Migration for Sustainable Development

Click on a development sector or a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) and scroll down to explore its migration linkages, relevant Global Compact for Migration (GCM) Objectives, data and measuring tools, case studies and resources. 

Human mobility affects and is affected by all development areas: for example, healthy and educated migrants and displaced persons can more easily participate in and contribute to society and migrants with regular status have improved access to decent and safe work. Migration is a global phenomenon affecting all countries and its effective governance needs global partnerships.

To create the future we want and need, we must empower migrants to fulfil their development potential, which can, in turn, have positive ripple effects for communities locally, regionally and globally. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent our global effort to progress towards prosperous and healthy societies. Migrants have a critical role to help fulfil the promises of these Goals; indeed, SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities) calls for the promotion of safe, orderly and regular migration. The Global Compact for Migration (GCM) sets out a roadmap to help us do exactly this. Read more about M4D and our approach.


SDG 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, but it is not on track to be achieved by 2030. At the global level, only one indicator is “close to target.” It is estimated to take up to 286 years to close gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws. In 2022, a study of 119 countries showed that 55% do not have laws that prohibit direct and indirect discrimination against women. 

Migration can be a source of empowerment for women. Many women migrate independently and. migration can offer access to education and careers, allowing women to earn higher ncomes, enjoy more autonomy and enhance social and economic status and participation. Research also finds that migrant women on average, despite earning less than men, often send more remittances back to households and communities of origin.  

On the other hand, migrant women face a number of vulnerabilities due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination they may face in origin, transit and host communities. For example, females still make up the largest share of identified trafficked victims (around 65% in total, with 46% women and 19% girls). While SDG 5 generally refers to women and girls, gender equality also includes gender minorities and LGBTIQ+ people. Migrants of all genders are crucial development actors, with specific experiences and potential contributions to our societies. 

But the linkages between gender and migration don’t stop there. They are context-specific but also often cross-cutting with other sector areas such as:  

  • Education: Full and equal access to primary, secondary and tertiary education, as well as vocation and skills training, can empower migrant women and girls to access decent work and participate fully in society. (In line with SDG 4 and 10) 
  • Employment: Women migrant workers often work in informal or unregulated sectors, facing higher risks of sexual harassment or exploitation. Their labour, including domestic and care work, should be formalized to protect their rights and safe work conditions. (In line with SDG 8) 
  • Environment and Climate Change: The disproportionate impacts of climate change on women may compel them to migrate in search of livelihoods elsewhere, so disaster risk reduction and climate resilience strategies must be both gender- and migrant-responsive. (In line with SDG 13) 
  • Health: Migrant girls and women can be particularly vulnerable to negative health outcomes. Gender norms may make people of all genders reluctant to access health services, including sexual and reproductive health care, as these norms might lead to abuse from partners, discrimination or be interpreted as a sign of weakness. (In line with SDG 3) 
  • Governance: People of all gender identities should be equitably represented in governance institutions, to ensure that policies and strategies respond to the needs of gender minority migrants. Women are holding more positions of power in governance bodies in 2023 (women held 26.5% of seats in lower and single chambers of national parliaments, up from 22.3% in 2015). However, parity in political institutions will not be achieved by 2030. (In line with SDG 16 and 17). 
GCM Objectives

The key role of gender is recognized in the Global Compact for Migration’s “gender-responsive” guiding principle, which “promotes gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, recognizing their independence, agency and leadership in order to move away from addressing migrant women primarily through a lens of victimhood.” For a full list of Objectives relevant to SDG 5, please see below and refer to the GCM Booklet and Migration Network Hub. Also refer to UN Women’s Policies and Practices: A Guide to Gender-Responsive Implementation of the GCM

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Disaggregating data by migratory status, gender and sex helps develop policies, laws and programmes that address specific needs of migrant women and LGBTIQ+ migrants.

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Women and girls account for 71% of all victims of trafficking detected globally. Gender-sensitive strategies and policies can better protect all people from trafficking.

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Deeply entrenched gender equalities in decent work, education and social protection can influence the decision of women and girls to migrate.

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Gender-responsive and trauma-informed referral practices can avoid re-traumatizing migrant girls and women survivors of trafficking or violence.

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SDG Target 5.b calls for the use of technology to empower women, for example through sharing information with migrant women.

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Economic autonomy, language or cultural orientation courses and support for migrant women leaders can ensure migrant girls and women are welcomed into society.

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Ethical recruitment means eliminating trafficking and exploitation of migrant women and recognizing the value of unpaid and domestic work.

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Partnerships with women’s organizations are key to engaging migrant women and diaspora in knowledge and skills transfer and fostering productive investment of remittances.

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Migrant girls and women face particular vulnerabilities throughout the migration cycle, including harassment, abuse and discrimination. 

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Although migrant women tend to earn less than men and have less access to formal financial services, they often send more remittances and are responsible for how they are used.

Data & Measuring Results

104 of the 246 SDG indicators are gender-related, and there is a specific GCM Objective 1 that calls for use of migration data “disaggregated by sex, age, migratory status and other characteristics". Data gaps remain on key migration and sustainable development topics, such as the contributions of migrant women to economies through paid and unpaid work, the vulnerabilities and skills of nonbinary and transgender migrants or the experiences of LGBTIQ+ migrants. 

For the latest data on migration and SDG 5, check out:


What SDG 5 targets are relevant for migration?

  • 5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
    • Combating all forms of trafficking of women and girls.
    • Addressing violence against and exploitation of women and girls during all stages of the migration cycle. This includes physical, sexual or psychological violence they may be subject to during transit (for example travelling or in refugee camps) or at destination (for example by an employer).
    • Addressing gender-based violence or conflict-related sexual violence generally, which can force women and girls to migrate.
    • 5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
      • Addressing any migration dynamics related to child, early and forced marriage and other relevant harmful practices.
    • 5.4 Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate 
      • Protecting the rights and interests, and enhancing the well-being, dignity and status of migrant domestic workers.
      • Ensuring eligibility, equal access and coverage to social protection for female migrant domestic workers.
    • 5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences
      • Addressing the vulnerability of migrants regarding sexual and reproductive health, including in refugee camps, makeshift settlements and IDP settlements, and especially for female migrants, to increase their access to related health-care services. Universal access is only achievable if migrants are included.
      • Integrating the sexual and reproductive health needs and rights of migrants in all related legislation, policy and programming.
    • 5.A Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws
      • Addressing gender inequalities in economic resources, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance policies and natural resources insofar as they can be potential drivers of migration.
      • Ensuring equality of access to economic resources, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance policies and natural resources for female migrants. 
    Case Studies

    How do migrant women lead, protect and empower communities? Vida is a migrant from Ghana, who came to Libya in 2014 with dreams of owning a fashion boutique. When COVID-19 broke out, she taught herself and three other migrant women how to sew four different types of masks to help migrants protect themselves from the virus.

    Read the stories of these women here.

    Image of woman from Ghana in Libya

    Key resources on migration and gender: