Testimony of two women who tell us how they live in Brussels and why they joined the Women Without Papers’ Committee.

By LCT – Belgium.


-Why a Women Without Papers group?

Maïmouna: We see a lot of men at the Without Papers protests but not so many women; however, there are women in occupations, and there are also those women who do not go to occupations. This is a women’s community, not because we want to separate from men but because we think it is a good idea, as we have specific demands among women.

When I arrived in Brussels, this women’s community was already working; we protested every Wednesday in the Stock Exchange Square; we protested a lot during summer, one demonstration a week, but we were not so many as a lot of women do not dare to go out on the streets. Later, we decided to do meetings every Wednesday, because we could not protest every week during the winter (we have children); so we met at immigrants’ homes; we have a sewing workshop and childcare service. We are so many in the group; in Brussels, more than 50 women come to the meetings. “Being illegal is difficult!”. Without papers we found a lot of difficulties, but being a woman makes it a double punishment, especially for those who are mothers and children in a country where you are told you do not have any right.

Every morning you wake up and say to yourself that you are in a country where you can be expelled for anything you do. And I do not have right to work; my children do not have the same rights as other children; as a woman, I cannot do the same things other women do, neither have the same life as anyone else; so, it is difficult. These undocumented women are brave. This is a contradiction: many women left their countries because there are no rights for women.

For example, in my country women’s rights are not something to talk about: “you are a woman, so you just have to listen”. When we came here, to Europe, we heard about human rights, children’s rights and women’s rights as something important; you hear it but it is not like that. We say this is not normal… we see undocumented women being abused or raped here in the capital of Europe; those dangers all women fear of, we must face them every day.

Because of this, women hide keeping the suffering for themselves, and they do not want to talk about it. When I say that you have no rights it also means that you do not have the right to complain about something that happens to you.

So we say, even though the government it is not there for us –and it is really sad to see the government is never there for us-, this women’s community exists to keep us united; we do not expect someone to come help us, undocumented women can do something for ourselves. This has pleased me; back in my country, I was engaged.

When I arrived here, it made me happy to find women who can go out and protest, because it is our right; for me, it is a fight I had already started in my country and I that can continue here.

-Are there new governmental measures against the Without Papers?

Mamadou: I believe the current measures adopted by the government are designed to break the rhythm of struggles accomplished by the Without Papers’ movement, because we bother them: we do not give a “good image” to Europe’s capital; the idea of the government is to break the movement. To prove it, there were no arrests of leaders of the occupations movement before, but now they arrest the activists, trying to intimidate them, to break the movement. There has not been any positive measure from this government.

Unofficially, we know there will be a tightening of criteria for selection; the more the government decides to close the doors to foreigners, the more we say: this is our struggle too, we must demonstrate. We have a Without Papers’ newspaper, and now the women’s group, of which we are proud. We always understood we have rights here in Brussels; for example, right to medical attention or health insurance card, which in fact is almost never given; I found many women and families with minors that were told they have the right to have a home, even when they are not in an asylum procedure, but we do not see anything coming, in this regard.

The main demands

The main demand is regularization; this is what we ask every time; we demand for our rights to be guaranteed. Another example is the right to work: this does not exist, in practice, and it is also the struggle of working women; if you have children, we have as a demand that at least our children can go to a daycare center, and to receive work training, you have to eat. To find a job it is not easy at all, really.

Capitalism it also uses us!

Mamadou: the employers and the capitalism take advantage out of this situation; they need people to exploit, people without papers to exploit them. Because, in one hand, we drive the struggle for everyone to be legal; on the other hand, employers also struggle to always have illegal people to better exploit. So, this situation applied to women makes them to be exploited, even though they don’t enjoy anything, by others people who call themselves true citizens; women work between 10 and 12 hours a day to take care of children, for an insignificant amount of 10 euros per day, but they have do it anyway because with these 10 euros they manage to feed their children and pay for the school. If, for any chance, they do not have that kind of job, they even have to use their bodies [as merchandise]. They are exposed to all kind of dangers. I talked to a girl who used to babysit a child, until one day the person who hired her proposed her to meet her in bed. Because they are humble, they are exposed to all kind of dangers, even under threat. But a where can a girl who went through this situation complain? She cannot! She runs the risk of being send to hell!

Maïmouna: This is a very common situation. We often see women in this situation; even though they get a job, this kind of situation is waiting for them at some point. So you start to be afraid of the law, you are afraid of going to work, you are afraid of living! You will feel this fear in your belly every time you go out and say to yourself: I’m going to work, but I will have to work very hard to earn nothing at all; or to work every day with someone threatening you and saying: “I can do what I want with you, and then I will be the one that is right, because I have papers and you do not, so you cannot complain”. Current laws and the government give them the strength and courage to walk over the weakest…

So when the government says: we will show all men in asylums how to behave with women, in fact they are the ones pushing certain men to behave like this with women; if there were rights or at least a place to complain, this would not happen.

The relations between refugees and the Without Papers

When refugees arrived, we went to receive them at Maximilien Park as Without Papers, because one day we were refugees like them. And many of them will probably be Without Papers one day, too. They always say we are divided, the Without Papers and refugees, but for us there is no big difference; among us there are people who went through that and has been there for years, and unfortunately they are not considered as people to be helped.

Mamadou: In conclusion, I congratulate this Women Without Papers initiative, demonstrating and struggling; we had not seen this in a while. Nowadays, there is a group of women to say: “we also have something to say in this struggle, and we know how to drive it”; this is really interesting! We have to support them, be with them, and not only logistically speaking, but strategically, as it is difficult to be organized as a Without Papers.

I love to hear women rise up and say: “we have our voices among men; yes, I know how to organize, I can struggle”. I say “bravo” to them; determination is also important, it is necessary to achieve victories!

Maïmouna: It is a path, a community of women aim to wide their struggle to others, to unions and students, and it does not exclude others just because it is a Women’s community; we struggle together; we want to be an active part of struggles here.

With or without papers, we are all workers!

Right for undocumented immigrants to organize in unions in their job places, to struggle together against the government’s austerity plans!

No to selective immigration of the Europe Union, that only allows the temporary entrance of qualified workforce according to their economy needs.

No to borders closure!

No to repression, no to FRONTEX!

Welcome refugees! Papers for all!


Translation: Misty M.