOC* Rising
In this skill sharing session, I will recap the steps BIWOC* Rising’s Mentoring Program took – from the initial idea to the project execution, followed by the intertwining steps of Project Management, Community Building and intersectionality. There is no previous knowledge needed and open to all that would like to know more about BIWOC* Rising and our Mentoring Program, the self-organization and the intersectionality of our project management and/or how Community Building became the heart of our Projects and Organization.
Helpful tips and take-aways:
- Building a personal connection with mentors and mentees was important to have a good foundation of collaboration. An intersectional approach always takes into account all areas of the person and the intersection of different inequalities in order to achieve the best possible result.
- Pillars of the presented approach: honesty, transparency, communication, understanding and commitment. A bit like project management with (a lot of) personality.
- In conducting the workshop, I realized how important it was to explain intersectionality and how fundamental it is to always consider this in your work as a community builder. What I was able to share were a few suggestions on how participants can work intersectionally and ask more questions in their individual communities and with the members of their projects when needed.
- My take-away: not only that the whole weekend was inspiring and full of empowering stories, but also how strongly connected I am to my own community and how liabilities on both sides reflect the sustainability of building.
Self-organization II: Professionalization and project management
Self-determination, individual empowerment and political participation
Input by Valentina and Pervin, Lüneburger Initiative für Vielfalt und Teilhabe
Description: We give an overview of our path related to:
- Self-determination/ self-organization
- Empowerment as a group process to achieve more in society together
- Networking as a chance for more visibility and political participation
The workshop could be interesting for people/groups who are still relatively at the beginning of their process or want to know more about empowerment as a group process.
Interesting tips and insights:
- It was central to the initiative to use empowerment beyond individuals as a group process and the possibility to steer the project ourselves („experts in one’s own cause“).
- New group formations always require negotiation processes on topics, such as: What is our vision, mission, goals, values, …? The processes are not only important at the beginning, but also at a later stage – Is our self-image still up to date?
- Two models were action-guiding for the initiative, related to the goals to promote political participation and effectiveness of women with migration experience in society [resources in German]:
-> Stages of participation after Roger Hart (1992) and Wolfgang Gernert (1993) and
-> the “Stairs of Impact” by PHINEO.
- The question, on which level individual workshop participants or their organization stand, was answered differently in the workshop. Depending on the project, organizational structure and requirements by the funding programs, the design possibilities and thus the levels of participation are different (classification ranges from external determination to participation or self-organization).
- Low-threshold support programs with a relatively much room and possibilities for shaping and desiging, such as filia’s Empowerment Program for Refugee Women*, were discussed positively in the workshop.
Visibility I: Public relations and (social) media work
Self-representation as a marginalized group
Input by Mahtab, Migrant Mom’s Mic
Motherhood has been mystified in society with much moral recognition and symbolic dignity; but how does motherhood shape women’s lives here and now? And what happens when motherhood meets migration and raising children in a “foreign” country? Migrant mothers are often racialized and stigmatized as a burden on the social system. They are seen as the migrant “other” who stands in the way of their children’s integration and teaches them “non-Western” values.
Yet the voices of migrant and refugee mothers are rarely heard in media, and the stories of their lived experiences go untold. How (in)visible do they feel in their environment? In this workshop, we offer a space to share, discuss, reflect and unmask what it means to be a migrant (first generation) mother in Germany: how to create a voice about this experience; possible platforms, such as radio programs, podcasts and other mediums.
We shall focus on telling the stories of our everyday struggles as a form of resistance and empowerment. Let’s take a step towards a feminism that includes the experiences and perspectives of these mothers!
I was empowered and inspired by the honesty and beauty that emerged through the interactions during the workshop. Both mothers who had migrated themselves and children born to migrant and refugee mothers got the chance to reflect on and talk about their experiences and the invisibility of the joys, suffering and struggles of this specific situation and relationship. For me, it was really amazing to witness how the second-generation children viewed the experiences of their migrant and refugee mothers at the intersection of race, gender, class and residence status and develop a deeper understanding of what these women they went through both at “home” and in their “host country”.
Visibility II: Public relations and (social) media work
Visibility through documentation
Input by Jennifer and Lucy, Break Isolation Group/ International Women Space
Summary and learnings:
We shared on visibility and connecting to opportunities with emphasis on documentation as a tool for broader networking and coordination – both internally and externally in a project. This also opened up key discussions on the different challenges and struggles among the grantees present such as follow up, feedback and response from the targeted audience who access the documentations. Most importantly was maintaining the content and overall objectives of the shared visibility materials.
“What topic do I still want to look at, where is something left open?”
Using the open space method, on Sunday morning groups were quickly found that wanted to look at certain topics or aspects in more depth. The open space was used for example for:
- What is the positive aspect of being a migrant mother?
- Ideas for further collaboration and networking
- Self Defense
- Ressources and self care
- Introducing the book “Breaking Borders to build bridges” (20 years Women in exile)
A weekend full of strong people and inspired moments
It was a very successful weekend, from which all participants were able to take away a lot and which will find continuation in one form or another.
In the following, we want to share some more impressions of the inspiring days in Hannover – in pictures and some voices of participants.