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A Magazine for Sheffield

Why can't migrant women speak in Sheffield?

At Festival of Debate, Louise Armstrong hears from migrant women about barriers, belonging and being heard. 

View from the top of Meersbrook Park
Gary Butterfield (Unsplash)

Seven years ago, journalist and author Livia Barreira moved from Brazil to Sheffield and started her new life. She is an accomplished, hard-working woman but felt, when she came to the UK, that it wasn't just her life in Brazil she had lost, but also her voice.

When I had just arrived I was not very confident with my language and I couldn't speak naturally but I am a journalist so I felt quite frustrated. I couldn’t work in communications because of the language but I have many ideas, I am very creative, I have a Master’s in communications science.

In some situations, I felt like I couldn't speak much, and I couldn't give my voice, I also felt there was a lack of recognition.

Livia Barreira

Livia is just one of many migrant women living in Sheffield and the UK but her feelings of being silenced are shared by many, leading us onto the question of why this is happening.

At Festival of Debate last week, Livia, alongside Dr. Patricia Nabuco Martuscelli, hosted an event called “Can Migrant Women Speak in Sheffield?”, which aimed to explore this issue.

Language is just one of many obstacles migrants face when moving to a new country. Migrating is essentially leaving your comfort blanket of family and friends and a job, to start over again in an unfamiliar place.

Dr Patricia Nabuco Martuscelli said:

You don't know anyone, you have to build your life and social circle. You miss important things, good and bad moments with people you love.

It can be lonely, too. Adjusting to a new life while trying to build relationships and get accustomed to a whole new culture is a difficult juggling act.

During this time, it also leaves migrants, especially women, in a place of vulnerability, which makes the need for their voice being heard even more crucial.

Livia said:

Some people are not confident enough to speak to people in another language, people who maybe don't understand about cultures. And the tone of our voice is different - it can be easy to put people who are not confident away, so it doesn’t matter much.

The loss of a voice not only makes things harder for a migrant, but it is also detrimental to society. When groups don't feel like they belong, they are less likely to engage with other people, instead staying in social bubbles where they feel they are accepted, resulting in a fragmented society.

Livia added:

I think I have been fighting a lot in Sheffield to belong to this place that is my home, and I am very proud to be here. But I can see a lot of people don’t do this fight and just accept 'I am not from here' . And they say 'I am just living my life here with my own community and my own family'.

If you feel like you don't belong, you feel lonely, depressed, incapable, so it's not healthy to feel as though you don't belong but at the same time, I feel like I belong to Sheffield but also Brazil and I am happy with that.

Sheffield is an ever-growing, diverse city where according to Office of National Statistics in 2021, 16.4% of the population were not born in the UK. That is a significant chunk of the city who potentially feel as though they are not heard.

Politics was also discussed as a potential barrier for migrants in terms of having a voice and feeling unified.

Dr Nabuco Martuscelli added:

What happens in many countries is that we have this conception or discourse about migrants, which is that they are harmful, even a threat to society, which is shown in research to be untrue.

But it's a useful discourse to use among politicians [who say] that since migrants are a harmful threat, they should be separated, which creates situations of marginalisation where migrant communities feel they are excluded.

Not only do narratives like this fuel xenophobia and racism, but it also positions migrants away from society. Rules surrounding visas and migration law also have the same effect and both can demean what place a migrant feels they have in England.

Livia said:

I am not able to vote, as you must have citizenship in this country, so this is a way politics silences migrants, not just women.

So, we are here to pay for taxes, we are here to pay for expensive visas but when it comes to elections, I wish I could vote but I can't because I am a migrant.

It makes us feel like we are invisible and like our voice doesn't count. Why?

Of course, election law is something out of our control but providing a welcoming society isn’t.

Livia continued:

We can all learn from each other, and the most important thing is that we are all human beings in this world to learn from each other.

If we don't have diversity, we only learn the same things from the same people, and we don't grow as a society.

When diversity is embraced, everyone benefits from a more well-rounded and just society, and migration is just an element of this. The more of us grasp onto this, the more we can help transform where we live to its full potential.

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