16th May 2023
Spotlight On | Juliana de Penha, Migrant Women Press Founder

Spotlight On | Juliana de Penha, Migrant Women Press Founder

“I’m trying to bring a change in narrative and create a space for migrant women to tell their stories themselves.”

Juliana de Penha is a journalist and founder of Migrant Women Press, an independent media platform focused on women’s experiences with migration.

Born and raised in Brazil, De Penha cut her teeth as a journalist covering the hip-hop scene and social issues before moving to the UK via Portugal and Italy.

In this Spotlight On piece, we speak to De Penha about her route into journalism and why she wants to give a voice to migrant women.

You were born in Brazil before moving to the UK. Tell us a bit about how you initially found your way into journalism?

I was always passionate about hip-hop culture, writing and reading independently. Then I realised there was an independent magazine really close to my place. I just knocked on the door and said, ‘look, I’m really interested in doing anything you need’ and they were looking for a trainee. They just hired me to transcribe interviews at the time.

But then I started to send interviews with headlines and then, step by step, they started to give me some work. I started to interview people and report. We had to travel to other places in Brazil to cover what was going on there and I became a reporter.

While in Brazil, you spent your time covering hip-hop culture and social movements for more than 10 years. What was it like covering such a large segment of the country both culturally and socially?

The hip-hop culture in Brazil is really rooted in social movements, and it was really connected. For example, anti-racist movements are really connected with hip-hop. Hip-hop singers speak about it all the time. This culture is really connected with what young people from poor backgrounds, marginalised communities, and indigenous backgrounds, face. If you go to a strike, you will see hip-hop artists playing.

The hip-hop leaders are also leaders in the social movements as well. So when I was covering one hip-hop concert, they were speaking about what people from anti-racist movements were saying. All the time that I was following hip-hop culture and social movements, they were connected. So I was in the same places all the time.

After moving to the UK, you founded Migrant Women Press. Why did you feel there was a need for such a publication?

Before I moved to the UK, I also lived in Portugal and Italy. When I left Brazil I become a migrant myself and I started to realise the issues these communities face. For example, when I left Brazil I was a journalist and then when I arrived in Portugal I didn’t manage to find job as a journalist and it was the same in Italy and the UK as well.

When I realised the many issues these communities face I started to meet many women who, in their home countries, had an education, they had their qualifications, but they didn’t manage to find jobs in their fields. They were not having the opportunity to contribute with the skills they have. They are losing out but the country is also losing these skills.

I started to look at the media coverage about these communities and then I realised it was not fair. If we think about women, migrant women were completely absent from discussions. That’s why I took the opportunity to create a project that will discuss these issues, bringing women’s perspectives and experiences that were not being discussed in the media. I started from my personal experience, but I realised it is not a singular experience. I started to connect with other women and then I created this platform. But it’s a collective project where other women that want to write about these issues are welcome to write.

Migrant Women Press has been around for three years now. How do you assess your work since the launch?

I think it is positive that a volunteer-led, independent media organisation, that we are still running. It had ups and downs. I started on my own and then eventually I managed to have a team of other women from different countries.

It was really challenging having people from different time zones, but it was interesting. Because I started with my journalism perspective, I wanted to have a platform and write these pieces, but to maintain this project, I needed other skills, someone with a business and financial background, to help me. I realised that it is important to have other people with different skills, and I’m working towards it.

So, the assessment is positive, because, for example, in our social media, everything is really working organically. People are interested, women are sending their contributions and people are asking and being invited to collaborate in different projects. I understand that if I had more funds, I would be doing more, but I’m working to achieve it.

You say that Migrant Women Press is ‘changing the narratives about migration and bringing diverse voices to the media’. Why is it so important to do that?

I think it’s extremely important, especially when there are a lot of discussions about the lack of trust in news. It is maybe sometimes because people don’t see themselves in the news. So I think bringing diverse voices and encouraging more people to bring their unique perspectives, and opening more discussions for more participation from the public.

I think in Migrant Women Press’s case, we are bringing a voice that is completely marginalised, that is from migrant women. I believe there are many women that want a space to tell these stories and that it’s important to provide this space.

I think also, it’s important because we are discussing diversity all the time. But this needs to be put into practice and not only a theory or talk. So I’m trying to do it by creating this space so we don’t have only a single narrative about migration. Normally we just see these perspectives from a border control view or a security view and then there are personal experiences that are lacking. I’m trying bring a change in narrative and create a space for migrant women to tell their stories themselves.

How would you compare working as a journalist in Brazil to working in the UK industry? What are the main challenges and differences?

When I was working in Brazil, I didn’t have to deal with language barriers and when I arrived in the UK, I needed to learn a new language but also how to express myself, properly, in written form. It takes some time to build these skills, so it was a big challenge. This prevented me from working in the industry for a while.

Cultural barriers were also an issue because I needed to understand people and the many different aspects to be able to communicate with these communities and audiences; something that was not the case for me in Brazil.

I think there are more of these barriers, because the basics of journalists are the same. How do you structure the news? How do you organise the way you write? But all these aspects that are really important, were a big challenge in the beginning.

I’m still learning. I’ve been here not that long. But I think it gave me more skills, more experience, and I’m happy that I am learning to be able to communicate in a new language with a new culture.

Migrant Women Press are one of the latest publications to sign up to Impress. Why did independent regulation and Impress appeal to you?

We at Migrant Women Press wanted to follow the best practice in journalism. I also recently concluded an NCTJ diploma in journalism. Being an Impress regulated member means that we are following these best practices, publishing with integrity, and thinking about providing content that is in the public interest.

We want to provide high quality journalism. I also think following the Standards Code means that we are providing this content with quality. We want to provide journalism that is trustworthy.

For Migrant Women Press it was a big step, we are proud to be a member. It means that we are thinking about the way we produce our journalism and trying to make it in a way that our audiences will trust us.

What are Migrant Women Press’ ambitions for the next 12 months and beyond?

We have many ideas and plans. One is that we will become a community interest company. We are also thinking about applying for funds and thinking more about how we can become sustainable.

As a journalist, I don’t have these skills, so I need to build it. But it’s something that is in the plan because we wanted to provide a sustainable organisation, so other women working with us can be paid and can continue working, because it’s currently a voluntary organisation.

We want to organise different projects and events with migrant organisations in Scotland and other countries as well. There are many ideas but it will all depend on many things.