After the #MeToo movement progressively unveiled the systematic abuse of women at all levels of Icelandic society, it was only a matter of time before foreign women living in Iceland also began to share their experiences. As much as feminism is a crucial part of the local cultural debate, we often forget how important it is to approach this discourse from an intersectional point of view. The last outpour of stories from foreign women published by independent media outlet Kjarninn is clear proof of that.
Of gender and race
97 women signed a statement published in Kjarninn, where they shared their stories of gender-based discrimination—stories that often disclose detail of abuses towards women who don’t have a system of support behind them.
According to former MP Nichole Leigh Mosty, this isolation is at the core of the problem. To understand the experiences of abused foreign women, however, one has to acknowledge that it develops on two separate but intertwined levels: that of gender and that of race.
If you add to that a lack of support by local institutions that does nothing to diminish the language barrier, lack of opportunities, and the racial prejudice foreign women experience, you have a recipe for disaster that evolves into a vicious circle. “Many of these women are socially isolated, perhaps because of their lack of language skills,” Nichole explains. “This means we aren’t more sensitive to sexual violence because we are from other countries but because we don’t get the right information or support when we need it.”
A shift in mentality
Nichole makes the example of a woman in a violent marriage: when she seeks medical assistance, no translator is provided to explain what’s going on. “Her self-image and security are non-existent, and she feels alone. Whom can she trust to get help when so many doors are closed to her?” Nichole asks.
“That a woman has to live in such conditions doesn’t say that she is fragile but that the society she lives in hasn’t supported her and has instead made her place in the society a fragile one. We can’t just create such a frail group of people—especially when simple steps such as personal counsel and access to language classes can help them gain more independence.”
The #MeToo movement as a whole has pointed the finger at a health and judiciary system that has failed them. However, Iceland needs a shift in mentality as much as an institutional change. It also needs to acknowledge that not all experiences of sexual harassment are the same, in order to foster understanding, and develop more comprehensive ways to support all women living in Iceland.