Call on world leaders to make migration policies that work for women

16 Sep 2016

Call on world leaders to make migration policies that work for women

16 September 2016 | Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, and William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration

On 19 September 2016, the General Assembly of the United Nations will bring together Heads of State and Government from across the world for the UN Summit for refugees and migrants. This is a historic opportunity to take a strategic and balanced view of the needs of millions of migrant women who are currently quietly fueling economies and sustaining growth, yet who are insufficiently protected under national laws and policies.

Women and girls comprise 48 per cent of all international migrants. There are some 118 million migrant women worldwide, contributing in total around $2.3 trillion to global productivity. Many have moved on their own to take up work. The opportunities open to them are primarily in low-skilled jobs and unregulated sectors, like agriculture, domestic work, services and the sex industry. For women in these jobs, there is little protection of their rights. Even where labour standards or regulations exist, their enforcement is more often taken up as an aspect of immigration control. On an everyday level, they may well have no access to social security or health coverage. If a migrant woman becomes pregnant, her consequent inability to work for a certain period of time may mean she loses her right to stay in that country.

Women and girls on the move face cumulative layers of discrimination: as women, as migrants and as unprotected workers. At worst, their vulnerabilities include higher exposure to exploitation, sexual, physical and psychological abuse, violence, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery.

International standards set out rights to equal treatment and non-discrimination; national level policies may unintentionally prevent them from being put into effect. It is time to be intentional about setting out national policies that specifically protect and safeguard the rights and needs of women. It is time to be better, more precisely informed. The countries hosting these women have to date mainly overlooked the scale and value of their contributions. The lack of sex-disaggregated data is one aspect of this oversight that needs rectification. With a strengthened evidence base, policies can be better targeted to address the specific vulnerabilities of women and girls and make an impact on millions.

After all, migration can be an empowering process if the human and labour rights of migrants are protected. Safe, orderly and regular migration can allow women and men to develop new skills, earn higher wages than in their countries of origin, flourish as entrepreneurs, and contribute importantly to the growth of their home economies when they remit their earnings back. Similarly, migration can increase their access to education and economic opportunities, disrupt harmful gender norms and expectations, and improve their social and political status.

In the context of the current crisis, we commend the positive response and assistance offered to vulnerable migrants by many ordinary people, governments and private institutions.  Building on these positive examples, we see the Summit as an important opportunity for the development of a human rights-based, gender-responsive global approach to addressing large movements of refugees and migrants.

UN Women, Chair of the Global Migration Group in 2016, and the International Organization for Migration, call upon world leaders to commit to reassessing their national migration policies. We invite them to explicitly consider and address what migrant women and girls are currently missing. The reward is not just moral or economic—it is a world where we all gain from the energy and cultural diversity through which migrants enrich their new communities. That is a world that offers a greater chance of sustained growth and peace.