GENEVA, Switzerland — Since 2019, REFEMAC (an acronym for the French: “Meeting of Female Migrants, Women Working in Media and Female Artists”) has welcomed active Nigerien women leaders and influencers from media, the digital world, as well as the art scene. The aim of the initiative has been to engage youth leaders in gender-sensitive topics related to irregular migration. The hope is that in this way, they would be better equipped to sensitize other women and girls wishing to embark on perilous migration journeys.
Between 24–29 August, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) partnered with the Nigerien music label Art-Disc Records to organize the second edition of the REFEMAC workshop at the Centre Culturel Franco-Nigérien Jean Rouch (CCFN) in Niamey.
Launched under the theme “Same Dreams, Same Empowerment Aspirations,” 2020’s edition of the REFEMAC brought together 11 Nigerien female artists and influencers and 13 migrant women hosted at IOM’s transit center in Niamey.
During the five-day workshop, the women attended several conferences related to migration and migrant rights and brainstormed about strategies for the social reintegration of migrant women upon their return. Another topic tackled was the ways of changing negative perceptions about migrants. Throughout the week, the women hosted at IOM’s transit center had the chance to speak openly about their own difficult migration experiences.
Mariama is one of many who left their country in pursue of better economic opportunities. After traveling from Sierra Leone to Algeria, she returned to Niger at the beginning of the pandemic, spending two weeks in quarantine in Assamaka. She is now waiting to go home via IOM’s Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme.
“I really appreciated this training, because we have a lot to say, but we are not always listened to. Being migrants means that people look down on us and judge our choices. This week allowed us to free ourselves from that judgement,” Mariama said.
Adama Moussa, journalist with the Anfani news agency, had been tempted herself to embark on the journey to Europe. Still, she hesitated. “We often hear stories about failed migration journeys, but we don’t usually pay enough attention and only focus on the successful ones,” Adama said. “I applaud the courage of these women. Where many of us would give up, they are still here, standing, ready to share their experiences to ensure that their sisters do not fall into the same trap.”
Abdourahamane Harouna Koudou, Coordinator at Art-Disc Records, is already versed in the topic of migration due to his record label’s longstanding partnership with IOM. “We knew it would be difficult for some of the women to open up, so it’s amazing to see them break out of their shells, connect with the other participants and bring their ideas to life,” Harouna said.
Throughout the week, the women collaborated on innovative awareness-raising projects related to migration. At the end of the weeklong workshop, the group pitched their ideas on stage at CCFN; their show was livestreamed on Facebook by more than 10,000 viewers. Rakia Arimi, reporter at Studio Kalangou, was chosen by the jury as the winner of the Pitch Project Challenge, thanks to her original project idea on radio shows. Other well-designed and novel project ideas will have their chances in the coming months.
Although the evening was open only to a small audience so as to respect COVID-19 preventive measures, participants were proud to display their work in a public space and were impressed by the number of people either attending or joining online to experience their stories.
In the framework of the same project, IOM with its partners, will continue to build the capacity of its community mobilizers, implement awareness-raising activities related to gender-based violence and to improve access to relevant services.
IOM’s community outreach team will reinforce dialogue and interaction between migrants and host communities to facilitate social cohesion. The programme aims to encourage frequent positive interactions between the two, through regular visits to migrant meeting places, but also by organizing capacity building programmes, workshops, vocational training and festivals.
“Such initiatives give women a much-needed platform to share their sorrows, needs and hopes, and help them become agents of change,” said Barbara Rijks, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Niger. “There is nobody better equipped to raise awareness about the realities of the migration journey than the women who have lived it themselves. If we want to better respond to migrants’ needs, we need to listen and give them a voice.”
The REFEMAC initiative was organized under the inter-agency Italian Migration Fund, financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy, and implemented between July 2020 and June 2021.
– Monica Chiriac, IOM’s Media and Communications Officer in Niger