On October 20th, a manifestation in front of Rechtbank Leuven[1] was called in order to support a Venezuelan woman and mother whose five children had been displaced under a refugee status. She demanded the retrieval of the right to visit her children, as well as to be able to practice her guardianship, a condition which the biological father holds without complying to the agreements of shared visits. Friends, members of other organizations that under the  #YoSiTeCreo (the Spanish version of the #BelieveSurvivors feminist support movement) are also victims of the displacement of minors in refugee centers and accomodation families attended the manifestation. Through the implementation of legal instruments against the will and agreement of mothers and in this case migrant women, they are placed under a constant intersectional bias of irregular verdicts and legal decisions that lead to a process of instutional violence and discrimination perpetrated by civil servants that work through public funds.

The manifestation was carried out on Tuesday from 9:00 to 11:00 calmly, peacefully and legally—since the manifestation had been previously registered and approved by the Gemeentehuis Leuven[2]. Despite being initially placed in the front staircase of the building, later on we were asked to move across the street, facing the front entrance of the building. Afterwards, a couple of vehicles belonging to the police arrived in the area and parked in a position where the manifestation and its visibility was obstructed. Approximately fifteen police officers continued to arrive afterwards, even resulting in the exceeding of the number of manifestants. The presence of the police body was justified in the assuring of the event’s security. Not only the permission that granted our right to ask for justice in the case of the mothers separated from their children was inspected, but the validity of the document was questioned. It is worth mentioning that it took the police officers around 45 minutes to examine the formalities of the manifestation, a situation that hindered the manifestation.

As an organization, we understand the authorities’ necessity to validate and verify the permit to carry out a manifestation, especially within the COVID-19 pandemics framework. Nevertheless, the response of the police body in a legal manifestation context resulted in the intimidation and hindering of the protest—the manifestants were displaced and their visibility was obstructed. However, in spite of the situation described here, passerby and journalists’ curiosity was awoken, who approached to read the manifestation banners in Dutch and to interview the manifestants.

Four months after, on February 11th,  authorities called the manifestants for an interrogation regarding alleged “death threats.” They argued that in April 2020 (that is six months before the calm migrant mothers manifestation here described) a doll hung from the doors of Rechtbank Leuven[3] had been found. In it, a message written in French read something similar to “no more violence to women and children…”. They described the product of a different manifestation, unconnected to October 20th’s. This incident was classified as threatening, vandalic and terrorising, and currently it is being prosecuted and awaiting the trial of the authors’. In this regard, we have witnessed how an unwelcome message to the authorities—without any evidence of how and who made it happen—allows for the accusation of the migrant mothers, in spite of the different conditions under which it was carried out, and the difference in the lapse of time between our legal and calm manifestation and the so-called threatening message.

For this reason, this 8th of March we aim to pronounce in the context of the International Women’s (and Girls) Day in Belgium. And under the slogan #MigrantWomen’sRighttoDecide give visibility to the migrant women who risk their life and their health to assert their right to exercise maternity. We pronounce against intimidation and harassment in all its forms as a response to the denouncings, manifestations and defense of the right of exercising maternity with safety. Additionally, we condemn the threats and intersectional bias that the migrant women have endured as a consequence of being women and  migrants.

Furthermore, we draw attention to the criminalization of migrant mothers who demand their rights. The responsible state officials have not been able to find a solution to the diverse violences denounced by these women. By contrast, they have hindered the manifestations and intimidated the attendees by exerting institutional violence on them. For this reason we want to highlight the fact that the intimidation to which migrant women are subjects for their gender and migrant condition is not only exerted on the streets, but it is institutional as well.

We claim:

And recommend:

Migrant women unite for the claiming of the access to democracy in the welcoming country, as well as its prevailing throughout the stay, without any obstaculization. We suggest the task of opening dialogue, and to provide transparency of the cases which remain concealed; they break the lives of children that under silences and sufferings are placed far away from the access to democracy and legal instruments that Belgium counts with and have already been signed as a nation.

Under the shadow of institutions and after performing the labour of accompanying in the front line the integration of migrant women in Belgium, we are convinced that the alternative is in the legality and in the right to exercise the principles of CEDAW[4]. We are also convinced of the importante on the interdisciplinary work of Networks Between Women That Save Lives.

[1] Leuven Courthouse

[2] Leuven Commune Office

[3] Leuven Courthouse

[4] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). For more information consult:  https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CEDAW.aspx


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