During the time when the equality law was created Norway was predominantly a white homogeneous society.

Thus the equality law didn’t account for the possibility that Norway would one day be home to people with different religions, cultural backgrounds, values and ways of living. It is this gap that created the need for The MiRA Centre. A need that is just as relevant today.

A group of immigrant women gathered together to discuss the reality that they seemed for the most part to have in common – discrimination in the work force, in the real-estate market, stigmatizing in the community and being shut out of the social and political life. So began the Foreign Women´s group in 1979. And of course they met opposition. Many active strong immigrant organizations could at that time be found that focused on discrimination in the society and spoke out against racism, but they were dominated by men and didn’t address gender-related issues as they seemed irrelevant.

Some critics believed that the women in FWG were not representative of immigrant women, that they were too western. Their reasoning was that “real” immigrant women were submissive, and not able to speak on their own behalf, therefore they weren’t able to create such an organization. Ergo FWG was not representative since they had done just that.

Foreign Women´s Group was also criticized for being segregate: Especially when they after two years as an open organization decided that FWG should be an organization only for immigrant and refugee women. The reason for this was the desire to create an environment where immigrant women could define their problems on their own premises and discuss possibilities for how to handles these problems.

The MiRA Centre was founded in 1989. The vision was – and still is – to create a free place, a space for the creativity that can be found in the outside world. A place where women with minority backgrounds themselves could run their projects, reveal their own power. The MiRA Centre as an activity centre is invaluable; it has given us opportunities in relation to work we wish to pursue, inspirited users to take action, and given us a solid framework through which to work on the empowerment of women and young girls with minority backgrounds. A multi-purpose house is also important in building communication between generations – an area within Norwegian minority politics that has up until now been ignored.

The MiRA Centre is strongly involved with many important issues such as the legal rights for minority women, particularly the three-year rule. The three year rule gives someone who has come to Norway through Family Reunification independent legal status only after she has been married for three years in Norway. Many women today are threatened with deportation according to this rule. Another issue is the time it takes for recognition of qualifications in a variety of professions; yet another is the necessary availability of child care service with language instruction and finally the issue of a lack of leisure facilities available to young minority girls (see our areas of competence).

Self-organization has been high on MiRAs priority list for many years. Today we are organized across the country and have a large international network. This work will continue, with even more emphasis on the professional aspects than earlier, because The MiRA Centre is a advising body for legislative authorities in Norway and we would like to increase our influence to the creation of minority politics in the country. The MiRA Centre has had as a goal that women will be visible in the community as individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences and resources. The women will take part in the community debate, in work life and in social life as active and equal participants in the community they live in.  We also want to invest in the development of professional support around minority issues as there is a great need for it. We want to direct focus to the relationships for minorities in the workforce, in the housing market, in the education sector and in relation to immigration legislation.

Read also the interview with Fakhra Salimi, director and one of the founders of The MiRA Centre, by Aina Mumbi Sauvik of The MiRA Magazine 2/98 >>