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From Rhetoric to Practice: A critique of immigration policy in Germany through the lens of Turkish-Muslim women's experiences of migration

Final draft: not for citation for citation purposes this article can be accessed thus.
Clarence, S. 2009. From rhetoric to practice: a critique of immigration policy in
Germany through the lens of Turkish-Muslim women’s experiences of migration’.
Theoria, 56(121), 57-91. doi:
‘From rhetoric to practice: a critique of immigration policy in Germany through the
lens of Turkish-Muslim women’s experiences of migration’
The largest group of migrants in Germany is the Turkish people, many of whom have low
skills levels, are Muslim, and are slow to integrate themselves into their host
communities. German immigration policy has been significantly revised since the early
1990s, and a new Immigration Act came into force in 2005, containing more inclusive
stances on citizenship and integration of migrants. There is a strong rhetoric of
acceptance and open doors, within certain parameters, but the gap between the rhetoric
and practice is still wide enough to allow many migrants, particularly women, to fall
through it. Turkish-Muslim women bear the brunt of the difficulties faced once they have
arrived in Germany, and many of them are subject to domestic abuse, joblessness and
poverty because of their invisibility to the German state, which is the case largely
because German immigration policy does not fully realise a role and place for women
migrants. The policy also does not sufficiently account for ethnic and cultural
identification, or limitations faced by migrants in that while it speaks to integration, it
does not fully enable this process to take place effectively. Even though it has made many
advances in recent years towards a more open and inclusive immigration policy,
Germany is still a ‘reluctant’ country of immigration, and this reluctance stops it from
making any real strides towards integrating migrants fully into German society at large.
The German government needs to take a much firmer stance on the roles of migrant
women in its society, and the nature of the ethnic and religious identities of Muslim
immigrants, in order to both create and implement immigration policy that truly allows
immigrants to become full and contributing members to German social and economic
life, and to bring it in line with the European Union’s common directives on immigration.
Keywords: ethnicity; European Union; exclusion; Germany; guest workers; immigration;
immigration policy; Turkish-Muslim women.
Germany has recently implemented a new Immigration Act (2005) after a lengthy process
of negotiation and debate, and has been struggling with issues of self-definition related to
whether or not it is indeed a ‘country of immigration’. Germany has a long history of
xenophobia and violence towards perceived outsiders, and has never really regarded itself
as a country of immigration. This stance has been reformulated in recent years, and the
federal government in 2004, under the leadership of Gerhard Schroëder, declared
Germany a country of immigration. German immigration and integration policy is now
being reconsidered under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Christian
Democratic Union, but no significant changes have been made to the 2005 Act as yet.
Germany is thus an interesting case study in terms of the shifts that have occurred and are
still occurring in thinking and policy formulation around the issue of immigration. It has
been suggested that, as one of the biggest countries in the EU, Germany has a
considerable amount of influence over policy-making at the supranational level, and that
whatever it decides to do with its immigration policy will have an impact on the shape of
European policy (Martin, 2001). Certainly this was borne out in 2003 when Germany
foiled the EU’s plans to create a common immigration policy (Schlagheck, 2003).
Germany provides us with an opportunity to examine some of the key challenges related
to recruiting and integrating migrant communities with very different cultural and
religious beliefs and practices to those of the receiving country, and also some of the key
trends with regards to immigrant women and their particular problems and difficulties.
The new German Immigration Law is designed to address demographic issues
that are causing a decline in the number of working-age Germans entering the labour
market, and a steady increase in the number of people leaving the labour market.
Germany registered the lowest fertility rate in the EU in 1999, with an average of 1.3
children per woman, well below the 2.1 needed to maintain the size of the country’s
population (Green, 2004). The EU’s collective population is expected to fall to below its
current numbers by 2050, and similarly in Germany, as a result of current fertility rates,
the German population is predicted to shrink from 80 million to between 60 and 70
million by 2050 (Green, 2004). To compound this, the combination of pensioners living
even longer due in great part to advances in medical science and care, and fewer people
working to pay the taxes necessary to maintain pension and health care systems will
culminate in a social security and pension systems crisis at some stage during the first
half of the 21st century (Green, 2004). These factors combine to create a situation in
which immigrants, preferably skilled, are needed to fill gaps in the workplace, and are
desired to settle in Germany and have families that will continue to contribute to
Germany’s social and economic future.
However, in spite of the strong realisation on the federal governments’ part of the
necessity of immigration, and a declaration of Germany as a country of immigration,
there is still a strong sense that Germany is reluctant to fully embrace its new political,
economic and socio-cultural reality. There are still significant gaps between the rhetoric
of immigration and the actual implementation, and again between the implementation and
its recognition of the realities of Muslim immigrants’ lives. Germany has been recently
criticised by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for
admitting lower numbers of permanent immigrants than other Western European
countries, thus neglecting the needs of the work-force, and for lagging behind other EU
member states in admitting low-skilled migrants and recognising foreign qualifications
(DW-World, 2008). It is also worth noting that the word ‘reluctant’ appears in quite a
number of articles discussing German migration policy. This seems to relate, in the focus
of this paper, to the integration of migrants into German society, and the recognition of
migrants as part of the German citizenry and broader social and cultural context. This
reluctance is particularly noticeable when one considers Turkish-Muslim women
migrants and the ways in which they negotiate the policy and practice of immigration and
then integration into their host communities. It is also related quite closely to the lack of
obvious consideration in policy formulation and implementation of the specific, and
firmly held, cultural and religious beliefs and practices of Turkish immigrant groups.
This paper will argue, through a keen focus on the more significant problems and
issues that Turkish-Muslim immigrant women confront during and after the process of
immigration, that Germany cannot afford to continue its pursuit of limited and reluctant
immigration and integration policies. This paper will look at the ways in which limited
thinking on the part of German policy-makers about the kinds and nature of Muslim
immigrants’ settlement patterns and religious and cultural affiliations, as well as the new
requirements for gaining citizenship, constrains the practice of integration, to the extent
that integration is happening at only a superficial level and fails to address the lived
realities of Turkish-Muslim immigrants in general and women in particular. This paper
will consider various aspects of immigration policy that either exacerbate or attempt to
solve problems related to immigration and integration, and will suggest possible solutions
and policy adjustments that could be made to facilitate a less disruptive and
discriminatory immigration process for these women and their families. For example, the
issue of guaranteed rights and secure legal status is of particular importance to immigrant
women. Many women enter the Union through the mechanism of family reunification
and are thus dependent on their spouses for their livelihood. This dependent legal status is
at the centre of the debate on immigrant women’s rights in the EU, and many of the other
difficulties that these women face can be connected to this. It is also important to
consider immigrant women’s lives on various levels, and to view them not only as
dependent wives, mothers and daughters, but also as independent workers and people in
their own right. A great deal of the existing literature deals with immigrant women
narrowly, and considers them only as dependents, and as secondary to men in the process
of immigration. The paper will also briefly consider some of the possible implications of
xenophobic and racist violence for immigrants’ integration and settlement patterns, and
how the German government’s reluctance to actively prosecute offenders adds to the
withdrawal of Muslim immigrants into their own narrow ethnic and religious spaces,
preventing meaningful and long-term integration and immersion.
A reluctant country of immigration the evolution of immigration policy
To better understand the construction of Germany’s immigration policy, and German
attitudes towards immigration and immigrants, it will be useful to explore, briefly, the
evolution of policy towards foreigners, known as Ausländerpolitik.4 Germany was one of
the European countries that participated in the guest worker recruitment schemes of the
1960s and early 1970s. Known in Germany as Gastarbeider1, these workers came into
the country from both inside and outside of the European Community, mostly from the
Mediterranean region. One of the largest groups of guest workers, now one of the largest
ethnic groups in Germany, was the Turks (Hillmann, 1999: 270). After the oil shock in
1973,2 and the subsequent recession, Germany closed its borders firmly to labour
migrants, and the Turkish immigrant population has grown since then as a result of
natural growth and family reunification (Hillmann 1999: 270). Prior to the 1973 ban,
‘four-fifths of all Turkish migrants to the Federal Republic of Germany3 were men,
usually without their families (Davis and Heyl 1986: 182). In addition to male workers,
the Federal Republic before the ban ‘overwhelmingly’ recruited Turkish women, and
these women responded in ‘considerable’ numbers, often migrating on their own (Rist
1978, quoted in Davis and Heyl, 1986: 183). Since 1973, though, family reunification has
been one of the only legal ways to gain entry into Germany, and most of the Turks
migrating to join legally resident family members have been women and children (Davis
and Heyl, 1986: 184).
Germany began recruiting workers from both inside and outside of the European
Community in 1955.5 The basic principle of labour recruitment was the employment of
preferably young, single men who would fill gaps in the less skilled sectors of industry
and agriculture. These young men would ideally be given short-term work and residence
permits, and once the labour contract expired they would return to their countries of
origin (Green, 2004: 33). It is estimated that a total of 14 million guest workers entered
Germany between 1955 and 1973, of which about 11 million returned to their home
countries. However, it became increasingly apparent that this was not a satisfactory
system for both employers and unions, who wanted to avoid the costs of training new
workers every few years, and the risk of foreign labour ‘undercutting’ the German
workforce through cheaper contracts respectively (Green, 2004: 33). Guest workers
began to receive permanent contracts, and there was increasing regularisation and
settlement of foreign workers, but, remarkably, there was no formal legal framework for
foreigner’s residence in place until 1965.
The 1965 Ausländergesetz6 replaced the 1938 Nazi-enacted
Ausländerpolizeiverordnung, but did little to improve foreigner’s rights to residence. It
placed the power firmly in the hands of the German state, giving it the power to decide
whether or not a foreigner’s presence in the country was in the ‘Federal Republic’s
interests’, and thus effectively made it easier for the state to both deny and revoke
residence permits (Green, 2004: 35). This interpretation of the power relationship
between the state and non-national residents, with the state firmly in control, came to be
central to policy debates in subsequent decades. This version of the Ausländergesetz
remained in force until 1990, although some revisions and alternate policy directions
were considered during the early 1980s. Underlying these revisions was the position that
Germany was ‘not a country of immigration’ and was not seeking to ‘increase the number
of its citizens through naturalisation’ (Green, 2004: 40). This reluctance to admit
foreigners to German citizenship and to define itself as a country of immigration has been
a feature of Ausländerpolitik even in the most recent round of policy debate and
restructuring. The key feature of the 1980s Ausländergesetz review process was the
restriction of migration for the purposes of family reunification.
During 1981, the government began to search for ways to restrict the migration of
dependants of the largely male guest worker population. This type of migration was not
covered in the 1965 Ausländergesetz and since 1973 it had become a significant source of
immigration. The government decided to act to limit the conditions under which spouses
could immigrate, and specifically aimed to lower from eighteen the age up to which
children of foreigners could migrate to Germany (Green, 2004: 44). The restrictions
applied then to family reunification then still largely apply today, and involve issues like
housing, income and employment. To explain briefly, the settled (male) spouse must
have housing of a certain size and legal employment that brings in a certain income
before the German government will consider an application for family reunification. As
in many European countries, finding adequate and affordable housing, especially in the
larger cities where wages for immigrants are higher than in the less urban areas, but still
lower than those of the non-immigrant population, is difficult. Thus, even though family
reunification is a legal method for immigrating to Germany, it is not an easy method, and
the Ausländergesetz in many ways ensures this. The policy was only reviewed again in
1990, when, under the leadership of Helmut Kohl, it was revised.
The key driver behind the 1990 revision was the integration of permanently
settled foreigners, whose poor legal situation increasingly began to occupy the German
political agenda. While the German government recognised the need to integrate existing
immigrants and improve their legal and social standing through awarding permanent
work and residence permits and increasing the range of socio-economic rights available
to them, they were also reluctant to allow any further immigration to West Germany, and
attempted to work restrictions on new immigration into the policy, a move that was
widely rejected and that delayed further policy reform substantially (Green, 2004: 60-62).
The final draft of the Ausländergesetz made only a few meaningful changes. For
instance, the prerequisite of adequate living space for family reunification was relaxed
slightly, and it made naturalisation a simpler and cheaper process7, allowing first-
generation immigrants with over fifteen years’ residence access to this simplified process
for the first time (Green, 2004: 71). Most of the gains made for immigrants were
incremental, and not really enough to ensure a more secure legal status.
The 1990s did not really see greater integration of the existing immigrant
population and instead bore witness to a rise in xenophobic tendencies towards immigrant
groups, and a resultant increase especially in larger cities like Berlin in the number of
‘ethnic enclaves’8 where immigrants could retreat into the safety of their own ethnic
groups. The growth of the non-national population throughout the 1990s and into the 21st
century, characterised by relatively low levels of naturalisation and higher levels of
natural growth and family reunification, largely the means by which immigrant women
enter Germany, has continued to make integration a pressing political issue. The
formation of the EU in 1992, and subsequent EU-level directives on immigration and
integration culminating in the Communication on community policy, as well as Green
Papers on economic migration and demographic change coupled with the formation of
the Women’s Committees in the European Parliament and the European Women’s Lobby
among others, have made integration of immigrants a supra-national as well as national
political issue. The need to re-open European borders to controlled labour migration
made the need for another reformulation of Ausländerpolitik and the Ausländergesetz
even more important for the German government in the early 2000s, when this process
began, and is still vital today, as we begin to examine the implementation successes and
failures of the 2005 Immigration Act.
The New German Immigration Policy and its relevance for Turkish-Muslim
The current German federal government is led by the coalition of the Social-Democratic
Party of Germany (SPD) and the Christian democrats - the Christian Democratic Union
(CDU) and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) (hereafter
CDU/CSU/SPD) - which is broadly pro-cultural homogeneity and therefore
uncomfortable with rights-based immigration and integration discourse. The previous
German federal government until 2005, the government that succeeded in passing the
new Immigration Act of 2005, was led by a broadly-speaking Leftist in political
orientation, pro-immigration and integration coalition between the SPD and the Green
Party (the SPD/Greens). During their first period in office (1998-2002) under Chancellor
Gerhard Schröder, the SPD/Greens introduced two crucial legislative initiatives in both
citizenship and immigration policy which promised to completely redefine the structures,
aims and methods of this policy area (Green, 2004: 9). This was welcome news for non-
nationals, many of whom had been living in Germany for over twenty years in 19989 yet
still did not have access to rights and benefits comparable to those enjoyed by German
citizens, and many of whom have to confront racial and xenophobic prejudice and
violence in their daily lives. Certainly the SPD/Greens’ intention was to overhaul
immigration and citizenship policy, and immigration policy has thus been renamed and
revised since 1998.
Now known as Zuwanderungsgesetz,10 re-characterising non-nationals as
immigrants rather than as foreigners, the policy has made some major improvements on
the old Ausländergesetz. However, critics of the policy argue that because of the way
power is divided in Germany between the federal government and the Länder or states,
giving the leaders of the latter enough power to redirect and change proposed legislation,
and because of the sway the CDU/CSU coalition held, and still holds, over public opinion
where immigration is concerned, the new Zuwanderungsgesetz is less wide-ranging and
progressive than the SPD/Greens wanted it to be. In its initial form, the bill ‘was to
regulate new, high-skilled labour migration, introduce new formal courses for non-
nationals, improve the situation for refugees and provide a simplification of Germany’s
complex residence policy (Green, 2004: 111). After being negotiated in the Bundesrat11
for a significant period of time after its introduction in 2002, the Immigration Act was
finally passed in June 2004, and the new Zuwanderungsgesetz came into effect in January
2005. The SPD/Greens had to make several compromises in order to push the final bill
through both the upper and lower chambers of parliament, and thus the final product does
not provide as much for non-nationals as it perhaps could have. It also leaves immigrant
women in a precarious position in some cases, although in a few instances it assists them
more than the proposed EU policy does.
There are three key areas that need to be examined and interrogated further: the
first is that, while measures have been taken to ensure more focused and widespread
integration of immigrants through language and civic education classes that the federal
government pays for, the policy does not seem to have a major impact on the integration
of Turkish-Muslim immigrants in their lived reality. The second is that, while the new
policy does mention women, it leaves many gaps through which these migrant women
can fall, at great costs to themselves and also to the German state women are not
focused on clearly or specifically enough in the policy. The final critique of the policy
focuses on its unwillingness or inability to focus clearly and meaningfully on the social
environment into which immigrants are asked to integrate themselves. Xenophobia and
racist violence, based as it is on fear or aversion to a perceived ‘other’ is a serious
obstacle to the full integration of immigrants, and ensuring their full immersion in
German social, economic and political life. Linked to this problem is the issue of
citizenship, which is still a contentious issue in Germany.
Integration and immersion of immigrants
Integration of immigrants into German cultural, social and political, as well as economic,
life is a big focus of the 2005 Act, and presents a substantial challenge to the federal and
state governments. Recent polls in Germany show that only one-third of Muslim
immigrants actually want to integrate (Poggioli, 2008) and experts argue that Muslims
‘integrate less and more slowly than non-Muslims’ (Bisin et al., 2007: 1). Muslims have a
stronger documented intensity of religious identity than non-Muslims. Their education
levels do not seem to affect their identities achieving higher levels of education does
not seem to make them less attached to their particular religious and cultural beliefs and
the identities thus derived and ‘job qualification as well as living in neighbourhoods
with low unemployment rate seem to accentuate rather than moderate the identity
formation of Muslims’ (Bisin et al., 2007: 3). Further to this, discrimination, and
xenophobic attitudes directed against them, consistently generates intense identity for
Muslims (Bisin et al., 2007). This desire on the part of Muslims to move to Germany but
remain within their narrow ethnic enclaves, which are formed through a high degree of
internal solidarity and mutual assistance, as well as resistance to out-marriage, residential
self-segregation, and cultural segregation from the host community (Hillmann, 1999:
268), presents an enormous and complex challenge for the German state, and for German
society. They cannot force immigrants, Muslims in particular, to integrate and immerse
themselves in German life, but without significant and meaningful integration, the kinds
of abuse suffered by Muslim women, and the kinds of xenophobic violence directed at
immigrants groups and their defenders (think of the recent murder of Theo van Gogh and
the attacks on Indian immigrants in Germany in 2007) will continue and even intensify.
The 2005 Act does take this to heart, and has made some positive steps towards moving
from rhetoric to practice.
One positive thing the Zuwanderungsgesetz ensures is more visible efforts to
integrate incoming immigrants through language and civic education classes. From now
on, ‘all newly arriving immigrants are entitled to attend language and integration classes’
which have previously only been available to Aussiedler13 (Munz, 2004). These language
classes are a very important focus of the policy documents on integration because
‘[l]anguage is the key to integration. Language skills alleviate the access to and the
participation in societal areas; they are fundamental for successful education and increase
the chances for the integration to the labour market (quoted in Heinrich, 2007: 13).
There is also provision for special integration classes for women since 2007 the
German government has become far more proactive and interested in concentrating on
the successful integration of immigrant women, as officials believe their empowerment
can facilitate the integration of their communities and husbands and children into the
mainstream (Heinrich, 2007; Poggioli, 2008). The cost of these classes was originally
going to be partially carried by the immigrants themselves, but in the final version of the
bill it is stated that the federal government will carry all of the costs. The language used is
slightly ambiguous; it is stated that immigrants are ‘entitled’ to attend these classes,
which will teach them the German language as well as aspects of German political and
cultural life, yet it is more accurate to state that they are ‘obligated’ to take the classes.
New and long-term immigrants who fail to complete these courses may find some of their
social benefits being withheld, or may even have residence permit renewals denied
(Munz, 2004; Heinrich, 2007). Thus, while the federal government is certainly
shouldering far more of the responsibility for integrating immigrants, especially women,
into German social and cultural life than it did prior to this, it still places a great deal of
the onus for integrating on the shoulders of immigrants, some of whom may not be able
to take advantage of these courses without adequate support from the government, and
some of whom may choose not to do so.
A rational examination of the requirements of immigrants to attend integration
and language classes, particularly in the case of women, may reveal some challenges that
could impede immigrant women’s participation. It would be particularly difficult, for
example, for women immigrants to take language and civic education courses if they
have children at home that need care, and if they have husbands or fathers that are
reluctant to allow them to have extended contact with other immigrants or German
nationals. Day care costs in Germany are high, and there are long waiting lists for places
in many day care centres. Newly arriving immigrant women thus need support from the
government in providing them with reliable childcare arrangements while they take these
courses. Women (and men) who move immediately into jobs upon arrival need
compensation for any time taken off from work to attend courses, and the childcare needs
apply if courses are held in the evenings. The German government also needs to find
ways to impress upon their husbands and fathers the importance of allowing women and
girls to take these courses. The reporting of attendance and the implications of non-
attendance on residence extension and naturalisation processes could go some way
towards ensuring their compliance with the laws (Heinrich, 2007).
The availability of these courses to immigrants is an important step in the
direction of successfully integrating immigrants into German society, but it needs to be
implemented in such a way as to provide immigrants with the viable opportunities to take
advantage of them. This part of the new law provides integration courses for newly
arriving immigrants, but what about immigrants who have already been resident in
Germany for some years and are unable to properly integrate because these opportunities
have never been open to them? There is no apparent mention of free integration classes
for already-resident immigrants, and no mention of withdrawing any of their social
benefits if they do not choose to attend. Further, these courses are only offered in areas
where there are large groups of immigrants, usually large cities and towns, and they are
only available to legal immigrants thus asylum seekers, refugees and undocumented
women are excluded from these provisions (Heinrich, 2007). Certainly now that classes
are open to all immigrants settled non-nationals should be encouraged to take advantage
of these classes as part of a wider integration strategy, as it is apparent from some of the
literature that even immigrants who have lived in Germany for as many as thirty years do
not speak enough German to truly integrate into social and cultural life, mostly because
they tend to live in ethnic enclaves and speak their native languages among their
This new, more open position on integration reveals that the federal government
is aware of the fact that immigrants struggle to integrate themselves into German cultural
and social life, especially if they are unable to speak German. Women, in particular,
suffer from isolation, especially those from more conservative cultural and religious
backgrounds, like Muslims. While it is extremely difficult for the federal government to
legislate for the private sphere, as is the case with the common EU framework, it has
become apparent that many young Muslim women immigrating to Germany as wives and
daughters are vulnerable to isolation and abuse that is invisible to the wider ethnic and
German community. The government has attempted to take a stand on these issues, for
example, denying both teachers and other public officials the right to wear headscarves at
work in an attempt to enforce secularism (Spiegel Online, 2005). Many young Muslim
women are prevented by their families from finding work or learning the German
language, measures that would assist them in making friends and ‘staking a claim’ in
their new home country particularly in the case of long-term immigrants. Spiegel
Online, a popular German political periodical, reported in November 2004 that ‘social
workers estimate that thousands perhaps tens of thousands of Muslim women live as
invisibles in Germany, their lives physically defined by the walls of their home and
ordered by four staples: the Quran, male superiority, the importance of family, violence
and honor’ (Spiegel Online, 2004). It is not clear how mandatory integration and
language classes will help these immigrant women to escape from domestic violence,
abuse and isolation. While equipping young women with the skills necessary to better
negotiate life in Germany is arguably an essential part of an immigration policy, it is not
enough to prevent the human rights abuses and exclusions that many of these young
women endure.
Having considered the steps taken in the immigration policy to integrate
immigrants, particularly women, into German society through language and civic
education classes, I will not examine the particular challenges facing Turkish-Muslim
women in Germany, and begin to show up some of the shortcomings or oversights in the
current policy.
Dependent legal status and derived social and economic rights for Turkish women
The German federal and Länder governments are coming under increasing pressure from
women’s rights organisations and legal rights organisations to find a solution to the
growing problem of protecting especially young Turkish-Muslim women from abusive
family situations where their rights are ignored and abused, and where there are abused
too. The costs of continuing to ignore Turkish-Muslim women’s particular circumstances
are rising. These costs are partly related to the funds that the German federal and Länder
governments are investing in immigrant women’s shelters and legal and other aid and
counseling for immigrant women across Germany. There are a growing number of
shelters around Germany that ‘cater specifically to immigrant women… [and] [t]he
majority of these organizations receive government support or funds in one form or
another (Elbaum, 2006). Many of the women assisted are of Turkish-Muslim descent,
escaping abusive home situations (Elbaum, 2006; Poggioli, 2008). Domestic violence
against women in the Turkish-Muslim immigrant communities is rife a German
government report published in 2004 claimed that ‘49 percent of Turkish women had
experienced physical or sexual violence in their marriage’ (Poggioli, 2008). Further, in
the last decade there have been 49 reported cases of honour killings12 (explain this in
endnote first time you us this), 16 in Berlin alone (Poggioli, 2008). However, in spite of
the widespread nature of this abuse, and the apparently lengthy periods of time over
which the abuse is suffered by some women, this information is not widely known in
Germany, and very little has been said about it in terms of federal or state policy. It is
clear that there is a big problem here that the immigration policies, both those currently in
place, and those that have been developed since 1998, are not able or willing to address.
Women’s rights activists in Germany argue that German legal and political
stances are condescending towards Islam, in that they try to account for Muslim religious
and cultural beliefs and practices in an attempt to be inclusive, but what they end up
doing in the process is denying women especially basic human rights, like the right to
live free from sexual and physical abuse (Poggioli, 2008). Turkish-Muslim women find
themselves in particularly difficult space. Many of them come to Germany as wives and
young mothers, having been forced into arranged marriages with older cousins or other
relatives at a very young age, and then moved to Germany. Many of these young women
are unhappy and suffer abuse at the hands of their often much older husbands, many of
whom believe that they need to keep their wives (and daughters) safe from the ‘evils of
Western secular societies’ (Poggioli, 2008). Once in Germany, they try to find a space for
themselves away from their unhappy and constrained home lives, and many end up
dating German men, or working outside of the home or family business, and trying to
lead more normal ‘Western’ lives. These women have to leave home to do this, as they
are unable to stay for fear of retribution or further abuse and because many families
would never allow or sanction such choices. Many women then, it is argued, live behind
walls of silence; many are uneducated and illiterate in the social and cultural practices of
their host country, and are unable to integrate because they are not fluent in German and
are unable to leave their silent ‘prisons’. Many also fear leaving their cultural and
religious practices behind because within them is an element of safety it is what they
know and have known all their lives.
At the heart of the matter is a complicated dance between Germany’s inability to
fully embrace immigrants, many of whom were invited Turkey to fill labor
shortages, and the immigrants’ unwillingness to let go of behaviors and traditions
that appear brutal to mainstream Western Europeans. Critics of Germany’s record
with guest workers say that the country has been standoffish with the new
residents, leaving them clinging to their homeland’s culture for a sense of
familiarity and belonging, a phenomenon particularly true among Muslim
immigrants (Elbaum, 2006).
The challenges facing immigrant women in Germany may seem new, but Turkish
women have been migrating to Germany for as long as their male counterparts have, and
they faced similar legal and social barriers to the ones facing current migrants. Feminist
migration theorist Elenore Kofman argues that in Germany in particular during the period
of guestworker recruitment, between 1960 and 1973, there were many single and married
working women, often without their children, present ‘on the books’ as it were (1999: 4).
From 1964 onwards, one quarter of labour migrants from Turkey were women, and by
the early 1970s they formed the single largest group of female labour migrants (1999: 4).
In spite of their considerable presence, as a result of women largely being regarded as
incapable or unlikely to be independent labour migrants in their own right, and as a result
of the fact that most women who have entered Europe since 1973 have done so as
dependents through the process of family reunification, women confront greater
difficulties than men do in obtaining independent work and residence permits. Kofman
states that this ‘dependency makes women particularly vulnerable to the regulations of
nationality law and confirms the failure to treat women as members of society outside of
their familial roles. Their rights are thus derived from their male sponsors’ (1999: 7).
Other feminist migration theorists pick up these issues. F. James Davis and Barbara
Sherman Heyl argued, in 1986, that the subordinate status of women in Turkey migrates
with guest workers into Germany, although there is greater space in the country of
settlement for changes in the family structure to occur that may move women into a more
egalitarian relationship with men (Davis and Heyl, 1986: 179). They argue that when
Turkish women move into Germany they confront what they call ‘threefold
discrimination’, which basically means that they are discriminated against because they
are Turks, women, and migrant foreigners (1986: 179). Discrimination against migrant
women in particular stems in part from the fact that, in spite of increasing numbers of
migrants entering their borders, most EU member states still struggle to view themselves
as active countries of immigration, welcoming migrants in both policy and practice.
Part of the problem in Germany, as at EU level, is that women are not necessarily
awarded an independent right to work and residence if they arrive as dependants through
family reunification. Before dependants are even given leave to travel to Germany for the
purposes of reunification, certain conditions have to be met pertaining to housing size and
stable employment and income. In many cases, spouses are only allowed to travel to
Germany if the resident partner has a settlement permit, or has had a residence permit for
at least five years, and only children up to the age of sixteen are allowed to join their
parents in Germany.13 Further, after the spouses’ reunion, the dependant has to wait in
many cases from three to five years before an independent residence permit is awarded,
and also for a work permit (EG-MG(1996)02rev+11: Part II, V.a.ii).
In many cases, particularly for Turkish-Muslim immigrant women, this
dependency makes them more vulnerable to abusive domestic situations from which
many are unable to escape. Even though divorce or separation can be grounds for
deportation before this period of time is up, residency rights can now be extended to
women who leave their marriages, provided that the marriage was in place for two years
after moving to Germany. In addition, authorities are given the discretion to extend
residency rights to women who leave their husbands before the two-year period expires
as a result of domestic violence and abuse (A Manual for Germany, Foreigners from
Non-EU states: family reunion). Even though this is a valuable step towards empowering
immigrant women legally, women who migrate as dependents do struggle to achieve
independent rights and legal status, and many are unable to leave abusive situations
because they are unable to find the help they need, legally, socially or otherwise. In
addition to domestic abuse, a lack of independent rights to work forces many immigrant
women into undocumented and unprotected labour, which may result in economic and
physical abuse as well.
In the case of Turkish-Muslim women, religious as well as social considerations
impact on their ability to leave abusive marriages. Some women, particularly young
women, may be forced to enter into arranged religious marriages before they reach the
age of majority, usually eighteen, and research seems to suggest that many young women
who enter Germany as dependants are subjected to arranged marriages within their ethnic
enclaves. It is difficult for the federal government to legislate in cases where religious
and cultural customs prevail. In 2007, for example, a Frankfurt judge refused a request
from Muslim woman for a fast-track divorce on the grounds that the Koran disallowed
such violence. This may have seemed like a form of religious tolerance, but in fact it
allowed the judge to effectively dismiss that woman’s rights (Poggioli, 2008). In spite of
clear difficulties in applying secular Western law to specific religious and cultural
contexts, the German government’s stand on secularity could be extended to a general
stand that privileges basic human rights and freedoms over religious and cultural
practices that may restrict said rights and freedoms. For example, it has been suggested
by groups that advocate for Turkish-Muslim women’s rights that the federal government
strengthen the laws governing the admission into Germany of Turkish-Muslim women
who enter as young brides. For instance, women should be at least 18 years of age, and
must be required to take language classes upon arrival. In addition, arranged marriages
should be forbidden and there need to be means with which to prosecute parents who
force their children, particularly their daughters, to marry against their will (Spiegel
Online, 2004). In addition to providing language training, it is vital to provide immigrant
women with opportunities for education and skills training that may be denied them in
their country of origin.
It is apparent from data collected in many EU member states that Muslim women
entering the Union suffer from high illiteracy rates, and low levels of skills training. It
has been suggested that, especially in rural and peri-urban areas where family-run
businesses may require unpaid family labour in order to make a profit, there is non-
enforcement of schooling for girls. Girls are also not encouraged, in general, to seek out
tertiary education and advanced skills training, as they are required to remain within the
home after marriage. This general lack of education follows these women to Germany,
particularly first generation immigrant women who are often more isolated than their
daughters and granddaughters, and less able to move outside of their enclave because of
their inability to interact with others in German, among other reasons. Thus, an important
part of an overall immigration and integration strategy for Turkish-Muslim women is
education and mandatory language training. All immigrant women must be encouraged to
take language classes, and opportunities must be created to allow women to take
advantage of these courses, such as assistance with childcare and with reluctant husbands
and fathers who may not permit attendance. Experts argue that is it essential to introduce
human and women’s rights education in grade school, to teach immigrant children a more
liberal, rights-based view of society and to enable them to understand as they grow older,
how German social and legal standards are set and regulated (Spiegel Online, 2004;
Elbaum, 2006). In addition to grade school cultural and civic education for immigrant
children, I argue that ethnic German children should be educated regarding human and
women’s rights. They need a civic and cultural education that will give them greater
knowledge and insight into immigrants’ culture and customs, even if only in a general
sense. The federal and Länder governments to need to promote the exchange of
information and ideas between native German and immigrant groups, which would
further encourage successful long-term integration.
While providing women with language training and various job training and
education opportunities is important, it is not enough. Turkish-Muslim immigrant women
and indeed many immigrant women in general find it difficult to enter the workplace.
There are restrictions in place that make it difficult for many immigrants, both men and
women to find work at their particular skills levels, and immigrant women suffer from
high rates of unemployment. What is needed are mechanisms to encourage both job
training and job placement at appropriate skills levels, and immigrant women need more
active representation locally, provincially and nationally at federal level. If the
government awards immigrant women independent work permits upon arrival, and
facilitates their acceptance into training programmes, in addition to formally recognising
any skills and qualifications they have brought with them, these women will be equipped
with the tools to find and take on appropriate employment, both inside and outside of
their ‘ethnic enclave economies’. An ethnic enclave economy is described as a
‘geographical cluster of ethnic firms with vertical integration of co-ethnic manufacturers,
workers and consumers’, also considered to be a substitute environment for the
immigrants insofar as it had the capacity to provide them with a path for upward mobility
(Portes and Bach, 1985 quoted in Hillmann, 1999: 268). ‘Reciprocal obligations’ and
‘ethnic solidarity’ are seen as key elements of this kind of economy, and Felicitas
Hillmann argues that these economies are growing and becoming important to the overall
European economy. She also states that there is a significant amount of hidden and
unpaid labour done by women in family-owned businesses, and that even though the
enclave can technically provide women with employment, it does not support
professional advancement for women in the same way it does for men (Hillmann, 1999:
269). A further disadvantage of enclave employment for women is that the enclave
‘provides women with very low wages, minimal benefits and few opportunities for
advancement’ (Gilbertson, 1995: 668, quoted in Hillmann, 1999: 269).
Hillmann’s brief study of Turkish women entrepreneurs in Berlin suggests that
entrepreneurship can give women unique opportunities to create a supportive and
successful work environment for themselves in a labour market that is difficult to access.
Greater support for women entrepreneurs would help many immigrant women to gain
more financial and social independence and integration. By support what is meant is
more banks willing to secure loans for women entrepreneurs, and more financial support
for organisations set up to assist immigrant women with starting and running a business.
While entrepreneurship does tend to push women out of their homes and into the
workplace, both as employers and employees, there is little support or no support for
these women at home. Many women carry a double burden because after their paid work
is done their unpaid work at home with household and child-care responsibilities is still
waiting (Hillmann, 1999: 269). Therefore I argue that an important part of any job
creation and training initiative for immigrant women needs to include provision for
affordable and reliable childcare to ease the double burden borne by so many women and
to free them to really capitalise on any work opportunities they make have access to.
Linked to this discussion on ethnic enclave economies, and ethnic
entrepreneurship within these economies, is the suggestion by Der Spiegel that part of the
solution to the problem of integrating immigrants is to break up the Turkish-Muslim
‘ghettos’ (Spiegel Online, 2004). Ghettoisation allows the immigrant community to
isolate itself as a whole, furthering ignorance of German social, cultural and political life
and of the German language. It allows ethnic enclave economies to flourish, and while
these are important to the EU economically, they enable the enforcement of unpaid work
for women and may keep women away from job training and work opportunities that
would allow them to experience life outside of the ghetto. The people who suffer most
from ghettoisation are the youth, who need to integrate themselves into German society
in order to feel that Germany is their home. The argument is that if they are able to
integrate into a wider German community, over the long-term younger generations will
feel less inclined towards an extremist affiliation to their ethnic group and will remain in
Germany, working to contribute to the economy and raising families that will stave off
serious demographic decline EG-MG(1996)02rev+11: para. 79). Perhaps one way to
break up ethnic enclaves, forcing Turks to integrate further with the wider German
community, would be to require entrepreneurs to serve a certain number of clients outside
of their enclave. This requirement could be added in the Zuwanderungsgesetz in the
section on entrepreneurs, who now have the opportunity to obtain work and residence
permits provided they meet certain criteria (Munz, 2004). This may help Turks to create a
wider social and economic network on which to build and could give women employed
in ethnically isolated businesses exposure to the wider community and mitigate some of
their cultural isolation and invisibility. Another way to assist women to both integrate
successfully, and to find support and assistance with issues ranging from domestic abuse
and childcare to business training and advice, is to create and fund women’s
organisations in areas with high concentrations of immigrants, like the big cities and
Women’s organisations require support from the federal government, which needs
to take the human rights abuses suffered by immigrant women seriously. This would
involve making funding available for further research into Turkish-Muslim women’s
experiences of the process of immigration, and settled life in Germany, and funding for
programmes like education and skills training that will enable these women to find paid
work both inside and outside of their ethnic enclaves. It would also be beneficial to the
cause of immigrant women’s rights to find ways in which to allow immigrant women to
participate in their own political representation at local, provincial and national level. Part
of the social citizenship that legal immigrants are accorded is certain obligations to the
German state, like paying taxes and contributing to pension schemes. But another part of
social citizenship is obligations to immigrants by the German state, such as providing
access to work, housing and social welfare, as well as ensuring that immigrants have a
voice that is heard in appropriate forums. Perhaps a start could be to hold local
conferences and workshops where women’s NGOs and immigrant women could work
together to present immigrant women’s issues to a wider forum, and begin a campaign of
awareness and information-sharing that would have long-term benefits for both
immigrants and the host population. Non-immigrant citizens would learn more about
immigrants, in particular Turkish-Muslim immigrants, and immigrant women would be
able to meet people outside of their enclaves, learn more about the communities in which
they live and empower themselves through active participation in political and social life.
According to Alice Schwarzer, a prominent German women’s rights advocate, the
subjugation of women, and especially immigrant women is a political, not a cultural
issue. She argues that immigrant women deserve rights and Germans need to stand up
and fight for them. In her words: “A society in which a male can put down another only
because she is female such a society is at its core an unfair society” (Spiegel Online,
2004). I would add that any society in which one person can put another down simply
because that person is an immigrant is also at the core an unfair society, and Germans
need to realise that ignoring immigrants’ voices and denying them rights is not going to
make immigration less of an economic and social reality. Valuable though the
interventions and provisions made in the 2005 Act are, they can only help to a limited
extent if the federal and Länder governments are not going to shift their position on
immigrants to create a much deeper and more meaningful commitment to welcoming
them into German political, social and cultural life. Integration has to go beyond
prescribing and paying for language classes and civic education courses. It even has to go
beyond awarding and extending residence permits and work permits. If Germany, like
other EU member states, continues to regard itself, even privately, as a reluctant country
of immigration, as I believe it still does, then no number of policy improvements and
changes are going to really alter the reality of migrants, and migrant women’s, lives.
Xenophobic tendencies towards immigrants in Germany are strong, and widespread, and
new right-wing, anti-immigrants groups are forming and gaining in strength. This is a
serious problem that needs to be addressed. The disjuncture between what is written into
law and how those laws are interpreted and lived is wide in parts of Germany,
particularly where the conservatives hold sway. I do not believe that Germany can
address the significant need to integrate and immerse immigrants in cultural, social and
political life without seriously rethinking its deep-rooted and fundamental attitude
towards ‘others’.
Xenophobia and the need to take account of immigrants’ lived realities
Xenophobia and right-wing extremism is Germany is on the rise, and people who hold
right-wing views are drawn from all sectors of society young and old, employed and
unemployed, middle and working class. A survey conducted in Germany in May and
June of 2006 showed that almost a quarter of the 5000 respondents agreed with
xenophobic statements, and the number was higher in eastern Germany (Spiegel Online,
2006). The report on the survey concludes that these numbers are significant and
xenophobia often leads to right-wing extremism and violence, and that is a ‘scandal’ that
far-right views are so prevalent. Right-wing extremism is not an individual problem but
one of society. The fact that it has come to this touches the foundations of democratic
society’ (Spiegel Online, 2006). A recent attack in 2007 on eight Indian men in Műgeln,
in the former East Germany, has sparked a heated debate about the extent and depth of
right-wing extremism and xenophobic sentiment in Germany, particularly in the former
East Germany. This debate is instructive in regards to the kind of social and cultural
environments immigrants are moving into and integrating with, and can go some way to
explaining why, in spite of the more inclusive and open policies, Muslim immigrants in
particular and very resistant to ‘cultural integration’ (Bisin et al., 2007).
The debate centres on whether or not the attack was racist, or motivated by right-
wing extremism. An examination of comments made by newspapers and politicians on
the left and right of the political spectrum provides a very clear indication of the
dichotomy between the German federal government’s zero-tolerance policy on such
behaviour, and what is actually happening and being tolerated in many parts of Germany.
On the one hand, the centre-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that:
It is almost symptomatic for failed integration in Germany that Turks and other
immigrants are clearly under-represented at street and village celebrations,
compared to their presence elsewhere. Just the fact that a group of Indians were
partying and dancing with the locals in a beer tent after midnight is a point in
Mügeln's favor. That would probably not have happened in other small towns
with right-wing extremist problems. But now Mügeln is being depicted as just
such a hotbed of racism in the media reports which have made the town infamous
overnight. The talk is of a race-hate attack on Indians, of racist slogans and an
applauding mob of onlookers. The police task force should clarify what really
happened (Spiegel Online, 2007).
On the other hand, the center-left Berliner Zeitung writes:
The attack on eight Indians by approximately 50 Germans is a scandal, but the
evil in Mügeln is not yet over. The mayor of the municipality played down his
original statements one day after the incident: If the act was committed by right-
wing extremists, then they came from somewhere else, and he did not hear the
racist slogans which others reported. There have always been brawls at street
parties -- fights have been part of the celebration for centuries. But in the case of
Mügeln the violence was directed against foreigners, against an outwardly
recognizable minority, and not against the usual drinking buddies. The
epistemological hair-splitting of the German authorities therefore looks like an
appeasement. The attack, the curious onlookers who did not intervene, the late
arrival of the police and then the authorities' attempts to play down the incident --
are they not all characteristics of one and the same culture? (Spiegel Online,
Looking at these two very different accounts of the same event, one can see that the
tendency of the right is to downplay the fundamental understanding of the Indian
immigrants as outsiders to that place and situation as the ‘Other’ and to highlight an
arguably false sense of Műgeln as welcoming to immigrants. The comment seems to be
blaming the media for over-emphasising the xenophobic motivation for the attack, to try
and ignore that it exists. The tendency of the left, in comparison, is to acknowledge that
there is indeed too much ‘epistemological hair-splitting’ and that what is needed is a shift
in the culture a fundamental shift in not only policy-making but also in attitude at all
levels of society. This is indeed an overwhelming challenge for a country that has a
deeply troubled past where immigrants and foreigners are concerned, and that perhaps
finds itself stuck between the necessity of immigration and the unwillingness to confront
the accompanying reality in full.
Dietrich Thränhardt and Robert Miles argue that immigration is indeed a
’structural necessity’ (1995:1) for Europe at present, and will continue to be so in the
future. There is no longer a need in Western Europe for mass unskilled labour migration,
and thus immigrants are now more stringently screened and potentially excluded than
they would have been during the 1960s and early 1970s when such a need was present.
Underlying immigration and integration policy at both national and supra-national level
are utilitarian economic considerations and racist conceptions of ‘otherness’ (Thränhardt
and Miles, 1995: 3). Unskilled and poorly educated migrants are a potential drain on
already overtaxed pension and welfare systems within member states, and these migrants
are perhaps more likely to be the target of racist attacks as they are particularly difficult
to integrate through the usual routes of work and training programmes. This raises a key
issue at the heart of particularly German debates about migrants and their inclusion into
German society: citizenship rights.
Key to the logics of inclusion and exclusion is the issue of citizenship. Labour
migrants immigrating to other EU member states from countries within the union, for
example, Italians moving to Germany, are subject to the logic of inclusion through the
acquisition of ‘Euro-citizen status’.. Labour migrants who move into the EU from
countries outside of the Union, even those that are connected to the EU through OECD
and European Economic Community (EEC) membership, like Turkey, are not citizens
and thus are subject to the logic of exclusion (Thränhardt and Miles, 1995: 8). Christian
Joppke argues that citizenship is not only a set of rights, but also a ‘mechanism of closure
that sharply demarcates the boundaries of states’ (1999: 629), and that in spite of this,
citizenship is ‘indispensable for integrating immigrants’ and must thus be reframed (629).
Germany has gone some way towards reframing citizenship rights, shifting the basis for
awarding citizenship from ius sanguinis (blood ties to Germany) to ius soli (residence in
Germany). The government, in 2000 passed laws that give all children born to foreigners
resident in Germany citizenship status, provided one of their parents has been a
permanent, legal resident for at least 8 years prior to the birth (Oezcan, 2004). Dual
citizenship is held until the child is 23, at which time they have to decide which
citizenship they would prefer to hold, and give up the other. Long-term permanent
residents are now also eligible for citizenship, although stringent conditions need to be
met in order for this to be awarded, related to housing, employment and demonstrable
civic knowledge and language ability. These revised and more open citizenship laws are
an important step towards greater integration of migrants, and many feel a very necessary
one. There is, however, a growing debate around the issue of ‘post-national
membership’ of EU member states, which, it is argued, has rendered full citizenship
unnecessary for immigrants, who through the obtainment of a strong form of social
citizenship now have sufficient rights and become successfully integrated into their ‘host’
communities (Joppke, 1999: 630). Thomas Faist defines social citizenship as the medium
that allows immigrants to share in the economic and social benefits and responsibilities
awarded to citizens of a state, like paying tax and drawing welfare payments, without any
of the accompanying political rights and responsibilities, including the right to vote and
run for political office. Faist argues that the ‘main difference between citizens and non-
citizen immigrants concerns the type of social benefits’ they are awarded (Faist, 1995:
178-179). He states that Germany has been an example of an ‘ethno-cultural exclusionary
model’ of immigration and integration (Faist, 1995: 179), as such allowing settled
immigrants to become full members of the economic community, but previously denying
these immigrants the right to full citizenship because of its insistence on descent as the
basis for citizenship over residence. Further he argues that Germany requires its
immigrants to demonstrate a high degree of cultural assimilation in order to make an
application for full citizenship but has only very recently made specific provisions for
integrating and assimilating immigrants into German cultural life, as this paper has
demonstrated. Faist argued for a policy of ‘reciprocal immigration and integration’ (1995:
190), where immigrants will learn the German language, immerse themselves to a
significant extent in German cultural life and form a voluntary and lasting affiliation to
Germany as state and nation, while the German state will make achieving citizenship
through naturalisation a realistic goal for migrants through provision of language and
culture courses, and opportunities for migrants to immerse themselves in their host
communities. This goal is in sight, as these language and culture courses are in place, but
as this paper has shown, there are significant challenges to creating these opportunities
and achieving the required level of immersion of immigrants necessary for them to
demonstrate the language and cultural knowledge needed to apply for and be granted
Proponents of social citizenship argue that exclusionary citizenship no longer
matters because former guest workers have achieved ‘safe membership’ of the nation in
terms of permanent rights to work and residence. Joppke questions this argument,
claiming that in spite of acquiring social citizenship rights and benefits, full political
citizenship will remain an integral part of integrating immigrants, particularly from
second and subsequent generations for whom xenophobic and racist violence is a very
real threat, and that social citizenship will not be sufficient to protect immigrants from
racist and xenophobic harassment (Joppke, 1999: 637). Current literature on the future of
international relations in our increasingly globalised world suggests that this assessment
is accurate.
International Relations theorists point to forces of integration and disintegration
pulling against one another. As the world becomes increasingly globalised, particularly
with regards to trade and economic cooperation, we see a growing global culture, where
people in very different socioeconomic spaces can watch the same Hollywood movies,
wear the same brand-name clothes, connect and share through websites like Facebook
and MySpace, and listen to the same music. Linked to this, of course, is the fact that
various forms of liberal, capitalist democracy are found in all states in the West, and are
being introduced in developing parts of the world, and the former Eastern Bloc states,
like new EU members states Lithuania, Belarus and Slovakia. Coupled with this is a
growing argument for a form of global citizenship, which the EU to some extent
embodies with its supranational character; one can be a German citizen but at the same
time see oneself as European. These three elements, coupled with increased economic
and military cooperation, create a more integrated and interdependent global space. But,
at the same time, there is increasing evidence of disintegration the fracturing of
societies and polities along ethnic and cultural lines. The voice of the right-wing in
Western Europe is becoming louder and more people are listening to what the right wing
politicians have to say on immigration and integration polices and debates. There is a
growing groundswell of support for these parties, like the Vlaams Belang (Flemish
Interest) in Belgium, The National Front in France and the neo-Nazi National Democratic
Party in Germany. In Cologne, Germany, a group of young people with their roots in the
nationalist sentiments of the far right have launched an anti-Islamic party that is inspiring
other similar movements across Germany. These young people protest against Muslim
immigrants in their communities, evidenced for example the building of mosques, and
play to citizens’ fears of a ‘Muslim invasion’. They have gained enough support to
warrant their surveillance by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which fears
they may gain sufficient support to claim parliamentary representation in 2009 (Brandt
and Kleinhubbert, 2008).
It is not too extreme, I believe, to claim that xenophobia and right-wing
extremism in Germany is a serious, and deeply-rooted problem. It is not, as I have argued
in previous research, a significant threat to immigration, as the statistics will show. It has
been acknowledged, though, that attacks like the one in Mügeln are damaging Germany’s
regional and national reputation, and could pose a threat to future investment, and could
begun to persuade potential immigrants to move elsewhere. Germany is lagging
worryingly behind the rest of the EU member states in implementing the EU’s directives
on investigation and prosecution of racist and hate-related crimes. This directive was
issued in 2000 and Germany implemented it in 2006. This does not signify a government
that is willing to make immigrants at home in Germany, and it does not inspire much
confidence in Germany’s ability to really close the gap between the rhetoric of
immigration as a reality and the implementation of the policies that make it so.
By the end of 2002, over 7.3 million non-nationals were resident in Germany, accounting
for approximately 8.9% of the population including almost 2 million Turks, the largest
immigrant group (Green, 2004: 5). Women account for almost half of the total immigrant
population in Germany, as well as over 40 percent of the Turkish population (Hillmann,
1999: 270-271). Turkish women were recruited before the 1973 ban on Gastarbeider
recruitment, and many married and single women responded, often moving alone to
Germany to work in mass industry and in agriculture (Davis and Heyl, 1986: 183). Since
1973, women have been migrating to Germany, and the EU at large, through the
mechanism of family reunification. This has resulted in a bias in much of the mainstream
literature on migration in Europe, which tends to regard women as dependent migrants
only, incapable of moving independently of men, and for the purposes of labour, skilled
or unskilled. This paper focuses on immigrant women, and in particular Turkish-Muslim
immigrant women who are dependent on their male sponsors, as this is an area where
women’s rights are tenuous, and largely unconsidered by German immigration policy.
Germany has a strong background of ethno-cultural solidarity and often-violent
exclusion of those who do not belong in the dominant ethnic and cultural fold. The
SPD/Green government planned for and negotiated the new Immigration Law since it
gained power in 1998 as part of an attempt to write a new German history one that is
inclusive of and welcoming towards other ethnicities and cultural groups and while it
did not succeed in passing all the reforms it originally planned for, it succeeded in
making some valuable changes to the status of immigrants in Germany. The most
valuable reform is that regarding integration, specifically the provision of language and
civic education classes for all incoming immigrants. Other reforms to allow entrepreneurs
to gain work permits under certain conditions and to extend residence rights to women,
even if they have separated from their husbands, before they have earned independent
rights of residence and work permits, are also important steps towards recognising the
contribution immigrants can make to German economic, social and cultural life, and
awarding them comprehensive socio-economic right
There are, though, areas where Germany still fails to take seriously enough the
issue of immigrants’ rights, and the rights of immigrant women in particular. Germany in
particular has a very large Turkish-Muslim population, and since 1996 has witnessed 49
documented honour killings perpetrated against young Turkish-Muslim women by male
members of their own families (Poggioli, 2008). The German government has attempted
to take a stand on secularism over religious fundamentalism, but the efforts made thus far
have not been sufficient to truly provide for and protect the rights of these and other
immigrant women. Turkish-Muslim women are often isolated from the wider German
communities in which they live, and are by-and-large invisible victims of arranged
marriages, unpaid family labour and in many cases domestic violence and abuse. An
important part of the solution to these difficulties faced by immigrant women is to award
those entering Germany as dependants independent work and residence permits, so that
they do not have to stay in abusive relationships, or take unpaid or undocumented work
which makes them vulnerable to further abuse and exploitation. Suggestions for other
parts of an overall solution include strengthening laws that govern the admission of
Turkish-Muslims to prevent underage and forced marriage; mandatory and supported
language and civic education for incoming women immigrants; job training and job
creation programmes for Turkish women, including support for entrepreneurial
opportunities; and the de-ghettoisation of ethnic enclaves while creating wider support
networks for women who need help moving outside of the enclaves to find work and
residence. Working immigrant women also need assistance in finding affordable and
reliable childcare to alleviate the ‘double burden’ of having two full-time jobs both
outside and inside of the home, and to enable them to take advantage of any job training
and creation programmes they may have access to.
The first, and most important issue that immigrant women confront is their
dependent legal status. Women who enter the EU and Germany for the purposes of
family reunification are allowed to do so because their husbands have residence or
settlement permits and legal work that enables them to support their families. In Germany
very strict conditions apply in terms of housing and financial support for dependents
before applications for reunification are approved. On arrival, these women are awarded
dependent residence status, and in most cases are only allowed to apply for their own
independent permits after a period of between three and five years (EG-MG(1996)02rev+
1: part II; IV). They therefore have no independent legal standing, holding derived rights
only. This lack of equal legal standing with immigrant men, and the citizens of the host
country, creates a broad situation in which women are vulnerable to different kinds of
physical, emotional and economic abuse in the workplace, in the home and within their
host communities.
In addition to problems directly related to their dependent legal status, and in spite
of policy provisions, immigrant women in the EU also struggle to obtain language
training in German, and also have difficulty accessing job and skills training that would
enable them to find paid work relevant to their skills levels. Immigrant women will
continue to remain isolated and invisible within host communities unless they are able to
meet people outside of their ethnic enclaves, and they need to speak German in order to
do this successfully, for social and economic purposes. Immigrant women also have low
participation levels in the workplace, possibly due to a combination of religious and
cultural factors that may prevent women from finding paid labour outside of the home,
and cultural and racist discrimination that may exclude them from certain sectors of the
labour market where they could find such work. Immigrant women, most of whom do not
hold political citizenship in their countries of residence, may struggle to find political and
social representation, particularly in countries like Germany that have a long history of
anti-immigrant sentiment. This lack of representation can lead to a lack of wider
awareness of the difficulties facing immigrant women in Europe, and a lack of funding
and support for initiatives to assist immigrant women with assuring their legal status and
rights, education and training and access to the labour market.
An obvious first part of an overall solution is to award immigrant women entering
member states independent rights of residence and work permits, either immediately
upon arrival or after a much shorter period of time. Lack of independent legal and
residence status often forces abused women to remain in their marriages to avoid being
deported, at least until they are able to apply for their own permits. One way in which
Germany has attempted to prevent long-term domestic abuse is to make provision for the
awarding of independent rights of residence to women who leave abusive marriages
before the specified time period is up. Another part of the solution for women, after
awarding them independent rights to work and reside in Germany, is to educate them.
Mandatory language education upon arrival in the host country is something Germany
has incorporated into their legislation relating to integration. In addition to language
education, it was suggested, specifically for Turkish women in Germany, but applicable
to all immigrant women in the EU, that job training and job creation programmes need to
be created for minority immigrant groups of women who suffer from comparatively high
levels of unemployment, and who struggle to find work commensurate with their skills
levels. I argue that in conjunction with this important initiative, immigrant women need
assistance with finding affordable childcare, and in some cases housekeeping help, so that
they can take advantage of training and job opportunities without being unduly
constrained by their work and responsibilities at home. It is also essential that cultural
and language education be emplaced in grade schools, for both immigrant and native
European children, to teach the values of cultural diversity, and to ensure more successful
integration of immigrant families as a whole. For many immigrant Muslim women,
intervention is also needed with their husbands and fathers, many of whom are resistant
to the immersion of women into German cultural and social life.
Therefore, immigrant women need access to better support networks in the form
of legal aid and advice, women’s shelters and call centres that can offer them assistance
in cases of domestic abuse and violence, and labour support to prevent exploitation and
discrimination in the workplace. Many of these organisations and institutions do exist,
but their work needs to be better supported by both federal and Länder governments, and
by German society as a whole. Another important part of immigrant women’s integration
and emancipation is more visible and audible representation of immigrant women’s
issues and interests at the level of the European Commission and the European
Parliament, and at the level of national and provincial government in Germany. The
Women’s Committees of the European Parliament and the European Women’s Lobby are
achieving a level of exposure for immigrant women’s issues at the supranational level,
but there are few immigrant women on these committees, if any, and more of these
women need to be encouraged to represent their own interests and form women’s
organisations that can be supported politically and financially. Immigrant women need to
be encouraged at national level too, to be become more involved in representing their
own interests socially and politically.
Germany has had difficulty drafting legislation that has a visible effect on the
private sphere, where Muslim women especially are vulnerable to abuse, violence,
isolation and exploitation. Germany has taken a stand on secularism, forbidding teachers
and other public officials from wearing headscarves to work. The federal government has
also signed and ratified CEDAW
6, which entails a commitment to preventing human
rights abuses against all women. While there is no specific legislation in the
Zuwanderungsgesetz to prevent private sphere abuses of women’s human rights, a great
deal of which is unseen by the majority of the host population, suggestions that the
government begin to screen admissions of Turkish-Muslim immigrants to ensure that
young women are not entering the country as underage brides in arranged marriages have
been made. It has also been suggested that the government set the legal age for religious
marriages at 18, and put in place legal mechanisms to prevent arranged marriages for
young girls and women. These would be important steps towards ensuring that the rights
of young Muslim women are protected and ensured.
Another area where Germany has struggled is in the prevention of uprisings of
xenophobic and right-wing extremist sentiments. It is clear from numerous reports in
German online newspapers, chief among them Spiegel Online, that right-wing sentiment,
and outbursts of violence and active discrimination against immigrant minorities, are a
significant obstacle to the successful and willing integration and immersion of
immigrants into their host communities. If indeed right-wing political groupings are able
to gain political representation, Germany could be facing a much more difficult fight
against these divisive and damaging sentiments and the actions based upon them. It is
very important for the German government to continue to examine and interrogate the
processes through which permanent work and residence permits and citizenship are
awarded, and must continue to make a firm commitment to valuing the human rights of
immigrants by taking a visible stand against violence perpetrated against immigrant
minorities, and against immigrant women. Violence against immigrants by German
nationals, and violence against immigrants by their own kinsmen must be prosecuted to
the fullest extent of the law, and these laws must have at their core a fundamental
recognition of and respect for human rights over any religious or cultural concerns.
Although it is undeniably important to respect the cultural and religious identities and
customs of immigrant minorities, it is also important to create a clear set of laws and
policies, and a firm set of implementation criteria that indicate that gross human rights
violations, such as xenophobic and right-wing violence, domestic abuse and honour
killings, will not be tolerated or excused. Immigrants do need to adapt to the dominant
customs and political and social norms of Germany to successfully integrate themselves,
and to contribute fully to German economic life which is the reason for their
recruitment in the first place.
However committed Germany may be to the primacy of human rights, it is clear
from examining the legal documents outlining immigration policy that there is great deal
more to be done to ensure the primacy of immigrants’ rights, in particular those of
immigrant women. If Germany could take a more progressive and open-minded stance on
immigration, it could prompt other similarly exclusivist member states to follow suit, and
this could filter up to a more open, rights-based immigration system at EU level as well.
Immigration is part of Germany’s economic and social reality, and will continue to be so
for the foreseeable future. As long as immigrants continue to move into Germany their
families will continue to move with them, bringing women and children into the country
as well. These women deserve the same rights as the men whom they join have, and all
immigrants deserve the same social and economic rights as the native citizens of their
host countries. Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights should no longer be a
hollow term that politicians use to make their constituencies believe that people are being
taken care of and respected. Human rights and women’s rights must be firmly entrenched
if Germany’s rhetoric on the importance of integration and a less exclusive immigration
regime is to mean anything at all.
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This term literally means ‘guest workers’.
2 This event was caused, essentially, by an embargo by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)
sanctioned by Saudi Arabia in response to the West’s support of the Arab-Israeli War.
3Also known as the former West Germany. The former East Germany was known as the German Democratic
Republic, or GDR.
4 Translated literally this means ‘policy towards foreigners’ and encompasses immigration, residence, integration
and citizenship policy.
5 Turkish guest workers began entering Germany after an agreement between the Turkish and German governments
was signed in 1961, and Turkish workers formed the single biggest group of guest workers from late 1960s onwards.
6 lit. ‘Foreigner’s Law’, passed in 1965 and revised in 1990.
7 For a full discussion of the reform process and the issues it addressed see Green, Simon. 2004. The politics of
exclusion: Institutions and immigration policy in contemporary Germany. (Manchester; New York: Manchester
University Press), 5078.
8 See Hillmann, Felicitas. 1999. ‘A Look at the ‘Hidden Side’: Turkish Women in Berlin’s Ethnic Labour Market’.
International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 23:2, 267-82.
9 This is especially the case for non-nationals whose labour had been recruited during the pre-oil shock years, for
example, Turks.
10 Literally translated it means ‘Immigration Law’.
11 Honour killings can be defined, broadly, as the murder by a male family member of a woman for reasons related
to the perception or belief of her actions having brought shame on the whole family, for which the only remedy is
her death. Recent honour killings in Germany have seen young women and mothers shot, drowned, stabbed and
burned with acid.
12Upper house of the German parliament.
13 For a full discussion of these restrictions see A Manual for Germany Foreigners from Non-EU States: Family
reunion. Available online at:
14 Ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe who migrate to Germany.
15 See Inowlocki, Lena and Helma Lutz. 2000. ‘Hard Labour: The “Biographical Work” of a Turkish Migrant
Woman in Germany’ in The European Journal of Women’s Studies, 7,30 319; and Hillmann, 1999.
16 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which all EU member states have
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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