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The use of racial antidiscrimination laws in Belgium: a gender perspective

Final Activity Report Summary - RACE AND GENDER (The use of racial antidiscrimination laws in Belgium : a gender perspective)

The research aimed to improve our understanding of gender and racial discrimination through an evaluation of the effectiveness of Belgian racial anti-discrimination laws focusing on the target group. A further objective was to develop practical tools for concerned institutions.

Work undertaken:

The issues concerning double discrimination based on race and gender were studied through an examination of the state of the art of relevant literature.

Case law and 1198 anonymous complaints lodged at the Centre for Equal Opportunities (CEO) in Brussels were analysed to establish gender differences in terms of complaints lodged, the experience of discrimination and means to resolve conflicts.

The lawyers-complainant interaction was observed at the CEO to assess the use of the law. 15 interviews of practitioners were undertaken to identify their difficulties and their gender-based social representations regarding complainants. 35 interviews of complainants allowed us to identify representations regarding the law and their impact on the use of legal instruments.

Key results:

1. Men and women use resources differently. Men lodged more complaints than women but were also more likely to drop proceedings. Women used legal resources more effectively, due to better integration in social networks and an easier contact with institutions.
Gender-based social relations led to a different treatment of complaints. Womens' complaints were more likely to be legally categorised as discrimination. Case law concerning women led to a higher proportion of convictions, although rare.

2. Men and women experience different types of discrimination.
- This is because they are victims of different kinds of prejudices, linked to their gender and origin, and sometimes class. Men are associated with delinquency or potential terrorism. Women are seen more ambiguously as either victims requiring protection or unwanted foreigners.
- Men are more likely to be victims of racial insults, physical aggression and access racism, particularly for young men from Africa.
- Women experience specific discrimination in relation to their socio-economic situation and their status as single mothers and for Muslim women, to restrictions concerning the wearing of a veil in certain public spaces.
- Both are equally discriminated against in the fields of housing and employment.

3. Men and women use the law differently according to their personal experiences, related to their identities and their specific aspirations. Women react against a personal offence but also in the interests of society. The use of the law by migrant men is often based on a need for social dignity through active citizenship in a country where they have lost their status they enjoyed in their country of origin.

4. The use of the law reflects different representations of the legal system. Women have an ambivalent representation of the law. They feel that legal institutions protect them as women but not when they are seen primarily as foreigners. Among men, recent migrants, especially from Africa, have a positive representation of the law based on the democratic practices of the host country. But the lack of legal recourse of young men with migrant backgrounds reveals their mistrust of the law.

5. The interaction between lawyer and victim has an impact on the use or non-use of the law. People come to the Centre without clear expectations. The contact with the lawyer allows them to identify their needs including recognition. The suggested solutions, mainly mediation or advice, are normally accepted.

In conclusion, an intersectional approach to discrimination reveals the existence of particularly disadvantaged sub-groups. The practical tool developed to help relevant institutions builds on this intersectional approach to better identify these sub-groups. In particular, this will help better reflect the specificities of discrimination and provide more effective responses to victims.