Psychologist, Greek Council for Refugees, Athens, Greece
Katerina approached us during the Fundamental Rights Forum held in October 2021. She was curious about the Network and the options for cooperation. We talked about her work in the Greek Council for Refugees, especially about her involvement as a counselor in the European Project SARAH, which aims to protect and support migrant women who experience(d) gender-based violence. This interview is our attempt to shed more light on the topic.
Since the March issue of the bulletin is devoted to the International Women’s Day, please let us know more about your engagement in the field of women’s rights.
My engagement with women’s rights began when I started working for the Greek Council for Refugees in Athens, Greece, specifically with refugee women, victims of gender based violence. Gender based violence means that a person is targeted because of her/his gender. I work mostly with women from Cameroon, Congo, and Afghanistan, and there are fewer women from Iraq, Iran and Eritrea. The way their rights have been violated are numerous: forced marriages, human trafficking, sexual violence including rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, stalking.
What women’s rights are of the top consideration in your work as a psychologist?
I would say the same rights that concern general human rights because women’s rights are part of human rights. Especially while working with consequences of gender based violence, my top consideration is safety, protection, the right to live without discrimination, and to live in a society of equality between genders.
How have you become involved in work with human rights?
I generally see human rights as a part of psychologist’s work in any work setting. As far as refugees are concerned, I started working in an NGO by chance. Lately there has been a high demand for French speaking psychologists because we have a lot of asylum seekers arriving from African, French speaking countries. Since I finished my master degree in France, I can communicate in French. This is how I got involved. Then I started being really attracted by the quality of work that you can do as a psychologist in such a setting and also by the importance of advocacy for human rights from the role of a psychologist. Later I became engaged with the Greek Council of Refugees. Collaboration with colleagues of different professions, such as, lawyers, interpreters and political scientists got me even more excited about the work that I do because we can work together in order to enforce human rights. It is necessary for a psychologist to work in a multidisciplinary team when working in fields concerning human rights.
What kind of education and learning have you gathered so far in the field of human rights, be it formal, non-formal or informal?
I finished my bachelor degree in psychology in Greece and master degree in France. As far as my formal education is concerned, I have never had a course dedicated solely to the topic of human rights. I can say, though, that I can find it somehow hidden inside some of the courses, such as social psychology, social psychiatry and community intervention. On my master studies of psychoanalysis and interdisciplinary research I had a course devoted to refugee care that involved the topics of human rights. It was when I started working in the field, that I learned a lot more about human rights in practice. At the same time, I tried to find some learning programmes and I got involved in one year’s educational programme concerning the refugee care held by Babel Day Center in Greece in collaboration with the Center for Trauma, Asylum and Refugees of University of Essex. It included learning about human rights in the refugee setting and how can this be applied in our work. The human dignity in our approach comes first. It was also really helpful for me to engage in different working groups of the field. It enlarged my horizons because we exchange experience with different professionals from different work settings. We also do advocacy work together. So I participate, for example, in gender based violence working group, chaired by UNHCR, in and the mental health and psychosocial support working group (MHPSS) in Greece. Additionally, I read books, articles, etc. because I want to learn more.
Do you teach human rights in any way? If yes, who are the people you teach and how?
On one hand I train other professionals in gender based violence matters in the refugee field in our organisation, such as interpreters, lawyers, social workers, also psychologists. During the next moths it will be addressed also to professionals from different organisations and to university students. On the other hand, I teach human rights to my beneficiaries, refugee women, which is very important. It is not really teaching, but it is experiencing together how they can exercise their rights in Greece in different settings and how they can protect themselves from violation. Some things we do in individual sessions, some in groups, in info cafes. With some women in info cafes we develop really deep discussions about feminism and violation of women’s rights, we tackle gender studies, Judith Butler and systemic violence. Other women that we work with have lower educational level and lower quality of living conditions, and it is actually part of their everyday life sometimes to be victims of gender based violence. So our goal is to inform women what their rights in Greece are, what gender based violence is, how to stand up for their rights, what protection mechanisms are there at their disposal. Sometimes we refer them to similar organisation as our in other European countries if they intend to go there. Even if they want to go to another European country, the basic rights are the same, thanks to the Istanbul convention, but until they leave Greece, they should know how they can be protected here. It is important to know where they can address some incidents, such as rape. Our role is to support them in any way, to deconstruct together the feelings of shame, and to show them how to embrace the identity of a survivor and not a victim.
Have you ever experienced any human rights threats because of the work that you have been doing?
Fortunately, I have not. But I have many colleagues who were threatened because of their work in the field. Almost two years ago we had a really big crisis on the islands where local people and far right groups got involved in ‘witch hunting’ against refugees as well as professionals that were protecting their rights. So I know people who experienced violation of human rights. That was something that shook me up, because I did not expect it. You protect and advocate for human rights and then your own human rights are violated! In addition, some times as professionals we experience the distress of some beneficiaries that can be addressed to us in a form of some kind of aggression (verbal or behavioural). In these cased we know that their distress is linked to some issues of the general system or the state but it is difficult to make them understand that some decisions are out of our control. The system inside we work creates contradictions.