This project is funded under Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities

Media Policy Makers Researchers Civil Society Organizations
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Roles and perspectives of women mediators in France [website]

Project aims ...

The study focuses on the role and activities of women working with migrants living in underprivileged areas in (mostly) French suburban cities and how they have come to mediate between migrants, but also underprivileged individuals in general and local authorities. Most of those women are themselves migrants or daughters of migrants. We can also notice that a wide part of those professionals are women but a very few are men. Starting with those observations, the study aims show their personal life stories, their practices, and how they progressively can build professional abilities, while questioning the evolution of this recent profession. The work of these ‘médiatrices interculturelles’ exemplifies in various ways the urban and social policies of French State whilst still maintaining the universalist profile that characterizes French interculturalism. It also puts a light on the contradictions between universalist discourses in one hand, community practices in the other hand, both held by public institutions. The different experiences studied, in different local contexts, illustrate in the end how those mediators can play a role in the definition of a new citizenship.


The research project combines several methods: participant observation, semi-guided and group interviews with mediators, family stories based on biographical interviews and life stories of different members of a whole family, one of them being mediator. The mediators were chosen to show their diversity (institutional context of intervention, status, activities, previous professional experiences...) and study the effects of those differences. All of them have been mediators for more than 5 years. Only women were met and they all this common point, making them mediators: their work consists in create a relation, solve a conflict, between citizens and public institutions (school, social services, housing, justice court...). Eighty interviewed with mediators were collected. Also the policy makers were interviewed and their discourses studied (a hundred interviews). And the legislation was of course taken in account to explain the evolution of the profession and understand how it can impact differently the life stories of the women met.

This study was made in different suburban areas, allowing an interesting comparative work between semi-rural and urban areas, with different socioeconomic backgrounds, and different political issues and options.

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Research findings

The first result concerns the tasks and trust to the mediators: basically, these women mediators are assigned the task of counselling in the form of provision of language interpretation and information especially in relation to the authorities. Their work however rarely remains limited to these functions, expanding to include assistance with the search for a job or housing. In this, they could be said to intervene with the objective of regenerating the social fabric and fighting exclusion. In other cases, they intervene to consolidate the relations between parents and schools. In this research framework, the women mediators also take part in the preventions and solutions of neighbourhood problems by explaining religious rituals and cultural practices. In seeking to develop solidarity bounds, they also organize campaigns for the prevention of delinquency and drug addiction. Further, as the contact women develop their activity in ethnically crowded neighbourhoods, among labourers and paupers mostly, they set an example for a new model of women. Furthermore, in presenting themselves as capable to communicate, adapt and open new roads towards social participation, they promote understanding and set positive example for immigrants and the indigenous population. In this, they are contributing to the development of a positive identity of the neighbourhoods. Working together permits the development of a Republican awareness and contributes to the concept of consolidation and equilibrium without falling into the trap of ‘assimilation’.

This type tends to reinforce the model of assimilation of immigrants in
The second result concerns the definition of the function of contact and mediation. Two notions of contact and mediation became apparent during the study. The first defines the function of contact person as arising out of the difficulty of response to the specific needs of population in a problem situation. This function is limited to the rule of intermediary between the immigrants and the institutions. From the point of view of the State, these women have a role to play with reference to social policies, employment and housing, as they help to surmount the barrier of limited mutual understanding.

This type tends to allow a co construction of new ways of understanding, of new social behaviours and rules
The function of mediation has a much wider range of scope than the function of contact. It involves new forms of social guidelines and dialogues. With this perspective, the mediator function calls for the creation and recreation of social ties. The mediator women become a centre of reference and active participants in the handling of projects. We can summarise these different functions of mediation in two ideal types, in these figures, as following:







Key messages

An important part of mediators become opinion leaders and participate actively in communal policies. They are important actors in the fabrication of social policy which target not only migrants, but all inhabitants of the urban sector.

Nevertheless, their role in the social life, as professionals, still appears under recognize especially by local authorities, even if those institutions recruit them. This shows a certain form of discrimination in how those professional women are considered. Indeed, they are more often seen as “family mother” helping in the community life, and not as real professionals.

An effect of the mediators’ actions appears as surprising comparatively to the excepted ones. Mediators were first thought as linkages to inhabitants with specific difficulties in communicate with public institutions. In the different contexts studied, their actions show wider effects, particularly in improving intergenerational relationships.


Policy recommendations

After nearly twenty years of practices,the recognition of the professional role of mediators is necessary . A professional diploma should be created. The fact it doesn’t exist yet tends to reinforce one of study’s conclusion on the discrimination they experience. This creation would also easier allow the development of the second ideal type presented (creation of social ties), which carry more benefits for all together inhabitants, public institutions and mediators, in developing better knowledge on one to the other.

As most of the mediators intervene in different civil organisations, those ones should be helped in their activities, especially when they directly play an important role in the local social life, as it is the case.

Following this idea, public institutions should develop contacts and occasions of cooperation between mediators, at different levels: local, regional, national... Those professionals would be thus able to exchange their experiences and learn ones from the others, for better practices.

More widely, the mediators’ experiences should be disseminated nationally and internationally. To get more public recognition, this profession should also be opened not only to immigrant women but also to national men and women. Intercultural dialogue ability appears actually more as attitudes and cannot be resumed in gendered and ethnical characteristics.

In the same time, the women’s rights need to be reinforced and taken into consideration. The women’s actions allow fighting conjointly against racism and sexism, as long as their activities are plainly recognized.

Representatives of institutions such as Ministry of Education, Ministry of Work should take into consideration the mediators’ experience and modify their policies. As said, two directions could be followed:

  • Allow the mediators to have a clear professional status, taking in account the benefits their activities offer to the local social life, thus encourage their development
  • Facilitate the access to the career for different kinds of individuals, allowing then the profession being seen as made of abilities and specific skills, rather than being a reserved field to certain kind of populations (immigrant women); this would be a way to fight stigmatisation more widely.