Refugee women in East and West Germany

Conference | When I came to Germany | October 2017 | Berlin

ConferenceWhen I came to GermanyOctober 2017 | Berlin

The process of applying for asylum in the two countries, the access to studying, working, housing and health care, the interaction with the local society. Did women self-organise themselves?

The video can be downloaded on Vimeo. See license below.


The audio files can be downloaded on See license below.

Photos of the Panel


Nancy Larenas was born in Valdivia, Chile in 1943 and has lived in political exile in Germany since 1973. She went to a catholic secondary school in Valparaíso and studied architecture at the Universidad Chile in Valparaíso. From 1970 she was a member of the Political Popular Front which supported the Chilean president Salvador Allende. After the military coup on the 11th September 1973 she fled to former West Germany. In 1976 she went to the GDR to study and complete her doctorate at the University for Architecture and Construction. She worked for the Wohungsbaukombinat (a nationally-owned housing construction enterprise) Magdeburg and the City Construction Management Jena. Since 1990 she has worked in the fields of construction research and cultural heritage preservation. Currently she is chairwomen of the Chile- Friendship Society Salvador Allende e.V. in Berlin.

Born in 1958, Saideh Saadat-Lendle went underground in Iran and applied for asylum in Germany in 1985. Today she is in charge of the antidiscrimination and anti-violence work of the Lesbenberatung Berlin e.V. – LesMigraS, one of the few lesbian-, bi-, and trans* projects that is especially directed to lesbian, bisexual and trans* migrant women and black lesbians, bisexual and trans*. She is a psychologist, diversity trainer and freelance lecturer with a focus on multıple discrimination, racism, gender, sexuality, intercultural competences and language and discrimination.

María do Mar Castro Varela was born in La Coruña in spanish Galicia in 1964 and came to Cologne when she was three years old. She has a doctorate in Political Science and is a professor in Educational Science and Social Work at the Alice-Salomon-University in Berlin-Hellersdorf. She addresses topics like racism, postcolonial theory, gender and queerness.

Images from the panellists

About the conferenceWhen I came to Germany

International Womenspace organised a two-day conference in Berlin in October 2017. There were six-panel discussions focusing on the experiences of women who came to West Germany as guest workers, to East Germany as contract workers, as migrants and refugees to the reunified Germany and of German women who are affected by racism.

The invited speakers talked about and compared their experiences of arriving and settling in Germany as well as working and organising as women here. We wanted to put the knowledge of multiple generations of migrants into a historical perspective, and create a space where we can exchange our individual and collective experiences in order to counteract false ideas of victimhood related to migrant women, whose voices are too often ignored in German society due to racism, xenophobia and sexism.

We wanted to counteract the mainstream narrative. We did not only focus on the problems that migrant and refugee women, as well as German women who are affected by racism, are constantly confronted with. We also highlighted the many and various forms of women’s resistance; in the workplace, in society and against institutional oppression.

It was a success! We were very moved and inspired by the response to the conference, both before, during and after. On each day, over 250 women came together, exchanged experiences about political fights and resistance in Germany, learned from the histories of different generations from both East, West and reunited Germany, got to know each other, and built networks. This was made possible, despite language barriers, thanks to running translation in six languages: German, English, Arabic, Farsi, Turkish & Vietnamese. There was an atmosphere of openness and solidarity, so both speakers and participants were able to talk freely about their personal experiences.

Feedback from participants showed that an event like this was very needed, and that there is a strong wish for continued exchange, political action and networking. We consider the conference a starting point and look forward to the next steps…

Photos of the conference | day 1