Mira Kakossaios was a significant champion of immigrant women’s rights to education, to work, and to a place within Swedish society. She founded Internationella föreningen för invandrarkvinnor (the international association for immigrant women) and Riksförbundet internationella föreningar för invandrarkvinnor (the Swedish association of international associations for immigrant women).
Mira Kakossaios was born on the island of Poros near Peloponnesos in Greece in 1917. She was the eldest daughter of sea captain Stamatis Dousinas and his wife Elene. Her mother was a doctor, which was quite unusual at that time. The family home was affluent and imbued with a spirit of solidarity, both of which aspects influenced Mira Kakossaios’ childhood. Her mother was a role model to Mira Kakossaios in that she was a career professional who also engaged in social activism. Tuberculosis ravaged the area Mira Kakossaios lived in as a child although it largely impacted on the poor. She and her sister would spend each Saturday helping her mother to distribute food and medicine to the ill and the poor. Her parents encouraged all their children to get an education from an early age. When Mira Kakossaios was a teenager she got the opportunity to attend the best school in Athens were she later trained to become a teacher in the 1932–1937 period.
Following her graduation Mira Kakossaios obtained permission from the Greek ministry of education to open a school for children suffering from tuberculosis near the island of Poros. Later she moved to Macedonia in northern Greece where she took up her first teaching post. Macedonia was a very poor area at that time, with a high level of illiteracy and a dearth of teachers willing to work there. Mira Kakossaios was determined to stamp out illiteracy in the area. She initially faced a lot of opposition but she succeeded in persuading the local population of the importance of learning to read and write.
Towards the end of April 1941, during the Second World War and the German occupation of Greece, Mira Kakossaios joined the Greek resistance movement in support of the partisans. She was given a variety of assignments and, towards the end of the war, this included working as a nurse for the Red Cross, whilst another was distributing food and medicine. However, she was captured and was due to be executed before she managed to escape and flee to Switzerland. There she returned to her studies and attended Geneva university and met the renowned pedagogue Jean Piaget. Through him she became involved in a project to set up an international children’s home for children from war-torn countries.
Mira Kakossaios and her husband George Kakossaios arrived in Sweden in 1950. George Kakossaios was a doctor. Mira Kakossaios went to great efforts to teach herself Swedish and was eventually able to continue studying psychology, pedagogics, and social studies through Ericastiftelsen, which enabled her to graduate as a social scientist in 1954. She and her family spent a few years living in Eskilstuna, at that time an industrial town which attracted immigrants from places such as Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia, Turkey, and Spain. One of Mira Kakossaios’ first major tasks in Sweden was to find accommodation for 100 Greeks who had arrived in the country to work for AB Bolinder-Munktell. They had ended up in her garden as the company had not organised living quarters. It was during her period in Eskilstuna that Mira Kakossaios developed the insight that immigrant families – in particular the women and children within them – needed assistance in finding tolerable living- and working-conditions.
In 1966 Mira Kakossaios and her family moved to Stockholm where she began working for the Stockholm school board. As a school advisor on immigrant issues she worked very actively in order to improve teaching standards for foreign students. Mira Kakossaios and Meri Helena Forsberg were two of the first advisors on immigrant education in Sweden. Together they were able to achieve many advances, particularly in the area of mother tongue education. Mira Kakossaios also became acquainted with Anita Gradin in Stockholm and the two of them set up a project to teach immigrant women Swedish on behalf of Arbetarnas bildningsförbund (ABF) (workers’ education association).
In 1968 Mira Kakossaios founded Internationella föreningen för invandrarkvinnor (IFFI) in Stockholm. The goal of the organisation was to aid women in dealing with education, work, finance, child rearing, and abuse. Another goal was to end the isolation of immigrant women whilst encouraging them to demand increased equality both in the home and within society in general. IFFI organised lessons on the likes of the Swedish language, informational meetings on the laws pertinent to immigrants, and discussion evenings on co-existence. The organisation championed the rights to student grants as well as childcare options for women who wanted to learn Swedish. Initially the organisation faced solid opposition, making it difficult to obtain support from various authorities such as Statens invandrarverk (national immigration agency) which primarily wanted to support organisations which were based on national affiliation and dealt with both men and women. However, Mira Kakossaios had the courage, strength, and skill to both persuade and inspire others. She was driven by compassion and was an accomplished speaker who got decision-makers to listen, despite some of them viewing her as a controversial figure. A few years after IFFI had been set up several similar organisations emerged across Sweden. All these groups were brought together in 1974 under Riksförbundet internationella föreningar för invandrarkvinnor (RIFFI). Today RIFFI serves as an umbrella-organisation for about 30 local associations in Sweden. RIFFI has participated in all of the UN’s women’s conferences, and, since 1998, holds the status of consultant in the UN’s economic and social council ECOSOC within the special area of Women’s Issues.
During Mira Kakossaios’ leadership RIFFI sought to facilitate immigrant women’s access to further development opportunities and social integration into Swedish society, in part through putting forward a parliamentary motion in 1989. The organisation has worked to improve many areas including mother tongue education, banning child marriage practises, violence against women, female genital mutilation, the ‘two-year rule’ in immigration law which led to the deportation of immigrant women if they get divorced within two years of arriving in Sweden, as well as matters relating to the care of elderly patients who cannot speak Swedish.
Mira Kakossaios believed that one of the most pressing contemporary issues – and for the future –was the peace movement. She was very active within “Den stora fredsresan” (the great journey to peace) which was organised by Internationella Kvinnoförbundet för Fred och Frihet (IKFF) (the international women’s association for peace and freedom) during the 1985–1986 period. She actively helped to organise the delegation’s journey to Northern Africa. “Den stora fredsresan” comprised various women’s delegations who travelled to a total of 105 capital cities and governments to raise issues of nuclear weapons, peace, and security with the relevant powers in each country. The closing ceremony was held at the UN in New York and was led by Inga Thorson.
The newspaper Aftonbladet awarded jubilee stipends to 10 recipients in December 1980 to mark its 150th birthday. One of these recipients was Mira Kakossaios and the reason given was: “… in recognition of her serious engagement and industrious efforts on behalf of immigrant women in Sweden. She tirelessly fights prejudice, inflexible Swedish authorities and, when necessary, her own countrymen. Mira has given a voice to what is perhaps the weakest group in Swedish society, namely isolated and vulnerable immigrant women.”
Mira Kakossaios died in Stockholm in 1990.