In this case study we analyzed the measurements for social and labor integration in Slovenia from the lens of gender equality. This was by interviewing 9 women who are either refugees or immigrants in Slovenia. Five of these women are from Iraq and hold refugee status. Two women are from Syria; one came to Slovenia through a family reunification program and one holds refugee status. One woman comes from Serbia and she moved to Slovenia to join her husband, who is also from Serbia and works in Slovenia.
One woman is from Jordan; she lives and works in Slovenia. Eight out of 9 women come from an Arabic ethnicity and are of Muslim faith. In addition to the interviews, we analyzed the outcomes of a national survey that was filled by 23 women who are either immigrants or refugees in Slovenia, as detailed in the methods section. The outcomes have their limitations, because immigrant women are a heterogeneous group and these findings cannot be generalized to all of them. Yet, these conclusive findings are essential for further research and show the importance of implementing gender mainstreaming of the national integration measures in practice. There are various factors that variously affect the social and labor integration of immigrant women. The issues aroused are systematic, cultural, social, and gender-based. Prejudices against foreigners, along with discrimination and xenophobia, are major issues that lead to limited social networks, exclusion from the labor market, limited access to social rights, and even limited knowledge about existing social rights. Muslim women wearing headscarves are often subjected to discrimination. Immigrant women form a heterogonous group, and language courses and civic education courses fail to recognize this diversity. There is an approach to creating individual plans for integration, yet this approach needs more measures to be fully implemented, especially when it comes to language education. Immigrant women who are not beneficiaries of international protection do not have access to these plans nor to the services provided by the government office for the support and integration of migrants; there is an initial integration program for TCNs, yet the courses offered by this program are limited in hours and scope based on the type of residency. Meanwhile TCN women in Slovenia have a smaller share of the labor market than TCN men, and therefore have fewer chances for social inclusion through the labor market. The inclusion of immigrant women from TCNs in the integration programs with the beneficiaries of international protection might assist in creating a solid diaspora community, which is an important agency for immigrant women. Limited social networks with the host society also adversely affects the social and labor integration of immigrant women. The system of acquaintances and connections create a system of inequalities that affect in particular immigrant women.
Immigrant women face gender stereotyping and limitations due to language; when getting oriented into a potential vocational training or job opportunity, their choices are offered based on their gender and their limited capacity of speaking the local language. There are measures that aim to find jobs for immigrant women in what is known as female-dominant fields, but this approach limits the individual capacities. One interviewee from Syria referred to social stigma in her culture against women who work as waiters or in performing arts, like dancing or acting as a hindering factor for labor integration. We researched the phenomena further and found some published research on it referred to as “shame culture”. While four interviewees from Iraq shared that they do not feel burdened as women to choose jobs based on their culture or faith, they addressed further that stereotypes against migrant women as passive or oppressed reenforce xenophobia and discrimination against them. In further research we found similar findings published by the European Institute for Gender Equality, that media presentation of migrant women as passive and oppressed fuels xenophobia.Cultural norms and gender roles associate household chores with women; this is an extra burden yet the interviewed women do not consider it as a barrier when kindergarten or facilities for childcare are provided. Women who wear headscarves believed that they were declined in some interviews explicitly because of their religious beliefs, which was followed by xenophobic narratives such as “go back to your country”. The Employment Relationship Act prohibits discrimination based on religion and/or beliefs, yet there are many cases where people who are subjected to such discrimination do not report it. Ageism was also present in the responses to the survey.Regulations for integration have improved in Slovenia in the recent years.
There are two institutions that provide exams for recognition for the beneficiaries of international protection in cases where they cannot provide documents. Yet, the findings from the interviews show that the recognition of education and skills remain an issue for the beneficiaries of international protection, primarily due to language barriers, lack of information that these measures exist, and unfamiliarity with the system and its measures. In Slovenia, permits to practice certain crafts are required, and various conditions apply to gain such permits. This is an unfamiliar system for several immigrant women, who cannot get recognition for their previous work without enrolling in a new educational program, where language and administrative requirements arise as a barrier. With the restrictions of Covid19 and the closure of the schools, immigrant women have more household responsibilities that affect their participation in online learning. Some interviewees highlighted the need for more ICT education, especially for immigrant women who are illiterate.
In conclusion, and based on the findings from the interviews and the national survey, we identify the need for an institutional body to implement gender mainstreaming in national measures for integration and to represent the needs of female, immigrant, third country nationals. We identify this need for policy designs, development, and implementation of programs and evaluation. We identify women-to-women networks as essential for supporting the social integration of immigrant women, we identify the need for more diverse measures regarding the amount of time and scope of content in Slovene language courses, and we identify the need for more public awareness about legislation protecting immigrants from discrimination, especially in regard to discrimination against women from Muslim faith. Immigrant communities are diverse and we identify the need for tailor-made educational programs to combat gender-based discrimination against women in each community. Further, this case study confirms previous research that shows how stereotypes against migrant women fuel xenophobia and hate speech.Finally, our interviews showed that gender inequalities predominated among the interviewees. Some of the responders did not think that immigrant women face more or different kind of obstacles for social and labor integration. Yet, during the interviews one of them referred to gender roles in household chores and another referred to the stigmatization of women based on their chosen career as hindering factors for their social and labor integration. Some mentioned hostility against employing women, which they felt that was based on their gender and their religious choice. Therefore, we identify the need for education on gender sensitivity in the integration programs as a dually dynamic process between immigrants and the host society.