Migrant women, determined development actors despite the odds!

Joanne Irvine

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014 - 14:00

On this day, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomes “the chorus of voices calling for an end to the violence that affects an estimated one in three women in her lifetime”. Indeed, the facts are horrifying: 35% of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime with up to seven in ten women facing this abuse in some countries. Moreover, worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children, 250 million of whom were married before the age of 15. Girls who marry before the age of 18 are less likely to complete their education and more likely to experience domestic violence and complications in childbirth…and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Now without taking away from the need and importance of ensuring all women’s rights everywhere, particularly prevention of violence, I would like to highlight the specific vulnerabilities that migrant women are exposed to, which is particularly the case for irregular migrant women. Indeed, according to Khalid Koser of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, migrant women constitute a substantial proportion of the many migrants with irregular status. Moreover, since they are faced with gender-based discrimination, female migrants are often obliged to accept the most menial informal sector jobs. The level of abuse and exploitation that women can therefore be subject to can range from confiscation of their papers and forced labour without pay to life-threatening physical and sexual abuse and even forced labour within the sex industry. According to ILO statistics, women and girls are the vast majority of those trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation (98%), and the 56% of the victims of forced economic exploitation. Moreover, women in particular also face specific health-related risks, including exposure to HIV/AIDs.

Yet even faced with these challenges, I take my hat off to migrant women for the following two inspiring reasons:

  • More and more women are migrating, despite the risks! Indeed, 48% of all worldwide international migrants were women in 2013 according to UN population fact sheet, and since 1990, the proportion of women among all international migrants increased in all major areas. Moreover, if the analysis is focused on industrialized countries with high labour demand in specific sectors as domestic and care-givers, women among all migrants are the majority for the north-north pathway, according to the IOM World Migration Report 2013 and in general they outnumber men in Europe, Oceania and former Soviet Union according to the World Bank.
  • Women tend to send a higher proportion of their income, even though they generally earn less than men, according to IOM.

Why are they doing it? For their own and their families’ well-being.

Recognising this potential of women migrants as drivers of sustainable development, the UN reaffirmed the “vital role of women and the need for their full and equal participation and leadership in all areas of sustainable development” and that “gender quality and the effective participation of women are important for effective action on all aspects of sustainable development”.

This is exactly why a gender-based approach to migration and development is a key element to harnessing the full potential of migration for development purposes. Yet, according to UN Women, studies have shown that the majority of policies and programmes that aim to strengthen the migration-development nexus are gender-blind or show very little understanding of gender concerns. This only highlights the need to understand and integrate the experience of women in migratory processes, and specifically their high vulnerability which is clearly limiting their capacities as development actors.

Now, as the experience of the Joint Migration and Development Initiative (JMDI) shows, managing migration for development has become particularly important at the local level whereby local actors, and local authorities in particular, are increasingly finding themselves at the forefront of dealing with both the negative and positive effects of migration, including the necessary protection and empowerment of migrant women and those women left behind as their partners migrate.

It is within this context that I would like to highlight the excellent work being done by local authorities and other local actors in addressing the gender issue in migration and development. For example, the JMDI funded project in Costa Rica by the Municipality of Upala entitled “Migration as a facilitator for inclusive human development”. This project aims to improve the activities of the local Centre for Migrants’ Social Rights, specifically with regards to vulnerable migrant women victims of violence. Activities to achieve this include providing training on the prevention of violence to community leaders and further equipping the Centre with the necessary tools, materials and capacities to enhance their services provided to migrants.

For more information on this project and other JMDI projects, please consult our website here or contact us on: jmdi.pmu@undp.org. I also encourage you to share with us your own similar experiences in implementing a gender based approach to local M&D initiatives by either by adding your project to our projects database or writing to us directly.

By sharing and consolidating our knowledge, we can promote good practices - here’s to gender equality in migration for development!

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