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Integration Not Demonisation – for women, too?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Wonder Foundation welcomes the publication of “Integration not Demonisation”, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Social Integration’s final report of their inquiry into the integration of immigrants in the UK.

Our work in this area has focussed on the integration of vulnerable migrants, especially women and their families, and improving their access to English language education. To this end we published research, “Women Breaking the English Barrier” last September, at Westminster, and have continued to examine integration policy through our Erasmus + funded “Knowing Me, Knowing You” project for young people.

We welcome this report, to which we were invited to contribute, as it has sought to understand the perspectives of a variety of stakeholders – settled populations affected by high levels of immigration, immigrants themselves, education providers, employers and others. The report represents strong support from a cross-party group of MPs for more, improved and more diverse types of English language provisions, for example non-formal and informal provision in the community, and an ‘intermediate offer’ aimed at language learners who have participated in a community-based programme but aren’t yet ready to progress to a college-based course.

Additionally we welcome the engagement of more members of settled communities in supporting learners, making them feel welcome and facilitating their integration into British life. We would have welcomed greater recognition of the additional needs that learners who may be recovering from traumatic migration journeys, or situations that precipitated their moves to the UK, and how this might affect their ability to learn English and meet new people. We are happy to see our point about the social value to women having a space to meet safely outside their homes, meet new people and form new friendships has been noted.

We firmly agree that migrants themselves should be consulted on the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) curriculum, “The government should conduct an extensive consultation including immigrants and ESOL programme providers in order to explore what topics these cultural orientation courses should cover as well as how the requirement for newcomers with no English to attend them should be enforced.” However, we note that consultation must be sensitive to ensuring that the voices of the most vulnerable are heard, not just of the loudest. Additionally, enforcement practices would need to be sensitive to the very real reasons why some migrants may struggle to attend courses regularly or at all, for example due to caring responsibilities or physical and mental health issues.

However, we are concerned about some of the language used in parts of the report, and the ways in which the choices of immigrants, especially women, are judged. The use of the terms “regressive family norms and cultural practices” (p17, 66) when describing the key factors preventing women from learning and integrating does not allow for women who may want to both learn English and look after their family.

“This framing does not take into consideration the very real demands that pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and raising children, place on a person’s availability and flexibility,” said Policy Director Olivia Darby. “These are options freely chosen by many women across the world, including well-educated British women, it is not for us to exclude them from the conversation about integration. We would like to see an approach to integration policy that also includes women who decide to care full-time for their families."

"We would like to see an approach to integration policy that also includes women who decide to care full-time for their families."

"Additionally, the value of this to society – the raising of happy, healthy children, many of whom face additional barriers to their own development through poverty and marginalisation – is ignored when the focus is solely on enabling migrants to learn English so they can contribute economically to society. Overcoming harmful cultural practices and promoting gender equity are essential, but will only be achieved by engaging those communities to address them themselves.”

Wonder is excited at the evolving conversation around better ESOL provision and greater inclusion of marginalised people in the UK continues and we will continue to seek for the needs of the most vulnerable learners, especially women, to be better met.