Equality or discrimination in welfare state?

Internet offers new opportunities for people

Internet has entered almost every home in Finland and has been shaping people’s everyday living conditions by providing them with unprecedented opportunities to access information and services. A new trend of digitalization is taking place as a strategy of The Ministry of Transport and Communication. According to their Action Programme “barrier-free information society”(2011-2015), services are moving toward internet use aiming at promoting sustainable services and accessibility to information for all citizens.

Although, information society focuses on the wellbeing and on the social and geographical equal participations of all citizens. One can probe some questions here; what about immigrant women victims or at risk of different forms of violence, will they have the same opportunities as Finnish women victims of violence to receive online social guidance and support in their own language or in a language they understand? Will they have an opportunity to profit from this new information technology?  Will they be considered as citizens in the information society? Are they going to be included or will they be excluded from this information society due to different reasons, such as their lack of Finnish language skills or their living circumstances?

Designing Multilingual Online Services model for Monika-Naiset liitto

I became interested in the idea of online help support and guidance for immigrant women victims or at risk of different forms of violence after my attendance to an online encounters and web-based counselling course, as part of my socionomy studies offered by Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.  Also, after a reflection on my work experience as a crisis worker since 2005 in Mona shelter, the only shelter in Finland specialized in combating violence against immigrant women. As in the last few years, I have noticed that a new trend has invaded Mona’s shelter.  For, almost all of the clients were using different technology devices such as “clever” phones, iPads and portable computers to communicate in the comfort of their mother tongue, with their friends and families abroad and in Finland seeking their support, help, sympathy and advice during the difficult time of their lives. That is how the Multilingual Online Services was born as an idea and subject to be investigate for my final thesis.

Interviewing immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence

To research the need of Multilingual Online Services, an interview was conducted with seven immigrant women victims of domestic violence in Mona Shelter. The aim of the interview was to investigate immigrant women’s needs of a Multilingual Online Services and to assess their capabilities to access public service providers.

Studying online services

Moreover, a study was conducted on three online services that provide support and help for women experiencing domestic violence or violence against women. The study’s purpose was to compare their offered services with the planned Multilingual Online services.

Results of the study

The interview’s results showed that six out of seven immigrant women use internet, while their level of internet use varied between them. Although, interviewees surf the Internet in their mother tongues and some in their second languages too. All interviewees confirmed the need of a Multilingual Online Services and most of them elaborated on the reason of this need.  All women emphasized on the importance of receiving services in their mother tongues and on their need to interact with a professional online to get support and guidance.  Also, the results showed that immigrant women’s capability to access public services to get help in time of need was extremely low.

The study of three online services showed that they do not provide immigrant women experiencing or at threat of different forms of violence with the same services as the Multilingual Online Services plan was offering:  easy access, interactive, multilingual, cultural sensitive with a 24h help line, provided by a multicultural professional staff.

There is a need for Multilingual Online Services

The Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women (2010-2015), has stated that the situation of immigrant women victims of violence is very serious due to different reasons that contribute to their vulnerabilities.  Among these reasons, immigrant women’s inability to access services, isolation, lack of language skills, illiteracy, financial dependency on their spouses, life situations, cultural differences, lack of confidence in the authorities, judgemental attitudes and service providers will not take their matters with necessary importance.  Additionally, there is a lack of low threshold services for immigrant women experiencing violence; voluntary organizations are shattered and the quality of basic public services varies broadly.  (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women 2011).

There is no doubt that vulnerability maximizes the risk of getting help but does violence against women and domestic violence strike only these immigrant vulnerable groups?  Are there additional reasons for women vulnerabilities?  Well, according to UN Women (2013), violence against women is widely spread across the world and exists in each and every country. It strikes women from different ages and social background. It can happen at home, at work and in public spheres.  Although, according to Amnesty international (2015), violence against women is coupled with discrimination based on race, class, age, ethnicity, social statues and sexual identity.

Discrimination is fuelled by societies and governments that refuse to recognize the human rights of women and deny them equal rights with men. Therefore, women are abused, battered, raped or even killed in private and public places.  Violence outcomes vary from short to long term physical, mental, sexual and health problems.  It negatively affects women’s health and their productive ability, accentuates their vulnerabilities and limits their access to proper supportive services.  While, many countries have policies and laws to tackle different types of violence, their poor implementations are escalating violence against women. (UN Women, 2013)

The main idea and purposes of Multilingual Online Services

Therefore, my vision for Monika-Multicultural Women Association (Monika-Naiset liitto ry) is to develop a new line of services a Multilingual Online Services, that provides immigrant women victims or at threat of different forms of violence with an equal opportunity to social guidance assistance and help in time of need.  A client-oriented, easy access, interactive and an available tool in different languages.  Moreover, the services will be offered by professional with multicultural competence to deal with this sensitive, complicated and serious social issue. Hence, addressing the needs of vulnerable persons entails both recognition and action to ensure their inclusion. The Multilingual Online Services objectives are as following:

  • To provide immigrant women experiencing or at threat of different forms of violence with an easy access tool and client-oriented services in their mother tongue or in a language they understand;
  • To empower women and enhance their awareness about different types of violence and their citizen’s rights through information and online dialogue;
  • To combat Online different types of violence against immigrant women by enhancing public awareness on the side effects of violence against women and domestic violence on women, families, society and on the finance of the country;
  • To save time and unneeded costs paid by municipalities in tackling these social issues.

Conclusions

According to the constitutional act chapter two, section six that states: ”Everyone is equal before the law. No one shall, without an acceptable reason, be treated differently from other persons on the ground of sex, age, origin, language, religion, conviction, opinion, health, disability or other reason that concerns his or her person. Children shall be treated equally and as individuals and they shall be allowed to influence matters pertaining to themselves to a degree corresponding to their level of development. Equality of the sexes is promoted in societal activity and working life”.

Will this vision of Multilingual Online Services, that gives immigrant women victims or at risk of different forms of violence with an equal opportunity to service provisions come true?  The answer will lie very much in hands of policies makers that may or may not provide a green light for such a project to be born!

Bassma Chaoki