As we reflect on migrant women’s leadership on the occasion of International Women’s Day 2021 it is clear that migrant women have taken the lead this year in myriad ways. While COVID-19 spread across the world, and migrant communities were disproportionately impacted, migrant women stepped up in their roles as leaders to make a much-needed difference.
Migrant women who worked throughout the pandemic in health care, aged care, factories, farms, food retail and other essential industries deserve top mention. IWD is after all an opportunity to honour women workers’ activism, strength and leadership in workplaces and in the streets in calling for fairness, equality and safety at work. Early migrant women worker activists fought for safety at work, in the wake of avoidable tragedies like the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York.
This year, safety for women at work took on a new meaning as Coronavirus infiltrated healthcare, aged care and food processing workplaces in Australia. Migrant women are well represented in these workplaces, with more than 40% of women with permanent residency and 30% of women on temporary visas working within these industries as front line carers, nurses, doctors, cleaners and food processors. This IWD we must acknowledge and honour these women for their work keeping so many of us safe, healthy, protected, clean and fed.
Women from migrant communities are also among those we have to thank for the increased visibility over this year of violence against women in the workplace. The revelations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and ingrained misogyny in Australia’s parliaments have starkly highlighted just how far there is to go before all women are free from violence in the workplace.
The most recent reports are shocking but not surprising to women. We know that the problems are not limited to parliament. As the 2018 national survey found, 85% of Australian women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. The problem exists across Australian workplaces and it is systemic and ingrained. This means that the more vulnerable the worker, and the fewer protections they have, the more likely they are to be subjected to violence in the workplace. We learnt during COVID-19 that the fruit and vegetable industry relies heavily on the exploitation of migrant workers, and that in the absence of workplace protections within these industries, sexual harassment and sexual assault against migrant women workers are freely perpetuated with little consequence for perpetrators.
This IWD we honour migrant women workers, fighters, activists, survivors, and we acknowledge the important positive difference they make across our community and workplaces. We share their pain, rage and passion, and we understand the risks they take. For IWD and always, to migrant women everywhere, we offer our commitment to continuing the work, our solidarity and sisterhood.
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