Nearly half of the world’s one billion migrants are women, yet government responses continue to favor a male-dominant approach to migration policy neglecting the acute risks and frequency of violence that women migrants across the globe face every day.
Violence is not the only factor that disproportionately affects women migrants, but it remains a major cause of global concern due to its high prevalence and spillover effect into other areas of women’s human rights and health needs.
A Doctors Without Borders survey found that 31.4 percent of women migrants to Mexico faced sexual abuse on their route through Central America. And 59 percent of women in this study also showed symptoms of depression.
According to Anna Zobnina, Strategy and Policy Coordinator at the European Network on Migrant Women, migrant women traveling through Libya face an even more grim outlook. “Your chance of not being sexually violated are close to zero,” she told The Globe Post.
Last month, United Nations Women published Progress of the World’s Women 2019 Report to bring attention to the historic global complacency of addressing women migrant’s needs and the subsequent impact on families.
As the report outlines, investing in social protections, including access to sexual and reproductive healthcare as well as childcare, is a crucial first step in ensuring that women and their children are able to live dignified, economically empowered and healthy lives in their new homes.
But as Laura Turquet, Progress of the World’s Women Report Manager, expressed to The Globe Post, addressing violence against women before and during migration requires political will governments have not historically been willing to take.
Services aimed at addressing women’s specific needs have traditionally been thought of as “extra,” not essential services, Zobnina has noted. She said, “you can count on your fingers” the number of migrant shelters that were built to cater to women.
The United Nations Population Fund has noted that poor shelter, overcrowding, and badly lit public bathrooms in shelters increase the risk of gender-based violence. Doing nothing has tremendous costs.
“We see a huge lack of investment,” noted Michael Stewart-Evans, Policy Analyst at U.N. Women. The “fundamental basics” are not being met, he told The Globe Post.
In emergencies, women, children and young people are at heightened risk of experiencing sexual and gender-based violence #ICPD25 #ICPD25KAKUMA @UNFPAKen @UNFPA_ESARO @Refugees @theIRC @EzizHellen @LoiseAlix @okoro_dan @komba_lorna @namengeson @BenAkwah pic.twitter.com/bcLqaQctrP
— UNFPA Kenya (@UNFPAKen) July 17, 2019
Legally, migrant women face burdensome challenges to basic resources and civil independence for themselves and their children. This is particularly acute in Iraq, Saudia Arabia, and Kuwait where women cannot legally pass citizenship along to her children, denying them access to education, healthcare, and civil rights protections.
Many women migrants who flee violence face difficulties obtaining citizenship for themselves, as forced marriage and domestic violence has not been historically strong grounds for gaining asylum.
As Zobnina said, “if we take these factors seriously, they need to provide these women grounds for international protection.” Instead, “it’s much easier to ignore them,” she concluded.
With minimal access to the labor market, many women migrants enter the informal care sector, where there are minimal protections against harsh working conditions, and many women face deskilling and low wages.
The World Health Organization found that migrant care workers in the Eastern Mediterranean who are found to be pregnant, or who test positive for HIV/AIDS often face immediate deportation.
Some nations have chosen a different path. The Philippines and Sri Lanka have been global leaders in providing women migrants with economic opportunity. In Sri Lanka, the Bureau of Foreign Employment has introduced pre-departure training programs that provide women with a skill-set to be a domestic house-keeping assistant. In the Philippines, the government has signed 25 bilateral agreements promoting job creation in the healthcare industry, an area with high levels of women’s employment.