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The team at The Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town (SCCT) works with people who are migrants and refugees every day. With such deep expertise at hand, we take the opportunity to reflect on migration with them. This month we speak to Lea Liekefedt, who spent six months volunteering with Women’s Platform.
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Growing up in a multi-cultural part of Germany and hearing stories about her grandmother being a refugee of war, Lea has always had an acute awareness of migration. At university, Lea studied political science and focused her research on the shortcomings of migration policies in Europe. It was during this time that Lea developed a critical stance on Europe’s existing migration policies.
Whilst volunteering at the ‘jungles’ in Calais, France, Lea realised that she wanted to “put theory into practice and support women on the ground. They [women] are the most vulnerable to suffer from the consequences of involuntary migration and inadequate gender policies.” Lea has seen this to be true in Europe and South Africa. “There is a lot of rhetoric, but it is not practical.”
Volunteering with Women’s Platform allowed Lea to work directly with and learn from women on the move. “There are so many struggles that these women go through and the pandemic has put them into an even more vulnerable state.”
Women’s Platform acted quickly to adapt their programme, to ensure they could still support women in their network during South Africa’s lockdown. “Sometimes we were not able to reach everyone, even with all the effort that was put in,” explains Lea when talking about the challenges that Women’s Platform faced. “We know they [the women] are there and need support, but getting the access to them during the pandemic could sometimes be difficult due to internet connection for instance.” She also notes that even with these difficulties, “the women are experts at survival” and many were able to connect and build communities around them even during the isolating times.
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The Women’s Platform team are motivated by the women themselves – their stories, their drive and their resilience. “They bring so much light and joy, despite the hardships that they face…We are able to relate on womanhood even though we all come from very different backgrounds.”
On finishing her placement with Women’s Platform, Lea has left South Africa feeling inspired by the women she was working with. For example, Lea met women in their 40’s focusing on starting their education again or starting new jobs. “As a young woman myself, it’s inspiring to see that.”
Lea has witnessed women within the platform who were once shy and timid, become confident community leaders. She emphasises that taking care of women’s needs and promoting independence paves the way to sustainable development in society. “When we focus on the stories told by those most affected by inequalities, we can have sustainable development and better policies.”
Lea supports governments’ development policy that recognises women as the fabric of society. “They bear the burden of supporting families and they carry the experiences of their families – there need to be more safe spaces for women and more support. This includes women who are originally from South Africa and women who are not.”
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“Migration is part of our global history.” Drawing from her own personal experiences and from what she has learnt at SCCT, Lea has seen that migration across the world is inevitable. She believes that seeing migration as an opportunity and allowing skilled women from other countries to work in their professions would benefit the South African economy. “I noticed that there is such a bureaucratic burden for women who are highly skilled to get access to jobs because of immigration and documentation issues.”
Within the Women’s Platform, Lea has met a woman who got her education in South Africa and has qualified as a teacher, but is unable to work due to her documentation. “Great teachers are needed everywhere, especially female teachers who introduce students to new cultures.” She has met many women within the platform who want to be active in and beneficial to South African communities. There are nurses from DRC who aim to educate people on HIV/AIDS and other women who run their own schemes to feed the homeless. “That’s what’s important about Women’s Platform. It’s a journey. During the journey, the women get a sense of community, but also a sense of responsibility to society.”
Lea is about to start her Masters in Development Studies. “With the work at Scalabrini and supporting the Women’s Platform, I hope to play a little role in re-establishing a sense of fairness and opportunity in a practical way.”